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June 18 TN News Digest

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

TN officials hope to lure Fiat-Chrysler to state (Associated Press)

State officials are making the case to Fiat head Sergio Marchionne to select Tennessee for the Italian automaker’s joint headquarters with Chrysler Group LLC. Marchionne met with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and others on Sunday at a ceremony to mark the expansion of Fiat subsidiary Magneti Marelli’s components plant in Pulaski. WPLN-FM reports (http://bit.ly/12DZsTZ ) that Marchionne said Tennessee officials have been “working me over pretty well.” When he rhetorically asked where those assembled for the ribbon cutting where they would prefer the headquarters to be, Haslam replied: “I vote right here.”

Tennessee Sends Economic Development A-Team To Welcome Fiat CEO (WPLN)

Tennessee’s elected officials are pressing Italian automaker Fiat to send more jobs to the state. The company’s globe-trotting chief executive showed up in Pulaski on Sunday for a ribbon cutting. The event brought out state’s top economic development officials, even on Father’s Day. Ultimately, this is an auto supplier plant that currently employs just 90 people in Tennessee. But on stage in the pristine factory floor where head lamps for Chrysler, GM and Mercedes Benz will soon be made, Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne was flanked by Governor Bill Haslam, Senator Lamar Alexander and Brentwood Congressman Marsha Blackburn.

TN Governor Calls Conflict Of Interest Claims A ‘Huge Stretch’ (WPLN-Radio)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he doesn’t see a problem with granting a state contract to a company he once invested in. Questions have been raised about the state’s new outsourcing agreement with real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle. The Chicago-based company was the only bidder and secured a $38 million contract to manage most state-owned properties for the next five years. Governor Haslam says he’s not sure if he still has a stake in Jones Lang LaSalle because most of his assets were put in a blind trust.

NWS confirms tornado struck New Market area last Thursday (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

The National Weather Service confirmed last Thursday’s strong storms produced a second tornado in East Tennessee. The E-F1 tornado touched down in Jefferson County in the New Market area. NWS said the tornado’s path started about four miles northwest of New Market and traveled about two miles. The twister had a maximum wind speed of 100 mile per hour, which snapped and uprooted several trees and damaged a roof. 

New Tennessee labor chief says job searches should be easier (Associated Press)

The state labor chief says cutting services at state jobless service centers shouldn’t make it harder for out-of-work Tennesseans to find jobs. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips told the legislative Fiscal Review Committee last week that coming changes should make it easier to search for jobs. Phillips said the ability to post open jobs over the Internet should simplify searches for work. He also said local nonprofit partners across the state are working with the department.

Administration’s Claims About Cordell Hull Questioned (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Outsourcing a piece of Tennessee history? That’s what some advocates fear the state’s about to do. The Haslam administration is preparing to demolish the 59-year-old Cordell Hull Building next to the state Capitol, and one idea that’s been discussed is turning the land over to a private developer. But NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered that some of the administration’s claims about the building’s condition may have been exaggerated. “It’s one of the best examples of mid-century modern architecture in the state of Tennessee for a civic building,” said Tim Walker, executive director of the Metro Historical Commission.

Early birth rates declining across state (Nashville Post)

Efforts to delay births in Tennessee are succeeding, according to survey responses from hospital officials across the state. Compiled by the Tennessee Hospital Association, data gathered by survey from 37 hospitals last year showed that by the end of May 2012, preventable early deliveries at facilities providing labor and delivery services accounted for 14.1 percent of all deliveries year to date. By Dec. 31 of last year, the number of preventable early deliveries had dropped to 3.5 percent of all births.  

State withdraws riverside pedestrian funding (Memphis Business Journal)

More than $300,000 in state funding for a riverfront bike and pedestrian system has been withdrawn due to inactivity. According to the Memphis Daily News, Lisa Dunn, transportation planner with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, wrote in an email to Jim Reeder, project development coordinator for the Riverfront Development Corp., “Sorry for the bad news but this project is very old and there was no movement and I could not get any information out of any one on why there was such a delay in getting the project constructed that Federal Highway Administration said they were pulling the funding,” Memphis was supposed to match the states funding with $79,171 in city funds.

Memphis riverfront walkway behind Pyramid scuttled by state, feds (CA/Locker)

Federal and state officials have withdrawn a $317,000 federal grant awarded to Memphis 13 years ago to help build a link in the city’s riverfront walkway behind the Pyramid because there’s been no movement on the project for years, the state Department of Transportation said Monday. Memphis’s Riverfront Development Corp. applied for the federal transportation enhancement grant, which was originally approved July 31, 2000. Enhancement grants help fund local projects like bicycle and pedestrian trails as alternatives to traditional highway projects and are now called transportation alternative grants.

