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Oct. 13, 2022
Co-defendant in Tennessee senator’s case plans guilty plea
By JONATHAN MATTISE Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Nashville social club’s owner has reached a deal to plead guilty to a campaign finance scheme alleged against him and a Tennessee state senator who has criticized the charges as a “political witch hunt.”

Attorneys for Joshua Smith last week notified the federal judge in Nashville of the plea deal reached with prosecutors. One of the lawyers signaled Wednesday that Smith is willing to testify, a key development as state Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Republican, is scheduled to head to trial in January 2023 after pleading not guilty.

“Mr. Smith accepts responsibility for his involvement and if he is called to testify he will be truthful regarding the activities that took place,” an attorney representing Smith, Phillip S. Georges, said in a statement Wednesday.

The five-count indictment filed in October 2021 alleges that Smith, owner of The Standard club, and Kelsey violated campaign finance laws by illegally concealing the transfer of $91,000 during the lawmaker’s 2016 failed congressional campaign. Smith’s attorneys indicated he plans to plead guilty to one of the counts.

The Standard is a restaurant and private club near the state Capitol that is often frequented by lawmakers and has featured its own political action committee.

Kelsey and Smith “unlawfully and secretly” funneled funds from Kelsey’s state Senate campaign committee to his federal congressional campaign committee, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors also allege that Kelsey and others caused a national nonprofit political organization to make illegal and excessive campaign contributions to Kelsey by coordinating with the organization on advertisements, and they caused the organization to file false reports to the Federal Election Commission.

Authorities did not name the national organization. But the indictment contains claims similar to a complaint filed against Kelsey’s campaign with the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice in 2017 by the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center.

That complaint claimed that independent expenditures made by the American Conservative Union in the 2016 race were coordinated with Kelsey’s congressional campaign. A spokesperson for the American Conservative Union has said that it has been “fully cooperating with this investigation since 2018.”

The indictment mentions, but does not charge, two alleged co-conspirators, one of whom is described as an attorney and former Tennessee House member expelled in 2016. Former Rep. Jeremy Durham, a Republican from Franklin, was the only lawmaker expelled that year.

An attorney for Kelsey did not immediately respond to requests for additional comment Wednesday.
After he was charged, Kelsey held an online news conference in which he said he was “totally innocent.”
In his statement, Kelsey accused President Joe Biden’s administration of “trying to take me out because I’m conservative.”

Days later, he told his fellow senators inside the Tennessee Senate chamber that he hoped that they would “not use political attacks on one another.”

Kelsey — a Republican from Germantown, a suburb of Memphis — was elected to the Senate in 2009 and served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, a position he left after the federal charges. He previously served in the state House. Kelsey is not seeking reelection this year.

Oct. 13, 2022
Jill Biden urges COVID-19 boosters during Nashville visit
By KIMBERLEE KRUESI Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — First lady Jill Biden travelled to Tennessee’s capitol city Wednesday to encourage Americans once more to roll up their sleeves and get their COVID-19 booster shot ahead of the upcoming holiday season.
Biden’s visit came the same day as the U.S. announced that children as young as 5 were now available for the updated COVID-19 boosters. The first lady was also scheduled to attend a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee while in Nashville.
“Thank you all for coming out here today and getting your COVID update,” Biden said at the pop-up vaccination clinic at Nashville’s St. James Missionary Baptist Church. “It’s so important that we keep all Americans healthy.”
Pastor George Brooks told the crowd that the church has hosted vaccination events every month since March 2021.
“Our doors are always open for persons to come in here as long as the Health Department wants to come,” Brooks said.
Experts have urged people to get their boosters, but many Americans have appeared tired of the several calls to do so. As of last month, the Centers for Disease Control reported that just 4.4 million Americans have received the updated COVID-19 booster shot.
That resistance is particularly striking in Republican-dominant Tennessee, where the Department of Health reports just 23.6% of the state’s population of nearly 7 million has received a booster dose of the vaccine. In more liberal leaning Nashville, nearly 31% of the city’s population has reported getting their booster shot.
“People need to get out and have it. Nashville has done a great job with vaccinations, particularly compared to national or state averages,” said Nashville Mayor John Cooper. “Everyone going and getting up to date contributes to that.”

Oct. 12, 2022
GOP-led Tennessee ballot proposal to test labor interest
By JONATHAN MATTISE Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As unions see new hope from organizing U.S. businesses ranging from Starbucks storefronts to an Amazon warehouse, Republican-led Tennessee will officially take its voters’ temperature on an organized labor issue in November.

Lawmakers there have offered up a ballot amendment that asks voters whether to change the state constitution to add Tennessee’s existing law that bans a company and a union from contracts that require workers to pay dues to the union representing them. Proponents, including business interests and Republican politicians, call the prohibitions “right-to-work” law. Unions oppose the change and the right-to-work label.

Tennessee has had such a law on the books since 1947, and the ballot amendment’s outcome wouldn’t change how the existing law works. It would simply become harder to eliminate it going forward.
The amendment’s wording won’t be as straightforward as some other ballot initiatives, including an anti-abortion proposal that failed in Kansas earlier this year. That gives proponents and opponents more power over characterizing Tennessee’s proposed change.

The long road to insert it into the Tennessee Constitution began in 2020, largely predating the recent national groundswell of interest in unions. Backers of the amendment have cited concerns about attempts by congressional Democrats to pass a labor bill that would bar such laws nationwide. It has passed the House but not the Senate. They also have raised concerns that Democratic-run states could try to unwind so-called right-to-work laws.

The amendment will offer a rare snapshot this November of voter sentiment on a flashpoint in the debate between union and business interests, even if the election’s outcome won’t change much. Democratic-led Illinois has proposed a labor-favored amendment, asking voters to etch collective bargaining rights into the state constitution.

Business groups have described Tennessee’s current requirements as a crucial economic development tool to entice business to move or expand, and the state’s Republican political leadership supports the amendment. Unions believe these laws are aimed at crippling their efforts to organize and fight for better compensation and conditions by siphoning off funding from workers. Under federal law, unions must represent all eligible workers in a union-represented workplace unit even if they aren’t dues-paying members.

“I think if it were not successful, or even if it was a close vote, it would be actually pretty stunning,” said John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University. “It would suggest that, yeah, there is this sort of national, more pro-union, pro-labor sentiment than is reflected in terms of political establishment in a lot of states in the South.”

Currently, 27 states have laws like Tennessee’s; nine have them in their constitutions.
But recent results have been mixed when voters weigh in. Virginia voters rejected a similar constitutional change in 2016, while Missouri voters effectively vetoed a right-to-work law in 2018. Alabama voters approved its constitutional change in 2016.

Interest in organized labor has been galvanized for several reasons, Logan said: high favorability among younger workers; workers who faced difficult conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic; and workforce shortfalls that have empowered workers.

Even so, Tennessee poses a formidable challenge.

Some Tennessee GOP politicians, including Lee, have even previously waded in against individual union campaigns at employers, including the failed 2019 vote at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.

“What we’re doing right now in Tennessee is working. Right-to-work is common sense. And with federal efforts to repeal it nationwide, it’s time for Tennesseans to speak up,” Lee said in a TV ad.
Predictably, unions see things differently.

“Corporate CEOs see workers at places like Amazon and Starbucks rising up around the country and so they want to put these anti-worker laws in the constitution to make them almost impossible to change in the future,” Wes Trotterchaud, a Teamster from East Tennessee, said in a news release from the No on 1 Committee.

They also see reasons for hope in Tennessee.

For one, a massive Ford plant and corresponding electric vehicle battery plant by SK Innovation are heading to West Tennessee. Politicians, Ford officials and union leaders say it’ll be up to the workers whether to organize, but Michigan-based Ford has deep roots with organized labor.

Even though some Republicans pushed to bar a simpler route to a successful union vote at the new complex — or at least at companies similarly receiving state incentives — those efforts failed. Ford has avoided taking sides on Tennessee’s proposed amendment.

The smaller-scale union pushes seen nationally also have drawn attention in Tennessee. Among them — about a half-dozen Starbucks coffee shops have organized, including in Memphis and Knoxville.
Union membership has lagged behind in Tennessee, at only about half the national average of 10.3% of the workforce in 2021. But while the national percentage decreased from 2020 to 2021, Tennessee’s share grew from 4.4% to 5.2%.

Oct. 12, 2022
American Idol’ finalist dies in vehicle crash

JASPER, Tenn. (AP) — A finalist on “American Idol” has died in a vehicle crash in Tennessee.
Willie Spence, 23, died Tuesday after hitting the rear of a tractor-trailer that was stopped on the shoulder of Interstate 24 East near Chattanooga, according to news outlets, which cited a Tennessee Highway Patrol report.
Both drivers were wearing seatbelts, and the truck driver wasn’t injured, the crash report said.
Spence, who was from Georgia, finished in second place on season 19 of “American Idol” last year.
The singing competition show released a statement on social media, saying Spence “was a true talent who lit up every room he entered.”
We are devastated about the passing of our beloved American Idol family member, Willie Spence,” the statement reads. “We send our condolences to his loved ones.”
Singer Luke Bryan, a judge on the show, said Spence “could change the mood instantly when he started singing.”
“He will truly be missed,” Bryan said on Twitter.

Oct. 6, 2022
Sheriff: Dogs attack family in Tennessee, 2 children die

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Two young children died and their mother was hospitalized after two family dogs attacked them at their home in Tennessee, officials said.

The dogs attacked a 2-year-old girl, a 5-month-old boy and their mother Wednesday afternoon in the home located north of Memphis near Shelby Forest State Park, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet.

The children were pronounced dead at the scene and their mother was taken to a Memphis hospital in critical condition.

The investigation remains active. No further information was immediately released.

Oct. 6, 2022
No. 8 Tennessee visits No. 25 LSU to highlight SEC action
By JOHN ZENOR AP Sports Writer

A look at Week 6 in the Southeastern Conference:

No. 8 Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 25 LSU (4-1, 2-0)
Quarterback Hendon Hooker leads the nation’s top offense into Tiger Stadium, where the last three meetings haven’t been settled until the last play. The Tigers have won four straight, overcoming double-digit deficits to beat both Auburn and No. 23 Mississippi State. It’s the first time both have entered the game ranked since the 2007 SEC title game, when the fifth-ranked Tigers beat No. 14 Tennessee 21-14. LSU has won the last five meetings. Tennessee is leading the nation with 559.3 yards total offense and 365.8 passing yards per game. LSU’s defense hasn’t allowed a point in 14 consecutive second-half possessions. Volunteers coach Josh Heupel is 6-1 after open dates, incuding a 45-42 road win over No. 8 Kentucky last season. Tennessee is a three-point favorite.

