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October 7 TN News Digest

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

Increasing Teacher Pay Next Goal for Haslam (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signaled last week that the next front in an increasingly vocal debate about education reform in the state will be over increasing teacher pay. During a press conference Thursday, Oct. 3, in Nashville, Haslam set a goal of becoming “the fastest improving state in the U.S. when it comes to teacher pay.” “This is a long-term goal,” Haslam said. “We are committed to investing in our educators and working in partnership with the General Assembly and our local school districts to examine where we are every year, track our progress against other states and make investment decisions that will move Tennessee forward.”

Haslam says GOP squandering chance with shutdown (Tennessean/Sisk)

Tenn. Gov. Bill Haslam says the shutdown battle being waged in Washington is keeping Republicans from taking advantage of better opportunities to attack the Affordable Care Act. In an interview with the New York Times, Haslam called the fight “a huge distraction” and he said Republican governors, such as himself, risk getting hurt because “the political pendulum swings back really fast.” Haslam amplified on those remarks to reporters Friday. He said that the shutdown is crowding out discussion of the difficulties many people have experienced getting on the online exchanges that went live Tuesday.

Haslam has no public events this week (Associated Press)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is travelling out of state this week and has no public events. Spokesman David Smith declined to elaborate on what the Republican governor would be doing or where he is going. The week without public events brings to an end a flurry of appearances around the state for the governor, many of them to present grants and to make economic development decisions. Haslam made nine statewide appearances last week, and 12 events in the previous two weeks.

Housing board makes tweaks to tax credit award system (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

The Tennessee Housing Development Agency has eliminated a controversial aspect of its system for awarding tax credits and instead will make decisions based on a score assigned to each of the state’s 95 counties based on its need for low-income housing. The THDA board approved the change last week following criticism of the tax credit program from House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. Mike Blade, director of THDA’s multifamily development division, said it had been in the works for months and was discussed at THDA’s July board meeting, though a decision was postponed until the September meeting.

State’s auto dominance faces bumpy road (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Nolan)

Tennessee reigns in the South as the leader in automotive manufacturing, but faces new challenges to distinguish itself and maintain its ranking. That’s among the conclusions of the Brookings Institution report, “Drive! Moving Tennessee’s Automotive Sector Up the Value Chain” released in October. The report reflects the institution’s interest in so-called advanced industries — defined by Brookings as “high-value innovation and STEM-worker intensive” — because of their significant impact on output, exports and jobs, and its interest in creating federal and state agendas to expand those industries.

Dems say shutdown blocks crash probe (Tennessean/Sisk, Tamburin)

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron claims the federal shutdown has prevented a federal investigation into the deadly accident Wednesday on Interstate 40 east of Knoxville. The statement might be shrugged off as spin on a tragedy, but it did come after a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board told NBC News that it likely would have sent investigators to the scene if not for the shutdown. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security confirmed Thursday that state officials notified the NTSB of the accident, and investigators did not reply.

Woman fears parole for driver in DUI crash that killed her fiancé (Tenn/Tamburin)

Bruce Holloway came to America in 2006 for a fresh start, and within three years, the Australian found the love of his life and new creative highs on Nashville’s songwriting circuit. But those dreams were ripped away when a drunken and drugged driver going 88 mph plowed a pickup into Holloway’s motorcycle. Holloway, who was turning into his driveway off Stewarts Ferry Pike when he got hit, was two months shy of his wedding day…State law mandates that Duffey serve at least 30 percent of his 22-year sentence behind bars. However, credits earned for time served during his trial, participating in prison programs and good behavior have made him eligible for an early parole.

MTSU offers new education doctoral program (Associated Press)

Middle Tennessee State University is offering a new education doctorate that is the first of its kind in the state. The Doctor of Education in Assessment, Learning and Pre-K-12 School Improvement will help educators analyze student-learning data to pinpoint areas of success and areas that need improvement. Informational presentations on the new degree take place on Monday, Oct. 7, and Tuesday, Oct. 22. Both sessions begin at 5 p.m. and will be held at MTSU’s College of Education Building. Reservations are required.

