Local News Articles

Chamber Celebrates 49 Years of Unity and Growth

April 25, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Suzanne Williams, Victoria Vincent, Darrin Vincent
Retiring Chamber Board Members

It was a night to shine Tuesday evening for the Smithville-DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce as its members celebrated forty nine years leading this community in unity and growth.

The banquet took place in the brand new auditorium of the county complex on South Congress Boulevard, the first event to be held there.

Darrin Vincent, of the very popular and award winning bluegrass duo Dailey and Vincent, entertained the dinner crowd along with his teenage daughter Victoria Vincent.

Vincent was also the featured speaker. He talked of his family and music career and his impressions of the people of DeKalb County, a place he and his family have called home now for several years.

The program began with a silent auction, welcoming remarks by Chamber President Kathie McGlamery and County Mayor Mike Foster, presentation of the flags and pledge by members of Boy Scout Troop 347, and a performance of the National Anthem by Victoria Vincent. Invocation by Dr. John Carpenter of the First United Methodist Church and dinner music by Tomomi McDowell.

A video presentation was shown hosted by Chamber Director Suzanne Williams and Leadership DeKalb Director Jen Sherwood, featuring DeKalb County attractions and showcasing highlights of many activities and events held during the year.

Meanwhile, the retiring members of the Chamber board were recognized including Rob Willingham of Middle Tennessee Natural Gas, Michelle Burklow of the DeKalb County Board of Education, Angie Meadows of the Smithville Review and the Smithville Business and Professional Women's Club, and Anita Patrick of DTC Communications.

New members are Julia Cantrell of Cumberland Insurance Agency, Craig Gates, Chief Executive Officer of DTC Communications, Carol South, Marketing Director of Bumper's Drive-In, Susan Young, Office Manager of the Customer Service Department of MTUD in the Smithville Operations Office, and Charlotte Parsley, who works in the Marketing Department of Shiroki North America.

Other member of the Chamber board are Keith Blair, Attorney-at-Law, Rhonda Caplinger of Liberty State Bank, George Oliver of the Smithville Rotary Club; Jason Ray, Leadership Alumni from the Class of 2009; Mike Williams of the DeKalb County Fair Board; Janna Gillard, publisher of the DeKalb County Guide, Valerie House, Leadership DeKalb Alumni, Bill Little, Administrator of DeKalb Community Hospital, Tony Luna of the Real Estate Team, and Lori Manns of Manns Master Mechanics.

The 2012 officers are President Kathie McGlamery, Vice President; Janna Gillard, Secretary Valerie House, and Treasurer Julia Cantrell.

(TOP PHOTO: Chamber Director Suzanne Williams with Banquet speaker and entertainer Darrin Vincent and his daughter Victoria. All three holding awards previously won by Darrin including a Grammy, held by Suzanne)

(BOTTOM PHOTO: Chamber Director Suzanne Williams with retiring Chamber Board Members Anita Patrick, Angie Meadows, Michelle Burklow, and Rob Willingham)

Blood Assurance and DeKalb Community Hospital Partner to Help Save Lives

April 24, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page

A total of thirty seven units were collected during a blood drive Tuesday at DeKalb Community Hospital by Blood Assurance, seven units more than the goal set for the drive.

Tom Lango of Walling, Tennessee was the winner of a Flat screen TV

Blood Assurance, official blood provider to DeKalb Community Hospital, was founded in 1972 to provide a safe and adequate supply of blood in the Chattanooga area. Prior to the creation of the region's only blood bank, patients in need of blood transfusions were required to provide their own blood donors, who would donate blood at local hospitals. Your blood donation can save up to three lives. Each day a minimum of 400 donations are needed in our area

As Blood Assurance celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2012, it is once again appealing to the public for donations to ensure a continued adequate supply of blood for patients in need.

Bill Little, Administrator of DeKalb Community Hospital, said Blood Assurance partners with the local hospital to supply blood needs to our community, but more donors are needed to support it. "Its comforting to know that should you ever have an accident or blood loss, you can come here and receive that blood supply. We have a very close partner that we work with by the name of Blood Assurance and they provide all of our blood needs in the Smithville area as well as the greater surrounding middle Tennessee area. One sad fact though that we want to make sure everybody understands is that we use much more blood in our community than we receive. It is very important that we as a community rally and rise to the challenge to donate the gift of life," said Little.

