Friday, February 21, 2020

From Pig Tails to Cheesecake: A Look at TN Death Row Inmates’ Last Meals

Posted By on Fri, Feb 21, 2020 at 12:27 PM

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Fried pork chops, mashed potatoes with gravy, and peach pie with vanilla ice cream was the last meal of Tennessee death row inmate Nicholas Sutton.


Nicholas Sutton, who died by means of electrocution Thursday, February 20th, was the state’s first inmate to be put to death this year.


Sutton was sentenced to death in 1986 after killing a fellow inmate. He was in prison at the time he committed the murder, serving a life sentence for three murders he had been convicted of in 1979.


According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, death row inmates are allowed to request a last meal “within reason” costing up to $20.


Here is what the 10 inmates executed prior to Sutton selected for their final meal:


Lee Hall, convicted for killing his ex-girlfriend in 1991, was executed in December. He selected a Philly cheesesteak, two orders of onion rings, a slice of cheesecake, and a Pepsi for his final meal.


Stephen West, convicted of a double murder in the 1980s and put to death in August, ate a Philly cheesesteak and french fries.


Donnie Johnson, a Shelby County resident, was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of his wife. Prior to his execution in May, Johnson opted to forgo picking his last meal and instead asked that his supporters donate meals to the homeless.


David Miller, sentenced to death for a 1983 murder, was executed in December 2018. For his last meal, he chose fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and coffee.


Edmund Zagorski, sentenced to death for a 1983 double murder, received the death penalty in November 2018. He ate pickled pig knuckles and pig tails for his final meal.


Billy Ray Irick, was convicted for the 1985 murder of a 7-year-old girl and was the first inmate in Tennessee to be executed after nearly a decade break. Before his death in August 2018, Irick selected a burger, onion rings, and a Pepsi for his final meal.


Cecil Johnson, convicted for a 1980 triple murder and put to death in December 2009, refused a final meal.


Steve Henley, convicted of killing a couple in 1985, was sentenced to death in February 2009. He requested shrimp, oysters, fried fish, onion rings, and hush puppies.


Daryl Holton, convicted for the death of three children in 1997 and put to death in September 2007, declined a last meal.


Philip Workman, a Shelby County resident convicted for the murder of a police officer in 1982, was executed in May 2007. He didn’t select a last meal, but instead asked that a large vegetarian pizza be given to a homeless person.


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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Lawmakers Want to Allow Tennessee College Students to Carry Guns on Campus

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 11:17 AM

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Some state lawmakers are looking to allow students at public colleges and universities in Tennessee to carry firearms on campus.


The bill (SB 2288/ HB 2102) would amend Tennessee’s current law, passed in 2017, which allows full-time employees with permits to carry a concealed firearm on campus, to include students.


The bill is sponsored in the House by Rep. Rush Bricken and in the Senate by Sen. Janice Bowling, both Republicans from Tullahoma. Neither lawmaker responded to the Flyer’s requests for comment.


The current law allows authorized full-time employees to carry on campus, but they are prohibited from carrying a firearm in plain sight, to university sponsored events, disciplinary or tenure meetings, or the university medical clinic.


Tennessee is one of 10 states that currently allows the carrying of concealed weapons on campuses in some form or another.


The other states include Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.

In some of those states, students must be 21 years old to carry a gun on campus. The draft of Tennessee’s proposed bill does not include an age provision.

The debate on whether or not states should create laws that allow guns on campus has been going since 2008, when the National Rifle Association began pushing the issue.


This push was largely prompted by mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University that resulted in a total of 37 deaths.


Research from universities and higher education boards across the country suggests that allowing students to carry guns on campus could have more adverse than positive effects.

For example, the Houston Community College Board of Trustees passed a resolution in 2011, urging lawmakers to vote against the bill allowing concealed firearms on campus. The resolution cited the possible increase in liability insurance cost, which they estimated could be between $780,000 to $900,000 per year.

Richard Locker, director of communications for the chancellor’s office of The College System of Tennessee, said its governing board, the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), has not yet discussed what the implications of the law could be, but said “the safety of our students is always our top priority.”


There are 40 colleges in the TBR system, including the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Memphis campus and Southwest Community College in Memphis.


Sen. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis), who is sponsoring a handful of gun control bills this legislative session, opposes the bill and any effort that would put more guns on college campuses.


