Local News Articles

Families and Friends of DeKalb County Use Hearts and Feet to Fight Cancer

May 2, 2008

In its 11th year, citizens form all parts of DeKalb County will go around the track at beautiful Greenbrook Park in the battle against cancer during the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of DeKalb County.

Teams of DeKalb County residents will gather at Greenbrook Park on May 9th at 6:00 pm for an overnight relay against cancer. Relay For Life is a family-oriented team event where participants walk relay-style around the track and take part in fun activities off the track. Teams can include coworkers, club members, family and friends and have gathered donations prior to the event. Live music, food, games, & fun are offered for everyone.

This year 31 teams have joined together to raise money to aid in the battle against cancer.
“Relay For Life is a unique opportunity for our community to come together to celebrate people who have battled cancer, remember those we’ve lost, and fight back against the disease,” said Chris Summers, Community Representative with the American Cancer Society. “Many of the participants are cancer survivors (anyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer), which serves as a reminder that our community is not immune to this disease and we can actually help our friends, families and neighbors that have been touched by cancer,” Chris added.

The public is also invited to attend the Luminaria Ceremony, which will take place after sundown at 9:00 pm. To honor the community’s cancer survivors and to remember those lost to the disease, citizens will circle the track rimmed with glowing luminaria while the names of survivors and those lost to the disease are acknowledged. Luminaria can be purchased for $5.00 by calling Melanie Judkins at (615) 597 1132.

Funds raised at Relay For Life will enable the American Cancer Society to support local services and resources for cancer patients and their families. Funds also support critical cancer research and community education programs designed to teach people how to reduce their risk of developing cancer.

The American Cancer Society has to date spent over 9 million on cancer research in our state in 2008! This money is raised by over 130 Relay For Life events across Tennessee in communities that care about fighting cancer.

For the 2008-2009 academic year, the Mid-South Division of the American Cancer Society will award 218 scholarships in the amount of $1,000.00 each to some very deserving young students. Since the beginning of this program in 2001, more than 1,300 of these $1,000.00 scholarships have been awarded.

Eaton Airlifted After Thursday Morning Wreck

May 1, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

A 53 year old woman was injured in a pickup truck wreck around 8:10 a.m.Thursday morning on Jacob's Pillar Road.

Trooper Dewaine Jennings of the Tennessee Highway Patrol says Teresa Lynn Eaton of 4640 Blue Springs Road was driving north on Jacobs Pillar Road in a 1985 Ford F-150 when she went off the roadway to the right into a ditchline, traveled north of the ditchline until she struck a metal culvert, and then came back out onto the roadway. The truck then exited the road to the left and made head-on impact with a large tree. She was not wearing a seatbelt.

Eaton was airlifted from the scene by a Life Force helicopter ambulance and flown to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga.

DeKalb EMS treated Eaton at the scene.

Meanwhile, two people were injured in an accident around 5:55 p.m. Tuesday on West Broad Street near DeKalb Community Bank.

Smithville Police say 70 year old Willie Louise Jones of 224 Vickers Hollow Road, Smithville was driving a 2005 Chevrolet Cavalier, crossing West Broad Street going south toward Dry Creek Road, when her car was hit in the passenger side door by a 2007 Ford Fusion, driven by 32 year old Debbie Jean Herman of 599 Foster Road, McMinnville. Herman was east on Broad Street. 13 year old Mark Ryan Stanley of McMinnville was a passenger of the Herman vehicle. He wasn't believed to have been injured.

Both Jones and Herman were taken by DeKalb EMS to DeKalb Community Hospital. Jones was reportedly later airlifted by a helicopter ambulance to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga.

The accident was investigated by Officer Travis Bryant of the Smithville Police Department.

Smithville Police Charge Two in Recent Burglary and Theft

April 30, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

Smithville Police arrested two people on burglary and theft charges last week.

Chief Richard Jennings says 18 year old Amanda Brook and 20 year old Troy Allen Lee Cunningham, Jr. are charged with burglary to a motor vehicle and theft of property under $500.

