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Capitol Hill Week From Senator Mae Beavers

March 4, 2012
State Senator Mae Beavers

Jobs and the economy took center stage on Capitol Hill this week as lawmakers heard good news regarding Tennessee’s economic prospects, including the forecast that employers may see reductions in their unemployment premiums as early as July. Tennessee Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Karla Davis and Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee to present their budget requests and brief members on developments taking place on Tennessee’s jobs front.

Job creation reaches highest mark since 2007 -- Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty told Senate Commerce Committee members this week that Tennessee had a very productive year with the creation of 28,500 jobs in the state, the highest mark since 2007. The Commissioner attributed the success to a realignment the Department took after Governor Haslam ordered a “top to bottom review” of its operations.

“The result of that has been a fabulous job number in what has overall been a very tough economic environment,” Hagerty said. “The majority of job creation in this state comes from existing businesses as they expand. My challenge to the department has been to make sure that we maintain a 98 percent plus market share of all expansion that happens with Tennessee companies --and it is working.”

Although the focus is on expanding within Tennessee, Hagerty said Governor Haslam and the Department continue to be “very aggressive” in recruiting worldwide, visiting seven different countries in the last half of last year. The department is pursuing a new initiative to open up the market for export opportunities to increase the output from Tennessee companies. In addition, they are working on a co-investment fund to make money available for early stage capital to attract new private equity into the state for Tennessee entrepreneurs.

Unemployment Fund Projected to Trigger Employer Premium Decrease in July -- Likewise, Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Karla Davis reported on her department’s activities this week, which included good news regarding Tennessee’s Unemployment Trust Fund. As of February 1, the balance of the fund is over $306 million.

A law passed in 2009 contained triggers for higher premiums when the state’s unemployment fund goes down to insure solvency and keep the state from the federal mandates associated with borrowing or insolvency. The law also contained a 0.6 percent premium in order to keep the fund solvent. Those triggers, however, reverse to lower premiums upon reaching levels which ensure solvency of the fund.

Tennessee employers are currently paying premiums based on Tax Table 1, which assesses the highest level of premiums. The Trust Fund is expected to trigger Tax Table 2 in the immediate future. Thus, the assessment will result in a lower premium to employers in July of this year. The study also forecasts that the Trust Fund will hit the $650 million threshold in the third quarter of 2014. At that time there will be a further decrease in the tax as well as an elimination of the 0.6 percent solvency fee.

Legislation giving teachers more authority to relocate a student for safety reasons receives final approval

The State Senate unanimously approved legislation today giving teachers more authority to relocate a student who poses a safety threat without fear of being found liable. Senate Bill 3116 requires local education boards to adopt a policy authorizing a teacher's ability to temporarily move a student to a different location for the student's safety or the safety of others. The bill also requires principals to fully support the authority of teachers in taking the action when it is done according to the policy.

The genesis of the bill came as lawmakers have listened to teachers who were concerned about liability while performing assigned duties or that a lawsuit could be brought against them if they try to remove a student during an altercation. The legislation is supported by the Tennessee School Board Association, the Tennessee Teacher Association, and the Professional Educators of Tennessee.

The policy required under the measure would also cover teachers’ authorization to intervene in a physical altercation between two or more students or between a student and Local Education Agency (LEA) employee. It also allows for the use of reasonable or justifiable force upon a student if the student is unwilling to cooperate and it becomes necessary to end the altercation by relocating the student to another area.

If steps beyond the use of reasonable or justifiable force are required, the proposal says the student would remain in place until law enforcement officers or school resource officers arrive.

The bill would apply to acts committed on school property, as well as those at official school functions, including sporting events and approved field trips. In addition to teachers, it would apply to administrators, school support staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, school resource officers, and others working in the school who interact with students.

Teachers must file a brief report with the principal detailing the situation that required the relocation of the student. If it is found that the student's behavior violated the LEA's zero tolerance policy, the report would become part of the student’s permanent record. The student is then subject to additional disciplinary action that may include suspension or expulsion from the school. The principal or their designee must notify the teacher involved of the actions taken to address the behavior of the relocated student.

The bill does not apply to special needs students.

Issues in Brief

DUI / Child Endangerment -- Legislation sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which she chairs, to ensures a multiple DUI offender receives the appropriate punishment when he or she endangers a child in their vehicle by driving under the influence. Currently, multiple offenders do not receive an enhanced sentence like first offenders due to ambiguity in the language of a 2005 law which enhanced penalties for child endangerment for DUI offenders. Senate Bill 2607 makes sure state law is clear for multiple DUI offenders that the punishment for child endangerment, which is 30 days, runs consecutively with any other sentence received.

