This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Regarding your April 15 editorial “Tennessee Voucher Fiasco” (April 15): I am an avid supporter of school choice. After passing the largest expansion of our state’s charter-schools law during my first year in office, we began working to help design a voucher program that would fit best into Tennessee’s overall education reform efforts. The legislation I proposed this year would allow low-income kids in our state’s lowest performing schools the option to attend the private school of their choice. Approximately 35,000 kids would qualify, with program participation capped initially at 5,000 and rising to 20,000 by year four.
State officials are expected to give preliminary approval this morning to a teacher pay policy that forces each district to create a merit pay system for the 2014-15 school year. The proposal will eliminate the most traditional and common method of pay increases solely for years of experience and advanced degrees, but gives teachers some safeguards. No teacher could earn less than he or she currently earns. Each district would be allowed to determine its own staffing needs and base a differentiated pay scale on the qualities it most needs.
Local children checking their mailboxes next month should see a familiar package that’s been missing for a few months — a book from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Washington County, Va., and Bristol, Va., children who are signed up for the program haven’t been getting books since November due to a lack of funding, said Jo Hutton, director of Bristol Youth Services and head of the local Imagination Library board. “We’ve been inactive since December,” Hutton said.
The traffic wall in the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s control room tracks the flow of cars through Nashville’s interstate system. On any given business day during rush hour, the vehicles on Interstate 440 create a mass of red — red outlines on smartphone maps indicating congestion, red faces of frustrated commuters and a sea of red taillights on the crosstown loop. For the past 26 years, Nashvillians have had a love-hate relationship with I-440. When commuters aren’t crawling down I-440 before and after work, the road’s condition becomes apparent.
Want to learn about stormwater runoff in Kingsport? There’s an app for that. The app is set to debut at the Kingsport Earth Day celebration taking place April 20. When it is unveiled, it will be the first of its kind in Tennessee, according to the app’s creator, Kollin Day. The app is designed to teach children about the importance of stormwater issues, such as runoff and outfall. Children will play a scavenger-type game while walking along the Greenbelt, and the game features a cartoon water drop named “Stormy.”
BBB: Give to The One Fund Boston While many Tennesseans want to provide financial assistance to victims of this week’s Boston Marathon bombing, Secretary of State Tre Hargett warns would-be donors to be wary of bogus charities that may try to take advantage of the tragedy. “It is an unfortunate reality that when tragic events like this occur there are unscrupulous people who will try to profit from the kindheartedness of others,” Hargett stated in a news release.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for March was 7.9 percent, up from the February revised rate of 7.8 percent, Burns Phillips, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development interim commissioner, announced today. By comparison, the national unemployment rate for March was 7.6 percent, decreasing by one tenth of one percentage point from the mark of the previous month. Tennessee’s March unemployment number is the lowest March rate since 2008.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate increased to 7.9 percent in March, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced today, up from February’s revised rate of 7.8 percent. The state’s unemployment rate has now increased every month in 2013. The national unemployment rate for March was 7.6 percent, down from 7.7 percent in February. A year ago, Tennessee’s March unemployment rate was 8 percent.
The unemployment rate in Tennessee rose to 7.9 percent for March, up from a revised rate of 7.8 percent in February, the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced Thursday. In contrast, the national unemployment rate for March dipped to 7.6 percent, down from 7.5 percent in February. Total nonfarm employment in Tennessee declined by 6,600 jobs from February to March, to about 2.75 million, according to preliminary, seasonably adjusted numbers, the department reported.
Unemployment last month fell to the lowest level in nearly four and a half years in Georgia, but the jobless rate rose for the third consecutive month in neighboring Tennessee. Georgia’s jobless rate fell by two-tenths of a percent in March to 8.4 percent. Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said March was one of the best months for job growth in nearly a decade and the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was the lowest since December 2008. “The growth was in several industries, led by leisure and hospitality and professional and business services,” Butler said.
Weekend travel at the east end of the downtown Nashville loop could be slow. The Tennessee Department of Transportation advises that the right lane of Interstate 40 westbound will be closed under Interstate 24. The closure takes effect at 8 p.m. Friday and lasts until 6 a.m. Monday. A contractor is sandblasting and priming the Silliman Evans bridge in preparation for repainting it.
