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September 16 TN News Digest

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

Haslam, Bredesen to discuss Amendment 2 (Tennessean/Vines)
Gov. Bill Haslam will be in Knoxville on Wednesday for two public events on state appellate judges. He will participate in a ceremonial swearing in of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee at 1 p.m. at the Tennessee Supreme Court Building. She succeeds Justice Gary Wade, who completed a two-year term Sept. 1. Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen will discuss Amendment 2 that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot at a 2 p.m. program at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee. The proposed amendment basically puts into practice the way judges to the appeals and supreme courts have been chosen for decades although there are differences.

Tennessee Justices Name Slatery as Attorney General (Associated Press)
The state Supreme Court on Monday named Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s top legal adviser, Herbert Slatery, as Tennessee’s next attorney general. The announcement comes in the aftermath of a failed conservative campaign to oust three Democratic justices who make up a majority on the five-member court. That effort focused heavily on incumbent Attorney General Bob Cooper’s refusal to take part in a multistate lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s health care law. The justices did not take questions from reporters about why they decided against reappointing Cooper, who had previously served as legal counsel for Haslam’s Democratic predecessor, Phil Bredesen.

Tennessee Supreme Court names new attorney general (Memphis Biz Journal)
Attorney General Bob Cooper will not return for another eight-year term, the Tennessee Supreme Court announced Monday. Rather than stick with the incumbent Democrat, the five-member court named Herbert Slatery, Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief legal counsel, to the position. Slatery is the first Republican attorney general in Tennessee history. Chief Justice Sharon Lee, speaking for the court, said the decision was unanimous. “It was a challenging process because of the quality of the applicants. In the end we selected the person who we thought would be the very best lawyer to serve all Tennesseans,” Lee said. “[Slatery] is an excellent lawyer with proven leadership ability and sound judgment.”

Herbert Slatery III, Haslam’s chief legal counsel, picked as AG (Tenn/Haas)
The state Supreme Court on Monday chose Gov. Bill Haslam’s right-hand man to be the state’s top attorney, giving Tennessee its first Republican attorney general since Reconstruction. The court’s selection of Herbert Slatery III, the governor’s chief legal counsel, to replace Democratic Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. essentially handed a victory to Republicans who tried to accomplish the same mission by defeating three of the justices at the ballot box in retention elections last month. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who spearheaded the unsuccessful campaign against the justices, was quick to praise the new attorney general in a statement. “As the first Republican attorney general in Tennessee history, Herbert Slatery will be a strong advocate for the people of Tennessee and a vigilant defender of Tennessee’s conservative reforms,” Ramsey said.

Justices pick Republican Herbert Slatery as Tennessee attorney general (TFP/Sher)
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey may have lost at the ballot box in his efforts to defeat three Democratic Supreme Court justices, but he wound up Monday with a history-shattering consolation prize. The five-member Supreme Court named Herbert Slatery III, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s legal counsel, as Tennessee’s first GOP attorney general since the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction in the state. In doing so, the three Democratic and two Republican justices cast aside sitting Attorney General Bob Cooper, who had reapplied for another eight-year appointment, and chose Slatery, one of five Republicans who were finalists.

Supreme Court picks Slatery as new state AG (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
Herbert Slatery, chief legal counsel to Gov. Bill Haslam, was selected Monday by the Tennessee Supreme Court as the state’s new attorney general. The court’s action, described by Chief Justice Sharon Lee as a unanimous choice by its five members, denied current Attorney General Robert Cooper, a Democrat, a second eight-year term. Neither Lee nor her four colleagues on the court responded to media questions as they exited the courtroom where Lee announced the appointment. Slatery, 62, joined Haslam’s administration as legal counsel when the governor took office in January 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and a 1980 graduate of the University of Tennessee law school.

