September 27 TN News Digest

by TN Press Release Center on September 27, 2012

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

Grant awarded for park (Jackson Sun)

Gov. Bill Haslam came to Jackson on Wednesday morning to announce a Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant of $250,000 to develop Madison County’s Leeper Lane Park. Haslam said a community’s quality of life is directly linked to the quality of local parks and outdoor areas. “Recreational facilities are important not only to Tennesseans but for the many visitors we attract to our state each year,” he said in a news release. ”It is great to be here today to celebrate the great work of the Madison County community.”

Governor Presents Grant for Leeper Lane Park (WBBJ-TV Memphis)

Governor Bill Haslam stopped by West Tennessee Wednesday afternoon to award a $250,000 grant to Leeper Lane Park. The money from the grant will go towards funding new lights for the Madison County Little League team. “It’s great to know that there’s people in the government that’s interested in supporting ball, the health of kids, and the future of kids.” says Trey Smith, a Madison County Little League supporter Governor Haslam told the crowd how this project hits close to home for him.

Haslam Announces Madison County Parks Grant (WNWS-Radio)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a Local Parks and Recreation Fund (LPRF) grant of $250,000 to further develop Leeper Lane Park in Jackson. The next phase of improvements at the park includes a new concession stand, restrooms and new ball field lights. “Our quality of life is directly linked to the quality of our parks and outdoor spaces,” Haslam said. “Recreational facilities are important not only to Tennesseans but for the many visitors we attract to our state each year. It is great to be here today to celebrate the great work of the Madison County community.”

Gov. Haslam appoints three new Special Supreme Court members (Biz Clarksville)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed three new attorneys to the Special Supreme Court to hear a case from which all five Tennessee Supreme Court justices have recused themselves. The new special appointees join two previous appointees to make up a group of highly qualified and diverse legal minds representing the three grand divisions of the state.

Haslam Seeks Non-Judge Judge (Metro Pulse)

The Knoxville legal community knows Russ Dedrick as a longtime tough-as-nails federal prosecutor who spent most of his career in town. He was interim U.S. attorney several times and finally got a presidential appointment to the job before he retired. Gov. Bill Haslam has asked Dedrick to be a special judge to decide the fate of the state court system. Haslam has had trouble finding judges to hear a case brought by John Jay Hooker challenging the way appeals court judges are selected. Hooker contends the appointment of judges and a retention election is at odds with the state constitution requiring the election of judges.

Haslam’s school voucher panel debates when to launch (Associated Press)

A task force appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has skipped over the question of whether to create a school voucher program. Instead, the panel’s most spirited debate Wednesday was over how soon vouchers could be offered in Tennessee. Former state Sen. Jamie Woodson of Knoxville, now the head of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, said that even if lawmakers approve a voucher program in the spring, properly implementing the program would take until the 2014 school year.

School-Voucher Possibilities Taking Shape In Task Force (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Top education officials are hashing out details for a school-voucher system. It would let parents divert money the state pays for public schools, and instead spend it on private-school tuition. The governor’s task force is discussing what students and schools could take part, how much money would be in play, and how the system would be held accountable. State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says the task force isn’t debating whether a voucher program should exist in Tennessee; rather, it’s figuring out how one might work.

Ex-official says DCS head was told of duty to report child deaths (TN/Wadhwani)

State lawmakers said Wednesday they are considering convening a special legislative committee hearing or formally requesting that the governor appoint an outside auditor as possible next steps to address emerging concerns about the Department of Children’s Services. Last week, the agency released partial information sought for months by one lawmaker on the deaths of 31 children this year who had interacted with DCS before they died. The agency’s attorney conceded DCS had not been following state law that requires reporting child fatalities and near-fatalities.

DPD receives grant to aid in DUI stops (State Gazette)

The Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office announced last week the awarding of more than $18 million to support highway safety in Tennessee. According to a press-release statement, the funds support the mission of the GHSO to save lives and reduce injuries on Tennessee roadways through leadership, innovation, coordination and program support in partnership with numerous public and private organizations. The Dyersburg Police Department was awarded a $5,000 grant, which Patrol Commander Capt. Steve Isbell says will be used to focus on alcohol-related accidents.