The two allegedly entered a vehicle at 848 Foster Road on Wednesday, April 23 belonging to Glenda Witty and removed a JVC CD player without the owner’s knowledge or consent. Both will appear in General Sessions Court on the charges May 29th.

Bond for the woman is $5,000 on each charge. Cunningham’s bond is $10,000 on the burglary charge and $5,000 in the theft case.

The CD player has been recovered.

The case was investigated by Detective Sergeant Jerry Hutchins, Jr.

Meanwhile, 24 year old Ryan Lee Walden of Dale Ridge Road, Dowelltown was charged last week with possession of drug paraphernalia. His bond is set at $2,500 and his court date is May 22nd.

Officer Randy King, in his report, states that “ On April 23rd, I was dispatched to Anthony Avenue in reference to a suspicious person. Dispatch advised that the subject was walking door to door asking to pressure wash homes or to mow lawns. I observed a subject fitting the description stopping traffic on J.E. Evins Avenue. I approached Walden in the parking lot of the Habitat for Humanity Restore on Miller Road. I asked Walden if he had been going door to door asking to pressure wash homes. Walden replied that he had. Walden was acting evasive while I was speaking to him. I asked if he had any weapons or drugs on him. He replied that he had a needle in his front left pocket. I asked him if it was capped and he said it was. Walden said he found the needle in a yard. The hypodermic needle contained a yellow residue with blood in the syringe.

Walden was taken into custody and charged in the case.

In other cases, 43 year old Diane Woodside McIntyre of Clarksville was charged on Friday with a first offense of driving on a suspended license. Her bond is $1,000 and her court date is May 14th

Officer Bradley Tatrow stopped a vehicle on East Broad for speeding 52 miles per hour in a 40 miles per hour speed zone. McIntyre told the officer that her license was suspended. A computer check showed that the license was suspended for failure to satisfy a citation in Rutherford County.

20 year old Justin Andrew Cantrell of Adcock Cemetery Road was charged Saturday with a first offense of driving under the influence. His bond is $1,500 and his court date is May 8th.

Officer Tatrow observed a vehicle on Highway 70 east with no head lights and the tags were displayed in the back window. After stopping the vehicle, Cantrell got out and was very unsteady on his feet. He had slurred speech and his motor skills were very slow. Cantrell performed several field sobriety tasks which he performed poorly. He submitted to a blood alcohol test.

30 year old Jores Trijo of Luttrell Avenue was charged Sunday with domestic assault. His bond is $2,500 and his court date is May 8th.

Officer Tatrow, in his report, states that he responded to 817 Luttrell Avenue to a possible domestic between an Hispanic male and a female. Upon arrival, I made contact with the female. The woman advised me that she had gone to Cookeville to see her 14 year old son. Upon her return, the woman’s boyfriend, Trijo, who had been drinking, had gotten mad at her thinking she was cheating on him. Trijo allegedly grabbed her by the shoulder forcing her onto the bed. The woman claims that Trijo was yelling and calling her names and that he threatens bodily harm to her on a regular basis. Trijo was placed under arrest and charged with domestic assault.

23 year old Wallace Marlon Rackley of North Congress Boulevard was charged Sunday with aggravated assault. He is under a $3,500 bond and his court date is June 5th.

Officer Matt Farmer, in his report, states that Rackley is charged with assaulting Amiel John Land by hitting him with his fists several times and kicking him in the ribs. Mr. Rackley allegedly came home and began yelling at Mr. Land ordering him to leave. As Land was trying to get out the back door, Rackley jumped him and hit Land several times. When Land got outside, Rackley came out and began kicking and hitting him again. Land was taken to the hospital where he was treated for several cuts and bruises to the face and head area. He had to have stitches to his left eye and his left jaw was broken.

29 year old Kenny Wayne Bly of Midway Road, Smithville was arrested last week for a fourth offense of driving on a revoked license. His bond is $4,500

Officer Matt Holmes, in his report, states that he observed Bly operating a motor vehicle on West Broad Street. Having prior knowledge that his license was revoked, Officer Holmes stopped Bly. A computer check confirmed that his license was revoked.