Cause of accident remains unknown Safety investigators are not sure why a wall at a Hendersonville construction site collapsed Thursday, killing two workers and injuring a third man. The general contractor, Solomon Builders, was constructing a 28,080-square-foot building for Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee Inc. along Indian Lake Boulevard when a wall fell onto three men. The accident killed Joel Pineda Muniz, 24, of Nashville, and Bethpage resident Jose P. Velasco-Sanagustin, 37.
Friends and family are remembering the life of Al Bodie, a former Tennessee Department of Labor commissioner, government affairs professional, and a mentor and leader to many in Nashville, who died last Friday following a battle with cancer. He was 59. Alphonso “Al” Romeo Bodie, the eldest of five children, was born Sept. 29, 1953 in Miami, Fla. He was schooled in Jamaica and at the University of Miami, where he starred on the football field and earned a degree in marketing. After graduation, Bodie moved to Nashville and worked for IBM, where he worked in the Data Processing Division for 17 years.
MTSU will celebrate its purchase of the former Middle Tennessee Medical Center grounds at 10 a.m. today at the old hospital’s Bell Street Building. Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee and MTMC President and Chief Executive Officer Gordon Ferguson will announce the details today, according to a statement the university released Thursday. McPhee and Ferguson were not available for phone interviews Thursday to verify both sides agreed to the initial option to purchase price of $11.1 million.
Tennessee lawmakers gave final approve Wednesday to the state’s $33 billion 2013-14 budget, WPLN 90.3 FM reports Having already cleared the Senate unanimously, the budget passed the House Wednesday night, with one Democrat voting no The budget includes $350 million in new funding for TennCare, a $100 million increase to the state’s rainy day fund and a $50 million increase for higher education, WPLN reports.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s $32.8 billion budget has cleared the Tennessee General Assembly. The Senate unanimously approved the spending plan on Wednesday afternoon, and the House later followed suit on an 83-14 vote. On Thursday, the Senate unanimously agreed with minor changes the House made and sent the proposal to the governor. The budget includes $77.4 million for a 1.5 percent pay raise for state employees, $22.2 million to reduce the sales tax on food by a quarter of a cent, and $18.7 million to continue the elimination of the state’s inheritance tax.
The Tennessee Senate approved legislation Thursday that would let some teachers carry arms, and the House of Representatives approved a bill that would give the State Board of Education final authority to rule on charter schools. In a busy day as lawmakers enter the home stretch for the 2013 legislative session, senators voted 27-6 to approve House Bill 6, a measure that lets teachers who have worked as police officers in the past carry their guns with them at school. They also added an amendment that would make information about which teachers are carrying — or even if a school has any armed teachers — confidential.
Specially trained teachers and school employees who are former law enforcement officers would be allowed to carry guns in schools under a bill lawmakers approved Thursday. The local director of schools and the school’s principal would also have to approve which staffers come to school armed. The bill won House approval 82-15 on Tuesday and the Senate on Thursday 27-6. The House agreed to three Senate amendments Thursday night and sent it to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is likely to allow it to become law because his administration helped draft the compromise.
The Tennessee Senate has signed off on a plan to allow retired police officers who are teachers to carry a gun in class. But several Republican lawmakers objected, saying the proposal doesn’t go far enough “We’ve neutered it about as much as it could be neutered,” said Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), who failed to get support for his broader bill allowing almost any teacher go armed. Most of the chamber’s Democrats voted against the proposal, arguing the state should just pay for fully-trained safety officers.
The House on Thursday passed a much-amended bill aimed at calling a time-out on annexations, but lawmakers made major changes to the measure that put it at odds with the Senate-passed bill. Representatives voted 78-16 for the measure, sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah. Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, is the sponsor of the Senate bill, which passed Wednesday. Late Thursday afternoon, Watson asked the Senate to stand pat on its version, sending the bill back to the House. And Carter stood pat, sending the bill back to the Senate.
Legislation that provides requirements for setting up a distillery in Tennessee is headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure was given final approval after the Senate voted 23-6 on Thursday to concur with changes made by the House. Under the proposal, after July 1, a manufacturer would petition to the local county mayor, and the county commission would have 45 days to vote on the request. The distance a distillery would be required to be located from a church or school would vary from county to county.
Joe Ledbetter and Tim Piersant, co-founders of Chattanooga Whiskey Co., didn’t expect to earn a bachelor’s in booze politics this year. All they wanted to do was to distill Chattanooga Whiskey — in Chattanooga. Now, after launching their company in 2011, they’re finally on their way. The duo still is celebrating their success at modifying a controversial state liquor law to allow the construction of distilleries in any town that already allows liquor by the drink and package sales. Ledbetter and Piersant didn’t hire a lobbyist, they say.