Texas A&M (3-2, 1-1) at No. 1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0)
It may not shape up as the most competitive game on the docket, but the storylines are too juicy to pass up. Both starting quarterbacks, the Crimson Tide’s Bryce Young and the Aggies’ Max Johnson, are nursing injuries. The Aggies were the only team to beat Alabama in the 2021 regular season, and the circumstances are similar this go around. That doesn’t even count the offseason when Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher took serious issue with comments from the Tide’s Nick Saban on how the Aggies produced the nation’s top recruiting class. Sure, the Tide are favored by 23 1/2 points, but it’s still got the makings of a game to watch.

Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee. The Heisman Trophy contender has passed for a touchdown in 16 consecutive games, the program’s second-longest streak behind Heath Shuler’s 18. Hooker is coming off his best game in leading the Vols to their first win over Florida since 2016. He passed for 349 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 112 and another score.

Arkansas (3-2, 1-2) at No. 23 Mississippi State (4-1, 1-1)
Quarterback Will Rogers and the Bulldogs are riding high from a 42-24 win over then-No. 17 Texas A&M and are 8 1/2-point favorites. That vaulted them into the rankings while the Razorbacks fell out with their second straight loss. But Arkansas, a one-time top 10 team, fell only 23-21 to the Aggies despite giving up a touchdown on a long fumble return and missing a late field goal. The Razorbacks then wiped out most of a 28-0 deficit before falling 49-26 to Alabama. The big question is the health status of Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson, who left late in the ‘Bama game after hitting his head and didn’t practice early in the week.

LSU has won 13 of its last 14 home games against SEC East teams. That hot streak dates back to the 2010 Tennessee game. … Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. returned from a four-game suspension last week to rush 19 times for 72 yards and a touchdown at Ole Miss. He has 2,812 career yards and is 80 away from fifth on the school’s all-time list. … Mississippi State cornerback Emmanuel Forbes leads the SEC with three interceptions, including two against Texas A&M. His 33-yard pick-6 was the fourth of his career, breaking the school record.

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Oct. 5, 2022
Advocates challenge Tenn. policy on restoring voting rights
By KIMBERLEE KRUESI Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Voter rights advocates on Wednesday once again challenged Tennessee’s policy on how people convicted of felonies out of state can participate in elections.

The Tennessee Supreme Court listened to the arguments stemming from the 2020 lawsuit, where the Campaign Legal Center is challenging the requirements the state places on those who have had their voting rights restored after being convicted of a felony out of state. Lower courts have previously sided with the state’s election office, but attorneys are hoping for a different outcome with Tennessee’s highest court.

The campaign watchdog nonprofit is representing Ernest Falls, who was convicted of a felony in 1986 in Virginia but was granted clemency in 2020 — which restored his rights of citizenship, including the right to run for office, the right to serve on a jury and the right to vote. Shortly after, Falls attempted to register to vote in Tennessee — where he has lived for several years — but was denied.

According to the lawsuit, Falls’ denial came after the state “abruptly reversed course” in 2020 and began requiring residents who had out-of-state felony convictions to meet additional rules.
The complaint alleges that state’s Elections Division received a legal opinion from the attorney general’s office that stated residents must not only have their voting rights restored from the state of their conviction, but also must prove that they have fully paid all their corresponding legal and restitution fees.

Assistant Attorney General Alex Rieger argued Wednesday that such requirements are allowed due to previous court precedent.

However, Falls’ attorney William Harbison countered that someone who has “full rights of citizenship” shouldn’t be subjected to getting their rights restored.

“We brought this case to ask this court to rule that he does have the right to vote,” he said.
Currently, Tennessee requires those who have been convicted of a felony in-state to have fully paid off their restitution and legal fees. This requirement has long sparked concern from voter advocates who argue it creates an impossible burden for those who have been convicted.

The lawsuit initially had another plaintiff who was also blocked from registering to vote stemming from his out-of-state felony conviction, but that person has since paid his outstanding court costs and has been deemed now eligible to vote under the “current interpretation of Tennessee law.”

According to a 2016 report by The Sentencing Project, an estimated 421,000 Tennesseans are denied the right to vote due to felony convictions — or about 8.2% of the state’s total voting population.
Campaign Legal Center argues Tennessee has “likely the highest rate” of voter disenfranchisement in the United States — particularly among Black voters — after Florida voters approved a ballot initiative in 2018 that sought to restore voting rights post-felony sentence.

Justices on the state Supreme Court listened to the arguments Wednesday but did not disclose when they might make a decision.

Oct. 5, 2022
Musicians, fans react to death of country star Loretta Lynn

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Stars and fans react to the death of Loretta Lynn, who died Tuesday at her home at 90.

“Mama and Loretta Lynn were four years apart, Mama being the oldest. They always reminded me a lot of each other. Strong women, who loved their children and were fiercely loyal. Now they’re both in Heaven getting to visit and talk about how they were raised, how different country music is now from what it was when they were young. Sure makes me feel good that Mama went first so she could welcome Loretta into the hollers of heaven!” — Reba McEntire on Instagram.

“We’ve been like sisters all these years we’ve been in Nashville and she was a wonderful human being, wonderful talent, had millions of fans and I’m one of them. I miss her dearly as we all will.” — Dolly Parton wrote on Twitter.

“Today is a sad day. The world lost a magnificent human being. Loretta Lynn was a great artist, a strong and resilient country music pioneer and a precious friend. I am heartbroken. I send my deepest sympathies to her wonderful family, her friends, and her loyal fans. ” Sissy Spacek, in a statement.
“She was an iconic legend and did things the way she wanted. I am so bless to call her friend. I miss u already Loretta. Love u. And rest now u angel.” — Darius Rucker via Twitter.

“My heart is broken with the news of my sweet friend Loretta Lynn passing. I will remember all the sweet visits and laughs we shared. RIP sweet Angel.” — Stella Parton via Twitter.

“Oh, sweet loretta lynn… what a life! what an icon! what a trailblazer! what a beautiful soul! may she rest peacefully with the angels. my heart is with her family and friends.” — LeAnn Rimes, via Twitter.
“It’s safe to say I wouldn’t even be making country music today if it weren’t for Loretta Lynn. She showed me up what it looked like to be a musician and a mama. Her writing was as real as the day is long. This one hurts on another level. I’ll miss her forever.” Margo Price, via Twitter.

“Celebrating the life of Loretta Lynn. One of my highest honors was being joined by her and George Jones on a song I wrote called “Country Music Has The Blues”. She handed me this wonderful gift on that day.” — Billy Ray Cyrus tweeted, along with an image of a signed album Lynn gave him.
“Listening to nothing but Loretta Lynn for the rest of the week. RIP to an absolute icon in country music. Damn.” — Musician Parker McCollum via Twitter.

“She was an inspiration. R.I.P. Loretta Lynn” — Singer-songwriter Carole King tweeted, using a heart emoji.

“Rest in all kinds of power, Loretta Lynn. We’ll miss you.” — Musician Roseanne Cash, via Twitter.
“There was no one like Loretta. She was a trailblazer for the genre and a role model for so many young women…. My wife and our daughters included.” — Tim McGraw, via Twitter.
“Very sad news this morning … LORETTA LYNN has gone home … Great Britain lost their Queen … now we have lost ours.” — The Oak Ridge Boys, via Twitter.

“RIP Loretta Lynn. Great songwriter, great singer, and one of the gutsiest and coolest country icons of all-time. Did as much as anyone to drag the genre into a more contemporary age. Also: She wrote “Fist City” and totally earned the song title “Fist City” — Music critic and author Steven Hyden via Twitter.
“It is not enough to say today that Country Music has lost Loretta Lynn, but rather the world has lost a true music legend. Loretta was a woman whose contributions and impact inspired countless artists and transformed the Country genre into a universal art form. … As a trailblazing songwriter, she bravely wrote about socially and culturally relevant topics that came to define a generation. I’ll personally remember Loretta for her spirit, artistry and genius that rivaled contemporaries like Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.” – Sarah Trahern, Country Music Association CEO, in a statement.
“We’ve lost a true Tennessee treasure today. Loretta Lynn was a force to be reckoned with and a pioneer for women in country music,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, via Twitter.

“The story of Loretta Lynn’s life is unlike any other, yet she drew from that story a body of work that resonates with people who might never fully understand her bleak and remote childhood, her hardscrabble early days, or her adventures as a famous and beloved celebrity. In a music business that is often concerned with aspiration and fantasy, Loretta insisted on sharing her own brash and brave truth.” — Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

P.K. Subban announces retirement after 13 NHL seasons
September 20, 2022 The Associated Press undefined

Defenseman P.K. Subban announced his retirement from the NHL on Tuesday following 13 seasons playing for the Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils.

The 33-year-old former Norris Trophy winner shared the news on social media.

Subban, who is from Toronto, registered 115 goals and 467 points in 824 regular-season games. The 43rd overall pick at the 2007 NHL draft added 62 points (18 goals, 44 assists) in 96 postseason games.

He won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman in 2013 with the Canadiens.
Subban, who was an unrestricted free agent this summer, has done television in the past and hinted at new opportunities in his retirement post.

“I never looked at myself or ever felt I was ‘just a hockey player,'” he wrote. “I always looked at myself as a person who happened to play hockey.

“Having that perspective allowed me to enjoy every shift like it was my last, celebrate every goal with emotion and play every game as if someone paid to watch me who had never seen me play before.”

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Simmons, Titans looking forward to latest matchup with Bills
September 19, 2022 By TERESA M. WALKER AP Pro Football Writer

Tennessee defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons practiced regularly against left guard Rodger Saffold since the Titans drafted him in 2019.

Now Simmons gets his first chance at Saffold able to go full speed Monday night when the Titans visit Buffalo with Saffold in his first season with the Bills.

“I’m excited to go against him,” Simmons said. “We had great battles here in practice, but everyone knows that switch for me is not practice. We can rush, we can do all that, but we can’t get the quarterback at practice … For me, I’m going to say I play way harder than I practice.”

This isn’t the first time Saffold has had to face off against former teammates. He started his career with the Los Angeles Rams and won in Los Angeles last season with the Titans. Saffold started this season with the Bills taking down the defending Super Bowl champs to kick off this season with his third NFL team.

Saffold said it definitely feels weird playing a team he just anchored the left guard spot for the past three seasons.

“At the end of the day, I have a job to do,” Saffold said. “So, you know, this is what we came to do, it’s our craft. And we’re always going to be looking out for each other once the final whistle blows.”