MTSU, Roane State ink deal on dual enrollment for students (Daily News Journal)

The presidents of MTSU and Roane State Community College signed agreements Wednesday (Sept. 26) that will ease the transition for students seeking to transfer from the college to the university in Murfreesboro. MTSU’s Dr. Sidney A. McPhee and Roane State’s Dr. Gary Goff authorized three agreements that create dual admissions, concurrent enrollment and reverse transfer options between the college and the university. The signing took place at the Knoxville Museum of Art during MTSU’s “True Blue Tour,” a six-city admissions caravan of deans, administrators and counselors.

TennCare grants mother’s appeal for paralyzed son’s bed (WATE-TV Knoxville)

A mother is relieved that her fight with TennCare has finally ended. For more than a month, she tried to get a longer bed for her severely disabled son. The teenager had a stroke that left him incapacitated. Taller people usually prefer king size beds that fit their length better. But everything changes for a person who’s paralyzed and tall. Since the end of August, Kerry Brummitt, 18, was using a bed that was too short for his 6’5″ frame. Kerry suffered an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) rupture in his brain three and a half years ago.

Anderson man, Knox woman charged with TennCare fraud (News-Sentinel)

An Anderson County man, charged with 27 counts of TennCare fraud and four counts of identity theft, is accused of using his son’s TennCare benefits. Anthony Eugene Morgan Sr., 44, of Clinton, was arrested after being indicted by a Knox County grand jury, authorities said. Morgan is accused of receiving TennCare benefits by identifying himself as his son “with the intent to commit unlawful activity,” officials said. He was first arrested on a warrant on April 10, 2011, and charged with attempting to use his son’s TennCare benefits to obtain the painkiller Perocet, according to authorities.

Clinton man charged with TennCare fraud in Knox County (Oak Ridger)

An Anderson County man has been charged in Knox County with TennCare fraud for using his son’s TennCare healthcare insurance benefits, authorities said. Anthony Eugene Morgan, alias Anthony Eugene Morgan Sr., 44, of Clinton, was arrested Wednesday, the Tennessee Office of Inspector General said in a press release. It’s Morgan’s second arrest for TennCare fraud. The press release said a Knox County Grand Jury charged Morgan with four counts of identity theft and 27 counts of TennCare fraud.

Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency racks up big bills (TFP/Benton)

Taxpayers were stuck with a $2 million tab for the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency’s board members, workers and guests to pay for travel expenses, meals, entertainment, electronics and subsidies for a resort the agency owned, a state audit shows. The tip alone was $580 for one $4,800 dinner for 34 at Washington, D.C.’s Oceanaire Seafood Room that included more than 30 alcoholic beverages, the state Comptroller’s Office audit found. Agency board Chairman Michael Nesbitt and Vice Chairman Dale Reagan said the audit of the period from Jan. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2011 was done at the board’s request.

Judge rejects challenge to Voter ID law (Tennessean/Allyn)

A state judge ruled on Wednesday that Tennessee’s voter identification law does not violate the state’s constitution, likely keeping thousands of Tennesseans without proper photo ID from the ballot in November. The ruling also dealt a blow to prominent civil rights attorney George Barrett, who for months has been battling the controversial law in the courts. Voter ID laws, which have passed in about a dozen states in recent years, are increasingly being challenged in court, and Wednesday’s decision is a win for advocates of tighter voter requirements.

Nashville judge declines to overturn Tennessee voter-photo ID law (CA/Locker)

A Nashville judge declined Wednesday to block enforcement of the state’s voter-photo identification law or to allow the Memphis Public Library’s new photo library cards to be valid for voting purposes. In declining to issue temporary or permanent injunctions sought by the plaintiffs, Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy ruled against efforts by the City of Memphis and two Memphis registered voters to either overturn the state law as an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote, delay its enforcement until all qualified voters who want them can obtain valid photo IDs, or allow the library cards to be acceptable for voting.