Voter ID – Eighty two percent of Tennesseans consider the new voter identification law “a good idea that should be kept in place,” according to a new Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) poll. About four in five Tennesseans (83 percent) say they have heard that voters will be asked to show a photo ID at the polls starting this year, up significantly from last fall’s 71 percent.

Equal Access to Public Property Act -- The House of Representatives has approved a Senate amendment and sent to the Governor legislation to create order in the use of Tennessee’s public lands received final approval by the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 2508 makes it a misdemeanor offense to engage in the activity of camping on property owned by the state knowing that the area is not designated for that use. The “Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012,” comes after reports of potential health threats, theft, lewd behavior and other crimes on the Capitol’s War Memorial Plaza in association with the “Occupy Nashville” encampment.

Repairs Made to Storm Damaged School Buildings

March 3, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
DeKalb Middle School
Roof Leaks Coming Through Ceiling in DMS Classroom
Water from Ceiling Puddling on Floor of DMS Classroom
Window Frame Bowed Inward at DCHS Vocational School
DCHS Football Scoreboard Twisted by Storm Winds

As schools were closed Thursday, repairs were being made to campus buildings in order to get them ready for classes on Friday.

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby said high winds from Wednesday afternoon's severe weather caused some damage to DeKalb Middle School and the Vocational School at DCHS while snapping an electric line, providing a primary power source to DCHS. "When daylight came (Thursday) we found some more damage. Up on top of the middle school, as you drive by you could see that it had blown off the siding next to the roof, probably 25 to 30 feet in two different spots. On top of the roof of the middle school, metal which evidently came from some other place cut six or seven places in the roof where it had blown metal around. We've had a company up there, Porter Roofing fixing those cuts. They think they have all those particular spots fixed as to damage to the roof, temporarily fixed anyway. There are some blowers inside drying out the building from the leaks. The maintenance department and custodians worked Wednesday night and Thursday drying things out to make sure the water coming into the building didn't get out of control. We had some pretty good leaks in the middle school," said Willoughby.

"It (winds) blew one of the windows in at the vocational school," according to Willoughby. "The force of the wind blew in one of the large windows. It did not break the window. It did not shatter. We were able to put that back in. There is no structural damage. We had some people to look. So that window was secured back in and braced. There was some siding that blew off the vocational building. We had two or three twenty five foot strips of rubber that came off the side of the roof of the vocational school," he said

"The football field scoreboard is twisted. The baseball scoreboard is down. We've got a fence down where a large tree has fallen on it. All in all we were very fortunate that we did not get any more damage than what did happen," said Willoughby

Director Willoughby said except for some concerns about electricity to the building, the high school did not receive any significant storm damage. "There was no structural damage at the high school. We had one little place where it looked like it had blown the siding off the back of the high school but upon examining it further, we don't believe that was from the storm. It was just a little bit loose up there at the top of the building where the roof and the siding met. We had to have the electric company come in Thursday morning. If we had to, we could have had school Thursday with the exception of dealing with the electricity. We were not sure of all the areas of the school where electricity was available everywhere in the school Wednesday night but we got there Thursday morning and had to do some additional work. There were more reasons than just the roof why we did not go to school Thursday," said Willoughby.

Storm winds also blew down a traffic caution light on West Broad Street near the schools.

Schools reopened Friday morning but closed again at noon due to the threat of more severe weather.

Committee Makes Plans for Open-Air Pavilion

March 3, 2012
Committee Makes Plans for Open-Air Pavilion

Tennessee Downtown Programs Steering Committee Members Wade Smith, Suzanne Williams, Steve White, Alan Webb and Mark Ashburn (not pictured) were guests of the Smithville Rotary Club last Tuesday and presented the two plans for an open-air pavilion to be constructed at Evins Park in the near future.

These citizens are our local committee that is planning for improvements to downtown Smithville under the umbrella of the "Tennessee Downtowns Program," a statewide initiative to revitalize downtowns and increase tourism in Tennessee.

The Smithville Rotary Club became the first organization in DeKalb County to pledge $1000 toward completion of the pavilion.

County Beer Board Receives Five Applications for Permits

March 2, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page

The DeKalb County Beer Board met Thursday night and received five applications for new beer permits. Final action on them will come at the next meeting on Thursday, April 5 at 7:00 p.m. at the courthouse.

Filing applications for both on and off premises permits are Viva Gail Johnson of Jewel's Market and Pizza on North Congress Boulevard, Smithville; Back 9, LLC doing business as Riverwatch; and Jesus Villa of the Stop Market, LLC, formerly One Stop Market on Short Mountain Highway.

Those filing applications for off premises permits are Debra W. Sacran of D & D Market on Short Mountain Highway, and Araceli Godinez Soto of Nicole's Market on Short Mountain Highway.