Buffalo (1-0) and Tennessee (0-1) are not in the same division. As they prepare to play for a fifth straight year, it’s fair to say they know each other almost as well as if they did play twice a year in a budding rivalry. And familiarity is breeding strong emotions and great football.

The Titans have won the past two played in Nashville with Simmons helping making a stop on Bills quarterback Josh Allen on fourth-and-goal to preserve a very big win as Tennessee wound up not only repeating as AFC South champs, but earning the AFC’s No. 1 seed. The Bills finished with the No. 3 seed.

Allen has played Tennessee every season he’s been in the NFL and sees the familiarity with the Titans helping a bit. Allen also noted the Titans have one of the best coaches in Mike Vrabel, the defending AP NFL Coach of the Year.

“He does a lot of good things,” Allen said. “And again, he’s going to have them extremely motivated here. So, we got to be ready for whatever punch they throw out our way and try to put our best foot forward.”

Knowing each other is only part of what adds to the intensity of these Titans-Bills showdowns.
The Titans routed Buffalo in 2020 in a rare Tuesday night game postponed after Tennessee became the first NFL team with a COVID-19 outbreak during the first season of the pandemic. The Titans got the big stop for the big win a year ago.

Monday night is the home opener for Buffalo. Bills safety Micah Hyde said they want to win this game to defend their home turf.

“Obviously, a big one for them, too,” Hyde said. “And we’re going to go out there and try to play our best and get our first one at home.”

Both the Bills and Titans have had roster turnover since last season. What the teams do on the field has changed little with Derrick Henry the focus of Tennessee’s offense and coordinator Leslie Frazier running the Bills’ defense since 2017.

“We’re not going to try to out-scheme anybody,” Hyde said. “We’re going to go out there and just play football, do what we do and and try to execute. So they’re kind of similar in that way.”

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a natural switch going from seeing the Bills regularly in the AFC East while playing for Miami. This will be his fourth game in this series with Tennessee, and the quarterback said it’s a simple recipe in the end.

“It comes down to execution and making plays,” Tannehill said.

AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed.

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Tennessee Park of the Year is Nashville’s Radnor Lake
September 14, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville’s Radnor Lake State Park has been named Park of the Year by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

In the past year the park hosted a Junior Ranger Intern Program with 51 youth participants, according to a news release Tuesday. It recycled a record 900 Christmas trees in its annual Trees to Trails program. More than 1,500 volunteers helped with park projects ranging from invasive plant removal to stream cleanups.

In October, the park installed electric car charging stations that account for over 60 percent of all electric vehicle charging in Tennessee State Parks. In November, it installed Tennessee’s first wheelchair-accessible viewfinder.

In addition to being named Park of the Year, Radnor Lake was honored with an award for sustainability.
“Radnor Lake State Park is a perfect example of why we are so proud of our parks,” TDEC Commissioner David Salyers said in a news release. “The park has initiated outstanding programs, and it consistently earns great support from the community.”

Titans place AJ Moore, Da’Shawn Hand on injured reserve
September 13, 2022 NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)

The Tennessee Titans placed defensive back A.J. Moore and defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand on injured reserve Tuesday.

The Titans also signed defensive back Nate Brooks to the practice squad.

Moore hurt an ankle late in the first quarter of the Titans’ opening loss to the New York Giants. He limped to the sideline following a Giants punt return, and Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Moore was a very solid special teams contributor who was building a role on defense.

Hand played only two snaps in the opener. Hand was signed to the practice squad before the final week of last season after four seasons with Detroit, who made him a fourth-round pick out of Alabama in 2018.

The 6-foot, 192-pound Brooks originally signed with Arizona as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and spent much of his rookie season on New England’s practice squad. Miami signed him to the roster in December 2019, and he started two of three games with the Dolphins.
He was on Baltimore’s practice squad in 2020 and played one game. He was in training camp with Tennessee in 2021 and spent a stint on the practice squad during the season.

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Sustainable transportation forum set for November at UT
September 12, 2022 KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)

The University of Tennessee is hosting a sustainable transportation forum and an electric vehicle summit in November, and registration is now open, officials said.

The Drive Electric Tennessee initiative will host the first DriveElectricTN Momentum Summit, on Nov. 7 at the Knoxville university’s student union, state officials said in a news release.

Then, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition will hold the Tennessee Sustainable Transportation Forum & Expo on Nov. 8 and 9 at the student union, officials said.

Research, technology, planning, and policy developments to be shared at the forum will aim to improve transportation efficiency, reduce vehicle emissions, and address mobility needs, officials said.

Speakers and panelists at the forum will address topics such as alternative fuels and advanced vehicle technologies, mobility and transportation justice, and the intersections of transportation with public health and emergency response, among other issues, officials said.

The DriveElectricTN Momentum Summit will focus on transportation electrification efforts and will include breakout sessions on community outreach, electric vehicle infrastructure, policies and programs, and innovation, officials said.

Registration for both events can be found here.

Police arrest Memphis man in livestreamed shootings; 4 dead
September 8, 2022 By ADRIAN SAINZ Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A gunman who livestreamed himself driving around Memphis shooting at people, killing four and wounding three others in seemingly random attacks, was arrested after crashing a stolen car, police said early Thursday.

The hourslong rampage shut down much of the city as police warned people to shelter in place. Authorities locked down a baseball stadium and university campuses and suspended bus service as frightened residents wondered where the assailant might strike next.

Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said seven shootings and at least two carjackings were reported before Ezekiel Kelly was arrested without incident Wednesday evening. Authorities offered no immediate word on motive.

“This has been a horrific week for the city of Memphis,” Davis said, noting that the shooting spree came less than a week after the brutal killing of a jogger who was abducted during her early morning run.
Kelly, 19, was released early from a prison sentence for aggravated assault, court records show. The release seemed to raise a sore point between the mayor and the county’s top prosecutor in front of cameras at a news conference.

“This is no way for us to live, and it is not acceptable,” said Mayor Jim Strickland, who later pounded the podium as he demanded accountability. “If Mr. Kelly served his full three-year sentence, he would still be in prison today, and four of our fellow citizens would still be alive,” he said.

The first killing happened just before 1 a.m. Wednesday. A police affidavit said at least three witnesses saw Kelly fatally shoot Dewayne Tunstall in the head as Tunstall was visiting with friends at a home in Memphis. According to the affidavit, Kelly pulled Tunstall to the side and during their conversation drew a handgun and fired several shots.

The second shooting came more than 15 hours later, at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday when officers found a male victim dead from multiple gunshot wounds inside a vehicle, according to police. A woman who had been shot in the leg was discovered minutes later.

More shootings were reported over the next four and a half hours. During that time, police received a tip at about 6 p.m. that the suspect was livestreaming himself and threatening to hurt people, Davis said.

In one clip from the video, the suspect casually speaks to the camera before opening the door to an AutoZone store and shooting someone inside with what appeared to be a pistol. That man was taken to a hospital in critical condition.

In another, a man narrates himself driving — “green light, green light” — and sings “no faking.” At one point, he fires two rapid bursts of gunfire out the driver’s window. Referring to police, he says he’s going to “go down to the valley, shoot it out with them in the valley.”

Three more shootings and two carjackings followed after police sent an alert warning people to be on the lookout for the suspect.

Police said he killed a woman as he took her SUV, then shot and wounded a man nearby. The final victim, another woman, was found dead about an hour later, just before 9 p.m.

Kelly drove across the state line into neighboring Southaven, Mississippi, where he committed another carjacking at gunpoint but left the driver uninjured, police said. Officers quickly spotted the stolen Dodge Challenger on Interstate 55. Kelly was arrested after he crashed during a high-speed chase, Davis said. Two guns were found in the vehicle.

As the shooter terrorized the city, residents frantically called and texted each other, and TV stations cut into regular coverage with updates.

Facebook parent company Meta said Thursday that it removed the suspect’s livestream before Memphis police sent their initial alert, but the company declined to say for how long the live video was streaming. The company said it also removed the suspect’s Facebook account and has been continuously removing content such as copies of the video or messages praising the attack.
It was too early in the investigation to discuss how the suspect got the gun or guns used in the shootings, said Ali Roberts, acting assistant special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Memphis.

Memphis has been shaken by several high-profile killings in recent weeks, including the shooting of a pastor during a daylight carjacking in her driveway, the shooting of an activist during an argument over money and the slaying of jogger Eliza Fletcher following her abduction near the University of Memphis.

“I understand it feels like so much violence and evil to experience in such a short time,” Memphis City Council member Chase Carlisle said on Twitter. “We are SO much more than this.”

In February 2020, Kelly, then 17, was charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, using a firearm to commit a dangerous felony and reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, court records show.

Records show he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced in April 2021 to three years.
Kelly was released from prison in March, 11 months after he was sentenced, the mayor said. Given the time he spent awaiting a resolution of his charges, he likely got credit for time served and spent more than two years behind bars.

Strickland thanked legislators for closing what he called a revolving door by passing Tennessee’s so-called “truth in sentencing” law this year. The statute, which took effect after Kelly was freed, requires inmates to serve entire sentences for certain felonies, including attempted first-degree murder, vehicular homicide caused by intoxicated drivers and carjacking.

“From now on, three years for aggravated assault means three years,” the mayor said. “We need the courts and additional state laws to stop this revolving door, and I need the public to make their voices heard by those decision makers.”

Standing beside him was Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, a fellow Democrat who was elected in August after arguing that the sentencing law drives up Tennessee’s prison budget without reducing crime or helping incarcerated people rehabilitate. Mulroy had no role in Kelly’s prior prosecution and sentence.

Mulroy said Thursday there was no tension between him and the mayor right now over the new sentencing measure, which Republican Gov. Bill Lee allowed to become law without his signature.

“Both of us think that all these cases, including the tragic incidents from last night, need to be dealt with strongly,” Mulroy said, referring to himself and the mayor. “The public policy debate can be discussed another day.”

Associated Press writers Kimberlee Kruesi, Jonathan Mattise and Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Rebecca Reynolds in Louisville, Kentucky; Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island; and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this story.

Lainey Wilson leads CMA Awards nominations in her 1st year
September 7, 2022 By KRISTIN M. HALL AP Entertainment Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Louisiana-native Lainey Wilson is having a breakout year as she tops the Country Music Association Awards nominations in her first year as a nominee, earning nods in six categories including album of the year, female vocalist of the year and song of the year.

Wilson is only the fourth artist in the history of the CMAs to earn six nominations in her first year, following Glen Campbell, Brad Paisley and Kacey Musgraves. She’s also up for new artist of the year, music video and musical event.

