Here are the top Tennessee stories of 2012, as selected in voting by subscribers and staff of The Associated Press:
1. An outbreak of fungal meningitis and other diseases linked to tainted steroid shots leads to more than 80 cases and a dozen deaths in Tennessee. (October-December)
2. Pat Summitt, winningest coach in NCAA basketball, steps down as coach of the Lady Vols. (April 18)
3. Republicans win a supermajority in the state Legislature for first time since Reconstruction. (Nov. 6.)
4. Tennessee implements election changes, including redistricting and requiring photo identification for voters while a court allows Shelby County to use library card ID for general election. (January-November)
5. U.S Rep. Scott DesJarlais is hit with election-year revelations from his 2001 divorce that showed he dated patients, urged one of them to get an abortion, prescribed another one painkillers and consented when his ex-wife had two abortions. (October-November)
6. (tie) The triple-digit heat wave shatters high temperature records across the state. (June 25-30)
6. (tie) A mosque near Murfreesboro is allowed to open after opponents wage a two-year legal battle to stop it. (Aug. 10)
8. Two West Tennessee sisters, 12-year-old Alexandria and 8-year-old Kyliyah Bain, are recovered alive after their abductor killed their mother and sister and himself. (May 10)
9. Tennessee fires football coach Derek Dooley after his third losing season with the Volunteers (Nov. 18)
10. (tie) The Southern Baptist Convention votes to make the Rev. Fred Luter Jr. its first African-American president and to adopt an optional alternative name, Great Commission Baptists. (June 20)
10. (tie) Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell, three others plead guilty after undercover video show them soring, beating horses. (May)
Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes placed the Ten Commandments on display in the county’s courthouse Monday, reports WBIR-TV, after becoming the 25th sheriff in Tennessee to request copies of the commandments – along with copies of the Constitution and the bill of rights — from conservative activist June Griffin of Dayton. Griffin donates the framed display in order to circumvent any argument that taxpayer dollars have been utilized to purchase the religious document. The 25 requests from various sheriffs started in March of this year. That is when Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a law that permits cities and counties to display the Ten Commandments as a historical document alongside other historical documents.
Unlike many other counties, Cocke County never had to remove the Ten Commandments from its courthouse. In fact, this is the first time the religious document has ever been displayed there.
“To my knowledge, they [the Ten Commandments] have never been anywhere in the courthouse,” said Fontes. “The separation of church and state is to keep the government from interfering and coercing people into one specific belief. Simply posting something does not coerce someone into one specific belief.”
The Ten Commandments, which were taken off display at the Monroe County Courthouse seven years ago, are coming back, reports WBIR-TV. The removal came after the Supreme Court ruled in a McCreary County, Kentucky case that such acts endorsed religion. Monroe County Mayor Tim Yates has decided to put the documents back on display due to a new state law Governor Bill Haslam signed in April. The legislation made it legal for the 10 Commandments to be placed in public so long as they were presented in a historical context, alongside other historical documents.
Yates said Monroe County will put the Ten Commandments next to other documents like the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence.
“What we’re doing is displaying these as historical documents,” Yates said.
He said the commandments will be placed on the wall next to his office on the courthouse’s first floor. He said they will likely unveil all of the documents by the end of next week.
While some Monroe County residents said they were excited to hear the Ten Commandments would return, not everyone was happy. The Wisconsin-based group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation [FFRF], said the new state law violates the constitution and that the Ten Commandments are not a historical document.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At least 10 former state lawmakers are trying to return to the Tennessee General Assembly, while eight Democratic incumbents will be vying for four seats following this year’s redistricting process.
Just before the candidate filing deadline passed Thursday, state Rep. Gary Moore of Nashville announced on the House floor that he won’t seek re-election. He’s the 11th Democratic incumbent to announce they won’t return next year.
The GOP-led redistricting process and political trends in Tennessee are giving Republicans confidence they will expand their large majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly this year. But party leaders said they don’t want to lapse into complacency.