Claim forms going to TN borrowers who lost homes (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Tennessee is notifying roughly 37,000 homeowners that they might be getting compensation because their homes were improperly foreclosed upon. The state is mailing claim forms as part of a national $25 billion settlement among 49 state attorneys general and five major lenders earlier this year. The deal settled charges that Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo used “robo-signers” and other improper procedures in their foreclosures. The settlement set aside $1.5 billion to compensate up to 2 million U.S. borrowers who lost their homes to one of the five companies between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2011.

Foreclosure Settlement Claim Forms in the Mail (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Roughly 37,000 Tennesseans will soon get a form to claim payments under the national mortgage foreclosure settlement. The agreement between the attorneys generals of 49 states and the nation’s five biggest mortgage service firms went into effect in April. Roughly 1.5 billion dollars in payments are earmarked for 2 million people who lost their homes to foreclosure between 2008 and 2011 and had their loan serviced by one of the companies. The Tennessee Attorney General’s office says postcards were mailed last week to people who likely qualify, with larger packets on the way in the mail soon.

Tennessee Democrats want candidate off the ballot (Tennessean/Brown)

Tennessee Democratic leaders called on state election officials to remove House District 50 candidate Charles Williamson from the November ballot after accusing him of putting a false address on his nominating petition for the race. Williamson recently dropped his attempt to use a Goodlettsville barn as his residence in the district after city officials told him he couldn’t legally live there without making major changes. On Aug. 27, the Republican candidate bought a two-bedroom condominium at 242 Westfield Drive in Bellevue for $80,000, and his campaign has said he’s living there now, despite owning a home in Old Hickory that he bought for $1.1 million in 2007.

Democrats Want Goodlettsville Republican Off the Ballot (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

State Democrats are asking election officials to remove a state house candidate from the ballot. Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester claims Nashville Republican Charles Williamson fraudulently entered the race using a fake address. Williamson registered using the address of his bison farm. He has maintained that the barn was used as a residence, and he applied for an occupancy permit this summer. Last week, the candidate wrote to the Metro Codes department, saying he had moved and no longer wanted to approval to use the building as a home.

State GOP using suspiciously edited tape to raise specter of income tax (CP/Hale) 

The Tennessee Republican Party is using an edited audio tape to raise the specter of Democrats pushing for a state income tax. In a statement Tuesday, the TNGOP claimed that Flo Matheson, who is running against incumbent Rep. Cameron Sexton in House District 25, had “promoted the implementation of a progressive income tax and a living wage, and keeping in place the death tax.” “Tennesseans have to wonder if the Tennessee Democrat Party has encouraged their candidates to adopt this extremist, big government agenda which would amount to some of the largest tax increases in our state’s history,” said state party chair Chris Devaney, who went on to ask if state House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh would denounce “this radical legislative agenda.”

Race is tight for Senate’s District 20 (Tennessean/Cass)

Davidson candidates cast as ‘common sense’ leaders Both Steve Dickerson and Phillip North say they’ll refuse to accept per diem money if elected to the Tennessee Senate this fall. But the two men — rivals for the open District 20 seat representing a large swath of Davidson County — have different plans for the $173 a day they would be entitled to receive. North, the Democratic nominee, would take the per diem money and his salary for the part-time legislative job and donate it to struggling schools. Dickerson, the Republican nominee, would simply give the per diem back to the state.

Jobs take center stage in race for Senate’s District 28 (Tennessean/Wilson)

Senate hopefuls say they can help region Unemployment exceeds 10 percent in all six of the rural Middle Tennessee counties that now make up the 28th state Senate District. So it comes as no surprise that in the race to occupy the newly drawn state Senate seat, state Rep. Joey Hensley, R–Hohenwald, and former state Rep. Ty Cobb, D-Columbia, are squabbling over their job records as they traverse the rural district south of Nashville. Cobb took partial credit for creating the Northfield Workforce, Development and Conference Center, a job re-training facility that was funded when he served Maury County for two years in the state Capitol.