“This is my first time being cordially invited to the CMA Awards and what a wonderful invitation it is,” Wilson said in a statement. “It has been such a challenging but beautiful journey up until this point and to see the country music community and the incredible fans be so receptive to me and my music is such a blessing. I’m so grateful for this moment.”

Other leading nominees include Ashley McBryde, Carly Pearce, Chris Stapleton and writer-producer Shane McAnally, who all have nominations in five categories. The CMA Awards, hosted by Luke Bryan and Peyton Manning, will air on Wednesday, Nov. 9 on ABC.

“There is a whole lot of love, respect and admiration between the artists in these categories. We do a good job of challenging one another and raising the bar, all while cheering each other on. We all work hard and do our best to perform our asses off. Thank you for recognizing our work, for listening and for loving country music,” McBryde said in a statement.

Wilson’s 2021 album “Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin'” last year earned her critical accolades, spurred on by the success of her country radio No. 1 hit “Things a Man Oughta Know.” Her next album, “Bell Bottom Country,” is due out in October.

Reigning CMA entertainer of the year Luke Combs is back in the top category, alongside Miranda Lambert, Stapleton, Carrie Underwood and Morgan Wallen. This is Wallen’s first nomination in the category.

“Music has been the driving force of my life since I started chasing this dream as a 17 year old, and what I’ve learned since then is that people make the music mean what it it does. None of this matters without the songwriters who pour their hearts out alongside me, the co-producers who help give life to our words, and — most importantly — the fans who find themselves in those words,” Lambert said in a statement.

McBryde and Pearce share four nominations for their hit duet “Never Wanted To Be That Girl,” which they co-wrote with McAnally. McBryde and Pearce also are in the running for female vocalist of the year, alongside Lambert, Underwood and Wilson.

Stapleton is nominated for single and song of the year for “You Should Probably Leave,” which he also co-produced with Dave Cobb. He’s also nominated alongside Taylor Swift, for joining in her music video for “I Bet You Think About Me (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault).” Actor Blake Lively earned a nomination for directing the music video.

Lambert has extended her historic run as the most nominated female artist in CMA history, with now 61 nominations. She’s only behind George Strait and Alan Jackson for most nominations. She earned her 16th straight nomination for female vocalist, also a record. She’s also nominated for album of the year for “Palomino,” which she co-produced.

Alongside Lambert and Wilson in the album of the year category are Combs for his record “Growin’ Up,” Maren Morris for “Humble Quest” and Old Dominion for “Time, Tequila & Therapy.” Eric Church joins Combs, Stapleton, Wallen and Cody Johnson in the male vocalist of the year category.

Hartman medically cleared to return for No. 23 Wake Forest
September 6, 2022 By AARON BEARD AP Sports Writer

Wake Forest ultimately had to go just one game without star Sam Hartman.

The school said Tuesday that the fifth-year quarterback has been medically cleared to play in the 23rd-ranked Demon Deacons’ trip to Vanderbilt this weekend after receiving treatment for a blood clot. The news came roughly a month since Wake Forest said Hartman would be out indefinitely due to what it described at the time only as a non-football medical issue.

Tuesday’s statement included details on Hartman’s condition, treatment and recovery. He missed last week’s opener against VMI, but coach Dave Clawson said he had been throwing and practiced both Sunday and Tuesday.

“He’s in shape,” Clawson said during his weekly news conference. “He wasn’t completely idle during this time. He’s been throwing the ball for awhile. I mean, there’s just so many accumulated reps. And he got right back on the bike. He’s looked really good, and if we had concerns about that, we wouldn’t be starting him.”

Hartman was ranked as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks last season for a team that reached the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

“There will be time for me to tell my complete story,” Hartman said in a statement Tuesday, “but right now I am just really excited to get back on the field with my teammates and compete each day to help our team get ready for Vanderbilt this Saturday in Nashville.”

In a statement, Julie A. Freischlag, the dean of the Wake Forest’s medical school and a vascular surgeon, said Hartman developed the clot in the subclavian vein, located near the collarbone. It’s known as Paget-Schroetter syndrome, or “effort thrombosis,” and Freischlag said doctors believe it was caused by a previous infection that eventually led to inflammation.

Hartman had a procedure Aug. 9 to remove the clot, as well as surgery to eliminate pressure in the vein and dilate it.

Freischlag said a follow-up ultrasound showed “the clot was gone, the blood flow was good and he felt great. Blood thinner therapies were discontinued once they became medically unnecessary and he is medically cleared to return to full competition.”

Hartman led last season’s Demon Deacons to 11 wins, tying a program record and claiming the ACC’s Atlantic Division title. He ranked among the nation’s most prolific passers in an offense that ranked near the top of the Bowl Subdivision ranks.

He missed last week’s opener against VMI, with Mitch Griffis throwing for three touchdowns in his starting debut. Hartman watched from the sideline.

Now he’s back atop the depth chart in time for the trip to play the Commodores of the Southeastern Conference.

“Obviously I’d love to see Sam play,” second-year Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea said Tuesday before Wake Forest’s announcement. “I know I’m pulling for him as he’s battling through his injury.”

AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at

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Tennessee park readies for annual ‘Super Bowl of Marbles’
September 2, 2022 HILHAM, Tenn. (AP)

Tennessee will play host to the 39th annual National Rolley Hole Marbles Championship on Sept. 17.
Rolley hole is a game that involves shooting marbles into small holes in the ground while keeping other teams from making the holes. Players say it involves skill and strategy, and the annual event at Standing Stone State Park is considered the “Super Bowl of Marbles.”

The championship matches will be played on the park’s 40-by-20-foot dirt marbles yard, the only marbles yard in the country located within a state park, according to a news release from the parks. The tournament will include a festival with bluegrass music, food, marble-making demonstrations, a marbles roller coaster and kids’ marbles games.

“There is no other event like this in the world,” Standing Stone Park Ranger Shawn Hughes said.
More information is available on the Standing Stone State Park website.

Vandy hosting Elon with chance for 1st 2-0 start since 2018
September 1, 2022 By The Associated Press undefined

Elon (0-0) at Vanderbilt (1-0), Saturday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN+/SEC Network+)

Line: No line, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: Vanderbilt 1-0.


Vanderbilt can notch its first 2-0 start since 2018, and a victory would match the win total for coach Clark Lea’s debut season in 2021. Elon has not beaten a Bowl Subdivision team since moving to the Championship Subdivision in 1999. The Phoenix are 1-29-2 against Power Five programs with the lone win over Miami back in 1928. Elon has played eight current Power Five programs with the two ties coming against Duke and Georgia Tech in the 1920s.


Vanderbilt’s rushing offense against Elon’s defense. The Commodores are coming off a dominating 63-10 win at Hawaii to open the season, the first time they’ve started with a victory since 2018. Vanderbilt rolled up more than 600 yards of total offense for only the fifth time since 1996 and finished with 404 yards rushing. Elon has nine starters back on defense, and the Phoenix led the Colonial Athletic Association in red zone defense.


Elon: WR Jackson Parham. He ranked 31st nationally with 820 yards receiving and 43rd with 57 catches for the best single season by a Elon receiver since 2012.
Vanderbilt: QB Mike Wright. He was 13 of 21 for 146 yards passing with two touchdown passes. He also ran for a career-high 163 yards and two more TDs. He became the fourth Vanderbilt quarterback with multiple passing TDs and multiple TD runs since 1996.


Vanderbilt currently leads the nation scoring offense after the opening rout at Hawaii. It was the most points for Vanderbilt since scoring 63 in 1969 in a win over Davidson. The 53-point margin of victory was Vanderbilt largest since a 58-0 win over Presbyterian on Sept. 17, 2012. … Vanderbilt topped 600 yards total offense for just the fifth time since 1996. … Vanderbilt returned two fumbles for touchdowns. It was the Commodores’ first multiple defensive scores since scoring twice against LSU on Sept. 21, 2019. … Seven different Commodores scored against Hawaii. … Vanderbilt is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its stadium this season. Dudley Field opened Oct. 14, 1922, with a scoreless tie against Michigan. The last major renovation was in 1981, and the stadium is scheduled for a major renovation expected to take two years. … Elon K Skyler Davis made 17 field goals last year, including each of his final nine attempts. … Elon went 6-5 last season. … Not counting the 2021 spring season because of the pandemic, Elon has won at least five games in four straight seasons. That equals the program’s longest such streak since moving to FCS.

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Tennessee’s unemployment website repaired

July 5, 2022
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s unemployment benefits and workforce development website has resumed operating after a cyberattack on a software company disrupted service for thousands of people for several days, officials said Monday.

The website,, appeared to be up and running Monday afternoon. The state’s vendor, Geographic Solutions Inc., had completed testing and restoration of the computer system on Sunday, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said in a news release.

The vendor told the state June 26 that service would be interrupted. Some 12,000 Tennesseans rely on the unemployment benefits program. The department has instructed website users about how to file a new unemployment claim or complete weekly certifications.

In a statement Monday, the department said it “understands and apologizes for the confusion and hardship this extended system outage caused Tennesseans who depend on for the critical services it provides.”

In a statement dated Wednesday evening, Geographic Solutions’ president said initial investigation findings indicate that no personal data was accessed and no data was removed from its network operations center.

The president, Paul Toomey, said his company identified “anomalous activity” on its network and immediately took the Tennessee system offline to halt the activity.

Unemployment websites in several other states, including Louisiana and Nebraska, also were affected.

Florida-based Geographic Solutions has said its clients include more than 35 states and territories.

101st Airborne being deployed to Europe

July 5, 2022
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) — Soldiers at Fort Campbell are having a ceremony Tuesday to mark deployment to Europe, the first time 101st Airborne has deployed to Europe in nearly 80 years.

The 101st Airborne and the 101st Airborne Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion will case their colors in the ceremony. Casing of the colors is an Army tradition that represents movement to a new location.

The Army said the division will also host a ceremony to welcome the new deputy commanding officer-support, Col. Scott Wilkinson, and mark the departure of division chief of staff, Col. Stephen Shrader.

Soldiers from the 101st began arriving in Europe in late June.

The sprawling Fort Campbell Army post straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee line.

