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August 1 TN News Digest

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

Haslam announces $2.2 million in green grants for state (Tennessean/Brown)
Gov. Bill Haslam and the state’s top environmental official announced on Thursday $2.2 million in grants to help fund energy efficiency projects across the state. The grants were awarded for 21 different projects to municipalities and other groups across the state. “These projects reduce emissions, increase energy efficiencies and reduce taxpayer costs, and they highlight local efforts to improve the quality of life,” Haslam said in a news release. The money comes from a settlement three years ago with the Tennessee Valley Authority over alleged Clean Air Act violations at coal-burning power plants in the region.

College for free in state (Times-Gazette)
Incoming high school seniors are being given a chance to do something their parents or grandparents never did — go to college for free. There are a number of caveats and hoops to jump through with the program, Tennessee Promise, but the opportunity is valuable: two years of higher education with no tuition or fees. The offer applies to community colleges, Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) and four-year universities that offer an associate’s degree (there are only two, Tennessee State and Austin Peay).

Tax holiday aids shoppers, businesses (Daily News Journal)
For the past eight years Tennesseans have stocked up on school supplies and more without paying sales tax during the annual three-day Sales Tax Holiday. Starting today and running through at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Tennessee shoppers can save nearly 10 percent on clothing, school supplies and computers. “The holiday provides a good way to stimulate sales for local businesses, while providing citizens sales tax relief, especially parents who are getting their students ready for the school year,” state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said.

Sales Tax Holiday Underway In Tennessee (WTVF-TV Nashville)
The state’s annual sales tax holiday is underway. It started at 12:01 a.m. Friday and ends Sunday at midnight. Buyers can save nearly 10 percent on several items, including computers, school supplies, and clothing. For clothing and school supplies, the discounts go for items less than $100. Computers, laptops, and tablets costing up to $1,500 qualify for the discount. Monitors, keyboards, speakers and scanners are not eligible if you buy them separately. They must be part of a package that includes the tower or central processing unit. Many retailers and stores even offer extended hours during the sales tax holiday so shoppers can have more time to take advantage of the savings.

Sales tax holiday weekend begins in Tennessee (WMC-TV Memphis)
The sales tax holiday in Tennessee is underway, which gives consumers a chance save on everything from electronics to school supplies. Many Mid-South stores will see people flocking through their doors to save money on back-to-school shopping. The tax free weekend began at midnight and runs all the way up until 11:59 Sunday night. It’s perfect timing with school starting Monday throughout Shelby County. This weekend people will get a break on a lot of back-to-school items like clothes under $100 each and uniforms. School supplies like binders, book bags, and calculators will also be tax-free. Computers and laptops are also on the tax-exempt list, but there are limits as Zach Parr from Best Buy explains.

Huffman defends decision on Union Co. virtual academy (News-Sentinel/McCoy)
Kevin Huffman, the state’s education commissioner, said the state provided Union County Schools with the best option to improve results at the Tennessee Virtual Academy. “But the lack of willingness to take the steps necessary to do that really left us convinced that the school was not on the right path,” he said in an interview with the News Sentinel on Thursday. “We need to act now, and one of the things we saw is that we believed we had an agreement with Union County and if they had at that point of time notified all the parents then parents would have had the chance for the next school. They didn’t.”

Software predicts when, where accidents are most likely to occur (TFP/Bradbury)
Hotshot Hollywood directors make movies about machines that can predict the future and software programs that can peer ahead in time. Silver screen villains plot to use the predictive power for evil; heroes fight for good. The drama makes for great movies, but it’s not all science fiction: the Tennessee Highway Patrol is already using that kind of technology every day. It’s called predictive analytic software. And it could be the start of a whole new generation of traffic safety, a new tool as revolutionary as seat belts or radar. “It’s the coming thing,” said Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott.

TDOT prepares to widen Highway 13 near industrial park (Leaf Chronicle)
Sandwiched between Solar Way and Hemlock Semiconductor to the north, and the Corporate Business Park highlighted by soon-to-come Hankook Tire to the south, is state Highway 13 (U.S. 79 North), a portion of which is soon to be widened from two, to five traffic lanes in an estimated $10 million effort. Representatives of the Region 3 office of the Tennessee Department of Transportation shared that message Thursday evening with a small audience attending a public hearing at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology on International Boulevard.