“They’ve fielded a lot of candidates, and I would warn everyone to take their complaints very seriously and take their opponents very seriously,” said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. “Because the seats belong to the people and not to the incumbents, and I think they’ve shown before that they’ll kick us out if we don’t do the kind of work we need to do.”
Former Democratic Reps. Mark Maddox of Dresden, Jim Hackworth of Oak Ridge and Eddie Yokley of Greeneville are seeking to return to the House after losing in a Republican landslide of 2010. Former Democratic Rep. Ty Cobb of Columbia is running for the Senate.
Also looking to return are Republican Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet, who gave up her House seat for an unsuccessful Senate bid in 2010, and Mike Williams of Maynardville, who lost his Senate re-election bid in 2008.
Hawkins County Sessions Judge James “Jay” Taylor “took the Fifth” once again Monday in response to several charges filed against him by the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR), reports the Kingsport Times-News. On Feb. 13, the BPR filed five charges against Taylor — four of which pertain to allegations of theft against clients in his private practice.
The other charge pertains to allegations of “misappropriation” of monetary donations gathered by Taylor for the purpose of installing a display of historic documents at the new Hawkins County Justice Center lobby, including a Ten Commandments plaque.
On Monday, Taylor filed his response to those charges stating he “has been advised by counsel to assert and invoke, and hereby does respectfully assert and invoke his privilege against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
A hearing will now be scheduled, and Taylor faces disciplinary action from the BPR ranging from public censure to disbarment.
The BPR charges are separate from four charges filed against Taylor in January by the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary (COJ), which polices sitting judges.
Taylor is scheduled to stand trial in Rogersville April 25 on the COJ charges accusing him of stealing from a client, filing fraudulent payment claims with the state, and misappropriating contributions intended for the Justice Center lobby display.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would allow public buildings to display such “historically significant documents” as the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence is headed to the governor for his consideration.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville was unanimously approved 30-0 by the Senate on Monday evening. The companion bill unanimously passed the House 93-0 last week.
The proposal would allow the documents to be displayed in the form of statues, monuments, memorials, tablets or in any other way that in the words of the legislation “respects the dignity and solemnity of such documents.”
The Senate approved a bill Monday evening that deals with teaching of evolution and other scientific theories while the House approved legislation authorizing cities and counties to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings.
The Senate voted 24-8 for HB368, which sponsor Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, says will provide guidelines for teachers answering student questions about evolution, global warming and other scientific subjects… Critics call it a “monkey bill” that promotes creationism in classrooms.
The bill was approved in the House last year but now must return to that body for concurrence on a Senate amendment that made generally minor changes. One, says the law applies to scientific theories that are the subject of “debate and disputation” — a phrase replacing the word “controversial” in the House version.’
The measure also guarantees that teachers will not be subject to discipline for engaging students in discussion of questions they raise, though Watson said the idea is to provide guidelines so that teachers will bring the discussion back to the subjects authorized for teaching in the curriculum approved by the state Board of Education.
All eight no votes came from Democrats, some of whom raised questions about the bill during brief debate.
Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Clarksville, said he was concerned that the measure was put forward “not for scientific reasons but for political reasons.” And Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said teachers were doing just fine teaching science without the Legislature’s involvement.
“We are simply dredging up the problems of the past with this bill and that will affect our teachers in the future,” Berke said.
Watson said the purpose of the legislation is to encourage teachers in helping their students learn to challenge and debate ideas to “improve their thinking skills.”
The bill authorizing display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings (HB2658) is sponsored by Rep. Mathew Hill, R-Jonesborough, who said it is in line with court rulings. In essence, courts have often declared displays of the biblical commandments unconstitutional standing along, but permissible as part of a display of “historic documents.”
The bill authorizes all local governments to display “historic documents” and specifically lists the commandments as being included.