Andraé McGary predicts dirty campaign by opponent (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

State Senate Democratic nominee Andraé McGary on Wednesday predicted his Republican opponent, Todd Gardenhire, “will campaign by putting forth lies” in the days before early voting begins Oct. 17. Citing reports from “very reputable Republican sources” whom he declined to name, the 33-year-old Chattanooga city councilman declared that Gardenhire would paint him inaccurately as a liberal who supports a state income tax and accepts government assistance to provide for his wife and five young children.

Dems Say GOP Rejecting Local Gov’t Control In Charter Moves (TN Report)

Democrats on Capitol Hill Tuesday accused Republicans of abandoning their mantra of local government control in their handling of a proposed charter school for Nashville. Fired up over the Haslam administration’s fining Metro schools because its school board rejected the charter school application, Democrats said GOP leaders had adopted for the “big government” mindset they purport to detest. Still, Democrats say they, too, are no stranger to falling back on government oversight.

Some Democrats boycotting local fundraiser (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Some Democrats are boycotting the Hamilton County Democratic Party’s upcoming annual fundraiser in response to Chairman Paul Smith’s continued refusal to apologize for a sexist joke. It’s the latest setback for Smith, who’s facing louder calls to step down after an attempt at humor on a Democratic Party business document was perceived by numerous women as misogyny. An email about Smith obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press began circulating among party officials and board members Wednesday.

Maury County inmates sue over jail conditions (Associated Press)

Fourteen Maury County inmates have sued the sheriff, claiming their living conditions violate the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. District Court Judge William Haynes on Tuesday held a daylong hearing on the grievances and toured the jail with Sheriff Enoch George and others, including a Daily Herald reporter. The newspaper reported that Haynes had to step over puddled sewage at one point. Inmates crowded around the small windows in their cell doors to display open wounds.

Disputed Calls (Memphis Flyer)

Call it coincidence, call it synchronicity, call it what you will. But it was more than a mite interesting when I got a call Monday night from 9th District Democratic congressman Steve Cohen responding to an inquiry of mine about an attack on him in a press release from the campaign of his Republican opponent, George Flinn. As it happened, Cohen, an inveterate sports fan, was simultaneously watching the end of Monday night’s NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, one which ended on a questionable ruling by substitute officials, turning what was clearly a Packer interception into a Seahawk touchdown and robbing Green Bay of a victory.

Party (Phone) Lines (Metro Pulse)

Given the huge success of the Republican Party in Tennessee in recent years, it has not gone unnoticed at the Republican National Committee. There is some speculation in GOP circles that state party chair Chris Devaney could be called up to the big leagues soon, working for the national party. With Tennessee thought to be in the bag for Mitt Romney, Devaney is helping the RNC set up phone banks in Tennessee to make voter calls to the swing-state of North Carolina. Meanwhile, Democrats are also organizing phone banks.

Big Firms Overhaul Health Coverage (Wall Street Journal)

Two big employers are planning a radical change in the way they provide health benefits to their workers, giving employees a fixed sum of money and allowing them to choose their medical coverage and insurer from an online marketplace. Sears Holdings Corp. SHLD -0.74% and Darden Restaurants Inc. DRI -0.14% say the change isn’t designed to make workers pay a higher share of health-coverage costs. Instead they say it is supposed to put more control over health benefits in the hands of employees.

Making the ‘Pharmacy Crawl’ (Wall Street Journal)

Robin Haas used to visit just one pharmacy a month to get the painkillers she needs to relieve the chronic aching in her injured neck and back. Now the 40-year-old resident of North Port, Fla., has to crisscross five towns, making at least 30 visits to a half-dozen pharmacies every month to get her prescriptions filled. Many pharmacies in the state have curbed their supplies of the so-called opioid drugs and put new restrictions on dispensing them in the face of a government crackdown on painkiller abuse.

229 cars turned back, reported to FBI in six months at Y-12 (News-Sentinel/Munger)

Make a wrong turn at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, and the FBI will know about it. According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, a total of 229 vehicles were “turned around” at Y-12 barricades during the six-month period that concluded March 31. Information on the unwelcome visitors was then reported to the “FBI Fusion Center,” where it apparently was evaluated to see if there were any terrorist or criminal links. “There were no individuals identified as a person of interest by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force,” the report for the first half of Fiscal Year 2012 said.

