NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A legal opinion issued by the state Attorney General Bob Cooper outlines exactly when it’s legal for blue flashing lights to be used as part of a funeral procession in Tennessee.
The opinion requested by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet says that only full-time law enforcement officers can use blue flashing lights while escorting funeral processions — as long as it’s part of their official duty to do so. That standard applies even if they are off-duty and being paid for private security.
The attorney general said non-law enforcement may not use blue or red flashing lights of any kind, though escort vehicles can be equipped with amber lights. Note: The full opinion, answering 10 questions, is HERE.
Over the objections of some in the funeral home industry, two Knoxville legislators are proposing the repeal of a 1959 state law that prohibits discounting funeral costs to those who pay in advance.
Sen. Becky Massey and Rep. Ryan Haynes, both Knoxville Republicans, are sponsoring SB1286 at the behest of a group called Tennesseans for Funeral Reform, which is headed by Fred Berry III, manager of Berry Funeral Home in Knoxville.
It is scheduled for votes in committees of both the House and Senate this week. In January, state Attorney General Bob Cooper issued a legal opinion declaring the law in question is valid. Cooper was responding to a Haynes question on constitutionality of the statute.
Berry, whose grandfather served 16 years as a Republican senator from Knoxville, told the Senate Commerce Committee last week that the law was not really enforced until about two years ago. Since then the state’s funeral regulatory board, housed under the Department of Commerce and Insurance, has been inspecting contracts and imposing fines for violations.
Berry said that allowing discounts in the sale of “pre-need” funerals would save consumers money and encourage more people to make arrangements in advance. He said Tennessee is the only state in the nation with such a prohibition — a point disputed by those opposing the repeal bill.
Representatives of the Tennessee Funeral Directors Association and the Tennessee Funeral Home Directors and Morticians Association testified against the bill, contending that current law protects consumers and should not be changed.
Full story HERE.
News release from Tennesseans for Funeral Reform:
(Nashville, TN)—-February 20, 2012….The sudden or unexpected death of a loved one….it is one of the toughest times for a family. And many have not prepared by purchasing a pre-paid funeral plan.
One way to encourage that is by offering a discount as an incentive for folks to plan ahead, says Fred Berry, a fourth-generation Knoxville funeral home director and the spokesman for a new group called Tennesseans for Funeral Reform.
“Unfortunately,” says Berry, “discounts on pre-paid funerals arrangements are illegal in Tennessee. In fact, Tennessee is the only state in the entire country that prohibits such incentives.
In the days after his father’s death, Adolpho A. Birch III has been overwhelmed by the countless stories people have told him about the towering man with the signature white beard, reports the Tennessean. He was dear to many — judges, lawyers, politicians — who shared stories about the first African-American chief justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court. But others who crossed paths with the elder Birch had fond memories as well, from the man who delivered his mail, to the department store clerk to Kelvin, who peddles the homeless newspaper The Contributor at West End and Bowling avenues.
… Adolpho A. Birch Jr. died of cancer Thursday at a local hospital. He was 78.
Along with his son, Tuesday evening’s 45-minute tribute featured speeches from Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark, lawyer and longtime family friend Nancy A. Vincent, First Amendment Center founder and former Tennessean editor and publisher John Seigenthaler, and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.
“He left a very simple equation: Value your education. Live your faith. Be sincere. Be kind. And remember, every person matters,” Dean said. “… I agree wholeheartedly that he was Tennessee’s Thurgood Marshall. Justice Birch made the world a better place, a fairer place, a more equal place.”
Adolpho A. Birch Jr., Tennessee’s first black chief justice and the only person to serve at every level of the state judiciary, will lie in repose from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday at the historic Metro Courthouse in downtown Nashville. A memorial service will follow at 6 p.m. at War Memorial Auditorium.
More from the Tennessean’ story: Birch died of cancer Thursday. He was 78. “I just think of him as being the standard of what a justice ought to be,” said Nashville author John Egerton, who wrote a story about Birch for The Tennessean in 1996.
“He looked the role, and it was in his makeup. He just had the presence of a wise person. But he was shy. He didn’t like to talk about himself.”
Birch spent much of his career at the Metro Courthouse — first as a young lawyer and then as Davidson County’s first black judge — before Gov. Ned McWherter appointed him to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in 1987.
Birch was the first black appellate judge in state history. He would go on to join the Supreme Court, and he became its first black chief justice in 1996. He retired from the bench a decade later. When Nashville opened a new courthouse for its Criminal and General Sessions Courts in 2006, it was named after Birch.
