May 19 TN News Digest

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

Ground Breaking Ceremony for New Veterans Home (Clarksville Now)

After almost a decade of work by Federal, State and local officials working on the project, the Tennessee State Veterans Home is almost here in Clarksville. A ground breaking ceremony was held at the future site located off 101st Parkway, attended by Governor Bill Haslam and United States Senator Lamar Alexander. Haslam told the assembled crowd about talking to retired veterans and asking why they chose Clarksville as their home. He said they all told him how much the Clarksville people treated them like they were home.

Who failed children? 407-pound teen, sister die within months (TN/Gonzalez, Sisk)

DCS had known of siblings for years Derek and Sherry Head live down a gravel driveway that forks in two directions. The short path goes to their small white home, and the other runs up the hill to the Clementsville Cemetery. They buried two of their children there last year. Beneath black headstones, they first buried their 407-pound son, Adam, 15, and then their daughter, Tamara, who suffered from cystic fibrosis for 14 years — two children whose dire medical conditions had raised concerns and sympathies across the small community.  

Candidates failed to report 181 PAC, corporate contributions (N-S/Humphrey)

Some of the Legislature’s top leaders were among more than 50 candidates who failed to report 181 political contributions totaling $145,875 when the Registry of Election Finance conducted an annual “crosscheck” review mandated by a current state law. House Republican Chairman Glen Casada, sponsor of a bill that critics say would undermine the present law, was found to have two unreported $1,000 contributions from political action committees. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, who staunchly opposed the bill, had more unreported donations than anyone on the list — 18 totaling $19,875.

Budget could be death of Hamilton Co. Medical Examiner’s office (TFP/Brogdon)

The office is an important link in the chain of solving crime and identifying public health threats. But if the Hamilton County Commission doesn’t agree to fork over $260,000 more than last year to the medical examiner’s office, the county no longer will be able to perform autopsies. Those bodies instead will be shipped 135 miles away to Nashville, delaying investigations and frustrating families looking for answers. “The big delay is having two investigators, a crime scene investigator and another investigator, going up to Nashville with the body to collect evidence — like if there’s a bullet found,” said Tim Carroll, a criminal investigator with the district attorney’s office who investigated homicides with the Chattanooga Police Department for 20 years.

Tennessee Congressmen struggling with internet sales tax decision (N-S/Collins)

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. is getting a lot of opinions from a lot of people as he weighs the pros and cons of taxing items purchased over the Internet. Gov. Bill Haslam wants states to have the power to collect the tax, arguing it is money that is already owed. Some small businesses in Duncan’s Knoxville-based congressional district take the same position and say it’s a matter of fairness: They already are required by law to collect the tax and send it to the state, but out-of-state online retailers are not. Calls to Duncan’s congressional offices, on the other hand, are running roughly 12 to 1 against Internet tax legislation pending in Congress.

Fundraising ceaseless for TN officials in D.C. (Tennessean/Barton)

Away from their Capitol Hill offices and committee rooms, members of Congress involve themselves in a different sort of work: raising money for their re-election campaigns. Early in the morning, at lunch or late in the day, lawmakers find themselves directed by their campaign staffs to the side rooms of high-priced Washington restaurants so they can meet lobbyists and others who want to shake their hands, exchange a few pleasantries and give them a check. For several years, the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington organization that promotes transparency in government, has made it a habit to collect invitations to such events.

Sen. Alexander’s analogy for Sebelius runs aground in interview (Tennessean/Sisk)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander appeared on the Fox News’ show “On the Record” last week to explain that the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s offers parallels to reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged private companies to donate money toward implementing the Affordable Care Act. The Tennessee senator said that in both cases, the White House turned to the private sector to fund an initiative that Congress had refused to back. Host Greta Van Susteren took pains not to quibble with the senator, though she couldn’t help herself from pointing out one detail.

Wrestler weighs run against Alexander (Tennessean/Sisk)

Reason magazine reported Thursday that the professional wrestler Kane is weighing a challenge to Alexander. The libertarian magazine quoted “sources close to the one-time World Heavyweight Champion” as saying Kane, a.k.a. Glenn Jacobs, is “open to the possibility of considering a primary campaign” against the two-term Tennessee Republican. Jacobs, a 46-year-old tea party activist who now lives in Jefferson City, did not return a call or email seeking to confirm the report. World Wrestling Entertainment, which still lists “the Devil’s Favorite Demon” as its tag team co-champion, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Carr picks up two endorsements (Tennessean)

State Rep. Joe Carr has secured backing from two top Republicans in the state legislature for his run for Congress. House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, confirmed Friday that they have endorsed Carr for the 4th Congressional District. “He works hard, and he’s a good, honest man,” McCormick said. That’s why I’m for him.” Carr, R-Lascassas, faces incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, and state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, in the GOP primary. 

Music City Center is already thinking bigger (Tennessean/Garrison)

Planners identify 5 spots for potential expansion For a convention center that spans six city blocks and sits on 19 acres, a facility visible from seemingly every downtown street corner, the task of mapping out its future expansion might seem unnecessary — perhaps even absurd. But project leaders of Nashville’s Music City Center have done just that to identify which adjoining lots would best accommodate an add-on just in case the center performs so well the massive facility isn’t big enough.  