“My goal is to eliminate gun violence,” Kyle said, “Evidence shows that adding guns to a college campus will only increase the number of accidental shootings, gun suicides, and gun homicides.”


Kat McRitchie, volunteer lead for the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action agrees, saying that allowing students to carry guns on campus is a “bad, dangerous idea.”


“Anyone who has been on a college campus or is familiar with college life, knows that life is full of risk factors,” McRitchie said. “We see increased alcohol and drug use and high rates of mental health issues. College students are still growing and developing.This makes the presence of guns a dangerous addition.”


Like Kyle, Moms Demand Action fears the law could lead to an increase in unintentional shootings and suicide by firearms on campuses.


According to research compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety, the firearm suicide rate among youth has increased by 82 percent over the past decade. Access to firearms increases the risk of suicide by three times.


In other states, those who support laws allowing students to carry, have argued that the presence of legal firearms on campus could prevent mass shootings or other devastating acts of mass violence.


But, McRitchie believes that “the daily risk of unintentional shootings and suicide are greater, real risks than the risk of mass shootings.”


McRitchie adds that most campuses have trained law enforcement officers with firearms present on campus who are equipped to handle mass acts of violence.


A study published in the Journal of American College Health showed that 89 percent of university police chiefs agreed that the most effective way to deal with gun violence on campus is to prevent gun use or carry on campus. Based on this survey of 417 police chiefs, the study also concluded that the majority of universities had a plan in place to handle an active shooter incident on campus.


“Fear is driving this movement,” McRitchie said. “But college campuses are relatively safe. This would be introducing risks that aren’t necessary.”


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Beer Bracket Challenge 2020: Go Vote for Your Fave Memphis Beers

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 8:00 AM

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Voting is important. Voting on beer is important-er.

That's why we launched the Memphis Flyer Beer Bracket Challenge. Voting commenced this morning (Thursday) and will run until the champion is picked on Saturday, February 29th. (Leap Year, weird.)

For this year's challenge, we split our bracket into four divisions — light beer, dark beer, IPA, and seasonals. We really like the idea of the breweries all competing in (roughly) the same style.

Yes, you'll still have, say, a cream ale up against a pilsner. But this ain't the Great American Beer Fest, y'all. This is for anyone out there who loves Memphis craft beer.  

We asked six of Memphis' craft breweries to send us their picks in each category. On Match-Up Monday at the Young Avenue Deli, we seeded those beers on our bracket. We picked the matchups blindly right out of our famous trophy — the VanWyngarden Cup. So, we didn't influence the match-ups. That's fair, right?
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The rest is now up to you. Do you love Tiny Bomb? Are you ga-ga for Mexican Lager? Does Midnight Magic have you under its spell? (I'll stop.) Well, go and do your civic, craft-beer duty and vote at the bracket challenge website. (Did we give you the website yet? If not, here it is.)

You can vote once in each of the five rounds of voting — first round, Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four, and the championship round. It runs just like another lesser-known tournament that happens this time of year involving basketball. Except it's better. It's Memphis craft beer.

if you're not yet convinced to get off your barstool and go vote, let's sweeten the pot. Some lucky voters will win tickets to the one-of-a-kind Memphis Brewfest, a beer festival held on the field at Liberty Bowl Stadium.  

Best of luck to all of our breweries this year: Ghost River, Wiseacre, Crosstown, High Cotton, Memphis Made, and last year's winner, Meddlesome Brewing. 

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Memphis Pets of the Week (2/18/20-2/24/20)

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 11:14 AM

Each week, the Flyer will feature adoptable dogs and cats from Memphis Animal Services. All photos are credited to Memphis Pets Alive. More pictures and more information can be found on the Memphis Pets Alive Facebook page.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Police, Fire Residency Question to Remain on November Ballot

Posted By on Tue, Feb 18, 2020 at 3:39 PM

MEMPHIS POLICE DEPARTMENT/FACEBOOK
  • Memphis Police Department/Facebook

Voters will get to decide if police and fire personnel should be able to live within 50 miles of the city.


The Memphis City Council voted 7-5 Tuesday to not rescind a decision made by the previous council to place the referendum question on the November ballot.


Ahead of the vote, Councilman Jeff Warren, who voted in favor of keeping the question on the ballot, encouraged council members to let the voters decide.


“We’ve heard from the police and fire chief,” Warren said. “There is wisdom in what they’ve said.”