A watered down version of a proposal that originally sought to lift a ban on switchblades and knives with blades longer than 4 inches is headed to the governor for his consideration. The Senate voted 27-4 this week to concur with the House version, which does away with those two provisions, but it still removes the power of local governments to make their own knife regulations. Currently, local governments can pass their own ordinances restricting knives, although the maximum penalty they can impose is a fine of up to $50.
The Tennessee Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would give state lawmakers power to select the state’s attorney general, The Associated Press reports. The position is currently appointed by the state’s Supreme Court justices. Under the proposed constitutional amendment, the attorney general would be appointed by a joint vote of the Tennessee House and Senate to a four-year term. According to the AP, the bill must pass the House this session by a two-thirds vote and both chambers of the next Legislature before being put to a public referendum in 2018.
Country music star Carrie Underwood is scolding Tennessee lawmakers and warning Gov. Bill Haslam she’ll show up at his door if he signs a controversial bill requiring anyone taking photos or videos of livestock abuse to turn the material over to law enforcement within 48 hours. “Shame on TN lawmakers for passing the Ag Gag bill,” Underwood tweeted Thursday afternoon. “If Gov. Bill Haslam signs this, he needs to expect me at his front door. Who’s with me?” The House passed the bill Wednesday night.
Country music singer Carrie Underwood is “begging” Gov. Bill Haslam to veto a bill requiring pictures or video of livestock abuse to be turned over the law enforcement authorities. The bill (SB1248) was given final legislative approval by the House on a 50-43 vote Wednesday night, two days after it passed the Senate 22-9. That sends it to Haslam’s desk, though the formal transmittal process typically takes a day or two. On Thursday, Underwood tweeted Haslam, with fans copied in: “Please don’t sign the Ag Gag bill. Think about the welfare of the animals as well as the consumers. I’m begging you.”
The Davidson County Election Commission has controls in place to ensure the integrity of elections, though several problems “aggravated” customer service in November, a Metro audit found. The audit, initiated after the election commission was criticized for technologythat sometimes defaulted to the Republican ballot in the August primary, generally gave the commission good reviews for its management of both elections and fiscal resources. But it also found that the commission has implemented just two of seven recommendations from a computer security review by the Tennessee comptroller’s office in 2008.
Five years after the state handed down recommendations for better securing voter information, a new audit finds that the Davidson County Election Commission basically forgot about those instructions. The 2008 report followed a robbery in which computers containing voters’ names, addresses and social security numbers were stolen from election commission offices. Based on it, seven new security measures were to be adopted. But the new report from Metro’s Office of Internal audit finds only two are currently implemented.
Blount County voters will get a chance in 61 days to decide whether they will pay a wheel tax to help pay for their schools. The Blount County Commission voted 13-6 Thursday night to place the wheel tax on a June 11 ballot when Maryville residents will also vote on a sales tax increase. The commissioners’ vote follows several weeks of communitywide discussion of a projected $7.6 million shortfall for the county’s school system’s $86.86 million 2013-14 budget. The commission room was near capacity with people who voiced opinions on both sides of the issue. Many of them were educators.
A Pilot Flying J employee told investigators that CEO Jimmy Haslam, who is also the owner of the Cleveland Browns, knew about rebate fraud at the truck stop chain his family owns, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Thursday. The 120-page document was filed federal court in Knoxville, where Pilot is based, alleges that members of the company’s sales force preyed on smaller trucking companies by reducing the amount of rebates they were owed for buying certain amounts of fuel.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is urging people to reserve judgment about an FBI raid of his family’s Pilot Flying J chain of truck stops. An affidavit unsealed Thursday alleges that members of the Pilot sales team withheld rebates for trucking companies to boost company profits and their own commissions. An unidentified informant who worked for the company told investigators that CEO Jimmy Haslam, the governor’s brother, was aware of the scheme. Bill Haslam’s spokesman David Smith said in a statement late Thursday that the governor “continues to have absolute faith in his brother’s integrity.”
A federal affidavit made public on Thursday states that Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam was present during discussions of an alleged scheme that cheated businesses out of millions of dollars and inflated the profits of his multibillion-dollar truck stop company. The affidavit outlines the FBI’s probe into potential fraud at Pilot, which culminated in a raid Monday of the Knoxville company’s headquarters. Jimmy Haslam is the older brother of Gov. Bill Haslam, and Pilot Flying J is the source of the family’s wealth.