Chamber, lawmakers preach anti-union tune to choir (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently issued a report and news release hailing the Tennessee Legislature’s approval in April of a bill prohibiting state and local governments from enacting “labor peace” laws. Seems we’re one of three states to enact a such a ban — the others being Georgia and Louisiana. “Labor peace” laws, also known as “labor neutrality” acts, are on the books in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Basically, the “peace” or “neutrality” laws apply when an employer is getting some government money, and the laws set some rules regarding union organizing activity.

Bill Frist calls for expanding pre-K (Tennessean/Sisk)

The partial shutdown of the federal government may have sucked up all the attention, but former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist is trying to gin up interest in an entirely different topic: early childhood education. In a column posted Wednesday by the Huffington Post, the Tennessee Republican and former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., write that pre-kindergarten programs should be expanded, noting that about 40 percent of children have no schooling before age 5. “As science has clearly shown in recent years, most brain development is complete well before a child enters kinder­garten,” they say.

Maryville to vote on sales tax increase (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Wilson)

Maryville will ask its voters in December to approve a half-percent increase in its sales tax, a hike that city officials say is necessary to perform repair and infrastructure work that was postponed because of an economy that has been sagging for the past five years. The increase, which City Manager Greg McClain says amounts to “a nickel on a $10 lunch,” will be placed on a Dec. 10 ballot and will bring Maryville’s sales tax rate to the same level as that of the adjacent city of Alcoa. The half-cent-on-dollar increase amounts to not much more than a rounding error for most consumers and should be almost imperceptible to any except those who closely examine their receipts.

Roe continues quixotic quest to repeal Obamacare (News-Sentinel/Collins)

Congressman Phil Roe knows what Republicans are up against as they try to repeal President Barack Obama’s 3-year-old health-care reforms and replace them with their own plan. “Until the Senate changes, its outlook is bleak,” the Johnson City Republican said. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring up good ideas and discuss them.” Roe, a physician, led a group of House Republicans that introduced its own legislation in September. Their plan gives tax breaks for individuals and families with a qualifying health insurance plan; offers better access to health savings accounts; eliminates the restrictions against buying health insurance across state lines; allows for federal funding for state high-risk pools; and seeks medical liability reform.

Federal shutdown may hurt homebuyers (Tennessean/McGee)

While it is too early to see an impact, an extended shutdown could mean delays for homebuyers needing income verification to lock down a home purchase, according to Mike Hardwick, CEO of Churchill Mortgage Corp. in Brentwood. When homebuyers pursue a loan, lenders must confirm their income to determine if they qualify for a loan, but with cutbacks at the Internal Revenue Service, that process could be delayed. What typically takes 15 to 30 days could take weeks longer if the shutdown continues. For buyers, that delay could disrupt the purchase if a seller won’t re-negotiate the deadline, he said.

Tennessee mayor asks to reopen parts of Smoky Mountains (Associated Press)

An East Tennessee mayor is asking the federal government to allow Blount County to take on the financial responsibility of reopening portions of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. October is one of the busiest times of the year for the park, which was closed during the partial government shutdown. Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell told The Daily Times on Friday that he sent the request to Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. He said the letter asks whether the county can take on reopening parts of the park for tourism at no cost to the federal government.

Prospect of Long Shutdown Stokes Concern (Wall Street Journal)

Nearly a week into the government shutdown, signs of economic damage are mostly limited to stalled contracts and lost tourism revenue. But the risk of a prolonged closure that morphs into a battle over the nation’s borrowing limit is raising concerns among economists and executives. The total effect so far is difficult to gauge. Some major contractors, such as BAE Systems BA.LN -1.96% PLC, are planning work stoppages and furloughs this week due to suspended federal contracts and shuttered government locations. Smaller firms reliant on federal workers are seeing a revenue hit, as are towns that sit astride the gates to national parks and other government-linked attractions.

Software, Design Defects Cripple Health-Care Website (Wall Street Journal)

Six days into the launch of insurance marketplaces created by the new health-care law, the federal government acknowledged for the first time Sunday it needed to fix design and software problems that have kept customers from applying online for coverage. The Obama administration said last week that an unanticipated surge of Web traffic caused most of the problems and was a sign of high demand by people seeking to buy coverage under the new law. But federal officials said Sunday the online marketplace needed design changes, as well as more server capacity to improve efficiency on the federally run exchange that serves 36 states.

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