Supremes pick Haslam counsel to be AG (Nashville Post)
Bob Cooper is out as Tennessee’s Attorney General and will be replaced by the first Republican to ever hold the position. Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices announced Monday morning that they had unanimously selected Herbert Slatery to serve as the state’s top law enforcement officer for the next eight years. Slatery, a Knoxville native, had been serving as legal counsel to Gov. Bill Haslam. The selection comes just after a heated Supreme Court election that saw three Democrat-appointed justices targeted by a Republican-led campaign. Reaction to Slatery’s appointment was immediate and divided along partisan lines. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who had led the unsuccessful charge to oust the three justices, praised the selection and did not shy away from its ideological implications.

Haslam Administration’s Top Lawyer Picked as New State AG (TN Report)
The Tennessee Supreme Court has selected Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief legal advisor to serve as the state’s next attorney general. Herb Slatery, 62, has served as the governor’s point-man on administrative legal matters since Haslam took office in 2011. Prior to that he worked for 30 years at the Knoxville law firm of Egerton, McAfee, Armistead & Davis. There he represented, among other clients, the Knox County Industrial Development Board and the Knoxville-Knox County Public Building Authority. The court’s decision, announced Monday morning, was said by Chief Justice Sharon Lee to be unanimous among the five members, three Democrats and two Republicans.

Tenn Supreme Court’s AG Pick Pleases Republicans, Rankles Democrats (WPLN)
Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper has been passed over for a second term. Instead, the Supreme Court has named Governor Bill Haslam’s general counsel — Herb Slatery — as the state’s top attorney. The justices made their announcement to reporters in the Supreme Court chambers but refused to take questions, such as why they let Cooper go. Chief Justice Sharon Lee said in a statement that Slatery was the “very best lawyer to serve all Tennesseans.” He’s also a Republican — the first to serve as Tennessee attorney general since Reconstruction from the Civil War. Conservatives have attacked Cooper, a Democrat, for not participating in multi-state lawsuits that push back against the Obama administration, particularly its Affordable Care Act.

TN Supreme Court Names Haslam Legal Adviser New Attorney General (WTVC-TV)
The state Supreme Court has named Gov. Bill Haslam’s top legal adviser, Herbert Slatery, as Tennessee’s next attorney general. The state’s highest court made the appointment Monday in the aftermath of a conservative campaign to oust three Democratic justices who make up a majority on the five-member bench. Tennessee is the only state in the country where the high court names the attorney general. Slatery was selected among a six finalists who included incumbent Bob Cooper, state Sen. Doug Overbey, courts administrator Bill Young, and private attorneys Gino Bulso of Nashville and Mark Fulks of Johnson City. Chief Justice Sharon Lee had touted what she called a “commitment of a transparent process” for selecting the attorney general, though only the initial interviews were conducted in public.

Tennessee’s first Republican attorney general named (WREG-TV Memphis)
Governor Bill Haslam’s chief legal counsel, Herbert Slatery III, has been named attorney general. Slatery, the state’s first Republican attorney general, replaces Robert Cooper Jr. The appointment was made by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Last month three of the justices, who were up for reelection, were the focus of an unprecedented campaign to unseat them. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, who backed the removal, hoped to replace Democrat justices with Republicans in hopes of a Republican attorney general being appointed as well as having a more conservative court.

Tennessee Democratic Leader Dismayed By Slatery Appointment (WPLN-Radio)
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh expressed dismay at what he sees as the state’s high court caving to political pressure in its attorney general appointment. The court chose Herb Slatery, a Republican, to succeed Democratic Bob Cooper, a decision Fitzhugh portrayed as a betrayal. The news follows a failed campaign spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey to push out three Democratic judges from the five-member bench. Ramsey, along with other special interest groups, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace the three Democrats, with the ultimate goal of landing a Republican attorney general. Despite how voters turned down Ramsey’s pitch, the justices on the state’s high court gave Ramsey what he wanted, according to Fitzhugh.