Warren said there is also validity in the concerns from community leaders who are wary about having police officers not living in Memphis police their community. But, Warren said he is ”counting on the police academy to weed people out who don’t need to be here.”


Also voting in favor of the referendum was Councilman J. Ford Canale, who addressed another concern voiced by council members throughout the month-long conversation — how much money would the city lose if the employees in question could live outside of the city?

Canale said that the estimated $7.3 million loss in property tax that would result from all 4,000 public safety employees moving out of the city is much lower than the combined $39.5 million that the police and fire departments estimate spending in overtime this year.


Council Chairwoman Patrice Robinson told officials that the departments and the council need to work together to remove other barriers that stymie recruitment, such as grooming policies. She suggested forming an ad hoc committee led by Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen to come up with recommendations for the departments to remove other barriers.

“Even after we vote on this and allow citizens to vote on it or not have it, we still have that same issue,” Robinson said. “How do we make this a more attractive position in the community?”


The issue of reforming the departments’ grooming policies was first brought up by Councilman Martavious Jones and echoed by Councilman JB Smiley Jr., who said in order to hire more officers, the police department should consider changing it’s grooming requirements related to tattoos and facial hair. He said it’s “something we need to start talking about sooner than later.”


“Our generation makes up a large bulk of the population,” Smiley said. “If we truly want to have new officers willing to serve, it’s almost apparent that we have to make ways for that group of people to feel comfortable.”


To that, Michael Rallings, Memphis Police Department director, told the council that he will “make a deal with you. I’ll allow facial hair and tattoos if you let the voters vote on residency.”


Rallings said the department is currently working on drafting a new grooming policy, but that is it a process.


Rallings also added that the department isn’t “able to pick and choose what we do. I think we need to do all of it,” naming a take-home-car program, the residency requirement, and grooming policies as just a few examples of ways the department can increase recruitment.


After the vote, Swearengen said she will move forward with forming a task force to access other ways to reduce barriers for potential hires.

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Monday, February 17, 2020

New State Bill Could Remove Local Control of Water Protection

Posted By on Mon, Feb 17, 2020 at 2:19 PM

TVA workers install water quality monitoring wells near the Allen Fossil Plant. - TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • TVA workers install water quality monitoring wells near the Allen Fossil Plant.

A new Tennessee bill could ”un-protect our aquifer,” removing Shelby County’s ability to control wells drilled into the Memphis Sand Aquifer, the source of the area’s famously pristine drinking water.

The bill was filed last week by two West Tennessee Republicans, Sen. Delores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer). The bill would prohibit cities and counties from exercising authority over a landowner’s water rights on “certain drilling requirements.”

A detailed explanation of the bill was not available on the Tennessee General Assembly website Monday. The legislature was not in session Monday, thanks to the Presidents Day holiday, and lawmakers could not be immediately reached. Also, request for comment on the bill was not immediately returned by Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus.

Scott Banbury, Conservation Programs Coordinator for the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, said he had not spoken to the bill’s sponsors as of Monday afternoon. But the bill is “about whether or not Shelby County has the authority to regulate groundwater wells within its jurisdiction.” 
Scott Banbury of Sierra Club Tennessee - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Scott Banbury of Sierra Club Tennessee


“If this were in effect when we fought the (Tennessee Valley Authority), the (Shelby County Health Department) would not have been able to take their groundwater wells away from them,” Banbury said.

The TVA had drilled five wells into the aquifer near its now moth-balled Allen Fossil plant and intended to pump about 3.5 million gallons of water from them each day to cool its new gas-fueled power plant. Those wells were close to contaminated areas of the TVA site. TVA agreed to not use the wells in December 2018. By February 2019, the health department placed explicit rules on TVA using the wells in the future.

If the new bill was made law, Banbury said landowners would have to apply to the state for a permit. Shelby county would likely administer the program but local authorities would not be able to deny permission for any well being drilled here as long as it met state code. He said the proposed law would “remove Shelby County’s ability to do the right thing” in regard to protecting its water.

Ward Archer, president of Protect Our Aquifer, said the bill would “un-protect our aquifer” and “set us way back about 50 years” before local well controls were established here.