Weekend I-65 roadwork puts squeeze on motorists (Tennessean/Brown)
State transportation officials are bracing for delays on the roadways this weekend as lane closures and roadwork coincide with a busy time for shoppers and event-goers. Parents are expected to flock to stores this weekend for back-to-school shopping to take advantage of the tax-free holidays. Plus, the Williamson County Fair is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of people. Bridge repair work on Interstate 65 near the Rivergate Mall in Goodlettsville will force one lane to be closed through the weekend on the northbound side. Construction crews are racing to finish work on five bridges in the area before the start of Titans football season, said Heather Jensen, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Traffic delays expected on I-65 north of Nashville (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Tax-free weekend is going to be great for shopping but terrible for traffic. Shoppers heading to Rivergate Mall will have to maneuver around road crews and traffic delays. Starting at 8 p.m. Friday and ending at 6 a.m. Monday, one lane of northbound Interstate 65 will be closed for bridge repairs. The Tennessee Department of Transportation says two lanes will remain open at the CSX and Rivergate bridges and one lane will be open at the Masker Creek, East Cedar Street and Long Hollow Pike bridges.

Dept. of Health reports rise in Rocky Mountain spotted fever (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
The Tennessee Department of Health said they’re seeing more cases of a potentially deadly tickborne illness, with signs of it locally. “We have seen a sightly increased incidences of tick-born illnesses in Rocky Mountain spotted fever, however there are natural variations from year-to-year,” said Tamara Chavez -Lindell with the East Tennessee Regional Health Office. As of Thursday, the department reported 328 cases of the illness; six of those cases are in Knox County. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a disease caused by bacteria transferred from tick bites to humans, causing a spotted rash.

Ethics Panel Awaiting Chief Justice Wade Response to Latest Complaint (TNR)
The disciplinary board that investigates complaints of ethics violations filed against Tennessee judges has asked the state’s Supreme Court chief justice to respond to an allegation that his campaign has breached the Code of Judicial Conduct. A letter dated July 22 from Timothy R. Discenza, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct’s investigative attorney, states that a complaint filed against Chief Justice Gary Wade has been forwarded “for the judge’s review.” Discenza’s letter indicates that Wade “has 20 days to respond” to the complaint, which was filed July 8 by George Scoville, a Nashville blogger and political consultant.

Battle over Supreme Court justices retention or replacement intensifies (CA/Locker)
The election battle over retaining or replacing three Tennessee Supreme Court justices has intensified in its closing week, with a West Tennessee congressman’s voice purportedly on robo calls urging votes to oust them and the justices airing a new TV ad refuting opponents’ claims. U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., is apparently lending his voice to the campaign to defeat Justices Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade that is being funded by conservative groups. In automated calls reportedly being made in his West Tennessee district, a man identifying himself as Fincher says “the Tennessee Supreme Court is stacked with longtime liberal activists that are advancing Obama’s agenda right here in Tennessee .

Supreme Court justices campaign in Anderson Co. to stay on bench (CA/Fowler)
These three Tennessee Supreme Court justices have shed their black robes during the campaign season and gone on the stump to convince voters to keep them on the job. Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Sharon Lee and Cornelia “Connie” Clark were on an East Tennessee campaign swing Thursday and plan to continue their politicking through Election Day, Aug. 7. They want voters to cast ballots for their retention and are trying to counteract a $1 million-plus campaign underwritten largely by out-of-state political advocacy groups and spearheaded by Lt. Gov.Ron Ramsey, a Republican.

Bristol, Tenn. voters will get to decide on wine in supermarkets (Herald-Courier)
City residents will be able to vote their preference about grocery stores selling wine when they go to the polls in November. Earlier this week, the Sullivan County Election Commission affirmed that petitions contained enough verified signatures to add the question to the November general election ballot in Bristol, Tennessee. Putting the matter before voters is the next phase, according to state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who sponsored the legislation. “This is really step two in a three-step process,” Lundberg said. “Step one was passing the legislation, step two is getting the signatures and step three is having it on the November ballot and people voting.”

Fleischmann letter, lawmakers question Obama about migrant kids (TFP)
Tennessee’s entire Republican congressional delegation has signed off on a letter that U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann wrote President Barack Obama “demanding answers about the administration’s handling of the release of 760 unaccompanied alien children to sponsors in Tennessee,” Fleischmann said in a news release Thursday. The release said the letter was written in support of Gov. Bill Haslam, who already had questioned the Obama administration about the issue. “For an administration that claims to be honest and transparent, withholding this information from state and local governments is completely unacceptable,” Fleischmann wrote.

Alexander: Election ‘is about the people of Tennessee and the future’ (Times-News)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander pitched his re-election effort Thursday by selling the idea that a Republican-controlled Senate can put the clamps on President Barack Obama’s executive power. The Tennessee Republican, during a get-out-the-vote rally at Warriors Path State Park, insisted the only cure for a “runaway president” is an election. “The founders of this country didn’t want a king and the American people don’t want a president of the United States who acts like one,” Alexander told the rally inside the park’s recreation building.

