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July 10 TN News Digest

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

New Online College Opens with Haslam’s Backing (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was on hand Tuesday morning to mark the creation of a new government-supported online degree provider in the state. The Tennessee branch of the Western Governors University will be geared toward adult students looking to finish their degrees and represents a key piece of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” workforce development plan—raising the percentage of state citizens with some sort of college diploma to 55 percent by 2025.

Haslam launches new online university (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has launched an online, competency-based university aimed at giving Tennesseans better access to a higher education. WGU Tennessee was created through a partnership between the state of Tennessee and nationally recognized Western Governors University. Western Governors University President Robert W. Mendenhall joined Haslam on Tuesday to sign the memorandum of understanding that officially establishes the university in Tennessee. Officials say it was formed to meet the needs of working adults who are looking to complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree to advance their careers.

Online University Gets $5M For Tennessee Recruiting Push (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

An online degree program adding an office in Tennessee says it will go from 700 students statewide to a couple thousand over the next few years. Western Governors University has tapped a former vice president from Nashville State Community College as its first chancellor in the state. On the heels of a similar deal where Missouri gave Western Governors University 4 million dollars to expand there earlier this year, Tennessee is kicking in 5 million. The amount roughly equals WGU’s marketing campaign in Tennessee.

State launches online-based university (Memphis Business Journal)

Armed with a $5 million grant from the state and a $750,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has announced the launch of WGU Tennessee, an online-based university throughout the state. WGU Tennessee was created through a partnership with Western Governors University and the state. Western Governors University offers 50 undergraduate and graduate degrees in multiple areas, including business, teacher education, information technology and health professions.

Online university gives TN adults way to complete degrees (Tennessean/West)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday launched Western Governors University Tennessee, an online school aimed at giving adults a cost-efficient way to finish their degrees. WGU Tennessee will now have 700 students merged into its program who seek accredited bachelor’s or master’s degrees in business, education, health or information technology. The college is designed for adults who want to complete degrees but cannot finish at a traditional university. “We think more than 800,000 Tennesseans have college credit but not a degree,” Haslam said.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam launches online college (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam says the new online “competency-based” university he’s launching with a nonprofit higher education facility will help boost working Tennesseans’ access to low-cost college. The governor joined with Western Governors University President Robert Mendenhall and signed a memorandum of understanding that creates WGU Tennessee. “We think this is a significant day in the state of Tennessee,” Haslam said at a news conference.

Online university launches in Tennessee with taxpayer help (N-S/Humphrey)

The Tennessee branch of an online university was launched Tuesday with a $30 million budget, including $5 million in state funding authorized by initially reluctant legislators at the urging of Gov. Bill Haslam. Western Governors University-Tennessee will target adult students seeking a new career, particularly those who have done some college classes but never graduated, Haslam said. He and WGU President Robert W. Mendenhall signed a “memorandum of understanding” to start the program at a news conference.

Online WGU Tenn launched for adults to complete college degrees (CA/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam and others formally launched Western Governors University Tennessee on Tuesday — an online school offering bachelors and masters degrees and primarily geared toward working adults with some college credit but without degrees. Not-for-profit WGU was established in 1997 by 19 Western governors but now enrolls students nationwide, including about 700 Tennesseans who enrolled before the state joined to help market it here. About 500 Tennesseans already hold WGU degrees.

Gov. Bill Haslam announces launch of new online state university (Nooga)

Gov. Bill Haslam is hoping a new, online, “competency-based” university program will help Tennesseans who never completed college degrees to affordably advance their careers. In an announcement in Nashville Tuesday, the governor kicked off Tennessee’s version of Western Governors University, an accredited higher education program created in 1997 and offered in several states. Haslam said his goal for the program was to increase the percentage of Tennesseans who have earned a two-year degree or higher—a number that currently stands at 32 percent.

Haslam Awards $3.6 M in Waste Tire Recycling Grants (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today announced 44 grants to help Tennessee communities recycle tires and reduce the number going to landfills. The waste tire recycling grants total more than $3.6 million in fiscal year 2014-15, and the grants are supported from the Solid Waste Management Fund, which receives revenue from a pre-disposal fee on the purchase of new tires. Tennessee recycles an estimated 55,000 tons of tires per year, diverting waste tires from landfills and sending them to beneficial end-use facilities.

Haslam likely to pick Tim Gobble for Tennessee Board of Parole (TFP/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to name Tim Gobble, deputy chief for corrections and security with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, to the Tennessee Board of Parole, sources said. An announcement could come as early as today. Efforts to reach Gobble were unsuccessful Tuesday. Gobble, a former Bradley County sheriff and East Ridge city manager, is expected to fill a vacancy on the seven-member board. Board members evaluate parole requests for all eligible state inmates serving sentences of more than two years.

