NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Fifty-four Tennessee Highway Patrol cadets begin five months of training Monday in Nashville.
They will spend the next 18 weeks in classroom exercises and physical training, with graduates advancing to a maximum of 12 weeks of field training.
The more than 920 hours of classroom training is divided into 12 major categories including criminal and constitutional law, patrol procedures, professional ethical conduct and firearms.
Twenty-one of the cadets have military experience. Thirty-one have been in law enforcement, dispatch communications or corrections.
The THP currently has 800 troopers.
Tennessee lawmakers outlawed texting while driving more than two years ago, observes Andrea Zelinski, and at the time, predictions were that 3,650 people a year would end up getting pinched thumbing their noses at the law while they thumbed away at their hand-held communication devices.
This year, Tennessee Highway Patrol has issued only 174 citations. Although state officials say they don’t know how many local police citations have been written up, lawmakers who drove the bill through the Legislature say that despite the lack of tickets issued, they still believe the new law has been a success, and not a solution in search of a problem.
“I think law enforcement is beginning to figure out how to enforce it now, and it is difficult, but I think you’re going to see more enforcement as we move on,” said Chairman Jim Tracy who carried the bill in the Senate and runs the chamber’s Transportation Committee.
In 2009, lawmakers approved the texting and driving ban under the assumption it would also collected some $41,600 in fines through the up to $50 per ticket fee.
But in 2010, the state only collected $2,010 in state and county-issued citations, drastically below the state’s original estimates. THP issued 171 citations that year.
Officials who hand off such projections to the Legislature admitted earlier this year they overestimated the number of citations that would be issued for texting and driving in Tennessee.
The new law has yet to cover the price of implementation, which cost taxpayers $10,500 in programming changes to departmental systems required to enforce and track violations of the ban.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Tracy says that he wants a study of options for raising new revenue for state highway projects – but not until after the 2012 elections next fall.. Andrea Zelinski has the story (and video) at TNReport.
“I don’t see gas tax at all being in the picture as we speak,” Tracy said. “I see us looking at an overall picture of funding for transportation at the local level, at the county level, at the state level, looking at the overall picture of funding for transportation.”
Sen. Tracy said he plans to assemble a task force to meet “in the latter part of 2012,” which means voters won’t likely get a preview of the discussions prior to the primary elections in August or the general in November.
Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer told Republican Gov. Bill Haslam during last month’s budget hearings the state needs to begin thinking about how to compensate for the dropping gas tax revenues that are due in part to more fuel-efficient vehicles (and electric vehicles that don’t use gas) on the roads.
…. (Haslam says) at some point the state is going to need to look at the transportation taxes, “or we’re going to be down to where we can’t fund just the basics of our road and bridge program in Tennessee.”
“My suggestion, whether it be this piece or that, let’s take a comprehensive look at the whole way we do that. My sense is we’re still a year or two away from that, from having a comprehensive approach.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state has announced an agreement with Motorola Solutions Inc. for a statewide radio system for state troopers.
Under $39.2 million appropriated by the General Assembly, radios will be upgraded in the Tennessee Highway Patrol Chattanooga, Fall Branch and Knoxville districts. It’s the first phase of the project replacing a system more than 30 years old.
Officials said it would help troopers communicate with authorities in Kentucky, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
THP Col. Tracy Trott said the lack of a reliable communication system has been an issue for troopers for decades.
Officials said the new system also will help communications between troopers and similar Motorola radio
Haslam Campaigns for Shelby DA
With the March Shelby County primaries on the way, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will be lending his support to a fundraiser for Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich, according to the Memphis Daily News.
Haslam is the featured guest at a $500-a-head fundraiser Nov. 2 at Oaksedge in East Memphis. Weirich will be running in the GOP primary for the remaining two years in the eight-year term of office of Bill Gibbons. Haslam appointed Weirich as the county’s chief prosecutor after tapping Gibbons to be his commissioner of safety and homeland security when Haslam took office as governor in January.
Weirich’s appointment was the first Haslam made to fill a local office. District attorney general is one of three countywide offices on the 2010 ballot. The other two are assessor and General Sessions Court clerk.
THP Having Video Problems
According to WJHL-TV in Tri-Cities, an investigation of Highway Patrol video camera procedures found “a complex web of missing videos, limited oversight and budget restrictions.” Seems the TV station’s effort was inspired by a July 5th crash involving Carter Count Sheriff Christ Mathes wherein state Trooper Brad Proffitt deactivated his dash camera. Proffitt wound up being suspended for one day as punishment.
THP investigated 61 crashes statewide on that day, July 5. The station selected 10 of them to review as a sample. Only five had a video recording and in two of those cases it appeared patrol policy might have been violated.
Said Col. Tracy Trott, Patrol Commander to the TV reporter: ” I see what you’re saying and it is a concern for us. It’s not the most pressing concern we have.”
Former Judge Loses Law License
Former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner can no longer practice law in Tennessee, according to the disciplinary arm of the Tennessee Supreme Court. By agreement, Baumgartner was disbarred, according to Thursday’s notice from the Board of Professional Responsibility, reports the News Sentinel.