(l) Ward Archer of Protect Our Aquifer displays some of the sand particles which,  at several deep layers (this sample from 400 feet down) filter the near-pristine drinking water enjoyed by Memphis and Shelby County; (r) Jenna Stonecypher and Linda Archer sell a T-shirt to the Sierra Club's Dennis Lynch. The shirt, bearing the non-profit group's logo, says, "Save Water/Drink Beer." - JB
  • JB
  • (l) Ward Archer of Protect Our Aquifer displays some of the sand particles which, at several deep layers (this sample from 400 feet down) filter the near-pristine drinking water enjoyed by Memphis and Shelby County; (r) Jenna Stonecypher and Linda Archer sell a T-shirt to the Sierra Club's Dennis Lynch. The shirt, bearing the non-profit group's logo, says, "Save Water/Drink Beer."

“We need (local regulation) because we are the largest city in the country getting all its water from the ground,” Archer said. “It’s not that way in Nashville. It’s not that way in Knoxville. It’s just not the way they get their water; theirs is mostly surface water.

“What we’re trying to do is not just conserve our water but to protect it from getting contaminated. So, that’s why you have to have a well program.

“We’ve got to manage that process tightly to make sure that if someone drills a well 800 feet down into the aquifer — and doesn’t do it properly — it can become a conduit for contaminants.”

The Senate bill was passed on to the Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee but is not on the calendar for this week’s meeting. The House is not on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Health Department Has Monitored 20 Returned from China for Coronavirus

Posted By on Fri, Feb 14, 2020 at 3:41 PM

SHELBY COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT
  • Shelby County Health Department
There are still no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Shelby County, but health officials said late Friday that 20 people who have recently returned to Shelby County from China have been monitored.

Nine of those monitored have completed the 14-day isolation period prescribed by the Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) and health officials across the country. None of the Shelby County travelers had visited the Hubei Province of China where the outbreak of coronavirus — now called COVID-19 — began.

Here is the SCHD's full statement on the situation:

As a part of the global public health response to the novel coronavirus outbreak known as COVID-19, the Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) has been monitoring 20 travelers recently returned to Shelby County from countries impacted by the outbreak.

None of the monitored travelers were in the Hubei Province of China where the outbreak began, and none had reported symptoms when they returned to the United States. However, they were asked to stay at home and limit contact with other people for 14 days after their return to the United States. SCHD personnel check in with the travelers at regular intervals to make sure they have not developed any symptoms.

There is nothing unique about the returned travelers in Shelby County. Travelers around the country who recently returned from China have also been asked to observe 14 days of social isolation.

Today, nine of the returned travelers in Shelby County completed the 14-day period. None reported any symptoms that would indicate COVID-19 infection. The Health Department will continue to monitor the other 11 travelers until they complete the 14-day period.

Additionally, the SCHD receives weekly reports from emergency rooms and health care providers throughout Shelby County in order to be alerted to any unusual cluster of symptoms that could indicate an outbreak. That information is then used to develop local interventions to protect the public.

There are no cases of COVID-19 in the Mid-South region, including Tennessee and Shelby County. If a case is detected, the Shelby County Health Department and its public health partners stand ready to take appropriate action.

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Road-Rage Woman Waves Gun, Impersonates Cop, Busted By Cop

Posted By on Fri, Feb 14, 2020 at 3:32 PM

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Pro tip: If you're going to impersonate a police officer, make sure you're not doing it in front of a real police officer.

Pro tip 2: Memphis police officers can be found at the buildings at 201 Poplar.

Linda Turner, 59, was convicted this week on a bevy of charges. All of them were related to an incident two years ago in which she pointed a gun at a pedestrian and her two-year-old granddaughter and then impersonated a police officer.

Here are the details from Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich's office:

"The incident happened on September 16th, 2017, when a woman, 48, and her granddaughter were crossing Poplar at Fourth Street.

Turner began honking her horn and gesturing toward the woman because she was walking too slowly, and the two then exchanged words. A witness said Turner then rolled down her window and pointed a loaded handgun at the pedestrian and her granddaughter.

When the pedestrian threatened to call police, Turner replied, 'I am the police.' A police officer at nearby 201 Poplar observed the disturbance and placed Turner under arrest."

Turner is free on bond and is scheduled to be sentenced next month by Judge Jennifer Mitchell. Turner was convicted on charges this week of reckless endangerment and attempted criminal impersonation of a police officer.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Memphis Pets of the Week (2/11/20-2/17/20)

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 12:32 PM

Each week, the Flyer will feature adoptable dogs and cats from Memphis Animal Services. All photos are credited to Memphis Pets Alive. More pictures and more information can be found on the Memphis Pets Alive Facebook page.