Jaclyn Booker, Representative of Blood Assurance, said blood drives are held here every fifty six days. "We are the sole blood provider in your area and we do need your help. Every fifty six days we do host a drive here at the hospital. Our bloodmobile comes out and is parked in the parking lot. Our next drive is June 26 from 1:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. The bloodmobile will also be at the Family Medical Center on June 26 from 9:00 a.m. until 11:15 a.m. So I encourage everyone to come out and donate. We have free tee shirts that every donor receives. We also give away snacks and drinks and you can register for our monthly giveaway. Its usually something very fun and exciting for the community. We just really appreciate your support and the support of DeKalb Community Hospital," said Booker.

"Blood Assurance has brought us up to this point this year, 117 units," said Deborah Tuggle, Laboratory Supervisor at DeKalb Community Hospital. "Of those we have used seventy six, but only twenty three units have been donated from the community so we are in dire need for our community to donate blood so we can replace what we use. Blood Assurance does all the preliminary testing of the blood before we receive it and we do the cross matching to be sure its compatible with the patients. So I want to encourage everyone to come out and help us with the gift of life. We cannot create blood. Its not manufactured. We need you to give," said Tuggle..

Gingie White, Marketing with DeKalb Community Hospital, urges you to make plans to donate during the next blood drive. "I want to thank everyone who came out Tuesday and to those who have helped us in the past and I want to encourage you to come out and partner with us in help saving lives. So put that on your calendar. The next Blood Assurance Blood Drive will be June 26 in the parking lot of DeKalb Community Hospital," said White.

DUD Defends Decision to Build Water Treatment Plant

April 24, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
DUD Defends Decision to Build Water Treatment Plant

Facing a public relations campaign aimed at stopping it, the DeKalb Utility District is determined to continue plans to build its own water treatment plant and has all but secured funding for the project. In fact, a ground breaking for the plant could come as early as July with completion of the facility expected within eighteen months thereafter, about the time the DUD's ten year water service contract with the City of Smithville expires.

The plan has been in the making for years, much to the chagrin of city officials who will see the loss of Smithville's biggest water customer and over a half million dollars in sales each year if this goes through. That's revenue that will have to be made up in the form of higher water rates, according to city officials. But city water customers are not the only ones who will feel the pinch. According to the city's utility engineer, J.R. Wauford, DUD customers will see increases of as much as fifty percent. Last week, the Smithville aldermen voted to hire a public relations firm, the Calvert Street Group, to launch a campaign to get this message out to city and DUD customers.

The DUD currently purchases water from the City of Smithville at $2.00 per thousand gallons and the cost to the DUD increases by five cents per thousand gallons each year during the term of the contract. That agreement expires in 2014. City officials have questioned how the DUD can produce its own water supply cheaper than it can buy it from Smithville.

Officials of the DeKalb Utility District admit that while rate increases are coming to help pay for the new plant, they are not as drastic as city officials have asserted.

In a prepared statement released to WJLE Tuesday, the DeKalb Utility District officials said that "there is a lot of misinformation being circulated in the community about the impact the new water treatment plant construction will have on our customers' rates. Here are the facts":

"The increases will be spaced out over the next three years"

"Our minimum rate for customers, who use 2,000 gallons or less, will rise from as low as $17.50 presently to $19.00 in July, 2012, then to $20.13 in July, 2013 and to $21.75 in July, 2014. That's a total of $4.25 more a month spaced out over a three year period."

"For our average customer (who uses 6,000 gallons per month), their current bill (plus tax) is $44.00. That will rise in July, 2012 to $47.75, then to $51.08 in July 2013 and $54.55 in July, 2014. That's a total increase of over $10.50 a month spaced out over the next three years."

According to the DUD media statement" Customers don't pay their water bills in percentages. They pay them in dollars and cents. We believe once our customers know and understand what is being proposed, they will see why this plan is a good idea and will be a good investment in their future and the community's future."

DUD customers in the Baxter/Silver Point areas, will not be affected by these rate increases, according to the DUD. "Their rates will not be changed in any way by the construction or operation of the new water treatment plant. They will not receive any water service from the new facility, so it would not be fair to make them have to pay for it," according to the DUD media release.

"Our customers in the Baxter/Silver Point areas receive water through a contract the DeKalb Utility District has with the city of Baxter and we agree with those there who feel their water costs are high".

"We have spent tens of thousands of dollars and months of time trying to come up with a financially viable way to provide water to that area by bringing it across the lake from the Smithville side. Unfortunately, we have not been able to identify a plan that won't result in a further increase in water rates, which is not acceptable."