All applicants must meet the new minimum distance requirement as established by the county commission along with any other regulations. As WJLE reported Tuesday, the county commission Monday night voted seven to five to rescind the 2,000 foot rule that the county has had in place since 1939 and adopt 800 feet as the minimum distance required between a store seeking a beer permit, and a church, school, or other place of public gathering measuring in a direct line, the nearest point to the nearest point. From the building to the building.

Members of the DeKalb County Beer Board voting to accept the applications for consideration Thursday night were Harrell Tolbert, Dick Knowles, Jim Stagi, Mack Harney, and Edward Frazier. Frank Thomas voted no and Robert Rowe was absent. Again, final action on these applications is scheduled for April 5 at 7:00 p.m. at the courthouse.

Meanwhile sixth district board member Harrell Tolbert announced his resignation from the board Thursday night. Because of redistricting, Tolbert has been moved from the sixth district to the fifth district and can no longer serve the sixth district as a beer board member. The county will have to appoint a new member to succeed Tolbert.

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Body of Storm Victim Recovered

March 1, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Tornado Claims Josephine Pavone
Storm Destroys Home of Josephine Pavone

The body of 62 year old Josephine Phyllis Pavone was recovered Thursday afternoon from the rubble of her home on Alpine Lane in the Holiday Haven area, where she died Wednesday after a tornado struck.

The residence, a two story structure located on the side of a hill, collapsed during the storm.

According to reports, survey teams were sent out Thursday from the National Weather Service to assess the damage and confirmed that the storm spawned an EF1 tornado in DeKalb County, taking a path from near DCHS and Allens Ferry Road to the Cookeville Highway area including Pine Grove Road, Holiday Haven, Ponder Road, and Puckett's Point to Back Bone Ridge and Falling Water Road in the Johnson's Chapel Community

The recovery operation at the scene of the fatality began shortly after the storm on Wednesday but was halted later in the evening. It resumed Thursday morning but because of the location, rescue workers had challenges to overcome. "We had challenges," said County Fire Chief Donny Green. " We started work this morning in the operations phase of the recovery and worked all day trying to gain access to the victim and get the body of the deceased removed and transported to the hospital. This afternoon we were able to accomplish that through the use of some technical rescue personnel brought in from Task Force 2 (Out of Nashville) and also from the Putnam County Structural Collapse Team and the Putnam County Rescue Squad. We've had a lot of other agencies that's been here in supporting roles helping get the victim's body removed and to accomplish this in a safe manner because we've had a very unstable situation here throughout the course of this whole operation," said Chief Green

The house was a two story structure with the front part at ground level and the rear of the home on stilts, according to Chief Green. "The way the house was constructed on the side of a hill, it was difficult to deal with considering the fact that we had trees that were still hanging over and on the structure endangering our rescuers that were attempting this operation. We had to look at all the aspects of scene safety in getting all this done," he said.

Pavone's body was found amid the rubble of the home, according to Chief Green. "I would describe the house as being a rubble pile. There was no construction that appeared to be what a house would normally look like. The house was totally collapsed and the body was inside the rubble," he said.

The sudden death of Ms. Pavone, who lived alone on Alpine Lane, was a double tragedy for the family. Pavone's brother, Frank Pavone had just passed away earlier in the day on Wednesday at DeKalb Community Hospital.

The funeral for Ms. Pavone will be Saturday at 5:00 p.m. at DeKalb Funeral Chapel. Following the service, the body will be cremated. Visitation will be Friday from 3:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. and Saturday from 3:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. A nurse by profession, she was preceded in death by her parents, Phillip and Mary Agnes Michela Pavone; a sister, Gloria Engelhardt; and a brother, Frank Pavone.

She is survived by children, Kari and husband Jacob Ashford of Liberty, Joseph LaRocco of Melrose Park, Illinois and Patricia and husband Mike Saylor of Bartlett, Illinois. Grandchildren, Michael Saylor, Antonio LaRocco, Claudia Ashford, and Taylor Ashford. Sisters, Darlene and Rosemary Pavone, Geraldine Lipkie and brothers, Anthony and Tommy Pavone.

DeKalb Funeral Chapel is in charge of the arrangements.

DeKalb County SR-56 Hurricane Bridge Closure Canceled

March 1, 2012

Tonight’s (Thursday's) scheduled closure of the Hurricane Bridge on State Route 56 over the Caney Fork River in DeKalb County has been canceled.

The closure, which is necessary to allow the contractor to pour a portion of the new concrete bridge deck, will be rescheduled. The work is part of a $26.9 million rehabilitation project which is scheduled to be complete in October 2013.

