March 22 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: Nissan again brings good news on jobs (Daily News Journal)
Rutherford County received good economic news last week with announcement that Nissan plans to invest another $160 million in the county for a project that could create at least 1,000 jobs. Success in the planned development of a supplier park does require a booming auto industry, but the plans also include flexibility that allows parts made there to go to Nissan’s competitors. Nissan officials indicate that 10 suppliers already have expressed an interest in locating in the park, and the list of suppliers will not have to be stagnant. We commend Nissan for taking its “just in time” approach to auto assembly to a new level with location of suppliers near the assembly plant.

State investigators close pharmacy after finding numerous violations (TFP/Belz)
A Cleveland pharmacy has been shuttered and the pharmacist who ran it has surrendered her license following state health officials’ investigation of violations in the company’s drug making process. The Wellness Store Compounding Pharmacy, located on Keith Street NW, initially had its license suspended in September after investigators found the pharmacy was using “outdated, deteriorated or otherwise unsafe” ingredients to make eye drops and injectable drugs like steroids and the hormone hCG.

‘No winners…only losers’: Anatomy of UT sexual assault report (N-S/Slaby, Dopirak)
A report of an alleged sexual assault by a female student set in motion the investigation process the University of Tennessee and colleges around the country are constantly revising to meet changing federal standards. The complications in this case of two freshmen changed the way UT approaches sexual assault allegations and brought damage to both students and the university itself. The News Sentinel obtained nearly 300 pages of documents from the two investigations and interviewed UT officials and the female student’s father to report this article.

Green has a good legislative week in Tennessee Senate (Leaf Chronicle)
State Sen. Mark Green of Clarksville recently guided passage of some key pieces of legislation that he says will benefit veterans, healthcare consumers and children with cystic fibrosis. Senate Bill 368 extends authorization to non-resident veterans to use military truck driver experience in obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in Tennessee. It expands upon legislation Green helped get passed in 2014, which allowed resident Tennessee veterans to waive the state’s CDL skills test requirement if they can show proof of a military license for the same class of vehicle they seek a license for in the state, so long as their driving record is clear of citations or accidents in the last two years.

Tennessee ranks fourth-worst state for voter turnout (Tennessean/Barnes)
When it came to voting in the 2014 elections, Tennessee voters weren’t flocking to the polls, according to a Nonprofit VOTE report. Tennessee ranked as the fourth-worst state for voter turnout during the past election season in Nonprofit VOTE’s “America Goes to the Polls 2014” report. In fact barely more than a quarter — 29.1 percent — of the Volunteer State actually voted. The state showed a small improvement from the 2010 elections when it was the third-worst state. The only states (including the District of Columbia) that ranked worse than Tennessee were New York at No. 49, Texas at No. 50 and Indiana at No. 51. The best three states for voter turnout were Colorado, Wisconsin and Maine, which all had more than 50 percent of residents casting votes.

Sen. Alexander opposes ‘micro-unions’ (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has signed on as co-sponsor to Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s bill to reverse a National Labor Relations Board decision to allow “micro-unions,” collective bargaining units made up of subsets of employees within the same company. “The NLRB’s decision to allow micro-unions divides workplaces and makes it harder and more expensive for employers to manage their workplace and do business,” Alexander said in a news release. “This legislation will restore balance and fairness to the workplace and reduce the conflict, lawsuits, and uncertainty that this decision causes.”

Sen. Corker pushes housing finance reform (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker says one of Congress biggest tasks is reforming the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Responding to an Office of Inspector General report saying the future is uncertain for the mortgage agencies known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Tennessee Republican renewed his call for reform. The report “strengthens my long-held belief that one of the biggest issues for Congress to address, and the last major unfinished business from the 2008 financial crisis, is passing comprehensive legislation to wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,” said Corker.

No Child Left Behind Law Faces Its Own Reckoning (New York Times)
Ginn Academy, the first and only public high school in Ohio just for boys, was conceived to help at-risk students make it through school — experimenting with small classes, a tough discipline code and life coaches around the clock. Its graduation rate was close to 88 percent last year, compared with 64 percent for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District as a whole. And it has enjoyed some other victories. There is the junior whose test scores are weak but who regularly volunteers at a food bank. And the senior proudly set to graduate this spring who used to attend school so irregularly that he had to be collected at home each morning by a staff member. But under No Child Left Behind, the signature education initiative of the George W. Bush administration, the academy, which opened in 2007, was consistently labeled low performing because it did not make the required “adequate yearly progress” in raising test scores.

Hamilton County commissioners leaning against school tax increase (TFP/Omarzu)
School board member Donna Horn and County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley share the same East Brainerd constituents, but they’re divided over a proposed 40-cent property tax hike to raise $34 million for Hamilton County’s public schools. The first local school tax increase in a decade would bring art and foreign language classes to the elementary grades, increase teachers’ pay and benefits by 5 percent, help buy up-to-date technology and make other improvements, said schools Superintendent Rick Smith, who unveiled the proposal at a Thursday night school board work session. The increase would raise the tax rate to $3.16 per $100 of assessed value and add $150 annually to the tax bill of a $150,000 home.

OPINION

Editorial: Searching for middle ground in evaluations (Commercial Appeal)
Reinforcing teacher evaluations with measurable data is a good idea in theory, and you can’t blame the education establishment for investing time and money in the effort. Education is too important not to try. Putting the idea into practice, however, has been sketchy from the start, and it has a long road to travel before it’s accepted by educators and education experts as a useful and reliable tool to help determine who stays in the teaching field and who needs to find more suitable employment. In Tennessee, the system is called the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, which was added to teachers’ annual performance review in 2011, accounting for up to 35 percent of their total score.

Editorial: It shouldn’t have taken outcry to open meetings (News-Sentinel)
Sunshine Week, which concluded on Saturday, overflowed with news on transparency — or the lack thereof — at every level of government. From the Knox County E-911 board’s struggles to comply with Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act to the firestorm surrounding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server, open government issues took center stage. Nowhere was the drama greater than in the Tennessee House of Representatives, where dogged reporters from the News Sentinel, the Commercial Appeal, Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Tennessean and The Associated Press pulled back the curtain shielding secret House committee meetings from public view.

Tom Humphrey: Public opinion opens doors to pre-meetings (News-Sentinel)
As appropriately noted by some Tennessee Republican legislators last week, secret meetings are by no means a new development in Legislatorland. Why, the state constitution enshrines the principle of secrecy for lawmaking, which, as widely understood, is rather like making sausage and thus something people don’t need to know about. Article II, Section 22, proclaims: “The doors of each house and of committees of the whole shall be kept open, unless when the business shall be such as ought to be kept secret.” Note this effectively applies only to floor sessions and “committees of the whole” — that’s when all members of the House or Senate meet together as a committee, a provision that is never used these days despite the interesting possibilities for doing so in supermajority situations. Committees of less than the whole, and that’s all functioning committees today, are not included. Further, the constitutional provision effectively lets legislators decide what “ought to be kept secret.” And when legislators enacted the sunshine law requiring city councils, county commissions and the like to meet in public, they exempted themselves from doing the same. It would have been unconstitutional to do otherwise, of course.