The proposed $10.5 million DUD water treatment plant is to be built off Holmes Creek Road in the Yolanda Hills Drive area, funded through Rural Development and Tennessee Utility Assistance which is a program offered by the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts. The DUD media release states "To finance the project, we are receiving funding from the Rural Development Agency including a $5 million loan and a $1.25 million grant. In addition, we are receiving funding from the TUA of another $4.25 million. We believe these funds, especially the grant monies, combined with the historically very low interest rates we are receiving, will help us to finally move forward with building the water treatment plant".

Wauford, during last week's meeting of the Smithville Mayor and Aldermen, said that the city's newly renovated water treatment plant is more than capable of meeting current and future needs of both Smithville and the DeKalb Utility District for years to come. "You(Smithville) have a four million gallon a day water treatment plant. You're producing about 1.8 million gallons per day. About 700,000 to 800,000 gallons is going to the DeKalb Utility District. Your contract with DUD now gives them the right to buy two million gallons a day which is well within your capability of doing so," said Wauford.

By having its own water treatment plant, Manager Jon Foutch said the DUD is better able to control its own destiny. "We believe building such a facility will give our customers more control over the ongoing costs of their water service and ensure the reliability of that water service in the future," said Foutch.

Two water plants in the county would also be better for all residents, rather than just one plant, he said, especially during times of emergencies. "We believe having our own water treatment plant will benefit all of DeKalb County because it will provide an additional source of water for our community to plan and handle future growth. And, in case of emergencies, it will establish and maintain an interconnected, backup water system for all residents in the area if one of the water services is unavailable," said Foutch.

The DUD already has a water storage agreement with the Corps of Engineers and the authority to pull up to two million gallons per day from the lake and to build the necessary pumping station at near Holmes Creek to supply water to the proposed three million gallon a day treatment plant to be located at the top of the hill.

DUD officials have said that the Corps of Engineers only has a limited amount of water withdrawal remaining from their storage pool availability and if DUD does not act now, it may not again have the opportunity to build a treatment plant in the future. That water availability may go to some other utility or industry. If DUD passes up this opportunity, it could be gone forever.

Melba Vinca Family Selected for Next Habitat Home

April 24, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Melba Vinca Family Selected for Next Habitat Home

Another family will soon experience the dream of home ownership thanks to Habitat for Humanity of DeKalb County.

The Melba Vinca family was chosen by the local Habitat board of directors last Tuesday, April 17th, based on a recommendation by the Habitat family selection committee.

Marie Blair, Chairman of the Family Selection Committee told WJLE that Vinca was among thirteen who applied to become the latest partner family. The committee, she said, felt that Vinca was the best choice. Some who applied did not meet all the criteria.

To qualify, applicants must be a DeKalb County resident for at least 1 year; be a U.S. Citizen or have permanent resident alien status; have a housing need; have an ability to pay. (applicants must provide proof of income and ability to pay a monthly mortgage); and be willing to partner in the construction of their own home.

Vinca and her three grandsons, 16 year old Bradley Mullican, 15 year old Cayton Lance, and 10 year old Justin Lance, will reside at the home on Hayes Street once its completed this fall.

Vinca told WJLE Monday that she is excited to have been selected. "I really felt like I had won a lottery. I just want to thank God for allowing me this opportunity to finally own my own home and to have my own bedroom more than anything. I can't wait to get out there and help,"she said.

"We're very, very happy to have Ms. Vinca as our fourth partner family for this year", said Nolan Turner, President of the local Habitat affiliate. "We're looking forward to getting the house built and getting her in there as soon as we possibly can. Hopefully we'll be able to break ground next month and start the building and hope we'll be in there by the first of October," he said.

"We really need donations right now for the building. We've got enough to get it underway but we're looking forward to finishing the house and to possibly get enough (donations) to start another one," said Turner.

"This will be between an 1,100 to 1,200 square foot house. It'll be a three bedroom house with a bath and a half. Of course with a kitchen and dining room. It will be similar to the other (partner family) houses. A washer/dryer combination will be furnished with the house. It'll be a frame house. Most of the labor will be volunteer. Nowadays you've got to have a licensed contractor as far as electric and plumbing. We may have to employ someone to do that but most of the labor is going to come from volunteer help," said Turner.

