September 10 TN News Digest

by TN Press Release Center on September 10, 2012

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

Tennessee Regulatory Authority chief settling into new job (TFP/Sher)

After the General Assembly approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed overhaul of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority last spring, Knoxville businessman Earl R. Taylor thought he might be a good fit as one of the agency’s five new part-time directors. But Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor who knew Taylor, and the governor’s top staffers instead saw Taylor in a different role at the TRA, which sets rates and service standards for privately owned utilities.

Ethics policies combined; governor’s meetings stay secret (N-S/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam has issued a new executive order on “ethics policy and disclosures” in the executive branch of state government while declining to disclose information on meetings he holds in the governor’s office and elsewhere. Executive Order No. 20, issued last week, was described by gubernatorial spokesman David Smith as “bringing clarity by combining everything from the two (previous orders) into a single executive order.” The new version, Smith said in an email to reporters, “doesn’t make any substantive changes about how ethics policy or disclosure is currently carried out.”

Tennessee agencies promote Lifeline awareness (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Regulatory Authority and the Attorney General’s Consumer Advocate & Protection Division are promoting Lifeline awareness this week in Tennessee. Lifeline is a federal program that provides discounted phone service to qualified low-income consumers. The program is intended to give low-income people the opportunities and security that come with having phone service. That includes being connected to family, being able to obtain and keep a job and being able to call 911 in case of an emergency.

Economic development conference registration open (Associated Press)

Registration is now open for the 59th annual Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development.cAccording to a news release, the conference’s focus is thinking globally about economic development and the impact it will have on Tennessee communities. The conference takes place Oct. 18 and 19 at the Renaissance Nashville Hotel. It will include educational sessions on topics such as entrepreneurship, exporting, incentives, research and development, site certification, online marketing, workforce development and agribusiness.

Saturday hours set for getting voter IDs (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Eight driver’s license centers — including one in Knoxville — will be open on two Saturdays for issuing photo identification cards that will allow holders to vote in the November election, according to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. “Any citizen who needs a photo ID for voting purposes may obtain one at no charge by visiting any of our 51 driver service centers during normal business hours,” said Commissioner Bill Gibbons. “As an added service, we are again opening certain centers for special Saturday hours to make sure everyone has an opportunity to get a photo ID.”

TennCare spend-down begins September 15 (Sparta Expositor)

TennCare’s Standard Spend Down program will be offering open enrollment opportunities will to new applicants Thursday, Sept. 13, beginning at 6 p.m. The Spend Down program is available for a limited number of people who are low-income or have high medical bills and are aged, blind, disabled or the caretaker of a Medicaid eligible child. The medical bills must meet the “spend down” threshold to qualify. Applicants must call the special toll-free phone number set up for Spend Down enrollment to receive an application.

TN virtual school draws criticism (Tennessean/Fingeroot)

As state officials lambaste the Tennessee Virtual Academy for low achievement scores and discuss new oversight methods, the school’s management company is facing an investigation in Florida, overcoming a list of citations issued in Georgia and recovering from reports of poor results in many of its schools. The virtual academy allows students in grades K-8 to take all their classes online, monitored by a certified teacher. It is managed by K12 Inc., a publicly traded for-profit company that has contracts for differing levels of involvement with at least 2,000 other schools across the nation.

Longtime TBI special agent in Jackson retires (Associated Press)

John Mehr, the special agent in charge of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s office in Jackson, has retired after 37 years with the agency and a slew of high-profile cases in West Tennessee. Mehr, 60, retired Aug. 31 after serving the agency he joined after getting his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Tennessee at Martin. Known for his leadership and passion to serve the community, Mehr tells The Jackson Sun that his first activity as a retiree will be looking after the cows on his family’s farm in Crockett County.

Ruling on recall of Chattanooga Mayor Littlefield due this week (TFP/Hightower)

The Tennessee Court of Appeals is expected to issue an opinion this week on the recall of Mayor Ron Littlefield. But no matter how the court rules, city voters still will be considering changes to recall rules in the City Charter in the Nov. 6 election. The appeals court could rule that the City Charter’s recall procedures are valid and that it doesn’t matter that the number of signatures needed for a recall of a mayor or council member differs from requirements in state law. If that happens, there’s no need to ask voters to bring the City Charter into line with state law, said Jim Folkner, with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield.

Collierville alderman seeks to ensure taxes will be spent on schools (CA/Wolff)

The Collierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen will consider a resolution Monday to “promise” or commit that any money collected with the increased local option sales tax would be used for the development of a municipal school district. The resolution comes at the request of Alderman Tom Allen, who said he wanted to make sure citizens were assured that when they approved that August referendum to increase the local option sales tax rate for schools that the funds would be used for that or returned to the people through a temporary property tax reduction.

Ryan coming to Knoxville for fundraising luncheon (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Vines)

GOP’s VP pick to attend fundraiser U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chosen less than two weeks ago as the Republican vice presidential nominee, will be in Knoxville for a $1,000-a-plate luncheon on Sept. 27 at the Knoxville Marriott. “Yes, he’s coming. It will be a fundraiser. We don’t know all the details yet,” businessman Jim Haslam II, a major fundraiser and contributor to the Republican Party, said Sunday. Haslam, father of Gov. Bill Haslam, and Susan Richardson Williams, a delegate to the recent Republican National Convention, are among those selling tickets and tables.