18 year old Wesley Tolbert Young of Woodbury was charged Thursday with a first offense of driving under the influence and underage consumption of alcohol. His bond is $2,500 and his court date is May 1st.

Sergeant Joey Jones states that he stopped a vehicle at South Mountain and Miller Road for failure to maintain the proper lane of traffic. Upon speaking to the driver, Young, Officer Jones noticed a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person and he was very unsteady on his feet. Young was asked to perform several field sobriety tasks which he performed poorly. He allegedly admitted to drinking 2-24 ounce beers and he did take a breathalyzer test and the result was .09.

21 year old Angel R. Farless of McMinnville was charged with unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia and simple possession of marijuana. Her bond is $1,000 and her court date is May 1st.

Farless was a passenger of a vehicle in which the driver, Wesley Young, was arrested for DUI. Officer Jones observed a glass pipe on the seat near her purse with residue in the pipe. She was also in possession of marijuana and had an open container of an alcoholic beverage under her seat. Her purse contained a small baggie with a green leafy substance believed to be marijuana.

24 year old Daniel Ray Wilson of Dowelltown was charged Monday with a first offense of driving under the influence. His bond is $2,500 and he will be in court May 14th.

Officer Travis Bryant states that he was dispatched to an accident on Riley Avenue. The driver, Wilson, was very unsteady on his feet, had slurred speech, and had bloodshot eyes. Wilson stated that he drank two beers. He was transported to the hospital and due to this, Wilson was not asked to perform field sobriety tasks. He also refused to submit to a blood alcohol test.

Sheriff and DTC Communications Issue Warning About Scam

April 30, 2008

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department and DTC Communications have issued a warning about a scam involving e-mails requesting your personal DTC Communications Customer Information such as Username, Password or other vital credentials.

Officials say these messages DO NOT come from DTC Communications. Please DO NOT reply to these type messages or send any confidential information.

They say DTC Communications will NEVER send e-mail requesting your information. Also remember, any correspondence from DTC will include a local contact phone number for you to call in case you have any questions about the content of the email.

If you have received one of these type messages, please DELETE it. Do NOT reply to it. DTC has taken steps to prevent messages of this type from coming to you the user. However, if you do receive one, it is an attempt to obtain your personal information.

If you have any questions, please do not reply to this email, simply send your questions to support@dtccom.net or call Technical Support at 615.683.4033 or 866.232.8010.

Eagle Scout Anderson Webb Honored by County Commission

April 28, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

The DeKalb County Commission Monday night adopted a resolution honoring Eagle Scout Anderson Webb.

County Mayor Mike Foster, in reviewing Webb's Scouting Experience, said "Anderson has been involved in Scouting since Tiger Cubs in 1st Grade. His fondest memories of his time in Cub Scouts are the camping trips with family and friends and his participation in the Pinewood Derby Races."

"After completing the requirements in Cub Scouts, Anderson received the highest rank in Cub Scouts, the Arrow of Light, in 2001. He then advanced to the Boy Scouts of America in 6th Grade where he would learn to be prepared."

"While finishing the requirements for his Life Scout, the last ranking before Eagle, Anderson began to think about his Eagle project. He chose a project that would benefit the entire community and something he felt was useful to the community. By choosing to provide seating at Greenbrook Park, he knew he would have the opportunity to increase the accessibility to the amphitheater."

"After receiving the Eagle Scout Rank, the highest rank in BSA, Anderson says he has learned skills that will benefit him throughout his life including responsibility, persistence, and organization skills. According to Anderson, ‘Eagle Scout projects take a long time and a lot of planning. Through working on my Eagle Project, I have become a more accomplished and well-rounded person.'

"Though he has successfully completed his Eagle Scout rank, Anderson looks forward to staying involved in BSA. He is looking forward to his 14 day trek through the mountains of Northern New Mexico at Philmont this summer."