Ashley Judd talks about mental health after mother’s death
May 12, 2022
The Associated Press undefined
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) — Ashley Judd encouraged people to seek help for their mental health and talked about her grieving process after the loss of her mother, country star Naomi Judd.
In an interview aired on “Good Morning America” on Thursday, the movie star said she wanted to address her mother’s struggle with depression. Judd said she was with her mother at her home in Tennessee on the day Naomi died on April 30.
Judd also encouraged anyone who was having thoughts of harming themselves to reach out to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Naomi Judd died at the age of 76, a day before she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame with her duo partner and daughter Wynonna Judd. In a statement provided to The Associated Press, the family said they had lost her to “the disease of mental illness.”
“When we’re talking about mental illness, it’s very important, and to be clear and to make the distinction between our loved one and the disease,” Judd said in the interview. “It lies. It’s savage. And, you know, my mother, our mother, couldn’t hang on until she was inducted into the Hall of Fame by her peers. I mean, that is the level of catastrophe of what was going on inside of her because the barrier between — the regard in which they held her couldn’t penetrate into her heart. And the lie that the disease told her was so convincing.”
Ashley Judd said that her mother shot herself with a gun, but asked for privacy on other details of the death. Naomi Judd wrote openly about her depression and anxiety in her memoir “River of Time” and daughter Ashley said it was because of this that she cherished every moment she spent with her mother.
“I really accepted the love my mother was capable of giving me because I knew she was fragile,” Judd said. “So when I walked around the back of their house and came in the kitchen door and she said, ‘There’s my darling, there’s my baby.’ And she lit up. I savored those moments.”
Naomi and Wynonna Judd scored 14 No. 1 songs in a career that spanned nearly three decades. The red-headed duo combined the traditional Appalachian sounds of bluegrass with polished pop stylings, scoring hit after hit in the 1980s. Wynonna led the duo with her powerful vocals, while Naomi provided harmonies and stylish looks on stage.
TheJuddsreleased six studio albums and an EP between 1984 and 1991 and won nine Country Music Association Awards and seven from the Academy of Country Music. They earned a total of five Grammy Awards together on hits like “Why Not Me” and “Give A Little Love,” and Naomi earned a sixth Grammy for writing “Love Can Build a Bridge.”

Fed utility weighs coal plant switch options, climate impact
May 12, 2022
By JONATHAN MATTISE Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The nation’s largest public utility plans to shut down a massive coal-fired power plant, but wants to replace it with natural gas. That would put the federal Tennessee Valley Authority out of step with President Joe Biden’s administration goal of a carbon-pollution-free energy sector by 2035.
Officials with the utility argue the natural gas move would help pave a path toward more renewable sources and away from coal, while continuing to keep rates low and the electric grid reliable. But environmental groups warn the agency could squander the chance to get away from carbon-producing fossil fuels that drive climate change.
The impending decision for the Cumberland Fossil Plant in Tennessee was a focal point at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board meeting Wednesday, where CEO Jeff Lyash argued the agency is attempting a balancing act. TVA has set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2035, compared to 2005 levels.
Scientists, meanwhile, have warned that failing to meet Biden’s 2035 target will only lead to more intense and more frequent extreme weather events, as well as droughts, floods and wildfires. Teams of meteorologists across the world have predicted there is nearly a 50-50 chance that Earth will temporarily hit a global warming temperature threshold international agreements are trying to prevent within the next five years.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Lyash reasoned that electricity use could as much as double by 2050, due in part to a shift to electric-based technology aimed at carbon emissions, including more electric vehicles — a technology the independent federal utility has focused on in recent years.
TVA is spearheading plans for proposed charging sites across its region and has set a goal of 200,000 electric vehicles in its area by 2028. It is laying out a large-scale transition to electric for its own workforce fleet and has teamed up on economic recruitment efforts that led Ford to choose Tennessee for its electric truck facility in a package deal also bringing a partner company’s battery plant.
Lyash has said TVA will not be able to meet the 100% reduction goal without technological advances in energy storage, carbon capture and small modular nuclear reactors, instead aiming for 80%. The utility has its own aspirational goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
“That’s what we know we can execute and deliver, without raising prices and impacting reliability,” Lyash said during the meeting at Young Harris College in Georgia. “It doesn’t change our aspiration of achieving net zero and of going farther faster. But we have to be transparent and honest: Going farther faster will take research, development and the deployment of technologies that we don’t have at a commercially competitive price.”
Environmental advocates have said a switch to gas at the Cumberland plant — one of five coal plants left in TVA’s power system, which ranges from nuclear to hydroelectric generation — would leave it producing climate-warming greenhouse gases for decades.
“In order to fight climate change and better serve its 10 million customers, TVA must scrap its gas plans and should instead use this opportunity to become a national leader in the clean energy transition by investing in renewable energy options – like solar power, wind power, and battery storage – that are affordable, effective, and available right now,” said Eric Hilt of the Southern Environmental Law Center, who added that prices of those renewable sources are dropping.
TVA officials have said their preferred option would be natural gas-based at Cumberland. Another of the alternatives in their proposal centers on solar power with storage. In-person open houses to discuss the options are scheduled for May 17 and 18, as the agency contemplates a final decision in the coming months.
The utility already has plans to add 10,000 megawatts of solar power to its system by 2035. They have teamed up on projects with several prominent industrial customers who want their operations tied to renewables.
Lyash said supply chain issues have helped create setbacks of late. Issues with solar panel availability have led to delays of up to a year for some TVA projects, Lyash said.
TVA powers provides electricity to local power companies serving 10 million people in Tennessee and parts of six surrounding states.

Bahamas calls on US labs to help solve deaths of 3 tourists from Tennessee and Florida
May 9, 2022
By DÁNICA COTO Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Samples taken from three tourists from Tennessee and Florida who died at a resort in the Bahamas under mysterious circumstances have been sent to a lab in the U.S. to expedite results and help authorities understand what happened, officials said Monday.
The police commissioner of the Bahamas, Paul Rolle, said officials also collected samples from the rooms where the tourists were staying and the surrounding property to determine whether any contaminants were present.
“We really want to know what caused this,” he said.
He identified the victims as a married couple from Tennessee, Michael Phillips, 68, and Robbie Phillips, 65, and a resident of Florida, Vincent Paul Chiarella, 64. Rolle declined to provide their hometowns.
Chiarella’s wife, Donnis, was flown to a hospital in Florida and remained in serious condition, Rolle said.
Their bodies were found Friday morning at the Sandals Emerald Bay resort in Exuma, where the couples had been staying in two separate villas.
The Phillipses apparently owned a company called Royal Travel, and Robbie Phillips, who called herself “The Sand Lady,” specialized in arranging trips to Sandals resorts. She posted photos of the resort’s beach on her Facebook page Thursday, saying she was there with her husband.
The couple had three children and six grandchildren, according to the company website.
The samples taken from the victims were sent to a lab in Philadelphia, with results of the toxicology study expected in about a week, Rolle said. He noted that the Bahamas’ Department of Environmental Health and police officers are still at the resort.
When asked what he thinks might have caused the tourists’ deaths, Rolle said: “I’m not going to speculate.”
He noted that all four tourists went to a doctor the night before their bodies were discovered and they had complained of feeling ill. He said they went at different times and had eaten different things.
Meanwhile, Sandals Resorts said it would not comment further beyond its original statement, which noted that it is supporting the investigation and the families of those affected.
“Out of respect for the privacy of our guests, we cannot disclose further information at this time,” the company said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price also confirmed three American citizens had died and offered “heartfelt condolences to the families and the other loved ones of those who have passed.
“We are closely monitoring local authorities’ investigations into the cause of death, and we stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance,” he added.
The deaths come seven years after a Delaware family became seriously ill at a resort in the U.S. Virgin Islands. U.S. authorities determined that methyl bromide, a highly toxic pesticide banned for indoor residential use in 1984, was to blame and had been used at that resort several times.

Associated Press reporter Michael Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey, contributed.

University of Tennessee to resume requiring test scores
May 9, 2022
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Students applying to attend the University of Tennessee next fall will be required to submit standardized test scores, the school said.
The university stopped requiring test scores during the height of the coronavirus pandemic when testing centers closed down to mitigate the spread of the virus but has decided to return to its pre-pandemic policy of requiring students to submit scores from the SAT, ACT or both, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.
The announcement follows months of discussion about how to handle standardized test scores moving past the pandemic. Campus admissions leaders had explored the idea of keeping the test optional.
University President Randy Boyd said in a statement that he was thankful for the “very thorough engagement” on the issue but said officials decided not to make changes.
“Based on our review and the thoughtful conversations at our recent board meetings, the campuses do not intend to bring forward any proposed revisions to the university’s admissions policies,” he said.

Tennessee holding primary elections in county races
May 3, 2022
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — It’s voting time again in Tennessee, as candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties compete in county primary elections Tuesday.
Voters will make selections in primaries for county races such as mayor, district attorney, school board and judicial openings.
Voting locations open Tuesday morning in 74 counties. Some people already registered votes during an early voting period that ran from April 13 through April 28.
Primary winners in each race will be candidates in the county general election on Aug. 4. That is also the date of primary elections in state and federal races. The general election for state and federal races is Nov. 8.
In Davidson County, current district attorney Glenn Funk is facing Sara Beth Myers and P. Danielle Nellis in the Democratic primary.
A key Hamilton County primary features Republicans Matt Hullander, Sabrena D. Smedly and Weston Wamp in the race to succeed Mayor Jim Coppinger.
Former Republican state Rep. Glen Casada is running for Williamson County clerk. Casada resigned as House speaker in 2019 amid scandals after serving only months in the position.
In Shelby County, Democratic Mayor Lee Harris is opposed by Kenneth Moody.
Election information can be found on websites for the secretary of state and county election commissions.

Tennessee governor signs new K-12 funding formula into law
May 3, 2022
FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed into law Monday an overhaul he proposed for the formula for funding the state’s multibillion-dollar K-12 education system.
The Republican signed the law at Franklin High School, where he attended school. Lawmakers in the Republican-supermajority General Assembly passed the bill last week. There were some crossover votes, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it.
“What’s unique about this piece of legislation and this funding formula is that it considers students above all,” Lee said.
Under the new school funding plan, Tennessee would join nearly 40 other states that attach a set amount of money per student. This has alarmed critics who argue the plan could potentially punish school districts because they might receive less funds over time. However, supporters counter the current decades-old funding mechanism — made up of about 45 components — is overly complicated and makes it difficult to track how the money is spent.
The bill states that schools will receive a base dollar amount of $6,860 per student with options to increase that amount depending on the student’s location and needs under a matrix known as “unique learning needs.” For example, schools with students with dyslexia or a disability would receive more funding — as well as those students in small districts or where poverty is concentrated, calculated using an algorithm outlined in the legislation.
Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn has said schools could receive as much as $15,600 per student depending on how many “unique learning needs” a student meets.
So far, Lee is expected to sign off on giving $750 million more annually to fund the new education formula starting in the 2023-2024 school year. The money would first be available for other one-time education uses in the upcoming budget year. Another $100 million has been allocated to give schools incentives to reward high reading schools and students who have strong college and career readiness. An additional $125 million will be added to boost teacher salaries, moving the minimum salary from around $35,000 to $46,000 by 2026.