The purpose of Habitat is to build houses and sell them at no profit and no interest to families who could not otherwise afford their own home. This Christian ministry is financed through private donations using volunteer labor and donated materials whenever possible.

(Pictured left to right: Bradley Mullican, Melba Vinca, Cayton Lance, and Nolan Turner. In front wearing orange shirt is Justin Lance)

Lady Saints Celebrate First Win on Their New Softball Field

April 24, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Lady Saints (Photo by Terry Malone)

The Lady Saints Fast Pitch Softball Team played the first game on their brand new field Monday on the campus of DeKalb Middle School and a one to nothing victory over Mount Juliet added to the excitement.

The ceremonial first pitch was throw by Suzette Barnes, an avid supporter of the program.

Principal Randy Jennings said the development of this softball field has been a long time in the making. "It has been a long time coming for several years since the beginning of the program. We weren't sure we would get to play on it this year with all the wet weather we had early. We just couldn't get in there on the field to do much. But finally in the last couple of weeks with a ton of parents and the coaches, they got out there and it came a long way. Before, the team always had to go across town for practices and games. It'll be nice for them (players) to just walk out the back door from the school building to practice in the afternoons and play their games. Of course its still a work in progress but its nice to see them out there playing. All of this has been done through fundraisers and donations. A lot of people have been gracious enough to support that and I'd like to thank all those people,"he said.

Jennings said the field is still a work in progress. "The field is still not in great playing condition. The outfield is still a little rough but that is something that's going to take a little time. Of course, the outside of the fence area, hopefully in the near future we'll get a press box and some things that will make that part of the field look a little nicer also," he said

The Lady Saints scored one run in the bottom of the fourth inning. with two outs, Kayley Caplinger got a hit single, and then Katie Hall hit an RBI double to score Caplinger. Kayley Caplinger pitched a one hit shutout through five innings. She walked two.

Cookeville Man Charged in Local Burglary and Theft

April 23, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Brandon Troy Hayes
Caleb Isaiah Rigsby
Robert E. Palmer

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department has arrested a Cookeville man in a local burglary and theft case.

25 year old Brandon Troy Hayes of Hill Road, Cookeville is charged with burglary and theft of property over $1,000. He will be in court April 26. His bond is $10,000

Sheriff Patrick Ray reports that on November 27, 2011, Hayes broke into a building on Hamby Hill Road by cutting a lock off the door. He allegedly stole a power washer, Black & Decker drill, chainsaw, Skil saw, leaf blower, and other items, all valued at over $1,000.

The case was investigated by criminal detectives of the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department. Hayes was arrested on Friday, April 20.

41 year old Joe Allen Ferrell of Oak Drive, Smithville is charged with driving on a suspended license. His bond is $20,000.

Sheriff Ray reports that on Wednesday, April 18 Ferrell, who had cases pending in General Sessions Court for driving on a suspended license, was observed by a deputy leaving the courthouse, operating a motor vehicle. Ferrell, who had just left traffic court before getting in the vehicle, had been advised by Judge Bratten Cook, II not to drive anymore while his license was suspended. His original suspension notice was sent on February 27. His bond was originally set at $2,500 but the judge increased it to $20,000.

26 year old Caleb Isaiah Rigsby of Old Mill Hill Road, Dowelltown is charged with driving on a suspended license, theft of property under $500, and he was issued a citation for no seatbelt. His bond totals $3,000 and he will be in court June 14.

Sheriff Ray reports that on Thursday, April 19 Rigsby was operating a motor vehicle on the Old Mill Hill Road when he was stopped by a deputy for a seat belt violation. A computer check revealed that his license were suspended on April 22, 2010 in Warren County for failure to satisfy a citation. On the theft charge, Sheriff Ray said that on April 19 Rigsby allegedly stole several items of scrap metal, valued less than $500, on O'Conner Lane and sold them to a local recycling center.

61 year old Robert E. Palmer of Oakwood Circle, Murfreesboro is charged with violation of an order of protection. His bond is $2,500 and he will be in court May 3.

Sheriff Ray said that on Friday, April 20, Palmer's vehicle was seen parked on Shady Place in front of the residence of someone who had an order of protection against him. Palmer was outside of the automobile and standing on the victim's porch. The victim ran to a neighbor's home and called 911. A 12 gauge shotgun and ammunition were found in Palmer's vehicle.

The victim obtained the order of protection against Palmer on January 10, 2012. and became afraid when Palmer stepped onto the porch.

