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August 2 TN News Digest

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

Early birds seek tax-free deals at local malls (Tennessean/Wilson)
Deal seekers showed up early at Nashville-area malls Friday to take advantage of the first hours of this weekend’s tax-free holiday. Crowds lined up out the door to enter several stores as they opened Friday morning, including the Apple Store at Cool­Springs Galleria. Through Sunday night, state sales taxes will be waived on purchases of most clothes and school supplies priced at $100 or less and computers sold at $1,500 or less. The Tennessee Department of Revenue estimates that $8 million to $10 million worth of taxes are usually saved in the state each holiday, department spokeswoman Kelly Nolan Cortesi said.

Tax-free deals lure Chattanooga area shoppers (Times Free-Press/Anderson)
Grandmother Lorraine Joyner was among many area residents taking advantage of tax-free purchases for school supplies Friday. “We are certainly saving a lot,” she said while shopping with her daughter and three grandchildren at the Family Dollar off Willow Street in Chattanooga. “We are able to get the backpack and school uniform that my granddaughter needs for Orchard Knob [Elementary] this fall a lot cheaper.” This weekend marks the annual end-of-summer, tax-free shopping opportunities in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. At stores across the region, lines are longer, people are buying more than usual and shoppers can check their receipts and smile.

Shoppers out in force for Sales Tax Holiday (Johnson City Press)
Although it didn’t have a turnout like one would see on Black Friday, local retailers said shoppers were lined up outside their doors in anticipation of what might be the state’s second-most coveted shopping event of the year. On Friday, Tri-Cities shoppers turned out en masse for Tennessee’s eight annual Sales Tax Holiday, which exempts certain items like clothing, school and art supplies, computers and tablets from all taxation. The first Sales Tax Holiday occurred on the weekend of Aug. 4 in 2006, after the passage of Tennessee Code Annotated 67-6-393.

Sales tax holiday this weekend (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Many parents and students have waited all summer for the tax-free weekend to arrive. The three-day tax holiday began at midnight Friday and will go through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. The period was created so that Tennessee families could get back-to-school essentials at a lower price. Here are some items that are tax free this weekend: Clothing and school supplies, as long as each item costs less than $100. Computers, whether desktop, laptops or tablets, as long as they are priced less than $1,500. If accessories are bought separately – not bundled with the computer – tax will be charged.

Tennessee sales tax holiday is this weekend (WVLT-TV Knoxville)
This year’s tax-free holiday weekend in Tennessee began at 12:01 a.m Friday and ends Sunday at 11:59 p.m. Tax-free items include clothing with a price of $100 or less per item, school and school art supplies with a price of $100 or less per item, and computers with a price of $1,500 or less. The holiday also includes purchases of qualified items sold via mail, telephone, e-mail, or Internet if the customer orders and pays for the item and the retailer accepts the order during the holiday for immediate shipment, even if delivery is made after the exemption period. Walmart in Alcoa was packed with people stocking up on school supplies Friday.

Study says tax holiday isn’t cause for celebration (Nashville Business Journal)
Retailers may be happy to see more customers this weekend, but the annual tax holiday isn’t such a good deal for the overall economy, according to a study Beginning today and continuing through midnight on Aug. 3, Tennessee is suspending collection of gross receipts tax on sales of qualifying items, and many merchants also absorb the tax on a number of non-qualifying items. But according to the Tax Foundation, that isn’t good news. A report issued by the foundation said tax holidays do not promote economic growth or significantly increase consumer purchases because many would have bought the items at another time any way.

TEMA, National Guard form task force to help clean up tornado damage (WATE-TV)
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency is coordinating with several state departments and agencies to form a task force to clean up storm debris from public right-of-ways in Claiborne and Campbell counties after Sunday night’s storms and tornado. This was after the mayors of each county requested help, saying the volume of debris from the EF-3 tornado has been overwhelming. The task force met Friday with local officials to plan for the clean up work, which is scheduled to begin Monday and last about a week. The task force is made up of the following agencies: TEMA, National Guard, TDOT, Tennessee Highway Patrol. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Department of Forestry and the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency.

TDOT approves right of way permit for Greene County U.S. Nitrogen plant (WATE)
The Tennessee Department of Transportation approved Friday a permit allowing the building of pipelines to support the U.S. Nitrogen project in Greene County. That permit was originally rejected because it appeared the pipeline would have been only available to U.S. Nitrogen. The Greene County Industrial Development board tried again, certifying that it will own the pipelines and make them available to other businesses as well. There’s been opposition to this effort, with concerns over the process and worries about the impact to the Nolichucky river.

TDOT approves new Greene County pipeline (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
The Tennessee Department of Transportation approved a permit for a new pipeline in Greeneville. Some have opposed the pipeline, worried about the impact it could have on the environment. TDOT denied the original pipeline for US Nitrogen because officials thought only US Nitrogen would have access to it. The Industrial Development Board re-submitted the application and certified they will own and control the pipeline and give access to other businesses. The pipeline has been controversial in the Greeneville area with people worried about the environmental impact and access to the Nolichucky River.