A Knoxville business and political empire five decades in the making was shaken to its core on Thursday by government allegations of a multi-million-dollar fraud that reached to the top of Pilot Flying J. Three days after federal agents raided the company’s headquarters, the government released documents in which recorded conversations and information from unnamed informants were used to allege that the company for years preyed on trucking companies that bought diesel fuel from Pilot, which withheld millions of dollars in rebates.
Welcome to the gray side. That’s how Pilot Flying J’s top sales officials explained rebate deals to each other and how they justified promising a customer one price and charging another, according to transcripts of secretly recorded conversations unsealed by federal officials Thursday. CEO Jimmy Haslam insists the company’s motto hasn’t changed — “to do the right thing all the time.” The transcripts tell a different story. Everyone from the bottom-rung salesman to the vice president of sales and Jimmy Haslam himself knew the code words, according to the records — and saw shorting customers on promised discounts and rebates as nothing more than the cost of doing business.
Federal criminal investigations like the one that led to Monday’s raid on the Pilot Flying J headquarters in West Knoxville often involve complicated financial matters that can sometimes take years to untangle, experts say. “It’s just a big octopus,” said Jim Deater, a former investigator who is now the law enforcement education coordinator at American Military University in Charles Town, W.Va. “Those types of cases are probably the hardest cases to investigate in that they are just very complex.”
The raids carried out by federal agents at Pilot Flying J’s Knoxville headquarters and elsewhere this week were the culmination of a nearly two-year investigation. – May 24, 2011: Confidential Human Source No. 1, (referred to “CHS-1), make the initial contact with the FBI to report “his/her knowledge of fraudulent activity by certain Pilot employees directed at Pilot’s customers.” – June 2011: CHS-1 and CHS-2 begin recording a series of conversations with high-ranking corporate officials directly involved in the fraud.
Despite unsparing criticism from gun-control advocates, Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker on Thursday stood by floor votes this week that helped defeat proposals intended to counter gun violence. The two Tennessee senators stood with their GOP colleagues to defeat several key amendments offered Wednesday to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013. Only four Republicans broke ranks on a key amendment on background checks.
Most congressional lawmakers from Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama continue to accept letters in the wake of poisonous postal attacks, but all are encouraging emails, calls and faxes instead as a way to ensure safety. “You’ll never get rid of crazy, but these folks win if they cut us off from the people we’re representing,” said U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, a Johnson City Republican. “Unfortunately, it’s a risk of the job.” Lawmakers and staffers remained on high alert in a week spoiled by terror.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.) has been selected to chair a special Congressional panel that will examine how improvements to the various modes of freight transportation issues can help strengthen the economy. Duncan will head the Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation. “In the past, the conversation about freight transportation and goods movement has focused only on one specific mode of transportation or another,” Duncan said in a prepared statement. “But freight doesn’t move just by ship, or by rail car, or by truck,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he is “looking at” scheduling a bill that would let states collect taxes on out-of-state sellers as the next issue on lawmakers’ agenda following the vote on gun legislation, Bloomberg reports. Reid, who controls the U.S. Senate’s calendar, said that he hadn’t made a decision yet on scheduling. A vote on the sales tax measure could come as early as next week, said a Senate Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Six weeks ago, the federal government enacted an across-the-board cost-cutting measure called sequester amid dire predictions of the disastrous effects on the military, which bore a greater share of the cuts than other federal agencies. So what has the actual effect been on Clarksville’s military neighbor thus far? On Thursday, Fort Campbell Garrison commander Col. David L. “Buck” Dellinger gave a rundown on what has happened so far and what may happen in the weeks to come.
Police say one of two suspects in the shooting of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer is dead and a massive manhunt is underway for another, who is believed to be tied to the Boston Marathon bombing. Shortly after the MIT officer was shot dead Thursday night, police got a report of a carjacking in Cambridge, just outside Boston. One of the two suspects in that officer’s shooting was killed. Police say of the at-large suspect, “We believe this to be a terrorist.” The FBI said it is working with local authorities to determine what happened.