Beale Street Music Fest Announces Full 2020 Lineup

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 12:11 PM

The Beale Street Music Festival has released its full lineup for the 2020 event. 
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Here's the press release from Memphis in May:

Memphis in May’s Beale Street Music Festival proudly announces its wide-ranging 2020 lineup. Often cited for bringing together an eclectic mix of artists and genres for the three-day festival on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis, the forty-fourth installment upholds that reputation with a lineup featuring hip hop, rock, alternative, Americana, pop, and of course, the blues.

With a first round of headliners that was announced in December and featured The Lumineers, Lil Wayne, The Avett Brothers and Memphis’ own Oscar-winning Three 6 Mafia, Beale Street Music Festival now adds to that list of headliners Weezer, The Smashing Pumpkins, The 1975, DaBaby, and 311. Other big-name acts joining them are Deftones, Leon Bridges, Lindsey Buckingham, Louis the Child, Nelly, Portugal. The Man, Brittany Howard, Liam Gallagher and Memphis rappers Moneybagg Yo, Young Dolph and Al Kapone. (Complete list attached.)

“While the 2020 Beale Street Music Festival not only brings back to Tom Lee Park popular acts such as Weezer, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Avett Brothers, 311 and Deftones, we’re bringing new acts who are making their festival debut in 2020, such as The Lumineers, Lil Wayne, The 1975, DaBaby, and Leon Bridges” said James L. Holt, President and CEO of Memphis in May. “Of course, Beale Street Music Festival always prominently features Memphis artists and this year is no exception, with Three 6 Mafia, Moneybagg Yo, Young Dolph, Mavis Staples, Project Pat, Al Kapone, Lil Wyte, Amy LaVere and many more.”

With a month-long cultural salute to Ghana this year, the lineup also features two Ghanaian superstar artists: multiple award-winning rapper Sarkodie, who has been recognized twice as Africa’s Artist of the Year and named to MTV’s and BET’s lists of top African rap artists, and Stonebwoy, named 2019’s Best Male Artist at the African Entertainment Awards.

Other lineup highlights include: Of Monsters and Men, AJR, Rival Sons, Billy Strings, Manchester Orchestra, Toad the Wet Sprocket, The Glorious Sons, Patty Griffin (winner of the 2020 Grammy for Best Folk Album), Waka Flocka Flame, Dirty Honey, Duke Deuce, Reignwolf, Toosii, Beabadoobee, Crobot and Lil Migo.

The Beale Street Music Festival celebrates its blues heritage all weekend long in the Coca-Cola Blues Tent with headline performances by Keb Mo (winner of the 2020 Grammy for Best Americana Album), Bobby Rush, and Taj Mahal, along with Janiva Magness, Don Bryant & the Bo-Keys, Trigger Hippy, Kenny Brown, Lisa Mills, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Sue Foley, Blind Mississippi Morris, Earl the Pearl Banks, Hurricane Ruth, Kelly Hunt, Richard Johnston, Earl “the Pearl” Banks, Memphissippi Sound, and Australia’s Blues Music Award winners, Kings and Associates.

Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite.com and are sold now through April 19 as three-day passes for just $145 or single-day tickets for $55 (limited quantities). A limited number of VIP passes are also available at eventbrite.com for $699 and provide access to exclusive viewing platforms near the main stages and in the Blues Tent, private “comfort station” restrooms, and light snacks and drinks (including limited alcoholic beverages) for all three days.

The festival opens to the public at 5:00 pm on Friday, May 1 and runs through Sunday, May 3. The 2020 Beale Street Music Festival is sponsored by Bud Light, Terminix and Monster Energy.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

TN House Committee Advances ‘Hateful Anti-Refugee’ Resolution

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 4:51 PM

Refugee family reunites at airport - WORLD RELIEF
  • World Relief
  • Refugee family reunites at airport

A Tennessee House committee advanced what some are calling a “hateful anti-refugee” resolution Tuesday.


The resolution, HJR 0741, sponsored by Rep. Terri Weaver (R-Lancaster), seeks to advance Tennessee’s lawsuit against the federal government over refugee resettlement here.


The lawsuit was filed in March 2017 against the United States Department of State on the grounds that refugee settlement in Tennessee violates the U.S. Constitution by requiring the state to pay for a program it did not consent to.