Ramsey funnels $425,000 into campaign to defeat judges (C. Appeal/Humphrey)
State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has funneled $425,000 from his own political action committee to the independent group leading the campaign to oust the three Tennessee Supreme Court justices on the Aug. 7 statewide ballot, according to financial disclosures filed Friday. The money transfers mean that Ramsey, R-Blountville, is now effectively funding much of the attack campaign against the three judges appointed by former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen — and doing so with contributions he solicited largely from business donors for his main campaign account, RAAMPAC, the Republicans Achieving A Majority Political Action Committee.

Briggs outspends Campfield 3-to-1 (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
State Sen. Stacey Campfield has loaned his campaign $40,000 while Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs, his leading opponent in next Thursday’s Republican primary, has loaned his campaign $122,000, new financial reports show. The self-financing, reported in disclosures covering the period July 1 through July 28, roughly match the overall $3-to-$1 spending advantage that Briggs holds over Campfield in the race since its outset. Since Briggs launched his campaign last year, reports filed with the Registry of Election Finance show he had spent a total of about $334,000 going into the final days of the campaign.

District 7 debate facing drought of details (Johnson City Press)
Underdog House District 7 candidate Todd Franklin on Friday worked the phone lines in a frenzy to tie together an 11th-hour debate between himself, incumbent state Rep. Matthew Hill and challenger Phil Carriger just days before the Aug. 7 state primary. However, at the close of business Friday, both Hill and Carriger were still in the dark about the details. “I’m game, but I’ve not heard from him,” Hill said about Franklin. “I’ve not talked with him. He sent me an email to me, to Mr. Carriger and to the media that he was trying to put something together. I want to debate, but I have no confirmation of a date, a place, a time, where the questions will come from. He has not told us.”

How red can Tennessee get after election? (Tennessean/Cass)
As Tennessee voters take the stage for Act 2 of the 2014 election trilogy, perhaps the biggest question is: Can a red state get even redder? Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to cruise to a second term this fall without serious Democratic competition. If incumbent U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander withstands state Rep. Joe Carr’s tea party challenge in the GOP primary Thursday, he’ll probably make it tough for the Democratic nominee to get much traction in November, political analysts say. The other seats in the state’s congressional delegation probably won’t change parties either.

Memphis reaches signatures threshold for wine sales vote (Memphis Biz Journal)
Memphians are close to popping the cork on being able to vote for wine sales in grocery stores. The nonprofit Red White and Food, which is collecting signatures for petitions on the measure across Tennessee, says it has collected 13,600 signatures on its Memphis petition, with 13,372 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot this November. That Memphis is already over the threshold with three weeks left to go before the Aug. 21 deadline is encouraging for proponents of the measure, but how many of those signatures are actually legitimate is something the Shelby County Election Commission will have to verify.

Corker Weighs In As Israeli Forces Search For Captured Soldier In Gaza (WTVC)
Israeli forces are moving deeper into southern Gaza, searching for a soldier who was apparently captured during a clash with Hamas militants earlier in the day. The forces are being backed by heavy tank fire and airstrikes. More than 60 Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers have been killed today in fighting that quickly shattered a cease-fire brokered by the United States. The truce collapsed less than two hours after it began. The Israeli Cabinet has been meeting in a rare Sabbath session to consider options, including whether to expand the 25-day-old operation against Hamas.

Some voters look beyond Scott DesJarlais’ past (Tennessean/Sisk)
It would be hard not to know all about the turmoil in U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ past, say the husband and wife strolling out of the Rutherford County Election Commission office during early voting on Tuesday. But the deluge of advertisements, phone calls and other campaigning in recent weeks connecting personal choices he made long ago to his ability to serve in Congress didn’t stop the Murfreesboro couple from casting their ballots for the conservative congressman. They wonder why it should have. “Prior to this year, I’d never heard of it, to tell you the truth,” said Jim Blue. “Didn’t have an impact on what the issues are.”

Court Rulings Add Urgency to State Exchange Decisions (Stateline)
As states ready their health insurance exchanges for a second open enrollment season in November, many have more to worry about than the computer glitches that plagued them last year. Last month’s federal appeals court ruling that said language in the Affordable Care Act allows only state-run exchanges to give consumers tax credits to help pay for policy premiums is spurring several states to solidify their state-based credentials. “Until now, it was inconsequential what you were called,” said Larry Levitt, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “All of a sudden, it may matter.”

TVA to pay Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash victims $27.8 million (Associated Press)
The nation’s largest public utility has agreed to pay $27.8 million to settle claims from Tennessee property owners who suffered damage from a huge, 2008 spill of toxin-laden coal ash sludge that drew national attention to coal ash and its toxic contaminants. The spill happened when a containment dike burst at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant, releasing more than 5 million cubic yards of ash from a storage pond. The sludge flowed into a river and spoiled hundreds of acres in a riverside community 35 miles west of Knoxville. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan ruled in 2012 that TVA was liable for the spill.

