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May 13 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

 

Haslam decision due this week on ‘ag gag’ bill (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam must decide this week whether he will allow a bill to become law that would require images documenting animal abuse to be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours. Animal protection groups say the measure they have dubbed the “ag gag” bill is designed to prevent whistleblowers from collecting evidence of ongoing patterns of abuse. State Attorney General Bob Cooper last week said in a legal opinion that the measure would be “constitutionally suspect” because it could violate Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination and for placing burdens on news collection.

Bonuses aim to lure top teachers (Jackson Sun)

As one of five school districts in Tennessee with a low-performing school, Hardeman County Director of Schools Warner Ross said he’s excited by the state’s new initiative to provide retention or attraction bonuses for high-performing teachers to work at a struggling school. “We received a letter from the state about this program last week,” said Ross during a telephone interview with The Jackson Sun. “We’re going to roll this out as soon as we can. We’re going to start with an interest-level survey on our website and use this in our recruiting and retention efforts immediately.”

Tennessee First Lady, Muppet against obesity (Associated Press)

Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam is teaming up with Grover, the loveable Muppet from Sesame Street, and United HealthCare to teach kids the benefits of eating healthy and getting in shape while helping them learn to love reading. The First Lady will meet with a group of kindergartners and pre-K students at Buena Vista Enhanced Option School in Nashville on Tuesday and read to the children Sesame Street’s book “Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget.” The event will combine the First Lady’s mission of helping kids to be better readers and Sesame Street’s efforts to teach kids about nutritious eating.

First lady Haslam outlines early education initiatives (Sumner AM)

Tennessee’s first lady, Crissy Haslam, says a key factor to a successful education for students is parental involvement. Haslam, the wife of Gov. Bill Haslam, was in Hendersonville May 9 speaking to the Hendersonville Newcomers Club about several of her early childhood education initiatives. Once shy about being in a public role, Haslam said she now enjoys using her position to promote early education and the importance of parental involvement. “I really look at this role as an opportunity to serve,” Haslam said.

TN has more twisters but no deaths in 2013 (Tenn, USA Today/Young, Rice)

Tornadoes in U.S. at lowest level since at least 1954 Tennessee is seeing more tornadoes than usual this year, but there have been no deaths linked to twisters so far. Since the beginning of 2013, the National Weather Service in Nashville has counted 34 tornadoes, with the majority of them, 22, happening on Jan. 30. “We’re trending above average … and it is an anomalous thing because of that one day,” said Trevor Boucher, a meteorologist with the weather service in Nashville. “We’ve already passed our average for tornadoes for this year.”  

Grandmother tried to alert DCS before baby died (Tenn/Wadhwani, Rau, Sisk)

An East Tennessee grandmother said she tried in vain to get the Department of Children’s Services to intervene when she feared her newborn grandson was living in an unsafe environment. DCS already had opened an investigation in March 2012 after the baby was born with symptoms of drug withdrawal. He also was born prematurely with a severe birth defect: the infant’s intestines were outside his body, but he underwent surgery before going home. By June, he was dead at just 9 weeks old. The grandmother’s call for help is not noted in DCS records.

List of problems at DCS (Tennessean)

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has faced scrutiny over mounting problems during the past year: • Child advocates and the sheriff in Dickson County said DCS wasn’t properly intervening in situations in which children were experiencing severe abuse. • A child abuse hotline was leaving calls unanswered. After The Tennessean chronicled the missed calls, the call center director was replaced. • DCS has seen a spike in violence and police activity at its juvenile detention centers. The agency pledged to investigate.

More Tennessee newborns have drug dependencies (Associated Press/Burke)

He’s less than 2 weeks old, but he shows the telltale signs of a baby agitated and in pain: an open sore on his chin where he’s rubbed the skin raw, along with a scratch on his left check. He suffers from so many tremors that he’s been placed in a special area so nurses can watch him around the clock in case he starts seizing — or worse, stops breathing. The baby is one of many born dependent on drugs. He is being treated at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, where doctors and nurses are on the front line fighting the nation’s prescription drug epidemic.

Donation reporting divides Tennessee GOP (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey acknowledges the failure of his campaign finance bill in the GOP-run House this year is part of the reason he decided to stop joint fundraising with the other chamber. Speaking after the legislative session ended April 19, the Blountville lawmaker said while the split had “been in the works for a long time, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “But,” Ramsey added, “I think it would have happened anyway.”