Hill said the bill will prevent city and county governments from “being intimidated any further by special interest groups” opposed to display of the Ten Commandments.It passed 93-0 and now goes to the Senate.
Legislation authorizing Tennessee city and county governments to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings has been introduced by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough.
The bill (SB2641) includes the Ten Commandments as appropriate for display in city and county buildings and property along with the U.S. Constitution, the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence as and other documents “recognized to commemorate freedom and the rich history of Tennessee and the United States of America.”
Last year, the House approved a resolution – which has no legal effect – urging all Tennessee counties to display the Ten Commandments. That measure (HR107), sponsored by Watson, says that 88 of Tennessee’s 95 counties “have already adopted resolutions acknowledging the historical significance of the Ten Commandments and pledging to defend their right to display them.” Note: Andy Sher has a thorough report on the bill, HERE. Some excerpts: Bell said Friday he thinks “it’s important that our local government buildings and our local legislative bodies know they have the right to post those documents.”
He said displays that include the Ten Commandments should withstand legal challenges in a state where several counties, including Hamilton, have been directed by federal courts to remove stand-alone Ten Commandments displays.
…Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said he thinks such moves are constitutionally suspect.
…Suzanna Sherry, a Vanderbilt University School of Law professor and expert on constitutional law, said the legality of such displays “depends on exactly the context” in which governments act to install them.
“This is a really difficult question, and the Supreme Court has visited it and visited it a number of times,” Sherry added.
She said justices have examined “what were the circumstances under which it was posted. What were the likely motivations of those who posted it? … What was the message that both was intended to be sent and received … by those who viewed it?”
We’re still a couple of weeks away from year’s end, but the cycle of media re-reporting what happened during the year is underway.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Here are the top Tennessee news stories of 2011 as chosen by The Associated Press staff:
1. 37 die in April tornadoes.
2. Pat Summitt diagnosed with early onset dementia.
3. Lawmakers repeal teachers’ collective bargaining rights amid union, tea party protests.
4. (Tie) Occupy Nashville protesters gather at Capitol; win court battle to keep going.
4. (Tie) Mississippi River floods parts of Memphis, West Tennessee.
6. Bruce Pearl fired as Tennessee basketball coach.
7. Woman who spent 26 years on death row is released.
8. Former Gov. Ned McWherter dies.
9. Legislators approve photo ID for voting.
10. General Motors announces plans to restart assembly work at Spring Hill plant. Note: The story accompanying the list, written by Joe Edwards, is below.
News release from TBI:
Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation recently compiled a study on the last ten years of crime statistics in Tennessee as reported by agencies across the state through the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System (TIBRS). The TBI’s Crime Statistics Unit has been publishing reports from the collected crime data since 2001 with this year marking the ten year anniversary for issuing studies.
The report provides a ten year review of Group A offenses, Group B Offenses as well as crimes against persons, property and society. The report shows mixed results of certain categories of crime increasing and certain categories decreasing over the ten year period with violent crime being at its lowest level in ten years after hitting its highest level in 2007.
Group A offenses include 47 offense types such as murder, sex offenses, assaults, burglaries and drug/narcotic violations.
Group B offenses contain 11 offenses including DUI, liquor law violations, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Specific information for violent crimes, credit card fraud, impersonation, drug/narcotic violations, DUI, domestic violence, hate crime and law enforcement officers killed or assaulted in the line of duty is also included. Ten Year Crime Trends Quick Facts
· Crimes against persons increased by 8%
· Crimes against property decreased by 9%
· DUI decreased by 13%
· Drug/Narcotic violations increased by 45%
· Credit card fraud increased by 135%
· Hate crime decreased by 50%
To view “Ten Year Crime Trends 2001-2011” in its entirety, go to the TBI website at www.tbi.tn.gov. Click on Tennessee Crime Statistics from the homepage for a link to the Statistical Analysis Center web page. The report is listed under “Specialized Reports.” The most recently reported crime statistics can also be accessed at www.tncrimeonline.com.