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Knox Commissioner Pleads No Contest to Sex Charge

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Knox County commissioner has pleaded no contest to public indecency nearly a year after he was accused of engaging in oral sex in a park.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/199eDTh ) that Commissioner Jeff Ownby was fined $500 plus court costs for the misdemeanor charge on Friday.
He must also serve six months of supervised probation and is banned from being within 100 yards of the North Knoxville park he was arrested in.
Knoxville police arrested Ownby and another man during a prostitution sting on May 24, 2012. Ownby, who is married, has maintained that the incident was a one-time indiscretion.
Ownby rejected calls for his resignation following his arrest.

‘No Budget, No Pay’ — With a Change — Adopted in U.S. House

House Republicans agreed Wednesday to suspend the nation’s debt ceiling after inserting the idea into a bill a Tennessee Democrat has been pushing for two years, reports WPLN. But the No Budget No Pay Act was changed in the process.
The measure sets a deadline for passing the budget. If it isn’t met, Congressional paychecks will be diverted into escrow accounts until a deal is struck. In the original bill, Nashville Democrat Jim Cooper says members would have lost that money for good.
Still, Cooper was happy to see the idea gather momentum and pass. And he maintains the bill has teeth, even if many of the people affected are wealthy.
“Folks I know who have money love money more than anyone else. They want to get paid.”
If the policy were already in effect in either form, Senators would have been working for free for almost four years.
In the House vote, most of Tennessee’s delegation voted for the measure, although Jasper Republican Scott DesJarlais, Republican John Duncan of Knoxville and Memphis Democrat Steve Cohen all voted no.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have both signed on as cosponsors.

Registry Votes to Take No Action Against Tim Burchett

Tennessee’s Registry of Election Finance today unanimously agreed to take no action against Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, ending its inquiry into a series of irregularities in his campaign disclosure forms.
The decision, members said, comes in the wake of 11 amendments the mayor filed last week with local election officials and a 24-page affidavit he submitted to the state that accuses his now ex-wife of engaging “in a pattern of deception by transferring thousands of dollars to various accounts for her own “personal benefit” and without his knowledge.
The mayor’s attorney, Stephen Zralek, said today that Burchett “went to great lengths” in an attempt to reconcile his campaign books and that the discrepancies are “evidence of a sad divorce” in which “it appears that his ex-wife was funneling campaign funds for her own personal use.”
“This is not a blame game,” Zralek said. “This is reality. The mayor should not have trusted his ex-wife for so many reasons, the least of which is his campaign funds.”
Burchett, who did not attend the meeting, was facing as much as a $10,000 fine for each accounting irregularity.
The six-member state panel, however, said that the mayor’s work is not done, noting that he still needs to at least “zero-out” his statements, since they reflect a negative $15,537 in his political account.
“You certainly have work to do to bring that balance to a positive balance or a zero balance, so keep that accountant busy,” registry member Lee Anne Murray told Zralek.
The attorney, though, said he didn’t know if the campaign “will ever get a complete and accurate picture — we’ve disclosed everything.”
He said Allison Beaver “has refused to cooperate” and turn over receipts and accounting information so “there will always be some confusion about these accounts.”
He said Burchett “takes the ultimate responsibility for complying with the law, but like most of us he trusted those who are closest to us.”
The mayor did not attend today’s “show cause” hearing at Zralek’s request.

The full story from Mike Donila is HERE.

Lamar Signs on as ‘No Budget, No Pay’ Sponsor

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Monday he is throwing his support behind legislation that would cut off Congress members’ pay if they fail to pass a budget and spending bills, reports Michael Collins.
The Maryville Republican said he will sign on as cosponsor of the No Budget, No Pay Act and would work to see that it becomes law.
“You wouldn’t get paid at the Grand Ole Opry if you showed up late and refused to sing,” Alexander said. “The same should apply to members of Congress who don’t do their jobs.”
The legislation, filed last December by U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., would halt congressional paychecks if Congress fails to pass all 12 of the annual spending bills by the beginning of the fiscal year, Oct. 1, as required by law. U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, R-Nashville, has filed virtually the same bill in the U.S. House.
If approved, the “No Budget No Pay” requirement would kick in next year.
Congress hasn’t passed a budget in more than three years, but has kept the government running by approving a series of short-term spending resolutions
.

Cooper Signs No Lobbying Pledge

News release from U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s office:
NASHVILLE – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) has become the first elected official this election cycle to sign a pledge promising not to lobby once he leaves Congress.
“The power of money is overwhelming in Washington. I’ve said for years that Congress has become a farm league for K Street. Serving the public used to be considered the highest calling; now, many see it as a stepping stone to lucrative lobbying careers,” said Rep. Cooper. “I’m proud to be the first elected official this cycle to pledge not to lobby after I leave Congress, and I hope others will join me.”
The pledge is sponsored by Rootstrikers, a national network of activists fighting the corrupting influence of money in politics, founded by Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig.
“A committed reformer of Congress, we could imagine no better member to be the first to take the pledge” than Rep. Cooper, said Lessig in a Huffington Post op-ed.
Pledge signers promise that if they are elected, they will not profit from lobbying for 10 years after serving in Congress. Visit www.rootstrikers.org/the_no_lobbying_pledge for more information.