The resolution honoring Webb states that " Whereas, it is fitting that the DeKalb County Commission and the DeKalb County Mayor should announce their pride, respect, and honor in the young people of our community who so capably fulfill their requirements and duties to reach lofty goals and levels of achievement."

"Whereas, Anderson Webb has performed all the years of tasks to work his way to the highest honor bestowed by the Boy Scouts. Anderson Webb has climbed to a level in scouting reached by only a very select few, and has earned the Eagle Award."

"Whereas, the DeKalb County Commission and County Mayor wish to thank Anderson Webb, his family and leaders for the honors they have brought to themselves and DeKalb County. We also wish to thank the fellow Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and volunteers who helped Anderson complete his project. Anderson and his assistants built seating at the amphitheater in Greenbrook Park. This seating will be used for many, many years and stand as a monument to them. It will also show their commitment to give to their community and their willingness to serve."

"Now therefore be it resolved by the DeKalb County Commission, that May 4th, 2008 be officially named Eagle Scout Anderson Webb Day.'

"Be it further resolved that this accomplishment be spread across the records of this meeting and preserved as a lasting part of our appreciation to Eagle Scout Anderson Webb."

School Board Seeks Approval from County Commission to Purchase Property for New High School

April 28, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

The DeKalb County Board of Education wants to purchase at least 60 acres and possibly 80 to 100 acres of land for construction of a new high school. However, the county commission must first grant approval.

With that in mind, Director of Schools Mark Willoughby and School Board Chairman W.J. (Dub) Evins III addressed the county commission Monday night to formally make the request for funding once a suitable site has been located. Design consultant David Brown of Kaatz, Binkley, Jones, and Morris Architects, Incorporated of Mount Juliet and Knoxville also addressed the commission about the proposed school building project

County Mayor Mike Foster and the county commission listened to the request and some members asked questions but they gave no assurances. Foster said the issue will first have to be taken up by the county budget committee, which will begin having meetings May 15th on the proposed budget for 2008-09.

Willoughby and Evins urged the commission to consider authorizing funding for the land purchase soon noting that property values are ever increasing, and the costs to the county would be significantly more later.

Evins, in his remarks to the commission, said "This kind of project can't happen overnight. What we're really here tonight to ask for is consideration to look at phase I which would be the purchase of some land. I don't think we could go wrong buying real estate. I'm not trying to get the cart before the horse, but you're the funding body and we're not going to go out and look at a lot of land until we've got an ok and go ahead from the commission. The longer we wait, the higher land prices get."

Willoughy says the high school is already over crowded and the problem will only get worse with time. "Right now there are 796 students in DeKalb County High School. With no growth. If everybody just stays in the school system, nobody comes and nobody leaves, next year there will be 847 students. The following year there will be 873 students. By the time the first grade gets up to high school, there will be 945 students at DeKalb County High School. It's going to be pretty hard getting through the hallways with that many people. We have been growing at a steady pace of over 3%."

Brown says three proposed sites are under consideration in the proximity of the existing high school. "The next thing that needs to happen in the process is to look at location. We're looking at three different properties right now. We're doing our evaluation on all three. The ideal time line is for us to go through this evaluation and exercise and then go back to the school board in May and present them with that information and I expect it will be enough information for them to make a decision and have a recommendation and then to bring that recommendation back to this body (commision) with the intent being able to go ahead and purchase the property and move ahead with the project. A few of the things we'll look at is the total acreage along with any adjacent land that's available for expansion. Then there's the land acquisition cost and the cost to develop the site. There's environmental issues. Are there wetlands or anything we need to work around? Geotechnical information. What's the soil like? Is it rock? Is it clay? Is it dirt? Just what is it? Grading and drainage. What kind of storm water detention might we be looking at? Erosion control. Does the site have existing grading and drainage issues?. Transportation. Is there sufficient access to public roads? Utilities. Is there water, power, and sewer. We want to make sure that infrastructure around this location can support a school of this kind."