The lawsuit was dismissed in March 2018 by a federal judge who ruled there was a lack of standing by the legislature to sue on its own behalf and that the state failed to show that refugee resettlement in Tennessee violates the Constitution.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in August, also stating that the General Assembly had not established its standing.


In September, attorneys with the Thomas Moore Law Center (TMLC), who are representing the state in the suit, filed a petition asking the appellate court to rehear the case, on the grounds that the court’s decision was “painfully at odds” with Supreme Court precedent. The court denied that request.


Now, attorneys with the TMLC are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

Weaver, who was the House sponsor of the 2016 resolution that initiated the litigation, said the purpose of the resolution is to help the lawsuit move to the Supreme Court.


“The problem that is being addressed is that the federal government cannot coerce the states to pay for a federal program because that sets a very dangerous precedent for us as a state using the state budget as a solution to federal funding deficit.”


Weaver
  • Weaver

Weaver said President Donald Trump’s executive order in September, which gave states the choice to opt in or out of continuing refugee resettlement and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s consent to the program “has made it a muddy mess.”


“We object to Governor Bill Lee’s action, the effect of which nullifies and violates the constitutional duty and exclusive institutional authority and power of the General Assembly to expend public money pursuant to appropriations made by law,” the resolution reads in part.


Weaver said she doesn’t like to see “where the separation of powers are muddied. We need to stay in our own sandbox.”


Rep. Bill Beck (D-Nashville) opposed the resolution Tuesday.


“To me it just seems that the love, accepting, warm, hospitality that we as Tennesseans serve is not reflected in this resolution,” Beck said. “We need to put ourselves in the shoes of those fleeing persecution and the challenges they have and know the empathy we need to have for them and to know what they’re going through and to welcome them and love them and lift them up. That’s my position.”


To that Weaver responded: “This is not that. This is all about a federal program. We can’t stop refugees from coming here because it’s a federal program. So what we’re asking is the federal government to pay for it.”


Weaver added that “the spirit of this is not mean. The spirit of this is to separate separations of powers, which we gave our oath to protect.


We’re appropriating funds for something we do not have authority over and that is a slippery slope for other programs down the road.”


Weaver said she is unclear about exactly how much the state is appropriating to the program, but that the state has been responsible for costs related to housing, English Language Acquisition (ELA), and health-care needs of refugees.


“We have our homeless, our veterans, our seniors,” Weaver said. “We have people in this state that are citizens currently that have needs we need to address as well.”


The resolution advanced Tuesday with a voice vote.

Judith Clerjeune, policy and legislative affairs manager for the Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition Votes condemned the resolution, calling it a “hateful tactic.”


“Just in time for another election, a handful of legislators are returning to their classic hateful playful — scapegoating refugees,” Clerjeune said. “Facing a primary challenge, Rep. Weaver is trying to appeal to those most hateful voters in her district, hoping she can win her re-election bid by targeting some of the world’s most vulnerable people. But, her constituents deserve a representative who will work to meaningfully improve their lives, not just recycle a failed resolution from five years ago.”


Clerjeune also questions the intent of the resolution.


“Despite legislators’ attempts to cast these bills and resolutions as simply a matter of clarifying constitutional responsibilities, the real intent and impact of these efforts are a crystal clear: keeping refugees from finding safety and opportunity in Tennessee.”



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Lawmakers Call for Study on High Homicide Rate of Black Tennesseans

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 2:57 PM

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A group of Democratic lawmakers wants a study to be done on the high homicide rate among African Americans in Tennessee.


The bill (HB 1545/SB 1430) is sponsored by six members of the House, including G.A. Hardaway, Jesse Chism, Antonio Parkinson, and London Lamar from Memphis.


Tennessee was recently ranked in the top 10 states for the highest homicide rates among African American victims, based on a study done by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) in May.


The VPC is a nonprofit organization that conducts research, offers public education, and provides the public and policymakers with analysis and information on the issue of violence in America.


Analyzing data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ 2016 Supplemental Homicide Report (the most recent data), the VPC found that the national homicide rate for African American victims was more than four times higher than the overall national rate.


In 2016, the national rate was 5.1 homicides per 100,000 people, while the national rate among African Americans was 20.44 per 100,000.

In Tennessee, the rate of homicide among African American victims — 28.4 per 100,000 — surpassed both the overall national rate and the national rate among African Americans.