Haslam discouraged by latest Medicaid rules (Tennessean/Sisk)

Gov. Bill Haslam said the latest rules from the federal government may have damaged prospects that the state will expand its Medicaid plan, TennCare. Haslam told reporters Tuesday that final rules released on July 5 by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services on cost-sharing are “not encouraging” toward his plan to expand TennCare by purchasing private coverage for the uninsured. Haslam said federal officials also indicated they would have no way of verifying employment or income statements made by people who apply for insurance.

Gov. Haslam defends ties to lobbyist Ingram (Tennessean/Sisk)

Gov. Bill Haslam defended his ties to political adviser Tom Ingram on Tuesday after published emails showed the lobbyist’s efforts to influence senior officials in his administration. Haslam and his chief of staff, Mark Cate, said Ingram and his firm had no special access to the governor or his advisers. But emails obtained and released by WTVF-TV show Cate, Ingram and his partner discussing the firm’s clients over weekends and holidays, as well as when Cate was traveling in the Bahamas. They also show Cate asking Ingram for help in getting a relative a job in Washington.

Bill Haslam, Mark Cate say no favoritism to Tom Ingram clients (NS/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam and his chief of staff, Mark Cate, said Tuesday they show no favoritism toward Tom Ingram’s lobbying clients, though Cate’s emails indicate considerable friendly contact with Ingram and an associate. Several of the emails obtained by WTVF-TV involve HR Comp Employee Leasing, a Knox County firm that had problems with the state Department of Insurance and retained The Ingram Group’s services. The firm, owned and operated by Andrea Ball of Powell, at one point was found to be operating without a state license and was ordered to pay a $10,000 penalty.

Cultural exchange provides new learning opportunities (Daily News Journal)

Guests from China visit MTSU More than 30 Chinese schoolchildren and teachers from Hangzhou, China, received a welcome to Middle Tennessee State University Tuesday morning. The students and their teachers are visiting to develop student exchanges and cultural ties with Tennessee schools, MTSU President Sidney McPhee said. Students and parents from Siegel Middle School, the Discovery School at Reeves-Rogers and Central Magnet School joined McPhee and his wife, Elizabeth, at MTSU’s Kennon Sports Hall of Fame for a formal welcome, but the group from China arrived late Monday night.

Cordova legislator considering arsonist registry (C. Appeal/Bailey, Warren)

State Rep. Steve McManus, R-Cordova, plans to introduce legislation next year instituting an arsonist registry similar to the one already in place for criminals convicted of sex crimes. McManus mentioned the possibility last week while discussing the fire-gutted Cordova house formerly owned by Isaac Hayes, a short distance from McManus’ residence. “In my estimation, a convicted arsonist is every bit as threatening to the lives of their neighbors and their neighbors’ property and firefighters,” McManus said.

TBI file on Baumgartner closer to being released as public record (NS/Satterfield)

A file both the News Sentinel and the families of two torture-slaying victims have been fighting to make public has been tucked away in a federal magistrate judge’s chambers for 10 months now — unsealed but unnoticed. But when the News Sentinel asked on Friday for a copy of what is, at this moment, logged into U.S. District Court as a public record, U.S. Magistrate Clifford Shirley blocked its release — temporarily at least.

Shelby County officials plan for resumed budget, tax rate talks (CA/Moore)

One day after the Shelby County Commission failed to approve a property tax rate, officials were being told to hold off on spending, the commission is preparing to regroup next week and at least one commissioner plans to craft a budget of his own. On Monday in a 5-7 bipartisan vote, the commission rejected Mayor Mark Luttrell’s proposed $4.38 tax rate increase that included a certified tax rate of $4.32 and a six-cent tax increase or $9.6 million for schools. It was intended to fund the county’s $374 million budget, which includes increases for schools, Juvenile Court and the public defender’s office.

Commission Awaits Next Budget Steps (Memphis Daily News)

When Shelby County Commissioners get together Wednesday, July 17, for committee sessions, they will probably begin to fill in some of the blank space left in the wake of their decision this week to vote down a $4.38 county property tax rate. The 7-5 vote striking down the tax hike came eight days into the new fiscal year and weeks after the commission gave final approval to a county government operating budget that is based on the $4.38 rate. There were early signs that the seven-vote majority already could be dividing on next moves.

House Republicans from TN oppose bill backed by Corker, Alexander (TN/Barton)

As their own chamber contemplates action on immigration reform, Republican House members from Tennessee remain critical of the bill their fellow in-state Republicans, Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, helped pass in the Senate. The House Republican Conference meets today to decide what, if any, route to take on the issue. Congressional Democrats insisted Tuesday they will not agree to any immigration bill that lacks a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.