GED Test to get Significant Revision in 2014

April 22, 2012

The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development’s Adult Education Division is preparing for major changes to the General Educational Development (GED®) test to take effect in 2014.

“We encourage eligible Tennesseans who have not earned their GED to do so now,” said Commissioner Karla Davis. “Beginning January 1, 2014, the GED test will cost more, must be taken on a computer, and will contain significant content changes.”

The GED test is undergoing its biggest overhaul since the credentialing test began in 1942. The revised test will measure knowledge and core skills that more closely reflect Common Core State Standards, which is the body of information young people are expected to learn in school and need for success in college and the workforce.

Standards go up for the test to remain a valid option to identify skills demanded by employers and postsecondary schools. The 2014 test will be more rigorous in general and requires higher level math proficiency. As before, the new GED test covers subject areas – writing, reading, science, social studies, and math.

“The quality of the labor force is one of the most important factors that employers look at when they think about locating in a state, specifically, the education of the people who make up the labor force and their ability to deliver on the job,” said Marva Doremus, Labor and Workforce Development Administrator for Adult Education. “An educated workforce is critical to our future as a state. The only way we can grow Tennessee’s economy is with the right workers. Last year, 56.6% of those issued a GED credential in Tennessee were between the ages of 17 and 25. These individuals have 50 years to be in the workforce. We need to move them forward into postsecondary or other job training programs.”

Commissioner Davis added, “New jobs are not being created for those without a high school education. Unemployment rates are inversely related to the level of education a person has achieved. The more education a person has, the less likely he is to be unemployed. The same is true of income – the income differences between a person who does not have a high school diploma or GED and a person who does are striking.”

Other important points:

· People who have not passed all parts of the current GED test before the end of the current GED test series, i.e., by December 31, 2013, will have to start over when the 2014 edition begins.

· Presently the fee for taking the GED averages $65. When the GED test becomes computer-based in 2014, the fee will be a minimum of $120.

Last year 12,047 Tennesseans earned GEDs. Tennessee still has 900,000 to one million adults without a high school diploma. Almost 29,000 students dropped out of high school in 2011.

To help existing GED Test Centers transition from the old paper-based testing format to computer-based testing, Tennessee is offering three pilot programs for people to take the current GED test before the launch of the new 2014 series. Test Centers at UT-Martin, Tennessee State University, and Walters State Community College are taking part in the pilot program. The fee to take the test at one of the pilot centers is $120.

For further information on obtaining a GED, contact the GED Office in the Adult Education Division of the Department of Labor & Workforce Development, (615) 741-7054, or e-mail Susan.Doughty@tn.gov.

County Fire Chief Renews Request for New Pumper at Midway Station

April 20, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
County Fire Chief Donny Green
1975 model truck at Austin Bottom station
1992 model Rescue Truck

The DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department is in need of a new pumper according to County Fire Chief Donny Green.

Green addressed the county commission during an all committees meeting Thursday night at the courthouse, renewing a request he made last summer with the county budget committee

Chief Green, last year, asked that $180,000 be budgeted to purchase a new fire pumper to replace the Midway engine which is a 1979 model. By doing this, Green said "we can take the 1975 model truck out of service at the Austin Bottom station and place the 1979 Midway truck at Austin Bottom. This station (Austin Bottom), he said has a low call volume and the 1979 truck should be adequate to "hold them over for a few more years". Green said the county is looking at major expenses if it continues to keep the 1975 truck at the Austin Bottom Station.

Green's funding request last summer was not included in the budget this year but he was told that the issue could be revisited later. "At the beginning of the last budget year we had talked about how we were up on our replacement schedule to get a truck out at Midway. At that time I was asked to wait until after the first of the year to look at revenues to see where we were at. To give you an update, the truck that we have at Austin Bottom is the last of the 1975 model trucks that we built years ago. We got it in under the radar last year on the pump test when ISO was here. We actually got it pump tested and we got credit for it but at the same time when we were doing that in March last year we were talking about replacing a truck and he (ISO official) was considering that. The pump test is coming up again in June this year and I am pretty confident that we can't stretch that truck, the one that's over there (Austin Bottom). The goal was to move the one from Midway over there (Austin Bottom) and replace the one at Midway. They (Midway) are one of the original four stations that were built when this thing (fire department) all started in 1975 and they (Midway) still haven't ever got a (new) truck. All of the other original stations have had them, except for the Cookeville Highway station," said Chief Green.