UT trustees will consider fracking proposal (Tennessean/Gang)

The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees in October will take up a plan to lease the natural gas rights on the 8,600-acre Cumberland Forest in Morgan and Scott counties. The board will hear details of the plan before the university goes to the State Building Commission with a contract with a private company for the gas drilling, UT President Joe DiPietro said in a message Friday to trustees. UT has received tremendous feedback on both sides of the issue. Most recently, the Southern Environmental Law Center sent a letter to the board raising concerns about the proposal, as did Annette Watson, a Harriman, Tenn., resident and Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientist.

Agriculture officials on watch for aggressive bees (Associated Press)

The migration of Africanized bees into Tennessee has state agriculture officials and beekeepers on alert. The first known instance of the more aggressive bees – sometimes called “killer bees”- in Tennessee came last year. State apiarist Mike Studer told The Commercial Appeal an East Tennessee beekeeper had mail-ordered some bees and called the Tennessee Department of Agriculture when they attacked him, stinging him about 30 times before he could get into his vehicle. Studer said about 17 percent of that colony had been Africanized.

Nashville judge hears arguments in civil service suit (Tennessean/Sisk)

Lawyers argued in a Nashville courtroom Monday over whether Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration followed state law before laying off several hundred public employees. An attorney for the state of Tennessee defended Haslam and several agencies against a lawsuit by the Tennessee State Employees Association, which claims the state prevented approximately 200 laid-off workers from finding new positions with the state by taking down a job-placement website. Senior counsel Leslie Bridges argued that the state offered other services, including retirement counseling and tuition assistance, and that the website had to be taken down while salary adjustments were made throughout the government’s payroll system, known as Edison.

Judge grants week extension to delay of state layoffs (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Dozens of state employees who faced being fired this week by Gov. Bill Haslam will hold on to their jobs until at least next week after a Nashville judge on Monday granted a one-week extension of her temporary restraining order. Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon said she was not ready to render a decision in the challenge brought by the Tennessee State Employees Association last week but expects to rule on the case this coming Monday. The move came after 90 minutes of spirited arguments and a flurry of court filings by attorneys for the state employees group and the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office over whether the Haslam administration did or didn’t violate state law in the layoff process.

Robin Bennett named to Tennessee Regulatory Authority (Times Free-Press/Sher)

A Chattanooga businesswoman has been named by House Speaker Beth Harwell to fill a vacant director position on the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. Robin Bennett currently serves as a vice president and financial center manager for First Tennessee and, according to Harwell, brings to the agency experience in customer relations, business management and federal and regulatory compliance. Bennett replaces Sara Kyle, who resigned from the TRA in March. The agency regulates investor-owned water and electric utilities, as well as some telephone services.  

Lawmaker to commission: Don’t count on term limits for board members (NS/Witt)

The possibility of term-limiting school board members is unlikely. That’s the message Knox County Commission heard Monday from state Rep. Ryan A. Haynes. Haynes, R-Knoxville, told the commission that a Tennessee law allowing term limits for school board members would be subject to general application across the state. “And that, in my opinion, presents a challenge in getting a piece of legislation passed,” Haynes said during a commission work session. Commission uses work sessions to discuss future action items.

Another blogging legislator, new Tenn. Justice Center chief (N-S/Humphrey)

State Sen. Frank Niceley has launched a blog with the proclaimed topics for discussion listed as “politics, history, humor, farming.” Initial posts over the weekend included humor — “Rocky the Squirrel” being foiled in an attempt to break into the state capitol complex, including a picture — and history in a reminiscence on “legendary East Tennessee criminal defense attorney Ray Jenkins.” The first post recounts a conversation Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, had years ago with former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh after Stacey Campfield, then a state representative and now a state senator, became the first state legislator to start a blog.

Storm grates that are unsafe for cyclists continue to cost Nashville (Tenn/Garrison)

For the second time in four years, Metro’s failure to replace stormwater grates deemed unsafe for cyclists is likely to cost the city as it prepares to settle claims from a woman seriously injured in a wreck. Spurred by the lawsuits, Metro officials say they’re finally on the way toward systematically replacing these older grates. That process, however, could take at least five years to carry out downtown and longer in some of the city’s suburban areas. In July 2009, Margaret Yoste was leading a group of cyclists from White Bridge Road to Shelby Bottoms in East Nashville. En route, she made a right turn on Charlotte Avenue onto Third Avenue downtown.

Residents blast Loudon County Commission over codes, zoning rules (NS/Willett)

An angry crowd of Loudon County residents, many of them farmers, confronted county commissioners Monday night over what they described as heavy-handed enforcement of codes and zoning restrictions. As many as 75 residents, some holding notices of violation they received from the county’s Planning and Codes Enforcement Department, blasted commissioners for what they felt was a violation of their rights. “America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We shouldn’t be told we have to mow our yards.