Haslam open to applying for federal pre-K expansion funds (Tennessean/Garrison)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has issued an intent to apply for federal prekindergarten funds, but a spokesman for the Republican governor said his position on early childhood education in Tennessee hasn’t changed. That means the governor’s decision on whether to formally pursue federal funds to expand the state’s voluntary pre-K program will come after the completion of an ongoing multi-year study by Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Research Institute on pre-K effectiveness — a stance he’s kept despite criticism from pre-K advocates. In an email on Thursday, state education officials notified the federal government of Tennessee’s intent to apply for the federal Preschool Development Grant, which has dangled a total of $250 million to states for pre-K expansion or development.

Tennessee’s first lady celebrates Books from Birth program (CA/Garlington)
As a young girl growing up in Midtown, Crissy Garrett loved reading her “Winnie-the-Pooh” red hardback book so much that she wore the cover off. As a Tennessee’s first lady, Crissy Haslam wants parents to instill that same kind of zeal and passion by reading at least 20 minutes a day to their young children. Haslam rolled into Collierville’s Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch Jr. Library about 12:20 p.m. Monday in a borrowed big blue tour bus to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, which has spent $40 million mailing more than 20 million books to children all over the state. At least 350 parents, children and local officials attended the event sponsored by the Friends of the Library.

Tennessee sees sales-tax collections soar (Nashville Business Journal)
Tennessee’s tax collections are up $31 million over last year’s figures and more than $24 million above the budgeted estimate. “While we are encouraged by the August numbers, we continue to be concerned about the relatively slow economic recovery in Tennessee,” said Larry Martin, Tennessee Finance and Administration Commissioner. “It is important for us to maintain our close controls on state spending and to carefully monitor revenue trends.” August is the first month of the state’s new fiscal year. Sales tax was one of the biggest sources of revenue for the state and that sector say a nearly 7 percent increase which marks the largest month-over-month growth in more than two years, according to the Tennessean.

Report says income inequality undermines sales tax revenue growth (C. Appeal)
Income inequality has undermined the rate of sale tax revenue growth in Tennessee, Arkansas and other states reliant on sales taxes, says credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s. “States generate the bulk of their revenue from taxes levied on current economic activity, namely personal income and consumption. Therefore, when the economy operates below its potential, state tax revenues tend to suffer,” the New York agency wrote in a report released Monday. In Tennessee, sales tax collections rose 5.88 percent on average from 1990 to 1999, and 3.78 percent from 2000 through 2009. Since then, collections have averaged 4.34 percent. In Mississippi, sales tax revenue rose 7.22 percent on average between 1990 and 1990, and slumped to a 3.56-percent average between 2000 and 2009.

Panel tackles criminal justice system in Tennessee (Tennessean/Haas)
For the first time in two decades, Tennessee lawmakers want to take a hard look at the way the state punishes criminals. All seem to agree that the current system is broken. The Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday began a two-day discussion of how Tennessee ended up in the state it’s in and where it should go. “We ranked No. 1 in the nation in our violent crime rate,” said Bill Gibbons, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, referring to 2012 crime statistics. “Obviously that’s not an acceptable position to be in.” He rattled off a list of major problems in the state. Gangs have taken hold not just in urban areas, but rural as well. Drugs continue to plague the state, particular methamphetamines.

Film Workers Union Organizes Safety Course After Fatal Accident In GA (WPLN)
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is pumping $3,000 into sponsoring a safety class for film workers that would teach them how to shoot safely around train tracks. This comes after a deadly accident on a movie set in Georgia earlier this year. The crew for the movie Midnight Rider was attempting to film a scene on railroad tracks when a train rushed toward them, killing a camera assistant. The railroad company CSX alleges it denied permission for the film crew to be on the tracks. Movies and TV shows shot in Tennessee also often spend time around train tracks, says Peter Kurland. Kurland is the business agent for IATSE Local 492 — the union that represents film workers in Tennessee and northern Mississippi, which is organizing the train safety class.

State parks recognize National Public Lands Day (Associated Press)
In recognition of National Public Lands Day, Tennessee State Parks are inviting the public to take part in hikes and volunteer activities across the state on Sept. 27. National Public Lands Day is the nation’s largest one-day, volunteer stewardship event. Thousands of volunteers build trails, plant trees and remove litter. The national event began in 1994 with just three federal agencies and 700 volunteers. Today, the annual program of the National Environment Education Foundation has grown to more than 105,000 volunteers at over 2,000 locations in every state across the nation. Each of the 55 Tennessee State Parks will have scheduled hikes and volunteer opportunities.