School library bill advances, sponsor suggests book burning
April 28, 2022
By KIMBERLEE KRUESI Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Republicans advanced legislation Wednesday that would place more scrutiny over what books are placed in public schools libraries, moments after the bill’s House sponsor said any inappropriate book should be burned.
The measure is just one of several proposals introduced in Tennessee this year designed to impose more scrutiny and transparency in public school libraries amid a national spike in book challenges and bans. School librarians have become the target of scorn from Republican lawmakers pushing for more oversight on materials provided to children — particularly those that touch on racism and LGBTQ issues.
Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton, from Bean Station, introduced a last-minute amendment this week to a school bill that would give the state’s textbook commission — which is made up of politically appointed members — veto power over what books end up on school library shelves. Schools would have to provide the commission a list of their library materials.
Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons, from Nashville, asked Sexton what he would do with books deemed to be inappropriate.
“You going to put them in the street? Light them on fire? Where are they going?” Clemmons asked.
“I don’t have a clue, but I would burn them,” Sexton said on the House floor.
Later, he amended what he had said on the floor to note that he wasn’t a member of the textbook commission and didn’t think any book-burning was likely to occur.
Earlier this year, Sexton had lashed out at librarians during a legislative hearing that included testimony from some who alleged without proof that educators were attempting to “groom” children with sexually explicit materials found in libraries.
“I don’t appreciate what’s going in our libraries, what’s being put in front of our children and shame on you for putting it there,” Sexton said at the time.
Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson, from Knoxville, said the legislation aimed at libraries was taking “Tennessee in a dangerous direction.”
Librarians have countered throughout this debate that schools already have policies in place for parents and educators to review school library books. They stress the need for better resources and possibly adding a state library coordinator to promote literacy and education across the state — which the General Assembly has advanced this year.
The Republican-supermajority House approved the bill on a 66-26 vote, but time is running short in the 2022 legislative session. The GOP-controlled Senate has advanced a separate version that would simply instruct the textbook commission to provide library guidance to schools.
Book banning put Tennessee in the national spotlight recently after a rural school board in McMinn County voted unanimously to remove “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from the district’s curriculum. Meanwhile, in Williamson County, an affluent region just south of Nashville, school board members agreed to remove “Walk Two Moons” — a book that depicts an American Indian girl’s search for her mother — after parents complained about it.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee has also fueled this debate, targeting school libraries in a speech earlier this year and introducing his own legislation that he said would ensure students consume “age appropriate” content. The bill, which Lee has since signed into law, requires school libraries to post their contents online and regularly review their policies to make sure the materials are “age-appropriate” and “suitable” for the children accessing them.

Tennessee nears overhaul of K-12 education funding formula
April 28, 2022
By KIMBERLEE KRUESI Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s Republican-dominated General Assembly neared the finish line Wednesday of an overhaul of the state formula for funding its multibillion-dollar K-12 education system, angering Democratic lawmakers who were abruptly blocked from floor discussion of one of this year’s most sweeping pieces of legislation.
The state House and Senate each passed versions of the plan Wednesday, and would need to sort out differences as they near an anticipated end of their monthslong session.
Rewriting Tennessee’s school funding system has been a priority for Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who urged lawmakers to sign off on his plan this session. Republicans jumped to the task, but some education advocates and Democratic lawmakers unsuccessfully pleaded for more time to flesh out the details involving the state’s most expensive budget item.
GOP House leaders infuriated Democrats on Wednesday by blocking floor debate on the school funding mechanism being proposed. At the time, Democratic lawmakers were attempting to pass a long list of possible amendments, some of them submitted by lawmakers’ constituents.
Earlier in the week, Republican House members used similar procedural maneuvers to cut off debate on several controversial LGBTQ-related bills.
While such maneuvers are allowed, lawmakers generally shy from doing so in order to provide transparency to the public wanting to know what their General Assembly is approving or spiking.
Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Democrat from Nashville, quickly called his Republican peers “cowards” in a tweet and said they were “too scared” to defend their bills.
The school formula measure passed 65-27 in the House with Republican Rep. Mark White, the bill’s sponsor, later quipping he had prepared remarks to defend the overhaul but didn’t have an opportunity to give them.
The Senate went through a lengthier debate before voting to pass the bill 26-5.
Under the new school funding plan, Tennessee would join nearly 40 other states that attach a set amount money per student. This has alarmed critics who argue the plan could potentially punish school districts because they might receive less funds over time. However, supporters counter the current decades-old funding mechanism — made up of about 45 components — is overly complicated and makes it difficult to track how the money is spent.
The bill states that schools will receive a base dollar amount of $6,860 per student with options to increase that amount depending on the student’s location and needs under a matrix known as “unique learning needs.” For example, schools with students with dyslexia or a disability would receive more funding — as well as those students in small districts or where poverty is concentrated, calculated using an algorithm outlined in the legislation.
Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn has said schools could receive as much as $15,600 per student depending on how many “unique learning needs” a student meets.
So far, Lee is expected to sign off on giving $750 million more annually to fund the new education formula starting in 2023-2024. The money would first be available for other one-time education uses in the upcoming budget year. Another $100 million has been allocated to give schools incentives to reward high reading schools and students who have strong college and career readiness. An additional $125 million will be added to boost teacher salaries, moving the minimum salary from around $35,000 to $46,000 by 2026.
Other bills still pending include a proposal to regulate delta-8 THC, which is a psychoactive chemical cousin of marijuana’s main intoxicating ingredient. The Senate and House are currently at odds over the bill’s details with some encouraging an outright ban as concerns have been raised about its explosive popularity in a state where recreational marijuana is not legal. Others say regulating the product will better help reduce the risk of children being exposed to it.

Austin Peay University says ransomware attack contained
April 28, 2022
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A ransomware attack hit campus computers at Austin Peay University, but school officials said it was contained.
The school announced the attack in a campus alert and on social media Wednesday afternoon, calling on students and staff to shut off computers immediately. About an hour later the university said it was contained, according to media reports.
The university’s technology staff is investigating the incident, and the attack won’t alter any schedules, the university said. Wednesday was the last day of classes, and exams begin Friday.
Ransomware attackers typically seize control of a network using encryption to block access and demand a ransom in exchange for encryption codes.

Smokies announces synchronous firefly viewing dates, lottery
April 27, 2022
GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — The annual lottery to view the synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park opens on Friday.
Every year in late May to early June, thousands of visitors gather near the Elkmont Campground to observe the Photinus carolinus, a firefly species that flashes synchronously. Since 2006, access to the area has been limited during the eight days of predicted peak activity in order to reduce congestion and minimize the disturbance to the fireflies during their peak mating period.
This year, park scientists predict that period will be June 3-June 10, according to a park news release. Those wishing for a vehicle pass can enter the lottery by visiting and searching for “Great Smoky Mountains Firefly Viewing Lottery.” A total of 800 vehicle passes, 100 passes per night, will be issued.
All lottery applicants will be charged a $1 application fee. Successful applicants will automatically be awarded parking passes and charged a $24 reservation fee.

Man sentenced to death for killing deputy adds life sentence
April 27, 2022
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A man sentenced to death for fatally shooting a Tennessee sheriff’s deputy in 2018 before setting fire to his patrol car with his body inside is now facing an additional federal sentence of life in prison.
The sentence was handed down Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Nashville for Steven Wiggins. Last August, a jury sentenced Wiggins to death in state court in the May 2018 killing of Dickson County Sheriff’s Sgt. Daniel Baker.
The federal government had been seeking the death penalty as well. U.S. Attorney Mark Wildasin’s office says Wiggins pleaded guilty last month under a plea deal including a life sentence to the federal charges.
The federal sentence doesn’t change the state death sentence.
The grisly slaying set off a two-day manhunt.

Wild finish for teams still trying to get into NHL playoffs
April 26, 2022
FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Things got wild in a matter of seconds for Western Conference teams still trying to get into the NHL playoffs — for those on the ice and those watching at home.
“Interesting. It’s why you play the full 65 minutes,” Dallas Stars coach Rick Bowness said Monday, a day after playoff-contending teams Vegas and Nashville both gave up last-second goals to lose home games after regulation.
Dallas, which didn’t play Sunday, can now clinch one of the two wild-card spots with a win in regulation at home Tuesday night against the Golden Knights, something Bowness said he realized “right away” after those two strange finishes Sunday night.
“It’s obviously what you want as a player and a team is to not rely on somebody else to do your job,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said.
Vegas, which as an expansion team in 2017-18 went to the Stanley Cup Final, is now in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in its brief history. The Golden Knights will be without starting goaltender Robin Lehner after the team said Monday he will have season-ending shoulder surgery.
Vegas blew a 4-2 lead in the final 2:06 Sunday night against San Jose, which forced overtime on Timo Meier’s goal with 0.9 seconds left in regulation. The Sharks won 5-4 in a shootout.
That was after Nashville lost 5-4 at home to Minnesota when Dmitry Kulikov scored with 1.3 seconds remaining in overtime.
“A tough one obviously,” Predators defenseman Dante Fabbro said. “But you have to look at some bright sides. We got one point out of it, kind of just got to wipe the slate clean here and focus on Calgary. … It was definitely a playoff game out there.”
The Stanley Cup playoffs start next Monday. All eight playoff teams for the Eastern Conference are set and things are getting closer in the West.
If Dallas beats Vegas, Nashville could wrap up the other wild-card spot with a win at home against Calgary.
Going into Tuesday night when each team plays the first of three games over four nights to wrap up the regular season, Nashville sits at 94 points, Dallas 93, Vegas 90 and Vancouver 87. The Stars-Golden Knights game on Tuesday is the only head-to-head matchup remaining among that quartet.
The Canucks still have a slim chance to make the playoffs. They would have to win their remaining three games, and Dallas would have to lose its last three in regulation. Vegas, which would have to beat Dallas in that scenario, would then have to lose its final two games at Chicago and St. Louis in regulation.
Dallas is coming off a 3-2 win at home Saturday night over Seattle, a welcome result for the Stars after an 0-3 road trip that included a 6-2 loss at Vancouver and ended with a long, miserable trip home because of extended travel issues.
The Stars practiced for only about 15 minutes Monday, and didn’t plan to have a morning skate before the potential clinching game against the Golden Knights, who are 2-0 against Dallas this season. Bowness, who wants his players to be able to rest as much as possible, likened it to trying to close out a playoff series.
“The toughest win in any playoff series is getting that fourth win. And that’s what we’re facing tomorrow,” Bowness said. “These guys know if they lose to us in regulation, they’re out, and it’s the same as in a playoff series. … The way they lost (Sunday) night, you know, they’re going to be coming at us very, very hard.”

