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July 5 TN News Digest

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

2nd phase of common core training starts July 9 (Associated Press)

State education officials are kicking off the second phase of training teachers on how to implement a new set of common core benchmarks for math and reading. More than 30,000 teachers from across the state signed up to be trained in sessions that started last month for math. The training continues this month with sessions on English language arts implementation. The opening session is Tuesday at 16 locations across the state. The common core standards are described as a set of higher expectations in math and English that include more critical thinking and problem solving to help better prepare students for global competition.

TN, JPay receive slice of prison inmates’ funds (Tennessean/Roche)

Family and friends of about 20,000 inmates in the Tennessee prison system now must pay a commission to a private for-profit Florida company when they want to send money to the inmates’ trust accounts, and the state will get a cut, too. Under a contract awarded late last year and recently expanded, JPay of Miami charges fees of up to 4.5 percent to forward money to Tennessee inmates. The state under the contract also gets its share of the payments, a 50 cent fee for every transaction. Advocates say the arrangement amounts to a kickback for the state and places an unfair burden on relatives of inmates, who often have limited resources.

TSU receives $600K donation for scholarships (Associated Press)

Tennessee State University has received a $600,000 donation to be used for scholarships. The school said in a news release this week that the estate of late alumna Vernice Marie Taylor Gray and her late husband, Elbert Gray Jr., donated the money to help students who want to attend TSU. School officials say the money will fund two “financially disadvantaged” male and female students from Tennessee each year. Vernice, a Memphis native, attended San Diego State University for one year before transferring to TSU.

AG lays out rules for blue lights in funerals (Associated Press)

A legal opinion issued by the state Attorney General Bob Cooper outlines exactly when it’s legal for blue flashing lights to be used as part of a funeral procession in Tennessee. The opinion requested by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet says that only full-time law enforcement officers can use blue flashing lights while escorting funeral processions — as long as it’s part of their official duty to do so. That standard applies even if they are off-duty and being paid for private security.

Topsy-Turvy (Memphis Flyer)

As the calendar tipped into June, both Memphis city government and Shelby County government were confronting the budget abyss. And it surely looked as if the county had a prefabricated thoroughfare ready to traverse that canyon, while the city didn’t even have a road map. County mayor Mark Luttrell’s budget quickly passed muster on the Shelby County Commission and became a done deal. Luttrell’s proposed tax rate of $4.38 also passed the Shelby County Commission on first reading and looked solid for the next two readings. Meanwhile, things looked different over on city-side.  

Wharton: Revenue Officer Needed (Memphis Daily News)

Call it a “budget resolution.” A week after the Memphis City Council set the city’s operating budget, capital budget and a property tax rate of $3.40, council members and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. resolved Tuesday, July 2, to continue making changes in City Hall’s financial practices. Wharton wants to hire a city “revenue officer” as a next step. He also set a schedule of monthly goals through the end of 2013 to discuss with the council such major financial issues as pension plan obligations and employee benefits.

Immigration debate continues for Corker, Alexander (Gannett/Barton)

Senators dispute idea that bill is amnesty Even though Tennessee’s senators insist otherwise, critics say the immigration reform legislation they helped pass amounts to amnesty for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. They also say many of the border-security provisions Republican Sen. Bob Corker wrote into the bill — and fellow Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander co-sponsored — likely will never be realized because of either cost or impracticality.

Health reform delay could save Tennessee businesses up to $89M (N. Biz Journal)

The Obama administration’s decision to delay the employer penalties associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may be a welcome relief for employers operating in states that have not yet committed to a Medicaid expansion, including Tennessee. A March analysis from the health care policy team at Jackson Hewitt Tax Services — helmed by Brian Haile, Tennessee’s former head of insurance exchange planning — showed that Tennessee employers would incur anywhere between $60 to $89 million in penalties if Gov. Bill Haslam decided not to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

Delay in health care law’s mandate for employers stirs questions (TN/Marsteller)

More time for a few, but greater uncertainty for all. That, in a nutshell, is the impact on Middle Tennessee businesses from the Obama administration’s sudden decision to delay a key component of the Affordable Care Act, experts say. “It’s a reprieve, not a repeal,” said Ron Perry, president of LBMC Employment Partners in Brentwood. “There’s still a whole lot of stuff that is going to happen regardless of this.” On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced it would delay by a year, to 2015, the law’s requirement that midsize and large companies provide affordable coverage to their workers or face financial penalties.