Further, from The Tennessean:
Lessig’s advocacy group, Rootstrikers, says members of Congress who are paid $174,000 a year get an average raise of 1,452 percent if they become a Washington lobbyist.
The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization, lists more than 300 former members of Congress registered as lobbyists. The issue is often referred to as the “Revolving Door.”

Corker Declines to Discuss Mark Clayton; Does Discuss Todd Akin

Not surprisingly, Republican Sen. Bob Corker is choosing to ignore the flap over his apparent Democratic opponent in November, Mark Clayton, who has been disavowed by the Democratic party, reports WPLN.
When asked about Clayton, Senator Corker hardly responded.
“I don’t think it serves any purpose for me to weigh in on what’s happening or what has happened in another primary. I don’t think it changes one iota of what we planned to do in this race.”
Corker says he plans to talk about fiscal issues. Speaking to the Madison Rotary Club Tuesday, Corker hardly mentioned that he’s up for re-election, only saying that he had to think long and hard before deciding to run again.
Otherwise, Corker gave a technical talk about the insolvency of Medicare and asked that voters support some of the tough decisions that will have to be made in the coming years.

On the other hand, he did talk about Missouri Rep. Todd Akin‘s rape remarks:
“There’s no question the comments that he made were just unbelievably off base and it’s hard to imagine what he was thinking when he said what he said.”
Corker, who often sidesteps hot-button topics, says he’ll allow others to give Akin advice about his political future.

‘No Refusal’ Blood Not Kept in State Database

The blood samples collected from suspected drunk drivers under a new “No Refusal” law are not added to a national DNA database used by prosecutors, state public safety officials have told TNReport.
“Blood samples obtained by a search warrant from a suspected DUI offender are tested for blood alcohol content only,” Department of Safety Spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said via email. “Those blood samples are not used for any other purpose and are NOT placed in a DNA database.”
“There’s no DNA ever run on those,” said Kristin Helm, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. “I can assure you that’s not the case.”
The state this summer began enforcing a new law that allows cops to seek a warrant to compel people accused of driving under the influence to involuntarily give up a blood sample if they refuse a Breathalyzer or blood test. State troopers forced eight people to submit to blood tests over the Fourth of July holiday weekend during the first test of the new law, DPS said.

Eight DUI Suspects Forced to Give Blood Under ‘No Refusal’ Law

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Safety Department says the new “no refusal” state law produced warrants for blood samples from eight drunken driving suspects who wouldn’t take a breath test.
A five-county effort launched last week aimed to raise motorist awareness of the law. Until this year, drivers could refuse a blood alcohol content test but faced losing their licenses for violating what’s known as the “implied consent” law.
The toughened law allows officers to ask a judge to issue a warrant for blood samples that can support a drunken driving charge.
Sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols led to one warrant in Anderson County, one warrant in Davidson County and six in Maury County. Bradley and Warren counties also were part of the crackdown, which produced 48 DUI arrests.

On the End of NCLB in Tennessee

State officials have officially changed the way schools are held accountable by doing away with the legal strings that tied Tennessee to the federal No Child Left Behind program, according to Andrea Zelinski.
Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law provisions that allow the state to grade schools on a different rubric following the U.S. Department of Education’s call to allow Tennessee to opt out of what critics say is an outdated program.
“I want to be real clear, we are not lowering standards. We are just making certain that we’re measuring improvement and having appropriate standards that recognize when achievement is happening and rewarding that,” Haslam told reporters after signing HB2346 at Brick Church Middle School in Nashville Thursday.
Changes to the law include doing away with “adequate yearly progress,” a standard the NCLB program used to determine whether a school was considered passing or failing. Those standards would have labeled 80 percent of Tennessee schools as failing this year, officials say, despite having made academic gains.
“We were in a world last year where 800 some schools failed AYP,” said said Kevin Huffman, the state’s education commissioner. “And yet, hundreds of those schools had made significant progress during the very year where they moved from passing to failed status. So something was wrong with the picture.”
In its place, the law creates a new system aimed at measuring student growth in core subjects and reducing the achievement gap between student subgroups. The new law also gives more tools to the state Achievement School District to turn around the bottom 5 percent of schools.

Gov Inks School Accountability Standards Bill

Governor Bill Haslam signed off Thursday on changes to Tennessee’s education standards under a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law, reports WPLN’s Daniel Potter.
Many Tennessee schools would’ve failed under the federal benchmarks, unless they made double-digit gains in math and reading each year. Instead, the state will now require a more realistic 3 to 5 percent improvement.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says the changes were badly needed, because the old system was labeling hundreds of schools ‘failing’ even as many got better.
“So something was wrong with the picture. We’d created a world in which more than a thousand schools headed into this year knowing that almost no matter how much they improved this year they were likely to fail AYP. That doesn’t do honor or service to the people working in those buildings.”

Note: The Haslam press release is below.

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