"We're conceiving of 1200 students and that means that the gymnasium, the cafeteria, the kitchen, the media center, all of those core spaces will be designed to handle that many students. That does not mean you have to build that many classrooms up front. The school will be designed so that as you grow in the future you can add those classrooms. We might be in the 1,000 student range when we open the building but it will be expandable by about another 200 students at least. I would be very concerned with anything under 60 acres because in addition to the school there's the normal suite of athletic facilities and ballfields, which is typically a football stadium with track, a practice field, baseball, softball, soccer, and possibly a tennis court and a band practice field. We can make all that happen on 60 acres but it's not uncommon for our clients to go 80 acres or more depending on how much event parking they want or if they want to put another school on that same campus someday, which we are doing more and more of because land is becoming harder to find and it's becoming more expensive."

The DeKalb County Board of Education, last fall, announced plans for a school building program to meet existing and future space and curriculum needs.

Under consideration is a proposal to build a new high school for grades 9 to 12, renovate the existing high school making it into the new location for DeKalb Middle school for grades 5-8, make renovations and additions to DeKalb West School, make Northside Elementary a school for grades 2 to 4, and make Smithville Elementary a school for Pre-K and first grade. The total project cost is between $34-million and $40-million dollars.

The architects have proposed that a new high school be built for grades 9 to 12. This facility would not only address the space and curriculum needs at the high school level but would also avoid large addition/renovation projects at the middle school and elementary schools. The approximate student population would be 850 with a core capacity of 1,200 for a core utilization of 70% and an average of 212 students per grade. A new 1,200 student high school facility (with athletic fields) would cost $28-million to $32-million dollars.

The plan calls for renovation of the existing high school into a grade 5-8 DeKalb Middle School with an approximate population of 675 and a core capacity of 1,000 with a core utilization of 68% and an average of 168 students per grade.

Willoughby says the existing DeKalb Middle School building could be used by the county as a civic center, complete with kitchen and dining facilities, auditorium, and plenty of meeting rooms.

According to the study, DeKalb West would remain a Pre-K to eighth grade school but there would be additions and renovations to increase the core capacity of the school. The plan calls for the kitchen/cafeteria to either be expanded or replaced as well as the addition of four classrooms. The approximate population would be 428 with a core capacity of 600, a core utilization of 71%, and an average of 48 students per grade. The proposed addition would increase the core capacity. The estimated cost of making the addition to DeKalb West including a new kitchen/cafeteria, classrooms, and administration would be $1.5 million to $2- million dollars.

Northside Elementary would become a school for grades 2 to 4. The second grade would be moved from Smithville Elementary and the fifth grade would go from Northside to DeKalb Middle School. This would relieve the pressure on SES without requiring an addition at Northside. The approximate population at Northside would be 508 with a core capacity of 750, core utilization of 67%, and an average of 170 students per grade. The renovation at Smithville Elementary, Northside, and DeKalb Middle Schools is projected to be $750,000 to $1.5 million dollars.

By moving the second grade to Northside Elementary, Smithville Elementary's student population would be back within the natural core capacity of the school without an addition, although some minor renovation would still be needed. The approximate student population at SES would be 477, the core capacity 528 and the core utilization would be at 90%.

Again, the preliminary budget to fund this project comes to $34-million to $40-million which includes, in addition to the construction costs, $650,000 to $750,000 for furniture and equipment; $500,000 to $600,000 for technology; $1.8 million to $2.2 million in fees for site survey, geotechnical, civil engineering, environmental, fire marshal, legal, design, printing and a 3% contingency of $900,000 to $1 million dollars.

The budget figures do not include additional code required upgrades to existing facilities and do not include land acquisition costs. The figures may change based on site survey, environmental and geotechnical information not yet provided.

Smithville Police Department to Crack Down on Illegal Gambling Devices

April 28, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

The Smithville Police Department is preparing to crack down on illegal gambling devices in the city.

In a news release, Chief Richard Jennings says "I have received several complaints from citizens in our community about illegal gambling devices in certain business establishments within the city limits of Smithville."