Mini-marathon shows support for national tragedy Hundreds of Murfreesboro runners came together at the General Bragg Trailhead Thursday evening to show support for those maimed and killed in the bombings this week at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Among the runners who participated in the event dubbed “Boro for Boston” was Keith Kettrey, who ran in honor of a friend who was unable to finish the marathon Monday due to the chaos at the finish line. “I just wanted to come out here and support her, and in a way this is a symbolic finishing of the Boston Marathon for her,” Kettrey said.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is still getting used to the idea it could be privatized. At a meeting Thursday top TVA officials said they’d listen and take part in discussions of a possible sale, as mentioned last week in President Obama’s budget. The board of director’s Peter Mahurin called the idea a ‘trial balloon,’ and argued monopoly services like power are best provided through public ownership. He wondered aloud if TVA might be sold to private electric companies.
The new president of the Tennessee Valley Authority says he’s worried over a failure to properly vet parts used at several of its nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission stepped up oversight of TVA last month over required quality checks. Every last piece of a nuclear plant has to have proof it’s up to snuff, says TVA president Bill Johnson “These can be pretty simple parts like light switches… we’re not talking about big major nuclear parts.” Johnson says thousands of parts slipped by without certification over the course of several years.
TVA’s top leaders said Thursday that the federal utility will cooperate with the Obama administration’s call for a review of the federal utility and its debt that is carried in the federal deficit. President and CEO Bill Johnson and board Chairman Bill Sansom said they believe TVA is “a good business model” that is funded totally by ratepayers, not taxpayers. “We’ll cooperate and participate, and we’re glad to see the review. In the meantime, we’ve got to focus and direct management’s attention on running the place right,” Sansom said at a board meeting Thursday in Columbia, Tenn.
TVA Chairman Bill Sansom reiterated his view Thursday that the TVA business model is a good one and there should be no problem with the Obama administration conducting a review of whether TVA should be sold. Sansom made the remarks during a Tennessee Valley Authority board meeting in Columbia, Tenn., in which the board also voted to approve the creation of a citizens’ advisory group on energy resources. A strategic review of TVA proposed in President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget should show that the TVA model, which relies mainly on revenue from the sale of electricity and from borrowing money at low interest, works very well, he said.
One of the two biggest economic development prizes of recession-era Memphis has its formal opening Friday, April 19. The Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc. plant is the company’s first North American manufacturing plant for large power transformers, some weighing in excess of 400 tons. The plant at 2865 Riverport Road took 18 months to build with the groundbreaking during the historic flooding along the Mississippi River in 2011.
A packaging maker for retail brands like Frito-Lay and General Mills is getting a tax incentive worth $3 million to keep 318 workers in Memphis and add 95 new employees as part of a $21 million expansion here. The city-county EDGE board this week approved an 11-year retention PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) for Bryce Corp., which has plans to invest new equipment at its facilities in Memphis. The company was founded in 1969 and manufactures packaging for some of the world’s largest retail brands.
Volkswagen is dropping the third assembly shift at its Chattanooga plant. As first reported by WRCB-TV, the move will eliminate 500 temporary jobs. Volkswagen spokesman Guenther Scherelis said strong domestic demand for the Passat drove adding the third shift. The company said the plant opened by creating a new product with new suppliers and a new workforce and extra workers were brought on through a staffing supplier temporarily. Volkswagen said increased efficiency is allowing the plant to return to two daily shifts in what the company calls a workforce adjustment.
Jason Hamilton, a contract worker at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant for the past 20 months, said Thursday he had quit a higher-paying job so he could assemble cars at the factory. “I thought it was going to be a better opportunity,” said Hamilton, who learned he is one of about 500 VW plant employees being laid off. The automaker told contract employees supplied by Aerotek that it is cutting 15 percent of the workforce. VW uses the staffing agency to screen, hire and provide temporary production jobs in the plant.
Pam Sohn, an award-winning reporter and editor in Chattanooga for the past 28 years, has been appointed editorial page editor for The Chattanooga Times. She will succeed Harry Austin, who is retiring on May 3 after serving as the Times’ opinion page editor since 1999. A native of Walden’s Ridge, Sohn began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. In Chattanooga, she has been a reporter, city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press and The Chattanooga Times.
Only 18 percent of Howard and Brainerd High School students enroll in college after graduation, compared with 51 percent of students from other high schools around Hamilton County. To help narrow the gap, UTC’s GEAR UP program — Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs — pairs graduate and undergraduate students with teachers from four low-income middle schools around the Chattanooga area. “GEAR UP is a college readiness program that serves students who attend schools that traditionally do not send their students to college in very great numbers,” said Dr. Hunter Huckabay, the program’s director.