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Tenn. center that hosted 1996 Olympics events burns down
April 26, 2022
COPPERHILL, Tenn. (AP) — A fire early Tuesday destroyed Tennessee’s Ocoee Whitewater Center, which served as the host site for paddling events during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, officials said.
Polk County Emergency Management Agency Director Steve Lofty told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the blaze had engulfed about 90% of the structure by the time a full fire response got to the scene on the Ocoee River.
“It’s a huge loss to the community here,” Lofty said.
Firefighters were already in the area working on extinguishing a separate tractor-trailer fire when the another driver reported seeing flames at the Whitewater Center, he said.
“Initial crews that were down there responded to the Whitewater Center and then we requested mutual aid from about 12 other departments,” Lofty said.
“Over half the structure was on fire before we ever got there,” he said. “We just didn’t have enough water and enough resources to control it. It was so far along before we knew it was burning, there wasn’t really any hope.”
Located in the remote hills of the Cherokee National Forest, the Ocoee Whitewater Center was built to host events such as kayaking and canoeing during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.
Polk County County Executive Robby M. Hatcher said Tuesday it’s a blow to the entire community.
“The Whitewater Center was a sought-after destination for tourism in our county, and this’ll be a big loss,” Hatcher said.

Tennessee Aquarium celebrates 30 years, touts $4.9B impact
April 25, 2022
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Chattanooga’s Tennessee Aquarium, the city’s biggest tourist draw, is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
When the $45 million privately-funded riverfront attraction opened as the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, backers projected that it would attract about 600,000 visitors a year to an area of town that had been in decline, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
In its first year, the aquarium more than doubled that projection, drawing 1.5 million visitors to quickly emerge as the region’s biggest tourism draw. The aquarium’s success has since spurred the addition of other riverfront attractions, restaurants, hotels and housing developments. A new economic study estimates the aquarium has pumped nearly $4.9 billion into Chattanooga’s economy since 1992.
Barry White, president of the Chattanooga Tourism Co., said the aquarium has helped propel Hamilton’s tourism industry and improve life for local residents.
“The level of impact the aquarium has on conservation efforts, educational reach, revitalization of our downtown and ongoing economic impact is incredible,” White said in a report on the aquarium’s 30th anniversary.

2 finalists chosen in search for new college president
April 25, 2022
ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (AP) — Two finalists have been chosen to participate in interviews to become the next president of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Elizabethton.
A search committee chose the finalists, who are David J. Hicks, superintendent of Bremen City Schools in Bremen, Georgia, and adjunct professor at Piedmont University in Demorest, Georgia; and Daniel Ray O’Quinn, vice president of TCAT Elizabethton.
The finalists’ resumes and information about the search are available online.
The interviews are open to the public and will be held May 3 at the college’s main campus. The interviews will also be recorded and posted online.
The new president will succeed President Dean Blevins, who is retiring in June.

Tennessee governor calls off execution, citing oversight in plan
April 22, 2022
By JONATHAN MATTISE Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s governor on Thursday called off what would have been the state’s first execution since the pandemic began, granting a temporary reprieve to the oldest inmate on death row for what was called an “oversight” in preparations for the lethal injection.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee didn’t elaborate on what exactly forced the surprise 11th-hour stop to the planned execution of 72-year-old Oscar Smith. But Amy Harwell, an attorney with the federal public defender’s office representing Smith, said her office received a notice that the issue dealt with “mishandling” of the drugs — though no further specifics were provided to her office.
The inmate had been scheduled to receive a three-drug injection only a short while later at a Nashville maximum security prison.
“Due to an oversight in preparation for lethal injection, the scheduled execution of Oscar Smith will not move forward tonight. I am granting a temporary reprieve while we address Tennessee Department of Correction protocol,” Lee said in a statement promising further details once available.
Kelley Henry, another attorney with the federal public defender’s office, called for an independent entity to investigate, saying no execution should happen until questions are answered.
Henry said the governor did the “right thing” by stopping the execution which would “certainly have been torturous to Mr. Smith.”
Smith was convicted of the 1989 killings of his estranged wife and her two teenage sons. Shortly before the governor intervened, the U.S. Supreme Court had denied a last-hour bid by Smith’s attorneys for a stay.
His reprieve is in effect until the beginning of June.
Dorinda Carter, a Department of Correction spokesperson, said the state Supreme Court would need to reschedule the execution. She said Smith would be removed from death watch and returned to his death row cell.
State officials declined to provide further information.
Just before learning of his reprieve, Smith had received communion from his spiritual adviser, who was going to be allowed in the execution chamber.
Hours earlier, Smith had been served what was supposed to be his last meal, including a double bacon cheeseburger and apple pie.
Tennessee had planned for five executions this year, including Smith’s. It has been seeking to resume its quick, pre-pandemic pace of putting inmates to death. Heading into Thursday, the five pending death warrants tied Tennessee with Texas for the most nationally this year, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
Texas, however, executed its oldest death row inmate on Thursday evening. Carl Wayne Buntion, 78, was put to death for the June 1990 fatal shooting of a Houston police officer, James Irby, during a traffic stop.
Smith had initially been scheduled for a June 2020 execution, one of several dates delayed because of the pandemic.
Smith was convicted of fatally stabbing and shooting Judith Smith and her sons Jason and Chad Burnett, 13 and 16, at their Nashville home on Oct. 1, 1989.
Smith has maintained he is innocent. In a clemency filing, rejected Tuesday by Lee, Smith’s legal team claimed problems with the jury in his 1990 trial. His attorneys were earlier denied requests to reopen his case after a new type of DNA analysis found the DNA of an unknown person on one of the murder weapons.
Tennessee has not conducted any executions since February 2020, when Nicholas Sutton died in the electric chair for the killing of a fellow inmate in an east Tennessee prison. Of the seven inmates Tennessee has put to death since 2018 — when Tennessee ended an execution pause stretching back to 2009 — only two died by lethal injection.
Smith had earlier declined to choose between the chair and lethal injection, so lethal injection became the default method.
Tennessee uses a three-drug series to put inmates to death: midazolam, a sedative to render the inmate unconscious; vecuronium bromide, to paralyze the inmate; and potassium chloride, to stop the heart.
Officials have said midazolam renders an inmate unconscious and unable to feel pain. Expert witnesses for inmates, however, say the drugs would cause sensations of drowning, suffocation and chemical burning while leaving inmates unable to move or call out. The assessment has led to more inmates selecting the electric chair over lethal injection.
Tennessee’s moves to continue with lethal injections come amid shortages of execution drugs in other states. For one, South Carolina has cited its struggles to obtain lethal injection drugs in recent years — a problem in many states because pharmacies and manufacturers have refused to supply their medications for executions — as it forges ahead with plans for a rare U.S. firing squad execution. That execution has been delayed as well.
Lawmakers in South Carolina have failed to pass the kind of law to keep its execution drug suppliers confidential that Tennessee has in place.
In Oklahoma last October, an inmate executed using the same three-drug lethal injection convulsed and vomited after receiving midazolam. Oklahoma has carried out three lethal injections since, without similar reactions reported.

Tennessee man admits using federal COVID-19 aid for himself
April 22, 2022
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee man has pleaded guilty to receiving more than $600,000 in COVID-19 aid and using it for himself, a federal prosecutor’s office said.
George Thacker, 59, of Spring City, pleaded guilty to wire fraud on Thursday, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Thacker applied for and received over $600,000 in paycheck protection program and economic injury disaster loan proceeds, the prosecutor’s office said in a news release.
Thacker certified that he would use the funds to pay employees and for other operating expenses but instead used the money for himself, buying cryptocurrency and funding personal investment accounts, the release said.
He is to be sentenced Sept. 22 and faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Police arrest man accused in stabbing deaths of parents
April 21, 2022
COLUMBIA, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee man has been charged in the stabbing deaths of his parents, police said.
Demondra Gaines, 27, was arrested Tuesday night on charges of murder, aggravated assault resulting in death and theft of a vehicle, news outlets reported, citing a statement from the Columbia Police Department.
The bodies of Christopher and Katrina Gaines were found Monday in their Columbia home with multiple stab wounds and evidence at the scene pointed to the suspect, police Capt. Jeremy Haywood said during a news conference.
“It appears to be domestic-related, however, we are open to any aspects,” Haywood said.
Gaines was caught at a motel in Memphis with a car that was reported stolen, police said.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether he has an attorney.

Tennessee plans 1st COVID-19-era execution, more scheduled
April 21, 2022
By JONATHAN MATTISE Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee is set to execute its first inmate Thursday since the start of the pandemic, planning a lethal injection procedure that has become less common in the state than the electric chair in recent years.
Oscar Smith, 72, is scheduled to die for the 1989 killings of his estranged wife and her teenage sons. The execution, using the state’s preferred method, would come as some other states struggle to secure lethal injection drugs because pharmacies and manufacturers have refused to supply their medications for executions.
In Tennessee, secrecy laws prevent the public from determining just how the drugs for Smith’s execution were obtained.
Smith has argued he should be executed by firing squad — a method South Carolina has been preparing to use in a now-delayed execution, as that state struggles to find execution drugs. Smith reasoned that it is less painful than Tennessee’s two options, but his lawsuit was denied.
His execution would be the first of five planned by Tennessee for 2022, resuming its quick, pre-pandemic pace of putting inmates to death. The five pending death warrants tie Tennessee with Texas for the most nationally this year, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
Smith had initially been scheduled for a June 2020 execution, one of several dates delayed because of the pandemic.
Smith was convicted of fatally stabbing and shooting Judith Smith and her sons Jason and Chad Burnett, 13 and 16, at their Nashville home on Oct. 1, 1989.
Smith has maintained he is innocent. In a clemency filing, rejected Tuesday by Republican Gov. Bill Lee, Smith’s legal team claimed problems with the jury in his 1990 trial.
“There is one thing I know for a fact,” Smith told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday. “I know where I’m going from here. With my faith and belief, I’ll be with my savior and my family that’s deceased.”
His attorneys were denied requests to reopen his case after a new type of DNA analysis found the DNA of an unknown person on one of the murder weapons.
The state has not conducted any executions since February 2020, when Nicholas Sutton died in the electric chair for the killing of a fellow inmate in an east Tennessee prison. Of the seven inmates Tennessee has put to death since 2018 — when Tennessee ended an execution pause stretching back to 2009 — only two died by lethal injection.
Smith declined to choose between the chair and lethal injection, so lethal injection became the default method.
Tennessee uses a three-drug series to put inmates to death: midazolam, a sedative to render the inmate unconscious; vecuronium bromide, to paralyze the inmate; and potassium chloride, to stop the heart.
Officials have said midazolam renders an inmate unconscious and unable to feel pain. Expert witnesses for inmates, however, say the drugs would cause sensations of drowning, suffocation and chemical burning while leaving inmates unable to move or call out. The assessment has led to more inmates selecting the electric chair over lethal injection.
In Oklahoma last October, an inmate put to death using the same three-drug lethal injection convulsed and vomited after receiving midazolam. Oklahoma has carried out three lethal injections since, without similar reactions reported.