"I contacted the District Attorney General's Office and asked for a clarification of TCA code (state law) on possession of illegal gambling devices and their recommendation on the enforcement of the law. The Attorney General's office recommended giving ten days notice of the police department's intention to enforce TCA code 39-17-505 (Possession of gambling devices). I have decided to follow their recommendation."

"On Friday, May 9th, the Smithville Police Department will begin the enforcement of this law."

Under state law, "A person commits an offense who knowingly owns, manufactures, possesses, buys, sells, rents, leases, stores, repairs, transports, prints, or makes any gambling device or record."

"Any gambling device or record is contraband and shall be subject to seizure, confiscation, and forfeiture in accordance with the forfeiture provisions, codified in Chapter 11, part 7 of this title."

"After a gambling device or record has been forfeited to the state pursuant to chapter 11, part 7 of this title, the court hearing the criminal charges resulting in the forfeiture shall order the destruction of the device or record. If the district attorney general or law enforcement agency does not believe that a gambling device or record should be destroyed in a particular case, the district attorney general shall petition the court for an alternate disposition of the record or device. If the court finds that the proposed alternate disposition reasonably ensures that the device will not be used in an unlawful manner in this state, the court may grant the petition and order the disposition of the device or record in accordance with the petition."

"Possession of gambling device or record is a Class B misdemeanor".

Sparta Man Arrested in Theft Case

April 28, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

A Sparta man was arrested last Tuesday by the Sheriff's Department in a theft investigation.

Sheriff Patrick Ray says 19 year old Bill Wade Roberts of Hickory Valley Road, Sparta was charged with theft of property over $1,000.00. Roberts allegedly took three diamond rings, a pearl cluster ring, and other jewelry from a residence on Watercolor Drive in DeKalb County. Roberts is under a $10,000 bond and his court date is May 8th.

Meanwhile, on Saturday 31 year old Robert Nathan Hale of Lower Helton Road Alexandria was involved in a one car accident on Temperance Hall Road. After the wreck, Hale left the scene and went to his residence. Hale was arrested a short time later. Hale was issued citations for violation of the registration law and having no insurance on his vehicle. Hale's bond was set at $3,500 and his court date is May 15th..

DARE Graduations Held at Northside Elementary and DeKalb West Schools

April 28, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

One hundred ninety two 5th grade students graduated from the DARE Program at Northside Elementary School last Tuesday.

Top Essay winners from each class were:
Ms. Bell’s Class- John Bradford
Ms. Raymond’s Class- Haley Davis
Ms. Wenger’s Class- Lenzi Dickens
Ms. Gottlied Class- Ashland Dillon
Ms. Day’s Class- Ale Maciel
Mr. Crockett’s Class- Rayanna Baker
Ms. Griffith’s Class- Lance Ball

The winner for the best essay from the Northside 5th Grade DARE Class was Destiny McCardell from Ms. Vance's class. Destiny was presented a $50.00 check from General Sessions/Juvenile Court Judge Bratten Cook II, a certificate and pin, and the DARE mascot stuffed animal "Daren the Lion".

Meanwhile forty two 5th grade students graduated from DARE at DeKalb West School on Wednesday.

Top Essay Winner for Ms. Watson’s class was Lydia Trail and the winner for the best essay from the DeKalb West School 5th Grade DARE Class was Bruce Wilson from Ms. Caplinger's class. Bruce was presented a $50.00 check from General Sessions/Juvenile Court Judge Bratten Cook II, a certificate and pin, and the DARE mascot stuffed animal "Daren the Lion"

During the ceremonies at both schools’ Deputy/Dare Officer Tim Hearn admonished the students to always remember what they have learned about staying drug free. “Students by participating in today’s graduation ceremony, you will be joining millions of other DARE graduates who have taken the pledge to stay drug free and avoid violence. Your hard work and dedication in the DARE Program has provided you with life long skills needed to help you resist the use of drugs and avoid violence. Your commitment to remain drug free is something that no one can take from you. I challenge you now to take the knowledge and skills that you have learned throughout our time together and use them to remain true to your commitment to avoid drugs and violence.”