“Mr. Baumgartner, through counsel, delivered to the Board of Professional Responsibility an affidavit consenting to disbarment because he could not successfully defend against a Petition for Final Discipline based on Mr. Baumgartner’s guilty plea to official misconduct or the board’s investigation of other misconduct…,” the notice states.
Baumgartner, licensed to practice law in the state since 1978, stepped down and pleaded guilty in March to the felony official misconduct charge after a TBI investigation found he had purchased pills from a probationer in his court.
‘Guns in Bars’ Didn’t Hurt Tourism?
Critics of Tennessee’s so-called “guns in bars” law once predicted it would lead to “drunken shootouts” and a decline in tourism, according to Andrea Zelinski, but that hasn’t happened.
In 2010, the year after the law initially went into effect, the state’s tourism numbers were up 6.3 percent, according to state officials. Every county saw a boost in tourism, according to a report by the Department of Tourism Development and the U.S. Travel Association.
“It doesn’t surprise me that tourism didn’t drop,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville. “There wasn’t one documented case still to this day of someone going into a bar, a gun permit holder, and using their firearm. There’s still not.”
Shelby Tax Collections Pocketed by Collector?
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office is investigating whether an employee of a Texas-based law firm that collects taxes for the city of Memphis misappropriated thousands of dollars by depositing checks into a personal account, says the CA.
Cedrick Hughes, the Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson firm employee, convinced at least one elderly Memphis couple beginning in 2007 to write checks to Hughes personally instead of to the city, according to City Attorney’s Office officials.
“At this point there’s not much we can say because we’re in the preliminary stages of an investigation,” said Vince Higgins, communications director for the D.A.’s office.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Highway Patrol reports making 39 percent more arrests for drunken driving this year.
The THP said in a news release that troopers have arrested 3,407 people for drunken driving, up from 2,452 for the same period a year ago.
The agency reported the figures in a news release announcing that THP Col. Tracy Trott has been named chairman of the 2012 Nashville Walk Like MADD event. It’s sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers to promote awareness of the dangers of driving while impaired. The walk is next June 2 in Bicentennial Mall Park in Nashville.
Trott has made drunken driving enforcement a priority since being appointed colonel in 2010.
A judge has ruled in a vehicular homicide case that certain evidence and testimony by several Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers will not be allowed because he said THP has been reluctant to turn over the evidence, reports the Shelbyville Times-Gazette..
Meanwhile, prosecutors are trying to decide how to proceed in the case, which is set to be heard by a jury in two weeks.
John David Haynes, 51, of Murfreesboro, is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 3-4 on charges stemming from a June 2010 motorcycle accident in which his wife, Pamela Haynes, 49, was killed on State Highway 82 at a sharp curve just east of the Bell Buckle town limits.
Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell ruled Friday that any testimony from state troopers about the speed in which Haynes was allegedly traveling at the time of the accident can not come from data from a GPS unit on his motorcycle since it had not been provided to the defense.
Any evidence about the speed that is derived from GPS data, or any opinion based on the data would also not be allowed to be entered into evidence.
A hearing over evidence was also held Friday in which several state troopers did not appear as ordered, therefore those officers will be excluded from testifying next month, Russell ruled.
News release from state Department of Transportation:
Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) has been notified by the Federal Highway Administration that $51.9 million in federal funds will be rescinded from the department’s federal allocation of funds for fiscal year 2011. A rescission of funds means that federal dollars promised to Tennessee have now been cancelled and will not be received.
The rescission of funds is a separate issue from the debt limit discussions currently underway by federal lawmakers.
“Nearly 50% of the department’s budget comes from the federal government, so a reduction in these funds significantly impacts the resources available to TDOT,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. “This shortfall requires the department to make difficult decisions in our core highway programs,” Schroer continued, “We don’t want to make cuts anywhere that would delay the delivery of projects that are ready to go.”
TDOT is currently operating under a series of continuing resolutions through “SAFETEA-LU” (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users), the federal transportation funding bill, which expired September 30, 2009 and funds are being distributed only months at a time. However, authorized funding levels have been significantly reduced by rescissions annually since 2002, with a cumulative impact of more than $463 million.
Programs impacted by the latest federal rescission include the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) and the Transportation Enhancements Program. TDOT plans to deliver the remaining projects now under development in these programs with future federal funds.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Section 2201 of the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, contains a $2.5 billion rescission of unobligated balances of funds apportioned to the States of which Tennessee’s share is $51,950,327.
By Eric Schelzig
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– State troopers want to drop the word ‘highway’ from their agency’s name and become known as the Tennessee State Patrol.
The Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday unanimously advanced a measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Southerland of Morristown to a full floor vote after receiving assurances that the change would not be a step toward creating a state police force.
The Tennessee Blue Book notes that the “Tennessee Highway Patrol’s primary responsibility is traffic enforcement,” but Col. Tracy Trott told the panel that the name change would better reflect activities that also include riot squads, bomb detection units and SWAT teams.
“It’s something that I think better depicts a modern state law enforcement agency,” the THP commander said.
Trott said the proposal did not originate with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, but added that Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons “does not object” to the proposal.