Candidate Carr looks for local push in race against Sen. Alexander (J. City Press)
Staffers from the Nashville area wearing “Beat Lamar” T-shirts passed buckets down the rows of the Life Fellowship Baptist Church on Thursday evening, hoping they would bring in funds that might give Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Carr an extra push moving toward election day. Around 100 supporters, including many locals, people who traveled with Carr to canvass Johnson City to knock on doors in an attempt to drum up support and several local politicians were in attendance at the rally, put on by a local tea party group. District Attorney General Tony Clark, state Rep. Tony Shipley, state Rep. Micah Van Huss, state Rep. Matthew Hill, Republican Committeman candidate Kent Harris and others were on hand to try to help give Carr an extra local push.

3rd District: Big money in one corner vs. grassroots support in other (TFP/Brogdon)
Experts say the outcome of the Republican primary for Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District will depend entirely on voter turnout. And while incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has raised more money than challenger Weston Wamp, many of the incumbent’s donors can’t vote to re-elect him. Most of Fleischmann’s donors are doctors, lawyers, bankers and political operatives — traditional Republican campaign contributors — but the majority come from outside the state’s 3rd Congressional District or are political action committees, considered people for the purposes of campaign funding, but not for voting.

DesJarlais blasts Black for support of Tracy in race (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Four years ago, U.S. Rep. Diane Black was battling fellow Republican Jim Tracy in a tough three-person GOP primary in Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District. But today, the Gallatin congresswoman is backing state Sen. Tracy in his 4th Congressional District primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn. Both Black’s and Tracy’s offices Thursday confirmed Black will attend an Aug. 5 fundraiser for Tracy in Sumner County, which is in Black’s 6th District. “Congressman Black and Senator Tracy have been friends since they served together in the General Assembly,” Black spokesman Tom Flanagin said via email Thursday.

VA reform bill to go to president (Daily News Journal)
The Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve a $17 billion emergency bill to begin reforming the troubled Veterans Affairs health care system. The 91-3 vote came just one day after the House passed the legislation. Lawmakers scrambled to finish the bill before a five-week legislative recess begins on Saturday. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law. Both Democrats and Republicans want to show veterans they are working to overhaul the scandal-plagued VA system, which has been rocked by revelations that veterans died waiting for health care and that VA officials lied about how long patients were forced to wait.

States Try to Prepare for the Economy’s Wild Ride (Governing)
Ask budget forecasters if they ever find certainty in their line of work and you will get the same answer: Certainty doesn’t exist. The only sure thing, says Kristen Cox, executive director of Utah’s budget office, is “no matter how good we get at forecasting and modeling, we will never get it right. The trends [we track] are what we know. But it’s the unknowable that will nail you.” In 2008 many states, including Utah, were predicting another stellar year of revenue growth approaching 10 percent. Instead, the economy took a historic leap off a cliff and state revenues collectively plummeted faster and deeper than at any time in recent memory.

How to Build a Rainy Day Fund (Governing)
Just before the Great Recession, Florida set aside $1.4 billion in its rainy day fund. It was an amount that all but disappeared two years later when lawmakers in 2009 had to find a whopping $4 billion in cuts due to declining tax revenue. But it didn’t have to be that way, according to an analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts. In fact, if Florida’s rainy day fund deposit rules had been similar to Virginia’s, Florida could have had more than four times the amount in its rainy day fund going into the recession. Certainly, a savings stash of $6 billion wouldn’t have entirely saved the state from cuts.

Restart of ORNL reactor postponed (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)
The restart of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s nuclear reactor has been postponed because of some “minor issues” with the reactor’s computer codes. The High Flux Isotope Reactor was shut down July 11 for routine maintenance and refueling. It had been scheduled to restart on Tuesday afternoon. However, according to Tim Powers, head of ORNL’s Research Reactors Division, the return to operation was delayed because of the computer issues identified on Monday. The restart has now been tentatively reset for mid-August, Power said. He indicated it was not a major problem.

2nd VW board member endorses UAW (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)
A Volkswagen supervisory board member is endorsing the United Auto Workers’ efforts at the company’s Chattanooga plant, becoming at least the second person on the powerful panel to publicly support the unionizing attempt. But anti-UAW factory workers continue to fight the union, passing out 400 fliers at the plant that offer 10 reasons not to sign a membership card, starting with the UAW “breaking its election agreement” with VW. The moves are the latest in the battle for the hearts and minds of the plant’s work force. The UAW in February lost a unionizing election by a vote of 712 to 626, but the union took a new tack last month when it set up a non-dues-paying local near the factory.