Same-sex ruling has employers tweaking benefits (Associated Press/Hananel)

The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage has private employers around the country scrambling to make sure their employee benefit plans comply with the law. The impact of the decision striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act is clear in the 13 states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is currently legal, or soon will be: Same-sex married couples must be treated the same as other spouses under federal laws governing tax, health care, pensions and other federal benefits.

Rain cuts Tennessee Valley’s power bills in July (Times Free-Press/Flessner)

Heavy rains may have washed out most of this weekend’s fireworks, but the wet weather is giving more juice to TVA and its customers. In its wettest year since 1994, the Tennessee Valley Authority is pumping out a record amount of electricity this year from its cheapest source — the hydroelectric dams on the Tennessee River and its tributaries. As a result, TVA’s fuel portion of its electric rates will be 10 percent less this year during July, which is traditionally the hottest and one of the most expensive months for electricity consumers.

Rain aids drop in fuel portion of TVA rates (Associated Press)

The wettest year in nearly two decades is having a beneficial effect on the Tennessee Valley Authority. TVA is pumping out a record amount of electricity this year from its cheapest source — hydroelectric dams on the Tennessee River and its tributaries. As a result, TVA’s fuel portion of its electric rates will be 10 percent less this year during July, traditionally the hottest and most expensive months for electricity consumers. TVA spokesman Scott Brooks told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the rain has created a “highly unusual” situation for July because historically fuel costs go up with rising demand during summer months.

Sullivan County ready to launch self-supporting pre-K program (Times-News)

If you offer a fully paid pre-kindergarten program, they will come. With apologies to those involved with the movie “Field of Dreams,” that describes the philosophy of a new Sullivan County schools initiative. Discovery Learning Academy is proposed to fill a demand for pre-K programs at some area elementary schools. The county Board of Education Monday night voted 7-0 to approve the start-up of Discovery Learning Academy at up to three county elementary schools — but only if there is enough demand to make a critical mass for the program.

 

OPINION 

Marsha Blackburn: Democrats, stop playing with students’ pocketbooks (TN)

Due to the Senate’s failure to act, the student loan interest rate doubled on July 1 from 3.4 to 6.8 percent: a terrifying prospect for students in this current economy racked with historic debt, historic tax increases and historic unemployment. Between the pressure of scarce jobs and a student loan debt that surpasses credit-card debt, recent graduates have being burdened now more than ever. Folks back home in Tennessee struggling to pay off their student loan debt have been reaching out to me, pleading with me to prevent this interest rate hike. While my colleagues and I in the House passed a bill in May that would fix this problem, Senate Democrats have failed to act.

Greg Johnson: Vigilant oversight by citizens necessary (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Forgive me, this day after Independence Day, for not feeling quite as free as one ought to in these great United States. Yes, my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness all appear intact, thank God and the many brave souls who’ve sacrificed to make it so. But America feels different these days. We now know the federal government collects “meta-data,” vacuuming up whom we call, when we call them and how often we call them. We now know the highest-ranking intelligence officer in the land, James Clapper, will baldly lie to Congress. Clapper said, “No, sir,” when directly asked if the government collected such data.

Frank Cagle: Paying for Our Sins (Metro Pulse)

The best place to appreciate the Statue of Liberty is not to go there, but to glide by her in a water taxi between Red Hook in Brooklyn to Battery Park in lower Manhattan. Seeing Lady Liberty from that angle gives you more perspective than being up close. She stands there representing, as Emma Lazarus writes, the invitation “give me your tired, your poor…yearning to breath free.” She does indeed “lift the lamp of freedom beside the golden door.” As I was standing at the rail and admiring her once again last week, it was the same day the U.S. Senate passed an immigration bill. Because while Lady Liberty has been standing at the front door inviting guest to make America home, millions of other people have been slipping in the back door.

Editorial: Obamacare delay is embarrassing but necessary (Commercial Appeal)

When he took office in January 2009, President Barack Obama could have used his considerable political capital on one of several issues, including climate change and immigration reform. He chose instead to concentrate on health care reform. In due course, thanks to the efforts of the formidable then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a bill passed. The Affordable Care Act was never meant to be the last word in health care. The White House said at the time it fully expected the law to be subject to subsequent tweaks and improvements and thus it had a drawn-out timetable for implementation.

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