Blog Entries

Widow of former legislator fights parole of drunken driver who caused his death

The widow of a former state legislator and restaurant owner is leading a petition drive asking the state Board of Paroles to reject the release of the drunken driver convicted of vehicular homicide in her husband’s death, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Debbie Locke is the widow of Mike Locke, former state representative and founder of the popular local eatery the Hot Dog Hut. Locke was killed on June 23, 2014, when an intoxicated driver struck him on Fort Henry Drive, sending him into a ravine 20 feet below.

The driver, James Hamm, has been incarcerated since his arrest. He was convicted of vehicular homicide by intoxication, felony reckless endangerment, driving under the influence, leaving the scene of a collision involving a fatality and failure to exercise due care. He was later sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Now, less than 15 months after being sentenced, Hamm will be up for parole on Aug. 10.

“If he gets out, he will do it again, and this will put somebody else at risk,” Locke said. “Honestly, I’m appalled. I’m appalled that we the citizens of Kingsport or the state of Tennessee have to do this.”

To try to prevent Hamm’s parole release, Locke has started a petition that she plans to send to the parole board in Nashville… So far, Locke estimates that she has gotten between 850 and 900 signatures. Her goal is to get as many as possible by the middle of next week, at which point she will gather all the petitions and send them to Nashville.

…On the evening Mike Locke was killed, he was putting out campaign signs for Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, who was running for state representative at the time. Hulsey later won the election and holds the office Locke himself previously held.

Hulsey said he has signed the petition and plans to join Locke and her family at Hamm’s parole hearing.

Four school bus drivers face 30 days in jail for using electronic devices under new TN law

Four now-former Knox County school bus drivers who allegedly used electronic devices while behind the wheel face mandatory 30-day jail terms if convicted under a tough new law, reports the News Sentinel.

They are charged via recently unsealed grand jury presentments under a state law passed following the death of two Sunnyview Primary School students and a teacher’s aide in Knox County in December 2014 caused by a driver who was texting while driving.

The quartet of drivers are accused in separate incidents of using electronic devices — the exact nature of which hasn’t been revealed yet — during Knox County Schools’ spring semester.

The cases are Knox County’s first legal test of that law, and the second in the state. A Hamilton County grand jury in March leveled the charge — along with vehicular homicide — in a fatal school bus crash in Chattanooga in December 2016 that killed six children.

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Harwell appoints PAC treasurer to TN State Museum governing board

House Speaker Beth Harwell has reappointed Deputy Speaker Steve McDaniel to the governing board of the Tennessee State Museum, but is giving her own seat on the panel to Tina Hodges, CEO of Nashville-based Advance Financial.

Harwell had previously appointed herself to a four-year term on the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission that officially expired June 30, but she continued to serve through the panel’s July 3 meeting, as allowed under relevant rules allowing an appointee to stay aboard until a successor is appointed, said Kara Owen, spokeswoman to the speaker in response to email inquiries.

Subsequently, Owen said, Harwell appointed Hodges, who already serves – by appointment of Gov. Bill Haslam – on the board of directors for Volunteer Tennessee, a group that has the declared mission of promoting “volunteerism and community service” by Tennesseans. She is currently listed as vice chairman.

Hodges also serves as treasurer of Advance PAC, a political action committee operated by Advance Financial. A check of the Registry of Campaign Finance website for 2015 and 2016 shows Advance PAC giving Harwell’s reelection campaign for her state House seat $10,000 and it also donated $8,000 to the leadership PAC operated by Harwell.

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TN judge reducing sentences of jail inmates who get vasectomies or anti-pregnancy implants

General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield of Sparta has authorized 30-day sentence reductions for male inmates at the White County Jail who agree to free vasectomies in White County and women who agree to receive free Nexplanon implants, which prevent pregnancies for up to four years.

WTVF TV in Nashville, which first reported on the judge’s order, signed in May, says 32 women and 38 men have since signed up for the procedures and the accompanying sentence reduction.

“I understand it won’t be entirely successful but if you reach two or three people, maybe that’s two or three kids not being born under the influence of drugs. I see it as a win, win,” (Benningfield) added.

Inmates in the White County jail were also given two days credit toward their jail sentence if they complete a State of Tennessee, Department of Health Neonatal Syndrome Education Program. The class aimed to educate those who are incarcerated about the dangers of having children while under the influence of drugs.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee, says the “coerced contraception” program is unconstitutional.

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Jackson faces GOP challenger — a gas tax critic — in Senate District 27 rematch

Dyer County Commissioner Dr. Brandon Dodds, who lost to Sen. Ed Jackson in the 2014 Republican primary, tells the Dyersburg State Gazette he will try again in 2018.

In 2014, Jackson won the primary 11,136 votes to Dodds’ 7,763. He won Dyer and Lake counties and lost by only about 100 votes in Lauderdale. But Dodds’ was trounced by a margin of more than 5,000 votes in Madison County, Jackson’s home and by far the most populous in the district.

The 800-word announcement article is GOP generic – he’s for improving education, against federal government overreach, wants to expand economic development, etc. – doubtless in line with Jackson’s stance on things with one notable exception: Dodds wants to repeal the gas tax increase approved this year. Jackson voted for it.