Florida, Tennessee, others wrestle with drug forfeiture laws (Associated Press)

In this upscale seaside village of about 2,500 permanent residents, the main challenges for Bal Harbour’s 30-member police force are thefts from its high-end shopping mall, speeders along Florida’s famed A1A highway and vehicle break-ins. But the department managed to rake in millions of dollars in forfeited drug proceeds by leading a task force that conducted investigations across the country, many with little or no link to the South Florida town. In fact, in 2011, Bal Harbour got more than $5 million through its money-laundering investigations from a U.S. Justice Department asset forfeiture sharing program, more than any Florida law enforcement agency that year.

Nashville flood of 2010 commemorated in new public art (Tennessean/Gang)

The two pieces of public artwork debuted Sunday stand as bookends to the Cumberland River Pedestrian Bridge linking East Nashville and Donelson. But more than that, they serve as reminders of the devastating floods that hit Nashville three years ago this month and tributes to the residents in those two communities who pulled together in the aftermath of the deluge. “The May floods of 2010 are one of those times when you look back and you remember where you were when it happened,” Metro Councilman Peter Westerholm.

Knoxville’s bond plan targets zoo, Lakeshore, Prosser Road (News-Sentinel/Witt)

Tigers could triple at the Knoxville Zoo with $10 million in public funds proposed in the 2013-14 city budget. The same $31.4 million bond that would pay for an expansion to the zoo’s tiger habitat would also build and consolidate public works offices in the city for $15 million. Another $5.2 million would pay for demolition and improvements on property at Lakeshore Park, while $1.2 million would go to handle chronic flooding problems on Prosser Road. The city budget has room to accommodate the bond debt, according to Bill Lyons, deputy to Mayor Madeline Rogero.

Memphis employee pay issues consume budget-season debates (CA/Sells)

A 2.5 percent slice of the Memphis city budget, a slice that does not exist, has commanded more time and attention this year from city leaders than the rest of the pie. But it’s that slice, about $16 million of a $622.5 million budget, that hits directly at home for thousands of Memphis city employees and hits them where it counts, the pocketbook. The $16 million is what it would take for the City Council this year to restore a 4.6 percent pay cut handed to city employees in 2011. Mayor A C Wharton said restoring this pay cut was his top priority in March.

Cities, States Face Off on Mandatory Paid Sick Leave (Stateline)

Soon there will be fewer sick New Yorkers riding the subway, serving food in restaurants, or infecting their classmates, after the New York City Council decided last week to require local businesses to give workers time off if they are ill or have to care for a sick child. But mandatory sick leave, hailed as a progressive public health measure by its supporters, is sparking fierce opposition in several state legislatures. Connecticut, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and Seattle approved sick leave rules before New York City did. But when Milwaukee established its own requirement in 2011, Wisconsin lawmakers overturned it.  

Hutcheson Medical Center’s turnaround hamstrung by debt (TFP/Omarzu)

Hutcheson Medical Center had been losing $1 million a month in 2011 before Chattanooga-based Erlanger Health System took over management that year. Now, officials at the rebranded Erlanger at Hutcheson hospital say they’ve stopped the financial bleeding and are on track to be $4 million in the black this year. But the Fort Oglethorpe hospital recently had to borrow $550,000 to cover operating expenses: payroll, according to one news report; information technology, according to another.  

Memphis company grows green power market overseas (C. Appeal/McKenzie)

The focus for a small green-technology company in Cordova has shifted from supplying American homes with wind turbines that would help supply electricity to helping the Republic of Tatarstan plan for a town served by a fleet of truly green electric vehicles. Creating jobs at home by supplying demand for the company’s green-power products overseas has Kronos Energy Solutions LLC president John Bogensberger talking about multiplying the company’s sales by factors of 10 times or more next year.

 

OPINION 

Editorial: Making teachers reapply for jobs is the right decision (News-Sentinel)

Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre recently announced he would throw open all the teaching and staff jobs at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Technology Academy in an effort to rescue the foundering school. All faculty and staff at the school will have to reapply for their jobs, and a new state incentive program aimed at attracting exemplary teachers should make those positions more competitive. It is a drastic but justifiable measure for a school in dire academic straits. Sarah Moore Greene, named for the late civil rights champion and located in East Knoxville, is one of the 83 lowest-performing schools in Tennessee.

Editorial: Leveling the field (Commercial Appeal)

The Marketplace Fairness Act is an all-out war between retail interests that seems to be headed in the right direction. The bill, which passed by a vote of 69-27 a week ago in the U.S. Senate, would require online retailers to collect and distribute sales taxes according to state tax laws. According to an analysis by MapLight, the nonpartisan research organization that tracks political contributions to Congress and other legislative bodies, brick-and-mortar stores, the AFL-CIO and Amazon, all of which support the bill, have outspent their competitors, including eBay, by 40-1. The bill puts small and mid-size online retailers at a competitive disadvantage, but it would help many small businesses stay in business, which stabilizes and preserves the quality of life in urban neighborhoods.

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