Sen. Bob Corker scolds President Barack Obama on Syria (TFP/Carroll)

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Tuesday described as “unacceptable” the White House’s approach to arming Syrian rebels, saying a reported delay in American weapon shipments “wastes time at the expense of our national interests.” Corker’s attack exposes the clearest Syria quibble yet between the Tennessee Republican and President Barack Obama, both of whom support some degree of American intervention in a Middle Eastern conflict that has killed 100,000. Two weeks after media reports said American weapons would begin arriving in Syria, a Monday Reuters news article that relied on unnamed national security sources said Obama has decided to delay arms shipments after House and Senate intelligence panels raised questions over preparedness.

States Expand Sales Tax Holidays Beyond Back-to-School Items (Stateline)

Many states with back-to-school sales tax “holidays” are expanding them to cover almost any purchase, in addition to the usual kids’ clothing, shoes, books and school supplies. As schools and students replace ink and paper with pixels, some states are expanding their holidays to cover sales taxes on low-cost computers and tablets. These electronics are eligible for the tax breaks in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. (See chart below.) But some states have broadened the popular holidays beyond school-related items to include other types of clothing, large desktop computers and other electronics.

U.S. Struggles to Meet Health-Law Deadline (Wall Street Journal)

When Obama administration officials delayed a central plank of the new health law—requiring that big employers offer health insurance to workers—they said it was to help businesses pleading for more time. Left unsaid was the federal government hadn’t written key rules guiding employers, according to current and former administration officials, and computer systems that were supposed to run the program weren’t operational. The delay has opened the door for critics and allies alike who are now raising questions about the administration’s ability to implement the biggest domestic policy initiative in a generation.

Tuition Rises Fastest for In-State College Students (Wall Street Journal)

Tuition at four-year state schools increased at a faster rate for in-state students than their out-of-state classmates in the past three years, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education. The report highlights the tricky balancing act public schools faced as they grappled with significant cuts state legislators made to their budgets during the recession. Between the 2010-11 and 2012-13 academic years, the average tuition and fees for full-time, first-year, degree-seeking undergraduates at four-year state schools increased 6.7% to $7,526.

Another trucker, this one from N.H., files suit against Pilot Flying J (Tenn/Roche)

A New Hampshire trucker has become the 16th to file a lawsuit in federal court against Pilot Flying J, the Knoxville-based truck-stop firm cited in an FBI affidavit for secretly cutting rebates promised to transportation firms. The complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H., on behalf of Fred Woodward claims he was one of dozens of victims of a scheme by Pilot sales executives to reduce rebates promised to truckers who weren’t paying attention to details.

TVA appoints Joseph Grimes as chief nuclear officer (Times Free-Press)

The Tennessee Valley Authority has appointed Joseph Grimes as chief nuclear officer. According to the utility, Grimes will be based in Chattanooga and will be responsible for leading, operating and optimizing TVA’s nuclear fleet. Grimes has more than 30 years of experience in operations, maintenance and engineering management and support of nuclear generating stations. Grimes currently is senior vice president of engineering and technical services for Exelon Nuclear. He will replace Preston Swafford, who is retiring.

TVA appoints new head of nuclear fleet (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

TVA has a new chief nuclear officer, who will head the federal utility’s fleet of nuclear power plants. Joseph P. Grimes, an executive with Exelon Nuclear, has been appointed executive vice president and chief nuclear officer for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the utility announced Tuesday. He will replace Preston Swafford, who is retiring. Grimes will start work with TVA around Labor Day, a TVA spokesman said. Grimes, who has more than 30 years experience in operations, maintenance and engineering management and support of nuclear plants, will report to Charles “Chip” Pardee, TVA’s chief generation officer.

StudentsFirst wants new report card, teacher retention policy (Tennessean/Hall)

A nonprofit education reform group that’s focused its attention in Tennessee wants a school-by-school report card that makes sense to parents and more job security for teachers who perform well, not just those around a long time. StudentsFirst, founded by former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, released that legislative agenda Tuesday and also announced some new hires for the state. “Tennessee has proven over the last couple of years that they’re ready to take on the challenge of being in the bottom 10 states for education,” said StudentsFirst state director Brent Easley.

Roane school system gets budget that’s $1.5 million short (N-S/Fowler)

A no-tax-hike budget that leaves the Roane County School System with a $1.5 million shortfall has been unanimously approved by Roane County Commission. The 13-0 vote Monday on the $95.5 million budget still leaves a worrisome fiscal picture, Roane County Executive Ron Woody said Tuesday. “I don’t want to mislead the public in any way,” he said. “The budgets that were adopted, they do not solve our fiscal problems.” At best, he said, the county has slowed the rate of escalation of future budget shortfalls.