Raised on a farm in rural Dyer County and son to a lifelong educator, Dodds, a 41-year-old conservative Republican and owner of Dodds Eyecare on Main Street in Newbern, says he understands the needs of the citizens in District 27 and is a proponent of less government regulation in state affairs.

…“I would like to repeal the gas tax,” stated Dodds. “The projected projects for that money is marked for certain counties and we [Dyer] are not one of those counties. There is a $2 billion excess in state funds and they still decided to increase gas taxes. When farmers take grain to the grainery, or anything else, they are having to pay more money, which means they will have to charge more for their products. … The end result is that the grocery stores will be raising prices because it’s costing them more to receive their products, so the sales tax decrease is misleading in the long term. … Again, we should be lessening the tax burden. We didn’t have to raise taxes for infrastructure.”

Nashville surgeon running for Harwell’s House District 56 seat

Dr. Brent Moody, a Nashville surgeon and a Republican, tells The Tennessean he will run to succeed Beth Harwell in the state House seat being vacated by House speaker, who will run for governor instead of seeking reelection there.

“I think the people of the 56th District have been represented well by Speaker Harwell for a long time, so there will be a new choice for the people of the 56th District,” Moody said. “My plan is to get out there in due course and let them meet me.”

The 47-year-old skin cancer surgeon filed paperwork and appointed a treasurer for his campaign Monday.

Although Moody waited for Harwell to publicly announce her gubernatorial run over the weekend before filing his papers, he previously talked to the speaker about his intentions. She was helpful and gave him some advice, Moody said.

Word spread unofficially in the Spring that Moody could be considering the position after he posted a photo on Twitter on April 3rd of him meeting with House Majority Leader Glen Casada and Harwell.

Legislature could leave JLL when it vacates the Legislative Plaza this fall

It’s at least possible that Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, “Gov. Bill Haslam’s favorite real estate management-services provider, “ won’t get the contract for janitorial and maintenance services at a renovated Cordell Hull State Office Building when the General Assembly move there this fall, reports Andy Sher.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Beth Harwell confirmed to the Times Free Press that JLL has no automatic lock on a contract for services at the 1950s-era Cordell Hull building when a $116 million renovation is complete.

“We have decided to put it out for bid, and of course, they can bid and other companies might bid,” McNally said. “But we’re looking, you know, for the best deal we can get.”

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Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging ‘natural and ordinary’ law; rules it had no impact on same-sex marriage rights

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle on Friday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the “natural and ordinary” bill enacted by the legislature earlier this year, but a lawyer for the lesbian couples who filed the legal challenge tells The Tennessean that the ruling is nonetheless a victory.

Basically, the judge ruled the new law didn’t accomplish anything to change rights of same-sex couples, who have the same rights as heterosexual couples when they are parents. Thus, since the law doesn’t discriminate, she dismissed the lawsuit attacking it.

The four same-sex couples are expectant parents of children conceived through artificial insemination. The legislation, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in early May, says that courts should give words their “natural and ordinary” meaning in legal interpretations.

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State Sen. Doug Overbey nominated as U.S. attorney for East Tennessee

State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, was nominated Friday by President Donald Trump to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

Overbey was one of six U.S. attorney nominations announced today by the president. He’s the fourth Republican state senator who now seems likely to be leaving the legislature next year. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris has been nominated as a federal judge by Trump, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron has announced he will run for Rutherford County mayor rather than seek reelection and Sen. Mae Beavers is running for governor rather than seek reelection.

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Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson facing criminal charges

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson, a former state legislator, has been charged with forgery and booked at the county jail he oversees. He was freed on $30,000 bail after being booked at the Bradley County Jail, according to media reports.

From the Times Free Press:

The charges — six counts of knowingly holding or using forged or falsified car titles — arise from a Times Free Press investigation published in December into Watson’s unlicensed used car sales.

The charges are Class E felonies, each punishable by one to six years in prison and fines of up to $3,000.

None of the charges brought Wednesday by the Bradley County grand jury relate to any other allegations of misconduct by Watson that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has been looking into for 13 months. The special prosecutor in the case, 4th Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, did not reply Friday when asked whether the investigation is over or if more charges are possible.

Watson, a four-term state legislator and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, did not appear publicly after being booked.

In a statement released through his attorney, James F. Logan Jr., the sheriff said he has cooperated fully with the TBI and other agencies in the probe of what he called “accusations from some who desire to have more control over county government and the operations of the Sheriff’s Office.”

Watson said Bradley County residents and his employees can be assured the sheriff’s office will “continue to provide the best services possible to insure [sic] the safety and property of all citizens and visitors.”

…”It’s an incredibly sad event” for the sheriff to be booked into his own jail, Logan said, adding that Watson “wants justice.”

 

Note: Watson is the fourth Tennessee sheriff to face criminal charges in the past year or so. The others, now former sheriffs who were accused of misconduct while in office, were Gibson County Sheriff Chuck Arnold, Fentress County Sheriff Chucky Cravens and Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold. They have all pleaded guilty to some charges.

Also, this post updates, expands and replaces original post.