Some tributes to Birch from political figures are posted below.
A Franklin County lawmaker says his bill that increases disorderly conduct penalties for people protesting outside funerals and memorial services is intended to target “hateful” groups like Westboro Baptist Church, which demonstrated this week outside a solider’s funeral in Nashville, reports the Chattanooga TFP.. “Groups like Westboro are hateful, ugly and misrepresent the Christian faith,” Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belivire, said in a news release.
“They disrespect our military families and target our citizens and residents. We must do everything we can to ensure they have no incentive to come here.” Senate Bill 1380, which was recently signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, goes into effect July 1.
It increases penalties for disorderly conduct within 500 feet of a funeral or memorial service from a Class C to a Class B mismeanor. Instead of facing up to 30 days in jail and a $50 fine, persons convicted under the change will be looking at a sentence of up to six months in jail and/or a maximum of $500 fine.
Topkea, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church has achieved national notoriety for its picketing of funerals for slain military service members. The group says on its website that “God Hates America” and is “killing our troops in his wrath.”
Actually, the Westboro protest in Nashville was pretty much a complete flop with an estimated 2,000 people protesting the Westboro protesters appearance at the funeral of a Tennessee soldier killed in Afghanistan.
Excerpt from The Tennessean’s account: On May 12, Nashville native and Marine Sgt. Kevin Balduf, 27, was killed in combat in Afghanistan. Much closer to his home, Christian fundamentalists in Topeka, Kansas, planned their trip to protest his funeral.
News of Westboro Baptist Church’s plans lit up social media sites, resulting in a counter-protest of about 2,000 people Monday outside Woodmont Hills Family of God church on Franklin Pike. In less than 10 minutes, two hours before the funeral’s start, the three Westboro protesters took their leave.
Earlier Monday, the three protested outside Gordon Jewish Community Center in Bellevue and the Islamic Center of Nashville on 12th Avenue South. During their short protest of the Islamic center, someone slashed the tires on their rented SUV. Metro Police took a report, but no one has been charged.
Since a March Supreme Court ruling in favor of Westboro Baptist, counter-protesters have stepped up their efforts to shout the group down at soldiers’ funerals. America must allow “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion for the court.
Columnist Gail Kerr, meanwhile, opines today that the counter-protest — and a lawsuit filed against the bill passed by the Legislature to override a Nashville city ordinance forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation – are examples of Nashvillians’ willingness to stand up against bigotry.
By Erik Schelzig
DRESDEN, Tenn. — Former Gov. Ned McWherter was remembered Sunday by the neighbors and voters who first elected him and sent him on his way to become one of the most powerful Democratic politicians in Tennessee.
A memorial for McWherter, who died April 4 at age 80, was held on the front lawn of his home in Dresden, just blocks away from where an inscription on a bronze statue of the West Tennessee political giant reads: “One of us.”
The services drew politicians, friends and supporters from around the region and state.
“He improved so many lives, and he touched my life,” said Joe Fisher, 73, of Alamo. “I got to meet him one time, and I’m going to miss him.”
Longtime adviser Billy Stair noted that McWherter’s political career was founded in his hometown experiences.
“He came from this community, from a time and a place that today echoes only faintly across the years,” he said. “A small town, where they set up bleachers outside the ice cream parlor over on East Main street to listen to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio.
“A time when where a future governor from this town dropped out of high school, and was convinced to go back by the mechanic at the local Pontiac dealership.”
A Great Depression-era child of sharecroppers, McWherter became wealthy through various business enterprises before entering politics. He was elected to his first of two terms as governor in 1986 after 20 years in the Legislature — and 14 as House speaker. He also was a political adviser to Bill Clinton during his presidency.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore are scheduled to attend a memorial service on Saturday for former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter.
McWherter, a two-term Democratic governor and longtime House speaker from West Tennessee, died Monday of cancer at the age of 80.
The service at 2 p.m. in the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville will be open to the public. Another service is set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday in Dresden on the front lawn of McWherter’s home
Statement from Mike McWherter sent to media today:
“We have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love from every corner of the state. We are moved to know how many lives my father touched throughout his long career — people from all walks of life and from all across the country.”
The family invites everyone to join them at a Memorial Service honoring Governor Ned McWherter in Nashville, Saturday, 2 PM, War Memorial Auditorium or in Dresden, Sunday, 1:30 PM, on the front lawn of the governor’s home. A reception will follow each service.
In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made to the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society or St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.