After the Midway Station gets a new fire truck, Chief Green said the county should begin making plans to replace the truck at the Cookeville Highway Station. "I think they (Cookeville Highway) are next after Midway. I've done some checking and (Assistant Chief) Jeff (Williams) has done some checking about some demos. We have bought a couple of demos in the past. That usually saves us about $15,000 to $20,000 off a new price of a chassis. I found some (demos) but the last ones we bought, one for Johnson's Chapel and one for Keltonburg, we paid like $164,000 for those. The demos we're finding right now are in the $180,000 to $185,000 range. All that's got to do with this emissions change. A new one is about $210,000. The two demos we found, one was $185,000 and the other was $183,000. That's just something for you to consider," he said.

Chief Green urged the county commission to follow a regular replacement schedule on fire department vehicles, or risk several of them having to be replaced at once. "If we're not careful, we're going to wind up with a bunch of trucks all the same age again. We've been fortunate to get in on some of these grants over the years. If we can keep this rolling to where we can get those updated we won't get behind. That one (Midway) and Cookeville Highway, I would like to see us, out of respect for the original stations, to get them a new truck out there (Cookeville Highway) maybe next year or where you think it will fit into the budget cycle. It (Cookeville Highway truck) is definitely one that needs to be replaced after we get this one at Midway replaced. We bought a used truck from Brentwood a few years ago. We found it on Gov Deals. Its going to last us but it probably won't last as long there at Cookeville Highway as it would last at one of the less busy stations. That one out there is pretty busy. It's a 1987 model and Brentwood retired it a few years ago. It would probably do fine at one of the outlying stations," said Chief Green.

As far as Chief Green's request for funding of a fire truck at Midway this year, County Mayor Mike Foster said Thursday night "I'll get with you and we'll look and see what's in capital projects".

Meanwhile, Chief Green updated the county commission Thursday night on a new brush truck the fire department will be getting thanks to a grant. "We did get our grant for the brush truck to replace that 1975 brush truck that we have out at the main station. It will be coming in probably in late August. It is an F 550 4X4 with a little brush truck package to get off the road and around in some of these lake places. It's going to have a big enough pump that we can actually get around to some of these fill sites at the lake and actually fill our pumpers. We've got a 500 gallon per minute pump on it. We were going to have to replace that (old brush truck) but that grant helped us with our rotation a little bit so maybe we can stay on track in getting these replaced. I don't want us getting in as bad a shape as we were last time and have six or seven bad trucks that are on their last leg all at once. Right now we can move these older trucks outs to the outlying stations that don't have the call volume and make them last a few more years," said Chief Green.

The department also recently purchased a pre-owned rescue vehicle. "We carried some money over last year," said Chief Green. " We were looking for a used equipment truck but didn't find one by the last budget cycle last year. We carried it over this year and we found one in New Jersey. It's a 1992 model. It sounds like an old truck but it had 11,000 original miles on it. It looks like a show parade truck. It was kept in and they washed it every time they went out. We've got it in out there now. Its twenty years old but I see us getting ten more years of service out of it at least. We're using it for our rescue truck because its in better shape than the rescue truck we were using so we moved those tools over to our equipment truck which carries all of our support type stuff. It goes to every structure fire," he said.

Capitol Hill Week

April 20, 2012
State Senator Mae Beavers

As the Tennessee Legislature prepared to enter the final week of the 107th General Assembly, state senators acted on a wide variety of important bills, including a measure calling for drug testing for welfare applicants, a bill to curb domestic violence and two resolutions giving citizens the opportunity to vote on how the state’s appellate judges are selected. State Senators also voted to ensure the transferability of dual credit courses for high school students when they enroll in college and to prevent K-12 schools from discriminating against a student based on a religious viewpoint.

Meanwhile members of the Senate Finance Committee worked tirelessly to find common ground on the budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year that will begin on July 1. The remainder of the 2012 legislative session will be predominantly focused on bills which have a fiscal impact on the state’s budget. Tennessee is constitutionally bound to balance the budget. The Finance Committees in the House and the Senate reviewed legislation this week calling for additional appropriations to the financial package under consideration as lawmakers set priorities for inclusion in the budget.