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby urged the students at both schools to have faith in law enforcement. “Law Enforcement officers are your friends and I challenge you, when you marry and have children, to teach your children to trust law enforcement officer’s. I also challenge you to stay drug free, it will make your life a whole lot easier.”

Sheriff Patrick Ray encouraged the students at both schools to resist peer pressure and strive to make good decisions. “D.A.R.E. is a cooperative effort made by the DeKalb County Sheriff‘s Department, DeKalb County School System, parents, and the community— all four working together to help you make the right choices concerning drug use. Over the last few weeks, Deputy Tim has taught you lesson plans on how to focus in four major areas: First, he has provided you accurate information about drugs, alcohol and tobacco; Second, he has taught you good decision-making skills. Third, he has shown you how to recognize and resist peer pressure And fourth, he has given you ideas for positive alternatives to drug use."

"Deputy Tim has also shown you ways of positive self-esteem, and how to make positive decisions on your own. Through role-playing, lecture, question and answer, and use of the specialized D.A.R.E workbooks, you have been taught the negative consequences of drug use. I ask you today students, to take this valuable information and apply it to your lives, now, and forever.”

Medical Malpractice Reform Bill Heads to Governor after Senate Approval

April 26, 2008

The State Senate has approved and sent to the governor major tort reform legislation aimed at weeding out meritless medical malpractice lawsuits. Medical malpractice costs have been a factor in pushing up the cost of health care nationwide. The Department of Commerce and Insurance Annual Reports on Medical Malpractice have shown that more than 80% of the lawsuits filed in Tennessee lack sufficient merit to proceed.

“This is a significant reform bill,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet). “I am hopeful that it will help curtail the spiraling cost of health care. It will also help restore confidence in providers that they can invest in their patients' care rather than lawsuits."

Last year the legislation was heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee and passed the Senate, but it hit roadblocks in the House of Representatives regarding which medical experts can testify in malpractice trials, called the “locality rule.” The bill was deferred until this year after an agreement could not be reached before the close of the 2007 legislative session. That provision has now been removed from the bill.

Key provisions in the bill include:

Notice would be provided at least two months before a lawsuit is filed to help resolve the case before it goes to court.

It sets up a process requiring pre-filing notification to each medical provider who may be named in a medical malpractice action at least 60 days prior to filing a complaint.

It contains a notification requirement to require attorneys to have an independent medical expert evaluate the merits of a case before filing suit.

The bill establishes that all parties are entitled to the plaintiff’s medical records within 30 days of a request for the records.

It requires that within 90 days after a complaint is filed the plaintiff’s attorneys would have to attest that they have consulted with a medical expert who is competent to testify in a Tennessee court and has reviewed the medical records or any other pertinent information.

Medical experts must declare that there is a good faith basis to maintain the malpractice action, and the defendant is responsible for following a similar procedure when alleging that a non-party is responsible.

Sponsors of the bill have been working on the legislation since 2001. The medical malpractice liability act was last amended in 1975.

Legislation that maintains Tennessee’s dedicated road fund advanced last week with approval from the Senate Finance Committee. The bill would prohibit the diversion of gas tax money through the state’s budget, or appropriations bill, without authorization from separate legislation to assure full debate of the issue. Currently, the dedicated road fund can be diverted through a line in the appropriations bill, which is a much easier route to raid the funds.

“This bill would put our state back in the position we were before 2004 to keep the state from easily diverting gas tax money for other state government purposes,” said Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet). “The current law does not contain the appropriate checks and balances to ensure that any diversion of the funds is fully debated in our Transportation Committee, as it would in the normal legislative process.”

The Department of Transportation only spends the funds that are available through its dedicated revenues, gas taxes and highway user fees, and federal funding. Called “dedicated funding” since users pay for the roads through gas taxes and fees, a portion of the gasoline tax also goes to cities and counties in Tennessee to fund local roads. This dedicated revenue system was put into place when the gas tax was raised to fund the road program. Over the last five or six years, $280 million in road funds has been funneled from the gas tax to meet other state government expenditures.