McClain to leave Tennessean (Nashville Post)

Randy McClain, business editor at The Tennessean, is leaving 1100 Broadway. McClain’s last day at the paper will be Friday. He will be taking a job with The Republic of Columbus, Ind., according to Bob Faricy, The Tennessean’s vice president of market development. McClain started working for Gannett’s Nashville paper in November 2003.

MSHA looks to acquire Unicoi Co. hospital (Johnson City Press)

Since the first patient was admitted to Unicoi County Memorial Hospital nearly 60 years ago, the hospital has operated as a public, community hospital. But that may soon change, as the hospital’s board of control is set to consider a pending partnership between UCMH and a health care system in the area. On Wednesday, the UCMH Board of Control and Mountain States Health Alliance announced that the board of control will hold a public meeting on Oct. 4 to discuss and vote on a letter of intent from MSHA to acquire UCMH.

IDB wooing another 562 jobs (Daily News Journal)

Unnamed company may see expansion County officials hope nearly $1.6 million in tax breaks will entice an unnamed local company into adding 562 more jobs to its operation as part of an expansion The Rutherford County Industrial Development Board approved the incentives Wednesday under the code name “Project Velocity” at the recommendation of Holly Sears, vice president of economic development for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. “We are still in a competitive position,” said Sears, who recruits and retains jobs and industry for the county.

Teacher gets surprise check, part of districtwide initiative (News-Sentinel/McCoy)

Payout part of districtwide initiative Teri Rudolph doesn’t like surprises, but on Wednesday the second-grade teacher got a big one — a bonus check for $2,000. “I feel very honored and privileged to be able to teach these beautiful students at Maynard (Elementary). Teaching is my life,” she said moments after Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre entered her classroom and presented her with the money. “I live for these children … right now I’m just totally shocked.” Rudolph is among 58 percent — or about 1,900 — Knox County teachers who have earned up to an additional $1,500 or $2,000 in their paychecks as part of the school’s APEX strategic compensation initiative.

Committee to scrutinize school budget amendment (Times-Gazette)

Bedford County Financial Management Committee, meeting Tuesday night, appointed a study committee to consider a school system budget amendment and report on it in time for the Oct. 9 county commission meeting. The county commission deferred action on the amendment earlier this month, even though school officials say it’s needed to fund additional teachers in order to maintain state-mandated class sizes. The school board voted last week to re-submit the amendment.

 

OPINION

 

Frank Cagle: Pick Tennessee (Metro Pulse)

Should State Offer Incentives or Requirements to Use In-State Producers?The state has a website to promote Tennessee products; the idea being support for Tennessee producers promotes jobs and tax revenue. If it’s a good idea, then should the state and state institutions put its money where its website is? It’s a philosophical question, I suppose. Purchasing agents and finance people usually prefer to just use the low bidder. But what if the bids are similar? Should state companies and products get the call whenever possible?

Editorial: Integrity of the polls must be beyond doubt (Tennessean)

Tennessee voters of every political stripe want their ballot to count, which makes government reaction to the August primary very perplexing. State Republican leaders have been warning for a couple of years of a risk of problems in the polling booth — and it turns out that they were right. Of course, they weren’t right about the problem coming from voter fraud, any more than they are right when they say that new voter IDs would prevent such fraud — if it were ever to occur. The problems are in the balloting system itself, and possibly in the training of poll workers.

Times Editorial: Judge Franks’ decision (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Tennessee’s judiciary has been blessed over time with some outstanding jurists, yet few have labored as fruitfully or as long on the bench, or earned as much respect and acclaim among their peers as Judge Herschel P. Franks. His illustrious career began when he was appointed Chancellor of Chancery Court here in 1970, and was capped by his long tenure as the presiding judge of Tennessee’s Court of Appeals, to which he was appointed in 1978. Alas, his service will soon end. Judge Franks, 83, announced Wednesday that he will retire on Dec. 31. Franks is presently Tennessee’s longest serving judge, he may also be the longest serving state judge in Tennessee’s history; the record is being checked.

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