Among key financial bills still awaiting final action in conjunction with passage of the budget is Senate Bill 3763, co-sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), to reduce the state portion of the sales tax on grocery food from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent, with the goal of lowering it to 5.0 percent in three years. Beavers was the prime sponsor of the first legislation passed to reduce the sales tax on food. Similarly, Senate Bill 3762, co-sponsored by Senator Beavers, will be considered which would take the first step in a four-year process to phase out the state’s inheritance tax, also called the “death tax.” The tax cut bills, which have been a priority of Republican lawmakers for many years, are included in Governor Bill Haslam’s budget proposal.

Drug Test / Welfare Recipients – In major action this week, the Senate Finance Committee voted 8 to 3 in favor of legislation which calls for drug testing for welfare applicants. The bill would apply to testing for illegal use of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine and opiates such as morphine, with the possibility that other drugs could be added later by rules set forth under the bill. Senate Bill 2580, sponsored by Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), applies to adult recipients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.

Under the federal Welfare Reform Act passed in 1996, states were authorized to conduct drug testing for TANF recipients. The bill does not affect aid provided to children under the program.

The implementation would occur in phases over a two-year period under the bill, with status reports regarding the matter being sent to the General Health and Welfare Committees in the legislature on a quarterly basis. It calls for the Department of Human Services to develop appropriate screening techniques and processes to establish reasonable cause that an applicant for TANF is using a drug illegally. The applicant could then be required to undergo a urine-based drug test to be conducted by a drug testing agency. If the applicant tests positive, the drug test would have to be verified by a confirmation test before TANF benefits could be denied. No drug for which an applicant has a current valid prescription could be used as a basis for denial of benefits.

The drug testing plan would also include a referral process for any applicant who tests positive to be referred to an appropriate treatment resource for drug abuse. If the applicant is otherwise eligible during the treatment period, he or she can receive TANF benefits during the treatment period for up to six months. If the applicant refuses treatment, he or she would be disqualified. After six months of disqualification, the applicant can reapply, but upon testing positive again he or she would become ineligible for one year.

Curbing Domestic Violence -- Legislation which strengthens penalties for domestic violence overcame a major hurdle this week with passage by the Senate Finance Committee. The "Repeat Domestic Violence Offender" bill, which came to Finance Committee members from the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Senator Mae Beavers, prescribes mandatory jail time and enhanced fines for repeat offenders.

Tennessee is ranked fifth in the nation for women murdered by men as a result of domestic violence.

Senate Bill 2251 provides at least 30 days in jail and a fine ranging from $350 to $3,500 for those convicted of a second offense for domestic violence when bodily injury occurs. Upon third or a subsequent conviction, the mandatory jail time would increase to 90 days and a fine ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. In counting prior convictions, the bill provides for a ten-year look back provision similar to the one used in the state’s drunk driving law.

The bill is part of a public safety package presented to the legislature by Governor Bill Haslam. It was recommended by a Public Safety Subcabinet Working Group composed of more than 10 government agencies which held meetings with over 300 leaders in law enforcement.

Dual Credit Courses – A bill to ensure students will receive college credit for dual credit courses that they complete successfully in high school was approved by the Senate Finance Committee. Dual credit is a type of college credit by assessment that occurs when a high school student passes a course that has been created in collaboration with a higher education institution. The student then takes a test to prove their proficiency.

Senate Bill 2809 would require public postsecondary institutions to accept for credit any dual credit course developed by another public postsecondary institution in collaboration with a high school if the student passes the course and a college proficiency test. The legislation specifies credit would only be provided when the student enrolls in college.

Religious Expression in Public Schools – Action on the Senate floor this week included final approval of Senate Bill 3632 that would prevent a Local Education Agency (LEA) from discriminating against a student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject. The legislation requires an LEA to treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint the same as they would treat a voluntary expression of a secular viewpoint.

The bill would also allow students to organize a student prayer group, religious clubs or other religious gathering to the same extent that other non-curricular groups organize. Those religious groups would be given the same access to school facilities for assembly and the same opportunities to advertise such meetings as given to other non-curricula groups. In addition, the bill would allow a student to express religious beliefs in homework, artwork and other school-related assignments free from discrimination.

“The student would not be penalized or rewarded based on the religious content of the student’s work,” Roberts added.

Finally, the measure requires an LEA to adopt a policy that includes the establishment of a limited public forum for student speakers at any school event at which a student is to publicly speak and a policy regarding voluntary student expression, among other provisions. The provisions of the legislation would begin in the 2013-2014 school year.