Scripps deal creates news-focused owner for Commercial Appeal (CA/Clarke)
In a little Italian restaurant in New York this past February, two media executives met to discuss the future of their companies, E.W. Scripps Co. and Journal Communications. The result — The Commercial Appeal is changing hands. Not since FDR was president has the Mid-South’s largest daily newspaper been anything but a Scripps asset. On Wednesday, though, it was announced that Scripps is pairing with Milwaukee-based Journal Communications to split the two companies’ broadcast properties and their newspapers into two distinct companies.

Three districts to hire extra teachers after high enrollment numbers (CA/Pignolet)
Days before the start of school, three of the six new municipal school districts are hiring additional teachers based on registration day enrollment numbers higher than expected. The Germantown Municipal School District is hiring three teachers for Dogwood Elementary. Supt. Jason Manuel said an additional teacher is possible at Riverdale School. The Arlington Municipal School District is adding two teachers to Donelson Elementary and one at Arlington Elementary. Lakeland School System will also add one teacher. Germantown set Dogwood’s optimal capacity at 775 students, but Manuel said the final number is expected to be around 845 students. Only 645 students attended Dogwood last year.

TOPS offers online classes for Tennessee high school students (WATE-TV Knox)
Scrolling through his list of online courses, high school sophomore Tanner Bell gets ready for the upcoming school year. The 15-year-old stays busy by juggling school with a full time job. He’s a DIY craft blogger who travels the country for meetings, shows and events. He felt tied down going to a traditional brick and mortar school. “My schedule just got a lot more compact and it wasn’t possible to do any other activities if I didn’t try a new method of school,” Tanner said. Research led Tanner to Tennessee Online Public Schools, or TOPS. It’s a public high school that started with 40 students and now serves 250 students across the state.

School bus drivers say strike is possible before first day of class (WREG-TV)
Ed Houston is one of the unionized bus drivers for local 984. He said many of his union’s men and women have been carrying kids to school for 30 or 40 years with the former Memphis City Schools. “It’s not a job at the bottom of the barrel, we’re asking for dignity and respect,” said Union President Terry Lovan. Their contract is up with Durham, the company that MCS used to bring kids to school. But Durham also agreed to bus kids for the suburban schools in addition to the new SCS, so a problem with Durham means a problem for everyone. Durham’s bus drivers don’t have a completed contract and their latest offer is expected to be rejected. “If y’all vote this down, will you strike?” WREG asked.

Shelby Co. School Bus Drivers Threaten Strike (WPTY-TV Memphis)
A possible major roadblock for the start of school. School bus drivers in Shelby County are threatening to strike on the first day of class. School bus drivers are threatening to strike on day one. That includes Collierville, Bartlett and Arlington in addition to Shelby County Schools. “Why would they go on strike now? I mean, they had all summer,” asked parent Deidre Pete. Teamsters union drivers for Durham School Services are not happy about pay, benefits and working rules in a proposed new contract. The possibility of a strike could mean disaster for parents, students and teachers on the first day of school.

 

OPINION

Times Editorial: Keep politics out of courts; keep the justices (Times Free-Press)
The Tennessee Supreme Court has become an electoral battleground for Republican state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and a group of fellow conservatives, including state house Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville. The Republicans have been trying to rally Aug. 7 voters to say no to retaining three Tennessee Supreme Court justices who were appointed by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. The justices are Gary Wade, Connie Clark and Sharon Lee. It’s actually an old trick. Conservative politicians launch campaigns intended to ensure the election of judges whose decisions will reflect the “correct” ideology.

Free-Press Editorial: Reject the politics; retain justices (Times Free-Press)
Since 1978, Tennesseans have gone back and forth in electing governors for two consecutive terms from first the Republican and then the Democrat parties. Whoever is governor when there is a state Supreme Court justice opening appoints the new justice. It’s the same way for the president of the United States and a United States Supreme Court justice. If the governor, or the president, is a Republican, he appoints more conservative justices. If the governor, or the president, is a Democrat, she appoints more liberal judges. Although the Founding Fathers probably couldn’t foresee today’s hyper-partisanship, it’s the system they set up. Today, Tennessee state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and several hyper-conservative groups would like all that to change.

Editorial: Drug treatment programs must be available if law is to be effective (CA)
As the case of Jamillah Falls-Washington, who is charged with using heroin while pregnant, winds its way through the judicial process, the public should be watching to see whether she gets the help she needs to keep her baby and conquer her addiction. Washington gave birth on July 5, four days after a new state law took effect that allows mothers who deliver babies with illegal drugs in their system — a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome — to be prosecuted for misdemeanor assault. The Tennessee General Assembly passed the law for the right reasons — to prevent babies being born addicted to drugs and to get their mothers off drugs and keep them out of prison.

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