County Commission fails to approve tax increase on second reading (CA/Moore)

With County Commissioner Sidney Chism casting no vote and Commissioner Melvin Burgess absent, the County Commission failed Monday to approve on second reading an ordinance to raise the tax rate from $4.02 to $4.38. The ordinance failed with a 6-5 vote, but will move forward on third reading at the next commission meeting July 8. The vote followed comments from about 20 residents, with three fourths expressing opposition for a tax increase that would force businesses to close, send retirees back to work and subsidize the city of Memphis.

City Council Again Tackles Budget, Tax Rate (Memphis Daily News)

Some Memphis City Council members say they are prepared for a long day Tuesday, June 18, at City Hall as they continue down the arduous path to a tax rate and budget for the coming fiscal year. “Let’s just be ready to spend the night,” said council member Harold Collins last week. He commented as council-mediated discussions between the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and municipal union leaders on possible cuts in employee benefits got nowhere quickly and ended after less than an hour.

Madison County Commission approves first reading of budget (Jackson Sun)

The Madison County Commission met Monday morning and approved the tentative budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year on first reading. Commissioners heard new business and went through the budget slowly, going over each detail in a meeting that lasted more than two hours. Over the next two weeks, commissioners will pore over any lingering items for debate, and the new fiscal budget will be up for its final approval at the next meeting on July 1.

Blackburn Tapped To Lead Debate On Late Term Abortions (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Brentwood Congressman Marsha Blackburn has been chosen to shepherd a bill through the U.S. House banning late term abortions. The original sponsor has become the target of criticism for downplaying how many abortions occur following rape and incest. Arizona Republican Trent Franks is the lead sponsor, but he created a controversy last week as he argued against including exceptions for women who get pregnant through rape or incest. So Blackburn will guide the debate, which also helps the GOP because she’s a woman. The party has been criticized for having too few females involved in the abortion discussion.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann challenges EPA’s foundry rules (TFP/Carroll)

Joined by dozens of fellow lawmakers, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., sent a letter Monday to the Environmental Protection Agency challenging a regulation that could hurt Lodge Manufacturing Co. in South Pittsburg and other American foundries. The regulation targets “mineral processing industries” such as gypsum and talc producers and deals with air quality and emission standards. Fleischmann argues that the rule should not apply to foundries because the EPA expressly intended to exempt them.

Tennessee’s U.S. House members disclose personal finances (Tennessean/Barton)

Three Middle Tennessee lawmakers disclosed assets of several hundred thousand dollars apiece in financial forms the House released Friday. The latest forms describe their finances for 2012 in broad dollar ranges. Highlights include: Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood: • Assets: 27 items worth a total value of $261,000 to $842,000, featuring an array of domestic and international investment funds. Her largest assets were accounts at Capital Bank of Nashville valued at $100,000 to $250,000. • Liabilities: Two mortgages in Brentwood, one valued at $250,000-$500,000 and the other at $50,000-$100,000.

USDA funding 9 rural Tenn. projects (Associated Press)

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the federal government is funding nine Tennessee business-related projects with more than $100,000 in grants. In a statement Monday, Vilsack said the money comes from the USDA’s Rural Business Enterprise Grants program. Businesses will be receiving grants for projects related to tourism, technology, training and food production. Recipients include the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society, the Crossville-Cumberland Chamber of Commerce, the Humboldt Chamber of Commerce and the Smith County Chamber of Commerce in Carthage.

Court: Arizona citizenship proof voting law illegal (Associated Press)

States can’t demand proof of citizenship from people registering to vote in federal elections unless they get federal or court approval to do so, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a decision complicating efforts in Arizona and other states to bar voting by people who are in the country illegally. The justices’ 7-2 ruling closes the door on states independently changing the requirements for those using the voter-registration form produced under the federal “motor voter” registration law. They would need permission from a federally created panel, the Election Assistance Commission, or a federal court ruling overturning the commission’s decision, to make tougher requirements stick.

Budget cuts prevent extended July 4 hours at Old Hickory Lock (Tennessean/Gang)

Due to automatic federal budget cuts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Monday that it will not offer extended July 4 hours at the Old Hickory Lock. In past years, the Corps has used overtime to offer boaters extended lock hours, giving boaters using the river and lake for the holiday extra time. But the Corps said that is not possible this year. The hours will remain 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, meaning the last boats must enter the lock by 9:15 p.m., the Corps said in a news release. Commercial traffic also takes priority over recreational vessels, the Corps said.