Man gets house arrest for pointing laser at Memphis planes
April 20, 2022
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Mississippi man has been sentenced to house arrest and probation for pointing a green laser at FedEx airplanes flying into Memphis International Airport in Tennessee, federal prosecutors said.
Eugene Conrad of Michigan City, Mississippi, was sentenced April 7 to nine months of home confinement and three years of probation in Memphis federal court, the U.S. attorney’s office said Tuesday.
Conrad, 52, had faced up to five years in prison after pleading guilty in December to aiming a laser pointer at aircraft.
The Federal Aviation Administration told the FBI in July that airplanes flying into the busy Memphis airport from the east were being hit in the cockpit and cabin by a green laser coming from Hardeman County in Tennessee and Benton County in Mississippi.
Officials reported 49 strikes, mainly on FedEx airplanes, from January to July, prosecutors said.
Agents identified the origin of the lasers and found Conrad in front of a Benton County home. They found a green laser pointer in an outdoor trash can.

Boyd Foundation to offer dog park grants across Tennessee
April 20, 2022
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Twenty communities across Tennessee will be awarded $25,000 to help build or enhance existing dog parks, said Randy and Jenny Boyd, with the Boyd Foundation.
According to a news release, the Boyd Foundation is accepting applications for dog park grants until May 31. Winners will be announced in late July.
“Jenny and I are amazed at how our Tennessee communities have rallied together to improve their communities for our residents and their pets,” Randy Boyd, president of the University of Tennessee, said in a statement.
Since 2018, the Boyd Foundation dog park initiative has helped build 100 parks across the state in more than 80 communities.
“Dog parks not only improve the health and quality of life for our pets, but for their owners too,” said Harrison Forbes, grant administrator for the dog park initiative.
Interested applicants are encouraged to fill out an application online.

School district to pay $145K to settle masking lawsuit
April 19, 2022
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee school district has agreed to pay $145,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by parents who objected to the district’s decision to drop mask requirements this year during the coronavirus pandemic.
The agreement was reached Monday after hours of mediation, news outlets reported. The money from the Knox County Board of Education will go to pay attorney fees for the parents who filed the lawsuit on behalf of students with disabilities for protection against COVID-19. Neither party admitted wrongdoing.
The Knox County board adopted a mask mandate during the 2020-21 school year but chose not to this year despite COVID-19 numbers that remained high when classes began.
Senior U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer ordered the school system to adopt a mask mandate in September to help protect children with health problems more susceptible to the coronavirus pandemic. He temporarily lifted the requirement last month after the Knox County Board of Education and families involved in the lawsuit requested it amid decreasing virus cases.
The dismissal means Greer’s order has expired and there will no longer be any mask rules in the school district.

IRS offers extra time for Sumner and other counties’ taxpayers affected by disasters
April 18, 2022
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Income tax returns are due this week, but Tennessee residents and businesses in 14 counties hit by disasters in the past year will get some extra time.
The Internal Revenue Service is giving them until May 16 to file returns and make payments.
Tennessee was hit by severe weather, including strong winds and storms in some areas of the state, in December.
People in affected areas may also be able to waive fees and costs related to reviewing previous returns, WPLN reports.
People outside the designated disaster areas can call the IRS disaster hotline at (866) 562-5227 to request an extension.
Eligible counties are Cheatham, Davidson, Decatur, Dickson, Dyer, Gibson, Henderson, Henry, Lake, Obion, Stewart, Sumner, Weakley and Wilson.

Construction worker dies in trench collapse in Tennessee
April 18, 2022
SPRING CITY, Tenn. (AP) — A construction worker died after he was trapped in a trench that collapsed while he was working on a home in Tennessee, authorities said.
The man, who was not identified, was working in the garage of a home under construction when a trench dug as part of the project collapsed Saturday afternoon in Rhea County, said Det. Rocky Potter, a spokesman for the county sheriff’s department.
Rescue crews from Chattanooga, Knox County and other jurisdictions were called in to help with a rescue attempt. Crews dug with hand tools such as shovels because there was no room in the garage for mechanized equipment, Potter said.
The man was found dead at about 1 a.m. on Sunday, Potter said. Seventy to 100 rescue workers and members of law enforcement and fire departments worked on the scene of the rescue attempt, Potter said.
The home is located near Spring City, which is about 55 miles (88 kilometers) north of Chattanooga.

Tennessee moves bill limiting shackles on pregnant inmates
April 15, 2022
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers are advancing a bill strictly limiting the shackling of pregnant inmates.
The Republican-led state Senate passed the legislation by Democratic Sen. Raumesh Akbari without opposition Thursday.
The bill would generally prohibit restraints of a pregnant inmate. More specifically, a pregnant inmate’s ankles, legs or waist couldn’t be shackled during labor or delivery. It also would not allow a pregnant inmate to be shackled behind the back or to be attached to another inmate.
Some exceptions allowing restraints on a pregnant inmate would be when the inmate is moved within or outside of a facility, if the inmate is an immediate flight risk, if the inmate poses a self-threat or threat to the fetus or others, or if the classification level of the inmate requires restraints.
In those cases, the bill says only the least restrictive restraints necessary should be used.
The legislation still needs a vote from the House.

Tennessee tree planting grants applications available
April 15, 2022
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s Community Tree Planting Program is accepting applications for its cost-share program that pays half the cost of trees and associated expenses for public tree planting projects.
The grants can be used for planting on public property, rights-of-way and private nonprofit land with public access, according to a news release from the Tennessee Agriculture Department. Funds can be used for purchasing and shipping trees, contracted planting, mulch, irrigation, and tree labels and signage. Grant recipients are required to use Tennessee-grown trees.
Grants can also be used for planting in riparian areas on private property, although those grants are not available to individual landowners.
Proposals can be submitted by emailing The deadline for applications is 3:30 p.m. CDT on June 3. More information is available at

Officer shoots man who pointed gun during pursuit
April 14, 2022
BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Police fatally shot a man who pointed a gun at an officer during a pursuit Thursday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said.
The man was seen driving erratically near a high school and a deputy with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office attempted to make a traffic stop, the bureau said in a statement. The driver reportedly fired shots out the window and fled, firing more shots as he encountered more officers, the statement said. At one point, he drove into the yard of a residence, exited the vehicle and ran behind a home.
An officer with the Bristol Police Department attempted to make contact, but the man reportedly pointed a gun at the officer and the officer fired, killing the man, the statement said. He was pronounced dead at the scene. No officers were injured.
Agents with the bureau are working to independently determine the events that led to the shooting. No further details were immediately released.

Homeless camps on public land risk felony in Tennessee bill
April 14, 2022
By JONATHAN MATTISE Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers are close to sending Republican Gov. Bill Lee a proposal that would threaten felony penalties against homeless people who camp on local public property — including in parks — and misdemeanors for camping around highways.
The Tennessee Senate voted 20-10 Wednesday to advance the bill, with four Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. The House already passed a version of the legislation last year. Both Republican-dominated chambers need to hash out differences in what they approved.
Opponents have said the legislation does nothing to help reduce homelessness, while potentially making it harder for homeless people to rise out of extreme poverty if they have a felony on their records.
“When we allow our legislators to turn those who are society’s most beaten down into criminals, we reject the very thing that gives us the right to call ourselves civilized: our capacity for compassion, for justice rooted in love for others rather than hate,” Father Charles Strobel, founding director of homeless aid organization Room In The Inn, wrote in a newspaper guest column this week.
The Senate bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Paul Bailey, said it would be left up to the local authorities whether to enforce the law. He argued that the bill does not criminalize homelessness.
The bill adds local public property to the existing felony penalties that are possible for camping on state property, as long as the place is not designated for people to camp there. The felony is punishable by up to six years in prison. Felony convictions in Tennessee result in the revocation of an individual’s right to vote.
The penalties for camping on state property were increased from a misdemeanor to a Class E felony in 2020, when Republican lawmakers were responding to overnight protests on Capitol grounds calling for racial justice reform.
State law broadly defines illegal camping as certain activities during overnight hours. They include putting up a tent or furniture, storing personal belongings or food, cooking, sleeping or setting down something to sleep on, and starting a fire.
Arrests on local public property would have to be preceded by a warning at least 24 hours earlier. Items used to camp could be confiscated by authorities for 90 days, or longer if they are needed for evidence in a criminal case.
The bill also introduces a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a $50 fine — which could be waived — and community service, for camping along highways, including under bridges or overpasses, or within an underpass. Violations in those locations would not be limited to overnight hours under the bill. Authorities would need to first offer a warning for people in violation.
The bill passed by the House goes further. It would add soliciting on or near a highway to the new misdemeanor violation.
Bailey, the Senate bill sponsor, said “lots of churches” testified against the bill, but said he thought they would have “open arms” to welcome them in if a rescue mission couldn’t take them.
“I don’t have the answer for homelessness,” Bailey said. “Those that oppose this legislation, they don’t have all the answers for homelessness. Those that support this legislation, they don’t have all of the answers for homelessness.”
Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell, who said her Nashville district has a homeless camp that has been highly scrutinized, likened the approach to “putting a Band-Aid on cancer.”
“I think we need to actually address the fundamental, root problem with these camps,” Campbell said.

Nashville to make Juneteenth a paid holiday
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville Mayor John Cooper says he plans on signing an executive order to make Juneteenth, which celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S., an official paid holiday for city employees.
According to a news release, Cooper will sign the directive on Thursday.
Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers told enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, that they were free. It was two months after the Confederacy surrendered and more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
A proposal to make Juneteenth an official statewide paid holiday stalled in the GOP-controlled General Assembly earlier this year. The bill has failed to gain traction even though Gov. Bill Lee set aside funds for the measure in his proposed spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.
The federal government made it an official holiday last year.

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