That trend is reflected in Memphis homicide numbers. In Memphis, African Americans make up 64 percent of the total population, and in 2019, 86.3 percent of all homicide victims here were African American, according to data from the Memphis Police Department. Of the 190 homicide victims here last year, only 26 were non-black.


Black males accounted for the largest percentage of homicide victims here last year, making up a little over 75 percent of all victims.


Lawmakers say these numbers represent a “public health crisis” for the state and are calling for the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to produce a study on the issue.


Staples
  • Staples

Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville), the bill’s main sponsor, told the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Tuesday that currently there are statistics available on homicide rates, but there is no data on why African Americans in Tennessee lead the nation as victims of homicide.


“There’s nothing that targets why we lead the nation in that,” Staples said. “So if we could get information on that that is specific and factual like TACIR does, it could give us a lead or a path to follow so we can work in concert to correct this issue.”


The goals of the study, Staples said, would be to gather “solid information” that points to the causes of the high homicide rate among back Tennesseans, and then to determine whether legislative action is necessary to address those causes and what the state and local governments can do to reduce the rate.


According to a draft of the bill, the study would include a historical comparison of the homicide rate among black Tennesseans, as well as possible factors contributing to changes in the rate over time.


The study would also include a comparison of homicide rates among African Americans with that of other demographics in the state, as well as with the rates in neighboring states.

Going further, the study would also look at what state and local initiatives are in place to combat the high homicide rates among black Tennessseans.


“We’re not asking for TACIR to necessarily come up with implementation or corrections,” Staples said. “What we’re asking TACIR is to do a study so that we can look at what we could possibly do as the General Assembly. That’s basically, in a nutshell, what this piece of legislation is doing.”


The bill advanced in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Tuesday to be heard by the full Judicial Committee. If the bill passes, TACIR would have until January 31, 2021, to present the report and any findings to the General Assembly.


Rep. Antonio Parkinson, who represents Memphis and sits on TACIR, said, “When they [TACIR] do their research and work on these questions that we have, they will be extremely thorough in what they bring back to us.” If the legislation passes, Parkinson said the study “will answer a lot of questions for us.”


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TN Lawmaker Wants CNN, WaPo Labelled as "Fake News"

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 1:38 PM

MICAH VAN HUSS/TWITTER
  • Micah Van Huss/Twitter

Today a real Tennessee state House committee will hear a real House Joint Resolution from a real Tennessee House member to label CNN and The Washington Post as “fake news.”

On the agenda for the real Constitutional Protections and Sentencing Subcommittee, is HJR 0079 by Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough).

Here is exactly what the resolution would do:

“Resolves to recognize CNN and The Washington Post as fake news and part of the media wing of the Democratic Party, and further resolves to condemn such media outlets for denigrating our citizens and implying that they are weak-minded followers instead of people exercising their rights that our veterans paid for with their blood.”
Van Huss explained the resolution to conservative talk show host (and self-proclaimed Memphian) Todd Starnes, on his podcast, "the ToddCast.” Van Huss said the resolution stems from reports last fall from both news outlets that labeled supporters of President Donald Trump as “part of a cult.”
Further, Van Huss said CNN recently “mocked Trump supporters for being rude, basically as hayseed hicks.” Van Huss said in 2016 that more than 60 percent of Tennesseans voted for Trump.

“My constituents are tired of these elitists in the media for denigrating them,” Van Huss told Starnes. “They’re tired of Republicans who don’t fight.”

Van Huss said his Republican colleagues in Nashville were “excited” about the legislation and that he is “looking forward to making this statement on behalf of all Tennesseans.”
Some northeast Tennessee lawmakers told Bristol, Virginia's WCYB News 5 that the resolution isn't necessary.

The resolution has 13 House co-sponsors, including Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden).

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Man Who Schemed City Out of $85K Pleads Guilty

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 11:24 AM

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The son of a former City of Memphis employee pleaded guilty Monday for scheming a city maintenance program and fraudulently making nearly $100,000 in the process.


Karl “Shun” Blackmon, 46, son of Leon Blackmon Sr., 70, who was formerly in charge of the city’s Housing and Community Development (HCD) maintenance program, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy.


The HCD program’s purpose is to maintain vacant city-owned lots and properties. From April 2013 until November 2014, Blackmon recruited at least 13 friends and family members to form lawn care companies to participate in the HCD program, according to information presented in court.