Music City Center: Decision to build took decade (Tennessean/Cass)

When a suburban theme park died, a plan to build more convention space in downtown Nashville was born. It took more than a decade to raise the baby to maturity. After Gaylord Entertainment Co. decided to close the Opryland USA theme park in 1997, Mayor Phil Bredesen asked a group of business leaders to study the impact on Nashville’s hospitality industry. The task force concluded that the city’s biggest priority should be to build a convention center or expand the existing one, which was already proving inadequate, said restaurateur Randy Rayburn, who served on the panel.

Commission supported merger, but will it approve budget? (CA/McMillin, Moore)

As one of the most forceful champions of public education in Shelby County, Dr. Jeffrey Warren, a longtime Memphis school board member, remembers a statement made by Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz more than two years ago. It came during the crisis in late 2010 over an ultimately successful move to dissolve Memphis City Schools and force consolidation with what had been an all-suburban Shelby County Schools (a move Warren opposed).

Bradley County schools budget up for commission review (TFP/Leach)

The Bradley County Commission on Monday will discuss the proposed 2013-14 general fund budget for county schools, which includes a 2 percent raise and a slight boost in expected revenues. In a recent meeting, school board member Chris Turner questioned the addition of $250,000 in local money to bump a state-funded 1.5 percent salary increase up to 2 percent. “We chose to increase salaries,” said Turner, noting a decreased capital outlay budget from last year. “What other strategic investments made that conversation? What did we consider?”

 

OPINION

Editorial: We’re watching workers comp reforms closely (Leaf Chronicle)

Gov. Bill Haslam and state legislators say they have instituted a set of reforms in Tennessee’s workers compensation system that are better for all parties in a claim. We certainly hope so. The fairness and effectiveness of the state’s workers comp claims procedures has been a divisive topic for a long time, to the extent that it has hindered the state’s business recruitment efforts, officials say. Worse still, workers comp cases have been dragged out at taxpayers’ expense for far too long. Clarksville physician Dr. Stephen Kent says there are some pending cases in Tennessee that have been tied up in the courts for up to 13 years.

Columnist: Shield laws protect independence (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

In vetoing the “Ag Gag” bill last week, Gov. Bill Haslam said it appeared to repeal parts of the Tennessee Shield Law. A few days later, the White House, under fire for the seizure of Associated Press phone records, said it would support a federal shield law. So what are shield laws, anyway? Since colonial times, American newspapers have published information from confidential sources, and it has become a tenet of journalism that a reporter must not reveal the identity of a source. John Morris of the Baltimore Sun was the first modern journalist to go to jail on the principle. In 1896, he was reporting on officials taking payoffs from gambling operations.

Columnist: Government and press freedom: two outcomes (Times Free-Press)

There was good news and bad news for members of the media this week. The good news came out of Nashville, where Gov. Bill Haslam did the right thing when he vetoed the so-called ag-gag bill, which would have forced anyone photographing or videotaping animal cruelty to turn over the images to law enforcement within 48 hours. Although the law’s supporters said it was to prevent animal abuse, it clearly was designed to thwart investigations by the press or animal rights groups. Haslam cited a legal opinion from Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper that the bill’s provisions are “constitutionally suspect” in regard to the First Amendment.

Tom Humphrey: State’s business is the media’s business, despite Haslam’s ire (NS)

Things haven’t been go ing all that well for Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration lately on the media attention front, so maybe it was understandable that he expressed irritation last week when asked about ties to an East Tennessee developer who benefited from recently passed legislation. “I want to say something: You all’s job is to ask questions, but it’s also your job to get the answer right,” he lectured reporters in the course of explaining why he is without fault in the situation. “Quite frankly, I think it’s a disservice when people imply something’s wrong when they know there’s nothing wrong.”

Editorial: Music City Center: big room to match Nashville’s heart (Tennessean)

Welcome to the next tier, Nashville. Today and Monday, the long-anticipated Music City Center opens to the public and takes a place alongside the other “houses” — from the Ryman Auditorium to Jubilee Hall to the Capitol perched on a hill — that make this city unique. And thanks to Music City Center, millions more people will get to know Nashville firsthand. Massive conventions and trade shows that formerly had to pass up this special destination en route to Atlanta, New Orleans or Orlando now have a big venue to match the city’s big heart.

Editorial: The County Commission should fully fund district’s budget (C. Appeal)

While it won’t pay for the “world-class” school system that supporters of a merged city-county school district envisioned, schools administrators presented the Shelby County unified school board last week with a sensible “caretaker” budget to take to the County Commission. The school board overwhelmingly approved the $1.18 billion budget by a 17-3 vote Thursday afternoon, and now the board and those interested in quality education in this community should aggressively lobby the commission to fully fund the budget, which still has a $30 million deficit. The commission, the funding body for schools, should fully fund it.

Frank Daniels: Critical thinking means tough questions (Tennessean)

It is good to remember that we should be careful what we wish for; we might not like it when we get it. Parental involvement in schools may be the best example of that. When engagement slips over that slippery line to meddling, many educators rue their encouragement. Over the last month, Williamson County schools may have reason to wish some parents would take their opinions elsewhere. They should not. It is when meddlesome parents pry open the educational processes that those of us not engaged in schools each day get to take a peek into what goes on inside school walls, and occasionally between the ears of those who will be soon voting, working and serving in our communities.