TVA to pay $27.8M to Kingston coal ash victims (Tennessean/Gang)
The Tennessee Valley Authority will pay $27.8 million to settle 63 lawsuits from more than 850 people stemming from the massive 2008 coal-ash spill at its Kingston power plant. TVA announced the agreement on Friday, after nearly two years of negotiations ordered by U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan in Knoxville. TVA said the agreement is a significant milestone for the utility. In the early morning hours of Dec. 22, 2008, a dike failed at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn., sending 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers and over 300 acres of land. The breach released a gooey, slow-moving wave of coal ash and polluted water into the river. It snapped trees and knocked homes off their foundations.

Chattanooga paves the way as ‘gigabit’ city (Tennessean/Williams)
The coolest thing about having the “Gig” is that (almost) no one else does. That’s the attitude in the city that four years ago introduced America’s fastest Internet service, courtesy of the local municipal electric-power utility, the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, otherwise known as the EPB. The Gig offers speeds as quick as 1 gigabit per second, about 100 times faster than the average Nashville home’s broadband service. A similar service is coming soon to parts of Nashville, through AT&T.

Louisiana: Jindal wants details on immigrant children (Times-Picayune)
Gov. Bobby Jindal is looking for more details on the 1,071 unaccompanied immigrant children that have crossed the United States border and were relocated to Louisiana over the past six months. The Republican governor said he learned of the Bayou state placements through a federal government website last week and had not been informed of the moves otherwise. He sent a letter complaining about lack of information about the children’s status and location to President Barack Obama on Thursday. “We are in the midst of hurricane season and I am gravely concerned about the safety and well being of the 1,071 unaccompanied immigrant children who were placed without our knowledge in Louisiana in the last six months,” wrote Jindal to Obama.

Wisconsin: Divided court upholds Wisconsin’s voter ID law (Journal-Sentinel)
A divided state Supreme Court on Thursday tweaked a provision of Wisconsin’s voter ID law to put it in keeping with the state constitution, making it easier for people to get identification cards without having to pay along the way. Despite Thursday’s rulings in two challenges of the law, the requirement to show photo identification at the polls remains blocked because a federal judge in April found Wisconsin’s voter ID law violates the U.S. Constitution and federal Voting Rights Act. That decision is now under review by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Latest TCAP scores show Shelby County Schools progressing (C. Appeal)
Recently released district-level TCAP scores give us reason to cheer and reason to worry. Students in Shelby County Schools made gains in nearly every subject this spring, with the highest jumps occurring in the high schools, particularly in algebra and English, where the average gain was 6 points. Elementary- and middle-school students logged gains of 1 percent to 3 percent in key subjects, but lost ground in math. In a school system that has scores of failing schools, the results of scores from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests are heartening. They show, however, there still is much work to be done to make sure most children are mastering core subjects at grade level.

Editorial: Common Core standards become issue in many races (DNJ)
Although much campaigning for races on the Aug. 7 has dealt with the relative experience of incumbents and challengers for the contested posts, one issue has cut across local, state and federal boundaries — Common Core. Candidates for Rutherford County School Board, state legislative seats and the U.S. Congress have presented their stands on Common Core State Standards and related testing, and most have expressed opposition to them. Common Core standards, which the National Governors Association helped to spearhead, currently deals with the teaching of math and English, but the recent effort in the state Legislature to postpone implementation of the standards failed, although legislators did approve postponement of related testing for one year.

Lowe Finney: A new promise in education (Jackson Sun)
The General Assembly has finished its business for what will be my final year, but I still have the honor of serving as your senator right up until Election Day. With that in mind, I recently held town halls in Tiptonville and Dyersburg. Everyone was interested in ways we can attract more good-paying jobs to West Tennessee. On that front, I regret to say, the General Assembly took one step forward and one step back this year. Let’s talk first about the step forward. The General Assembly passed the Tennessee Promise plan, which will give every graduating high school student the opportunity to attend a community college or college of applied technology.

Columnist: Expectant moms in treatment for addiction won’t face punishment (NS)
If you are confused about Tennessee’s new law regarding pregnancy and substance use, you are not alone. On July 1, a new law went into effect stating that a woman who gives birth to a baby who is harmed by her illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant can be charged with assault. If a pregnant woman enters into a treatment program and gets prenatal care, these positive actions can be used as an affirmative defense. (This law has a sunset provision and will expire on June 30, 2016.) Sounds pretty simple, right? If you have a legal background, maybe. First of all, in the state of Tennessee, a baby is not considered a baby until the day of the birth. Therefore, women who are pregnant and using drugs cannot be charged with a crime.

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