TDOT cleans up bypass (Jackson Sun)
Drivers heading to North Jackson along the U.S. 45 Bypass may have noticed construction crews working their way down the bypass the last few days — clearing brush, knocking down trees and evening terrain. The brush is being cleaned up by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, according to Nichole Lawrence, with Region 4 Community Communications for TDOT. The clearing is something that TDOT does every 15 years or so, Lawrence said. Lawrence said that TDOT has been cleaning up Interstate 40 and along the bypass, and won’t do it again for several years because it takes awhile for brush and trees to grow up again.

Open meeting rules questioned (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Witt)
Email inboxes of Knox County commissioners are getting inundated with meeting notices, some commissioners said, that are superfluous. “We’re getting a lot of public notices that I think aren’t necessarily necessary — baby showers and church meetings,” Commissioner Sam McKenzie said. Knox County commissioners notify the commission clerk of any meetings that they may have, and then a public notice is issued. Often commissioners will meet to talk about issues they may address in a public meeting. Sometimes, according to McKenzie and some other commissioners, notifying the public of a potential social interaction among commissioners is going too far.

July’s blue flu spread far, wide within Memphis Police Department (CA/Connolly)
Even the Missing Persons Unit was missing one person. The police sickout in July called the blue flu appears to have spread throughout the Memphis Police Department, from day shifts to night shifts, from Downtown to Cordova, from big stations to obscure divisions like the harbor patrol, according to data released to The Commercial Appeal in response to a public records request. Five employees with the homicide unit missed at least one day between June 28 and July 11. In the elite TACT unit, the number was seven. In vice and narcotics, 16. In communications and dispatch, 25. Six officers in the schools missed some school.

Lamar Alexander says Ebola as serious a threat as ISIL (Tennessean/Wilemon)
An out-of-control Ebola outbreak in West Africa has Tennessee officials concerned about the nation’s response to what could become a global health threat. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Monday that Ebola should be considered as serious a threat as ISIL. On Tuesday night, Tennessee public health officials will meet with people from West Africa living in Nashville to share information. The actions come as President Barack Obama is expected to announce Tuesday new efforts to stop the spread of the hemorrhagic fever that has killed half of those infected. “This is an instance where we should be running toward the burning flames with our fireproof suits on,” Alexander said. “This is an emergency. We need to recognize it, and we need to find and work with other countries in the world that recognize it.”

Tennessee GOP goes after Democratic nominee Gordon Ball (Tennessean/Cass)
Facing a legitimate Democratic opponent in this fall’s U.S. Senate race, the Tennessee Republican Party is swinging into action. The party today announced a new “Law and Order”-styled web advertisement and a website, ObamaBallAgenda.com, to criticize Democratic nominee Gordon Ball, a wealthy Knoxville attorney who last ran for office in 1978. “Like many Democrats in Tennessee — and every personal injury lawyer I’ve come across — Ball will try to cloak himself with conservative rhetoric in order to win,” party chairman Chris Devaney said in a news release. “But the reality is: He’ll be one more vote for Barack Obama’s agenda. His commitment to ObamaCare and the fact he would help President Obama impose more job-destroying taxes and regulations, all while eroding our Second Amendment rights and the rights of the unborn, proves he wouldn’t be a bluedog — he’d be Obama’s lapdog in the Senate.”

Gordon Ball gets “off the sidelines,” but can he win? (Tennessean/Cass)
Gordon Ball caught the political bug when he was a young man, then flushed it out of his system for 36 years. Now he’s got the fever again, in a big way. Ball, 65, is Tennessee’s Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in the Nov. 4 general election. He’s a big underdog as he takes on Sen. Lamar Alexander, the second-term Republican incumbent and former governor. But he says he has a fighting chance to overturn the conventional wisdom and give the state its first Democratic senator since Republicans took control of both seats in 1994. “Lamar Alexander can be beaten,” Ball said to applause during a small fundraiser co-hosted by U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, two Metro Council members and Nashville’s vice mayor at Mafiaoza’s restaurant on Sept. 4.