Blackmon and Blackmon Sr. instructed the recruits to apply for business licenses, obtain federal EIN numbers, open post office boxes and business bank accounts, and finally apply to become city vendors.


A list of city-owned properties was given to the recruits and invoices for their work was sent to Blackmon Sr.. Except, at least half of the properties shown on the invoices were fraudulently billed and the work was never done.


City checks were generated and mailed to the recruits who then shared a portion of the money with Blackmon. The scheme costs the city approximately $84,665.


U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant said the fraudulent scheme has “significant financial consequences to the public interests of the city of Memphis and created unfair business advantages for vendors in the HCD maintenance program.


“This office is committed to the protection of the integrity of public services, and schemes to defraud programs or compromise public office will not be tolerated,” Dunavant said. “This case demonstrates our commitment to protect taxpayer resources from such disturbing crimes of dishonesty, and to eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse in government programs.”


Blackmon pleaded guilty Monday and now faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison followed by three years supervised release. His sentencing hearing is set for May 22, 2020, before U.S. Circuit Judge Sheryl Lipman. Charges against Blackmon Sr. and eight other alleged co-conspirators are still pending.


The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Lawmakers Want to Better Accommodate Pregnant Workers

Posted By on Thu, Feb 6, 2020 at 12:59 PM

Tennessee lawmakers want to ensure pregnant workers get reasonable accommodations. - PEXELS.COM/LEAH KELLEY
  • Pexels.com/Leah Kelley
  • Tennessee lawmakers want to ensure pregnant workers get reasonable accommodations.


A bill reintroduced by Tennessee lawmakers Wednesday — one that would provide clarity for employers as it relates to pregnant workers and allow those workers to receive reasonable accommodations — is already gathering support from the business community across the state.


The Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (HB 2708/SB 2520) is sponsored by Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) and Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville), respectively.

"It is important that we meet the needs of our working women who are pregnant without causing undue burdens to our businesses," Massey said.


The bill, which contains similar language to the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in the spring, would make it unlawful for employers to refuse to provide “reasonable accommodations for medical needs arising from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” of an applicant or current employee.


However, if the employer believes that providing those accommodations would “impose undue hardship” on the business, then they are not required to allow those accommodations.

The legislation also prohibits employers from requiring a pregnant employee to take leave if there are other reasonable accommodations that can be offered instead. Finally, the Act would make it unlawful for employers to take “adverse action against an employee” for requesting a reasonable accommodation.


Under the law, employees who have been “adversely affected” by an employer's violation of these terms may bring civil action in court. That could prompt the court to issue back pay, compensatory damages, and other related financial relief.


The legislation has garnered support from several businesses across the state, as well as from the Chambers of Commerce for Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. Two dozen businesses in the state, including Cafe Eclectic in Memphis, along with the four chambers sent a joint letter to the Tennessee General Assembly Thursday supporting the bill.


The current “patchwork of laws creates confusion and uncertainty,” the group wrote. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would establish “one clear standard, allowing us to address accommodation requests quickly and informally.”


In Tennessee, there is currently no law providing further protections for pregnant workers other than what is mandated by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal for an employer with 15 or more employees to treat pregnant workers unfairly. Currently, 27 states and four cities have passed their own form of legislation guaranteeing protection and accommodations for pregnant workers.

States and cities that require accommodations for pregnant workers - A BETTER BALANCE
  • A Better Balance
  • States and cities that require accommodations for pregnant workers


“As concerned Tennessee business leaders, we urge you to help boost our state’s economy by passing the Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act,” the letter reads in part. “This important legislation will provide much-needed clarity to employers and help pregnant women who need reasonable accommodations, like a stool to sit on or extra bathroom breaks, to remain healthy and safe on the job, unless it would create an undue hardship for the business.”


The bill, which promotes healthier pregnancies and babies, will lead to lower health-care costs for employers and the state, the letter continues.

“Providing reasonable accommodations also keeps our valuable employees working and reduces turnover and training costs,” the letter said. “These types of accommodations are temporary and can typically be provided for a very low cost or no cost at all.”


The letter also points to Tennessee as ranking 41st in the nation for the number of women participating in the labor force.


“Given our historically low unemployment rate and tight labor market, it is important to ensure that everyone who is willing and able to work can do so,” the letter reads. “In order for our businesses and economy to continue to grow and prosper, we must make it easier for women to join and remain in the workforce.”

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