With little money coming, Erlanger seeks other revenue sources (TFP/Harrison)

Health care costs may have surged across the nation, but for 36 years the dollar figure next to “Erlanger Health System” in Hamilton County’s budget never has exceeded $3.5 million. That figure is just a fraction of what other large metro Tennessee counties provide their public hospitals. “It’s pretty bad,” said state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who helped write legislation attempting to reform the hospital’s governance this year. “It is such a tiny percentage of Erlanger’s revenues that it’s not really significant. And I don’t really see a groundswell of support for putting more money in there.”

Interim school superintendent announces fix to payroll headache (CA/Roberts)

Days after Shelby County Schools teachers and administrators were told they would miss a paycheck this summer because of the unified district’s new blended pay schedules, interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson announced an adjustment Monday night. Under the change, Shelby County Schools teachers and administrators who elected to be paid over 10 months will get an extra pay check this year only. Instead of 26 pay periods, there will be 27 in the fiscal year starting July 1 when Memphis and Shelby schools merge.

Schools Payroll Changed Back As Commission Okays Schools Budget (MDN)

A week after announcing a change in when Shelby County Schools teachers get paid in the schools merger that begins July 1, interim schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson changed course. The change keeps teachers from the two systems on different pay schedules for the first year of the merger. The decision Monday, June 17, means the different pay schedules for the two school systems will be reconciled at the end of the 2013-2014 school year. “At that time, all employees will be placed on a 26-week pay period schedule,” Hopson wrote in a letter to employees Monday.

Franklin Co. takes aim at meth production locally (Associated Press)

Franklin County is trying to become the first county in the state to require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines as a way to fight methamphetamine production. The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/1bOrUC2 ) reports Cowan, Decherd and Estill Springs are the remaining municipalities set to pass local rules on the purchase of these drugs, which are already required to be placed behind the pharmacy counter statewide. The medicines are a primary ingredient in the production of meth.

Illinois: Behind Illinois’s Pension Saga (Wall Street Journal)

Desperate to solve the worst state pension crisis in the nation, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this month did what politicians have done here for decades—he called Michael Madigan. Largely unknown outside Illinois, Mr. Madigan is the nation’s longest-serving state House speaker, with a tenure that began in 1983, and he also is chairman of the state’s Democratic Party. The dual posts make him the most powerful politician in Illinois and the linchpin in trying to fix the $96.8 billion public pension shortfall that is choking the state’s economy and roiling its politics.

 

OPINION 

Guest columnist: TN teachers working to improve quality (Tennessean)

They say timing is everything. Such is the case with the attention recently focused on evaluating teacher quality and the teacher education programs at our Tennessee Board of Regents universities. On the positive side is a renewed emphasis on the importance of teachers and the programs that train them. On the negative, however, are quality ratings based on old data that do not reflect a bold new TBR initiative that is expected to transform education programs across the state this fall. Over the past few years, universities and community colleges in the TBR system have been rewriting course curricula, developing mentorships with local school systems and rethinking the way teachers have traditionally been taught and trained in school.

Editorial: State contract review makes sense, can set record straight (Jackson Sun)

It makes sense for a state legislative committee to review contracts between the state of Tennessee and Chicago-based real estate management firm Jones Lang LaSalle, following news that Gov. Bill Haslam once was an investor in the company. While these is no suspicion that Haslam has done anything inappropriate, it is a matter of due diligence on the part of the legislature to remove any suspicions and clear the record. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell agreed that a committee review is in order. The task likely will fall to the Fiscal Review Committee, a joint House-Senate panel responsible for oversight of state spending and contract review.

 

Charlie Daniel Political Cartoon: “Voter ID Law” (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

 

Times Editorial: End gridlock: Sen. Corker has the right spirit (Times Free-Press)

As a native Chattanoogan transplanted to Washington for half a century, and a historian and author of a number of books, I feel somewhat qualified in the rating of truly great Tennessee senators. One of my first books of the 1960s, “The South Rejects a Prophet,” was on Sen. David M. Key, a Confederate colonel in the Senate who crossed party lines. In more recent years in Chattanooga, his lineage added Bill Brock, who was not only great as a senator and secretary but also, as head of his party after the Watergate scandal, literally rebuilt the party. Not from Chattanooga, Tennesseans should take pride in Howard Baker’s extraordinary tenure as Senate majority leader. In today’s world, Chattanooga has been blessed and honored by the outstanding accomplishments of our own Sen. Bob Corker.

Editorial: Harmonizing pay periods for school employees is good policy (C. Appeal)

A lot of Shelby County Schools employees breathed a sigh of relief Monday after the interim superintendent of Memphis and Shelby County schools announced they will not miss a paycheck after all when the two systems become one countywide district on July 1. As expected, the possibility of missing a paycheck did not go over well with the employees and some members of the Shelby County unified school board. Few families can afford to miss a paycheck. The school board members were right to say that the problem needed to be fixed immediately, but they were wrong to use the issue to complain that too many policies of Memphis City Schools are being applied in the new consolidated district.

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