School Board approves amended budget but hopes to revisit it (Jackson Sun)

Jackson-Madison County School Board members approved a budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, but it wasn’t the one they wanted or believe the system needs. During Tuesday’s called meeting, the motion passed in a 7-to-1 vote, with one vacant seat. Following the advice of its attorney, Dale Thomas, the board approved an amended budget that did not include a requested $911,573 in technology funding for the replacement of outdated computers. The board also voted in its motion to request a hearing with its funding body, the Madison County Commission.

Georgia: Common Core educational tests could exceed Georgia’s budget (AP)

National tests being created for the Common Core educational standards could cost Georgia more than its current budget of $25 million for all types of assessments. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the tests being created by a consortium of state education leaders known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers could run as high as $27.5 million for Georgia. A spokeswoman for Gov. Nathan Deal, Stephanie Mayfield, said Deal is exploring options because of concerns about the cost of the assessments.

South Carolina: South Carolina Is Faulted on Child Services (New York Times)

In South Carolina, people accused of sexually abusing children do not face trial for years. Children who report abuse are not interviewed for weeks. Churches often stand between victims and help. Those were among the findings of a privately financed report that comes as South Carolina is working to shore up its child protective system. The state is facing lawsuits and legislative scrutiny after a series of deaths, rapes and other assaults on children who were in state custody.

 

OPINION

Guest columnist: Outsourcing state’s real estate services smart fiscal move (TN)

As state and local governments throughout the country are challenged to continue providing high-level services in an environment of tighter budgets, Tennessee should be commended for taking innovative action to make state government operate more efficiently and give taxpayers a better return on their investment. As a real estate executive with 35 years of experience, the majority of it developing commercial properties in Middle Tennessee, I’ve been paying close attention to the Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow (T3) project proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration. Real estate is one of the larger expenses for any organization, along with people and technology.

Editorial: Career, technical magnet school deserves approval (News-Sentinel)

The Knox County Board of Education is scheduled to vote today on establishing a career and technical education magnet school in partnership with Pellissippi State Community College. School board members were generally supportive — though some expressed reservations — during Monday’s work session, when they discussed the pros and cons of establishing a 16th high school for the system. The board members should vote to approve the school, which would be located at Pellissippi State’s Strawberry Plains campus. Pellissippi State bought the former East Tennessee headquarters of Philips Consumer Electronics last year.

Editorial: Knowing how government works can save money (Daily News Journal)

One of the most important steps you can take to save taxpayer dollars is to educate yourself about how local government works. In a recent interview with The Daily News Journal, Rutherford County Board of Zoning Appeals Chairman Zane Cantrell wondered why people who questioned construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro mosque never appealed to the BZA. “I was a little bit surprised that the court system, the judges, the attorneys involved did not ask to appeal to the BZA,” Cantrell said. “I was a little surprised that even the judge didn’t think of that.'” Any resident who has concerns about proposed development can file an appeal that goes to the BZA. Once an issue is brought to the board’s attention, a public hearing is required.

Editorial: Open records help protect public’s best interests (Jackson Sun)

Humboldt school officials and police made the right response when they learned the system used to do background checks on applicants to work in the Humboldt school system was seriously flawed. They changed the system, and did so quickly. The public should be encouraged that these officials didn’t try to make excuses. Rather, they evaluated the situation and fixed the problem. That’s what the public wants to see and deserves. The flaw in the system was discovered when The Jackson Sun checked the employee file of a former Humboldt High School math teacher, Willie Lamar Ozier, and found Ozier had misrepresented himself by using his father’s date of birth to obtain a background check that didn’t include the younger Ozier’s previous criminal conviction.

Bob Corker: Securing the U.S. border now (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

When it comes to immigration, one thing I hear consistently from Tennesseans is “secure the border,” and I approached the Senate’s recent immigration debate with that in mind. Working with Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota and others, I authored an amendment that dramatically strengthens the immigration bill passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. Senate last week. The “Hoeven-Corker amendment” mandates an unprecedented surge of security at our southern border and implements tough interior enforcement to curb de facto amnesty.

Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander: Secure border, then secure citizenship (C. Appeal)

No Republican should vote for legislation that perpetuates amnesty for more than 11 million people illegally in our country, leaves our southern border open for even more illegal immigration and stifles economic growth. That is why we were two of the 68 senators who voted for the immigration bill that takes the most dramatic steps in history to secure our border, ends perpetual amnesty and encourages job creation. Since there is so much emotion surrounding the immigration debate, we appreciate this opportunity to offer the reasoning behind our votes: 1) Securing our border.

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