Tenn. gets grant to ID worker misclassification (Associated Press)
Tennessee has received a $499,000 federal grant for efforts to stop worker misclassification. According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Labor, the money will help Tennessee’s unemployment insurance tax programs identify instances where employees are misclassified as independent contracts. The money will also go to detecting instances where employees fail to report the wages paid to workers. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said in a news release that the grants are intended to help “level the playing field for employers while ensuring workers receive appropriate rights and protections.” Tennessee was one of 19 states to receive a grant.

Marijuana Revenue Still Hazy for States (Stateline)
When voters in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, D.C., Florida and Guam head to the polls in November to decide whether to legalize marijuana, either for medical or recreational use, some may wonder how much new tax revenue legalization might bring in. The answer, according to early returns in Colorado and Washington: nobody knows. In Washington, which opened the doors to recreational marijuana (also known as retail or adult-use marijuana) on July 9, the state expects to collect taxes of $3 million on sales of $12 million as of September 8. Washington imposes taxes of 25 percent at the producer, processor and retail levels. Because state officials were unsure how much revenue the new market would bring in, the state is not counting it as revenue to fund its current two-year budget.

E. Nashville parents organize PAC to fight Register’s plan (TN/Garrison)
Parents in East Nashville are moving quickly to fight Director of Schools Jesse Register’s far-reaching plan to close low-performing schools, hand others to charter operators and let families in that area choose where their children will attend. Their request: Start over. Since Register unveiled his intentions last week, parents and other East Nashville residents have organized a political action committee, East Nashville United, which they say has mobilized parents and teachers at all schools in the Maplewood and Stratford high school clusters. “We ask that Dr. Register tear up his plan and start from scratch,” said Christine Pulle, a parent in Inglewood and spokesperson for the group.

 

 
OPINION

Columnist: Tennessee gets new AG (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
Politicking for justice Who saw this curve ball coming? The Tennessee Supreme Court — slammed by Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and other conservative opponents in the August election campaigns — retains its three Democrat justices and its Democratic court majority, but then the justices dump the Democratic attorney general. On Monday, Supreme Court justices — who appoint the state’s attorney general — named Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s legal counsel, Herbert Slatery, as Tennessee’s next attorney general. In making the decision, the justices rejected Democratic Attorney General Bob Cooper’s bid for a second eight-year appointment. Slatery, 62, becomes Tennessee’s first Republican attorney general since at least post-Civil War Reconstruction days.

Free-Press Editorial: New way forward? (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
Herbert Slatery, legal counsel for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, is likely to do an effective job as Tennessee’s new attorney general. But it may be time for legislators to consider a new way for the state’s attorney general to be chosen, instead of by the state Supreme Court. That’s because today, to Republicans, it may appear Slatery was unanimously chosen Monday by a chastened, Democrat-majority Supreme Court, which saw a well-financed but ultimately unsuccessful campaign conducted against its three Democratic justices in the August election. The campaign appeared to be mounted because those three justices helped appoint and seemed to support outgoing Democratic Attorney General and Chattanooga native Bob Cooper, who had refused to add Tennessee to the states challenging President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Guest columnist: Chronic understaffing cripples state services (Tennessean)
Last week, WSMV-Channel 4 in Nashville aired surveillance video from Woodland Hills Youth Development Center showing overwhelmed officers in an arguably out-of-control and dangerous environment. The Tennessean recently reported that two officers at Mountain View Development Center, a state-run facility, were fired and a supervisor resigned as a result of an investigation into two recent suicides at the facility. And a recent editorial questioned the available resources at detention centers for Department of Children’s Services employees caring for teens who require constant oversight and attention. Something needs to change. It is time for Tennessee citizens, members of our state legislature and Gov. Bill Haslam to realize that chronic understaffing of state services has very serious consequences.

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