Officials with the Bradley County Virtual School are requesting more teachers and expanded Internet access to meet the needs of a growing student body. In a recent presentation to the Bradley County Board of Education, virtual school Principal Zoe Renfro requested a budget of $140,000, which would allow for adding two part-time teachers to a mixed faculty of nine full-time and part-time instructors. The additional teachers are needed to support secondary-level math and English courses for the middle school and high school students who comprise most of the current enrollment of 40 students.
Unified school district officials addressed a rumor that mass teacher layoffs were under way in the Shelby County Schools and other “myths” in a wide-ranging interview Thursday. “The first rumor we want to address is the perception that all these teachers out in the county have been fired, and that’s just not true,” said interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson, acknowledging that staffing levels are changing at many schools because of declining enrollment. Hopson was quick to add that the number of openings for teachers in the unified district — 1,100 to 1,200 — easily surpasses the school-level reductions, which total about 165.
A purse belonging to missing nursing student Holly Bobo was discovered Wednesday in the woods near her home in Parsons, Tenn., providing one of the first major breaks in an increasingly cold, 2-year-old case. A neighbor’s dog found the purse and dragged it back to the dog owner’s home. The bag matches the description of one Bobo was carrying when she disappeared, and there were items in the purse indicating it belonged to the young woman, said TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm.
Law enforcement officers pushed out of the woods onto Myracle Town Road Thursday to where their vehicles were parked in a line. Coming out of the thick brush, the deputies of the Decatur County Sheriff’s Department sweated through the humidity. When asked if they could be photographed, one man responded, “that question is over our heads.” Another just shrugged. Other deputies were hauled around in the back of a pick-up down Swan Johnson Road, not far from the home of Holly Bobo, who was last seen two years ago Saturday, being led into the woods behind her house by an unidentified man in camouflage clothing.
“It is feared that if today they come for our river, tomorrow they might come for our Jack Daniel’s or George Dickel.” — Proclamation from Tennessee Georgia is thirsty and is looking to sip some of Tennessee’s water. It must be because of all of those crackers. Georgia wants to take land on the Tennessee/Georgia border that it does not own and drain the Tennessee River. Tennesseans see no reason to give Georgians the straw through which they can drink the Volunteer State’s milkshake. Thus, the battle line is drawn. The dispute involves a government survey done by Georgia 200 years ago that it now says was a mistake.
Last fall’s deadly meningitis outbreak linked to contaminated steroid injections is a tragic reminder of the risk of errors inherent in manual pharmacy medication compounding. Unsanitary conditions at the Massachusetts compounding pharmacy that made the injections resulted in fungal contamination of the drugs. The resulting outbreak sickened more than 700 people in 20 states and killed more than 50. Tennessee, where the unusual cases of meningitis first came to light, was particularly hard hit. One of only two states with more than 100 cases linked to the contaminated injections, Tennessee has seen 150 cases of illness to date and 15 deaths.
The U.S. Senate’s stunning defeat Wednesday of a measure to expand background checks for purchases of all guns, not just the 60 percent sold by licensed gun stores, is an unusually pathetic symbol of the bought and cowardly members of the Senate who fear the gun lobby and the NRA’s campaign clout more than they care for public safety. It also is a memorably graphic insult against the express wishes of nearly 90 percent of Americans who, polls confirm, believe that every gun purchase should require a background check to help stem the sewer of gun sales that arm criminals and the mentally deranged, that breed crime and mass murder, and that account for many of the nation’s 98,000 annual gun deaths.
If President Barack Obama’s expanded system of background checks for gun buyers had come to a vote in the U.S. Senate any time before the filibuster became a routine legislative delaying tactic, it would have passed by a close but still comfortable margin of 54-46 and become the law of the land. Federally licensed gun dealers carry out background checks now, but the proposed measure, worked out in the best tradition of across-the-aisle cooperation by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., would have extended the checks to gun shows and online sales to screen out potential buyers who have criminal records or histories of mental health problems.
Terror exploded in Boston on Monday, killing three and wounding more than 170 but failing to put so much as a scratch on the human spirit. The two blasts were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, one of running’s premier annual events. The two homemade bombs — at least one was housed in a pressure cooker — spread shrapnel that tore into flesh, broke bones, severed arteries and ripped off legs. It was a heinous act of terror, but from it blossomed acts of selflessness that inspired a nation and a resolve to see justice served. President Barack Obama expressed the nation’s solidity at an interfaith service in Boston on Thursday.