Issues in Brief

Change in method to select state’s Attorney General -- Legislation sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) that would allow Tennessee’s Governor to appoint the State Attorney General was approved by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday and was read on the first and second of three readings before the full State Senate this week. Senate Joint Resolution 693 would amend the state’s Constitution to allow the Governor to appoint the Attorney General for a six-year term subject to legislative confirmation. Tennessee is the only state in the nation that allows the State Supreme Court to select the attorney general. Other states either call for popular election or the Attorney General is selected by either the popularly elected Governor or the state legislature.

Unemployment Insurance Reform – Legislation that would give job creators some much-needed certainly for unemployment rules advanced this week through the Senate Finance Committee. The bill revises certain provisions such as misconduct rules by individuals seeking unemployment benefits. Moreover, Senate bill 3658, sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), specifies that "making a reasonable effort to secure work" means a claimant must provide detailed information regarding contact with at least three employers per week or must access services at a career center created by the Department.

Unemployment Insurance / Seasonal Workers – Similarly, Senate Finance Committee members approved Senate Bill 3657, sponsored by Senator Johnson, which establishes qualifications and criteria for determining benefit amounts paid to seasonal employees. The bill allows an employer to qualify as a "seasonal employer" for purposes of unemployment insurance benefits, and establishes the benefits an employee of a seasonal
worker will receive beginning in 2016.

Synthetic Drugs -- Senate Bill 3018 which defines synthetic drugs in a manner in which unscrupulous manufacturers cannot skirt the law to avoid prosecution is one step closer to passage after Finance Committee members voted to approve it. The bill, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), defines synthetic drugs to capture any analogues, which are chemical compounds having a similar structure to the banned drug. This legislation creates a new Class D felony offense for a person to knowingly manufacture, deliver, dispense or sell a controlled substance analogue. The proposal elevates penalties upon a second or subsequent violation to a Class C felony. If the violation involves the delivery, dispensing or sale of a controlled substance analogue to a minor, the offender will be punished one classification higher than the punishment for delivering, dispensing or selling to an adult. The bill also creates a new Class A misdemeanor offense for a person knowingly to possess or casually exchange under a gram of a controlled substance analogue.

A Look at the Tennessee Legislature

April 20, 2012
by: 
Terri Lynn Weaver
State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver

Greetings! Lots of laws coming through the chute this past week as we near the last two weeks of the 107th General Assembly. Tennessee is ranked by the U.S. Census Bureau as number two in the nation in Violent Crime and number five in the nation in men killing women! Ninety-eight House members supported stricter punishments for domestic violence with passage of HB2389. HB3517 clarifies and confirms that the unborn child is also a victim of an assaultive offense or a homicide. Life begins at conception; therefore, when a pregnant woman who lives in the fifth-ranking state of men killing women is assaulted, this bill brings respect both to the mother and the unborn child.

After amendments were made to help ease the burden of the fiscal note to our local government due to longer jail time, County Commissioners and the Sheriff’s Association all came to agreement. With per diem for local jails housing state prisoners being increased from $35 to $37 per day, the increase of $4 million more will be going to local government annually. Administration has allocated $750,000 to go through TBI to local governments to pay for meth clean-up. Previously, this expense has been covered by local governments; this bill will cost an average of $4,941 per county. Crime is costly--not only in dollars, but in the lives it takes, and the ones left scarred.

HB3671 passed the House Thursday as many members rose to comment, myself included, how stricter procedures and incentives for the unemployed are needed to keep “job seekers” honest, and employers from paying bad actors, who rely on the check in the mail (paid by small business owners) instead of pursuing a job.

From HB3175 making it a felony to create and sell bath salts, to leveling the playing field for all businesses in HB2372, to giving Tennessee teachers first choice in HB3760--it matters who governs, and I am proud to serve with my colleagues as we work tirelessly to make Tennessee a better place to live and raise a family.

The 38th Annual Tennessee Prayer Breakfast--WOW! Governor Bill Haslam interviewed Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales, after Mr. Vischer shared his testimony.

Mr. Vischer’s comment of, “Hold on to God with white knuckles and let go of your five-year plan to fully trust in Him,” made a huge impact on me. That whole morning blessed many members and was a great way to start off our busy week. Thank you to the many folks who with Citizens’ Committee put this large event into motion. To God alone be the glory for the great things He has done!

Love seeing all the school children come to the Capitol this week, and seeing you on the plaza having lunch on these beautiful sunny spring days; that keeps me charged as well! Thank you, folks of the fortieth; it truly is an honor to serve you.

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