“I certainly understand why the public is skeptical,” Beavers continued. “The people of Tennessee believe that this is a dedicated fund and they need to know that when they fill up heir gas tanks that 21.4 cents will be used for the purpose for which it was originally intended.”

Legislation had been approved to divert funds from many dedicated and reserve accounts to meet other expenses during the financial pinch in 2001. However, all other reserve or dedicated funds which were diverted to meet other expenses during the past financial crisis had been restored to the normal legislative process, except for the road fund.

“Our federal highway transportation fund is declining and the legislature must plan for future needs based on state revenues,” she added. “There is much concern regarding the future of the gas tax due to the rising cost of gasoline, could erode Tennessee’s ability to provide the repairs and infrastructure needed for the state’s road system.”

“It is very important that we keep our dedicated road fund intact in order to maintain our road system at a time when road money is declining,” she continued. “This is now catching up with us as our communities are growing and we don’t have the road money to keep up with transportation demands.”

The Senate Finance Committee has voted to begin the process for divesting Tennessee’s pension fund from having any holding with companies that have substantial operations in nations determined by the U.S. State Department to be state-sponsors of terrorism. The bill requires the state’s Treasurer to compile a list of the investments with ties to terrorist countries. Sponsors say it is a step towards implementing a policy to instruct the executive director to divest of those holdings.

Growing concern over genocide in Sudan and countries that sponsor terrorism has prompted state legislatures across the nation to consider actions to limit or eliminate state investments in firms doing business with such countries. Twenty-four states have already adopted policies of divestment from Sudan. Tennessee has a $32 billion pension fund which serves state employees, public school teachers, and many local government employees.

Issues in Brief

Drunk Driver Registry – Members of the Finance Committee approved a bill to create a registry of persons who have two or more DUI convictions with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, similar to that of the Sex Offender Registry. The offender would be placed on the Registry if their license has been revoked or suspended due to a drunk driving offense. Their name would be removed if their license is reinstated, within 45 days. The Registry would serve as a strong deterrent to driving under the influence and would make drunk drivers think about the consequences of their actions. In 2006, there were 1,287 fatalities on Tennessee roads with 509 due to alcohol-related crashes.

Handguns – The full Senate has approved a bill that changes present law by making it a Class E felony for a person who has been convicted of any felony to possess a handgun. The bill broadens the Class E felony offense of unlawful possession of a handgun to include a person with any prior felony conviction.

Notary public – The State Senate gave approval to legislation this week to require any person who is a notary public to be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

Consumers – The Senate has passed legislation to amend the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act to protect citizens from businesses who might misrepresent the geographic location of a business. The bill applies to businesses that misrepresent their location in the local telephone directory or on the Internet.

Multi-Modal Transportation – The Senate Finance Committee approved legislation this week to provide for greater coordination of transportation services through the Department of Transportation’s multi-modal transportation system. The measure aims to provide efficiency between the various departments utilizing transportation services to stop duplication of efforts.

Sex offenders – The full Senate has voted to approve legislation that would provide that if a sex offender changes names or provides a different name than is listed on their original registration form, they must report all names to the registry. The bill would make it clear that sex offenders cannot change their name to skirt the law regarding sex offender registry requirements.

Sanctuary Cities -- The Senate State and Local Government Committee has approved legislation to cut off economic and community grant money to any Tennessee city that might declare itself a "sanctuary city" for illegal aliens. A sanctuary city is a term given to a city in the United States that follows certain practices that protect illegal aliens. Thirty-eight cities in the U.S. have been recognized as sanctuary cities. However, many sources have identified over 200 city or county governments nationwide as having practiced such policies. The bill is a preemptive strike to guard against adoption of any policy by cities in the state to provide a sanctuary for illegal aliens in Tennessee.

DUI fines -- Legislation that would increase DUI fines by $250 has been approved by the Senate Finance Committee last week. Part of the money would be kept in the local communities where the crime occurred for housing offenders, while the other half would be used for alcohol or drug addiction treatment. The bill is expected to provide $1.5 million to the state and $1.5 million to local governments.

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