Firefighters’ 9/11 stair climb pays ‘beautiful tribute’ (Tennessean/DeVille)

Buford Duke came to honor someone he had never met. And he climbed 110 flights of stairs to do it. As he grew weary on the climb, he remembered the lanyard around his neck — a picture of Edward White, one of the many firefighters killed when the World Trade Center twin towers collapsed on 9/11. “I have no idea what he went through, but being a firefighter I can understand the heat but not the idea of not being able to see my wife and kid again,” he said. “This is more emotionally draining than it is physical. It’s a mental challenge knowing that he died on the 76th floor but I get to go home and sleep in my bed.”

Wind Subsidies Raise a Storm in Heartland States (Stateline)

Across the plains of Iowa, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas and South Dakota, tall turbines with sleek blades dot once-clear horizons, churning out carbon-free energy to add to the nation’s power grid. The blades seem to wave a greeting, on windy days at least, to whoever drives across those open spaces. The wind industry’s rapid growth has been cause for excitement among both Republican and Democratic policymakers in the heartland states. They welcome the jobs that come with it. In South Dakota, which has the capacity to generate almost a quarter of its energy from the turbines, “wind is not a partisan issue,” says Hunter Roberts, the state’s energy director.

Hearing set on MOX use in TVA plants (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sohn)

Local residents will have an opportunity Tuesday to tell federal officials what they think about using MOX fuel in TVA nuclear plants in Soddy-Daisy and in Athens, Ala. MOX, short for mixed oxide fuel, is a blend of plutonium from surplus nuclear weapons and uranium. It is untried in the United States, save for a two-cycle test of a similar blend of fuel at Duke Energy’s Catawba Nuclear Plant in South Carolina. U.S. reactors traditionally run on uranium, but advocates of the plan say it will recycle plutonium into forms that can never again be readily used in nuclear weapons.

More reshuffling at post-security breach Y-12 (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

More than a month after a security breach shattered the aura of invincibility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, the government is still assessing blame, carrying out multiple investigations and evaluations in an intense environment, and shuffling key personnel. Perhaps the biggest news of the week was the National Nuclear Security Administration’s decision to relocate Dan Hoag, the deputy manager of the NNSA Production Office — which oversees operations at both Y-12 and the Pantex weapons assembly plant in Texas — and a prominent figure in the federal management of Y-12 for several years.

Insurer markets $479 hearing aid (Tennessean/Wilemon)

UnitedHealthcare, which covers 1.2 million Tennesseans, just announced that it is offering hearing aids at a steep discount — if people order them from a sister company. The savings are significant, but the choices are limited. The original business model for the program, which included an online hearing test and mail-ordered delivery of devices, ran into trouble earlier this year with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA ordered the company, hi HealthInnovations, to cease marketing the online hearing test because it had not received clearance from the agency.

Wacker employees return from training in Germany (Associated Press)

A group of senior chemical operators from Wacker (VAH’-kur) Polysilicon is returning to East Tennessee after six months of training with counterparts in Germany. The company is planning a graduation ceremony Monday to award some 50 workers a certificate in Process Technology and Advanced Process Technology. The training at the company’s German operations followed six months of course work at the Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College. Wacker Polysilicon produces hyperpure polycrystalline silicon, a material used to make solar cells and semiconductor devices.

Virtual school in Hamilton County gets real starting today (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

In an effort to do things the right way, Hamilton County Schools will start small on its new virtual school, which opens today with about 20 students. “We want to make it small to start with. We want to make sure we’re meeting the kids’ needs,” said Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade. The county received approval last spring to launch an online-only school after a 2010 change in state law allowed virtual programs to expand to the point of operating standalone schools. That change immediately sparked statewide debate as the Legislature opened the door for for-profit companies to operate publicly funded virtual schools.

Illinois: Chicago teachers to strike after talks fail (Associated Press)

City officials vowed to keep hundreds of thousands of students safe when striking teachers hit the picket lines Monday and school district and teachers union leaders resumed negotiations on a contract that appeared close to being resolved over the weekend before the union announced both sides were too far apart to prevent the district’s first strike in 25 years. The walkout in the nation’s third-largest school district posed a tricky test for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his city, as parents and school officials begin the task of trying to ensure nearly 400,000 students are kept safe.

 

OPINION

 

Gail Kerr: Nashville mayor cuts red tape to make development easier (Tennessean)

Mayor Karl Dean got his scissors out and used them to dramatically cut the red tape developers and business owners used to go through when kicking off a new project. Instead of going from office to office all over the city, 80 percent of what a new project needs — from building permits to fire codes — can now be addressed at the Richard H. Fulton Complex, Second Avenue South and Lindsley. And now, when you start the process, one human being is assigned to help you through every step. “You’ve got a contact person,” said Terry Cobb, the former Metro Codes director who is now director of development services. “You know him. You’ve met him. You’ve got his phone number. You’ve got his email address.”

Editorial: Healthier employees (Commercial Appeal)

When Dr. Reginald Coopwood, president of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, visited The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board a few weeks ago, he said one of the growing health industries is managed care. A story Friday by The Commercial Appeal’s Toby Sells described how that trend is playing out in the private sector as more companies embark on programs to keep their employees healthier and, by extension, help hold down medical and health insurance costs. It is a growth industry that fits comfortably into health reform efforts, where greater emphasis is being placed on preventive care, including encouraging people to live healthier lifestyles. Many companies have jumped into the effort with both feet, bombarding employees with information on how to eat healthier, relieve stress and exercise better.

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