For travel and TDOT construction information visit the TDOT SmartWay web site at www.tn.gov/tdot/tdotsmartway or call 511 from any land-line or cellular phone. You can also receive traffic alerts via TDOT’s multiple Twitter feeds, including statewide traffic tweets @TN511 or Chattanooga area alerts @Chattanooga511. Smart phone users can use the TDOT SmartWay Mobile website at http://m.tdot.tn.gov/SmartWay/ to access TDOT’s SmartWay cameras and information on construction related lane closures and incidents on interstates and state routes.

As always, drivers are reminded to use all motorist information tools wisely and Know Before You Go! by checking travel conditions before leaving for their destination. Drivers should never tweet, text or talk on a cell phone while behind the wheel.

Local Red Cross Seeks Donations for Storm Relief Efforts

March 1, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page

Local Red Cross volunteers, who have been rendering assistance at the scene of the storm damage on Cookeville Highway, are asking the public to donate food and bottled water for all those helping in the recovery and storm cleanup efforts. Monetary donations will also be accepted. If you would like to donate, stop by the Red Cross office in the new county complex on South Congress Boulevard.

DeKalb County Red Cross Volunteer Oscar Boyd explains in the following video how you can help.

Efforts to Recover Body of Storm Victim to Resume Thursday Morning

March 1, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page

Rescue workers and volunteers will resume efforts Thursday morning to recover the body of a woman who died when her home collapsed from high winds Wednesday afternoon on Alpine Lane in the Holiday Haven area.

The name of the woman has not yet been released.

The storm, which some believe produced a tornado, left a scattered path of destruction just to the north east of Smithville off Cookeville Highway from the Pine Grove Road and Holiday Haven area to Ponder Road, Puckett's Point, and then on to the Falling Water and Backbone areas in the Johnson's Chapel Community.

Aside from the fatality, no injuries were reported but several homes, garages, and other structures were damaged by the high winds or from trees that fell on them and power lines are down which has caused power outages for many residents.

DeKalb County Fire Chief Donny Green said the recovery operation was called off Wednesday night but will resume at daybreak Thursday. "At this point, we're in the recovery stage of the operation. We have confirmed we have a body trapped inside a collapsed structure. That (home) has pretty much been demolished. We're going to stop operations tonight but we're still going to be planning our approach on how we're going to try and do this (recovery operation) safely," said Chief Green.

"We're going to try and pick back up at daybreak tomorrow (Thursday) and continue the recovery operation to get in and recover the body. We're sending a lot of our outside resources back tonight but they're coming back early in the morning to help us get in with the planning process on how we're going to approach this," he said.

When asked if this storm actually spawned a tornado, Chief Green said there has been no official confirmation but a county firefighter claimed to have spotted a funnel cloud.

Sheriff Patrick Ray said he called in all deputies Wednesday afternoon to help in providing security. "We're providing security and backup to the rescue squad and fire department. We've gone around searching houses. That's what we've done today. We've also secured the scenes where there has been damage to homes. Tonight a lot of them don't have electricity so we've got a security plan in effect. I called in all the deputies today to assist with this and we'll have them throughout the night and into tomorrow," said Sheriff Ray.

In addition to local law enforcement agencies, fire departments, EMS, rescue squad, and Emergency Management Agency coordinator Charlie Parker, several agencies and emergency services from outside the county have also responded. "Its really been overwhelming at the support we've received from all of our agencies in the county as well as adjoining counties and cities and beyond who have come to help us. We've had extra law enforcement to come in. Extra fire and EMS and rescue services have come in. We can't say enough about the support we've had during this unfortunate event," said Chief Green.

Local Red Cross volunteers, who have been rendering assistance on site, are asking the public to donate food and bottled water for all those helping in the recovery and storm cleanup effort. Monetary donations will also be accepted. If you would like to donate, stop by the Red Cross office in the new county complex on South Congress Boulevard.

Three DeKalb County School Buildings Damaged by Storm Winds, SCHOOLS CLOSED THURSDAY

February 29, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page

DeKalb County High School, DeKalb Middle School, and the DCHS Vocational School buildings received damage from high winds during a severe thunderstorm Wednesday afternoon.

As a result, DeKalb County schools will be closed Thursday.

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby told WJLE that the extent of the damage will be evaluated Thursday morning. "This evening (Wednesday) the storm came through and I don't know if it was a tornado at the middle school and high school," said Willoughby. It was probably just high winds blowing. But after the worst of it got over myself and the maintenance crew went on top of the buildings. We've got some damage to the middle school, the facial part of the middle school and evidently some large cuts in the roof. We haven't found those cuts but lots of water have come into certain parts of the school. At the vocational building we had a large window almost blown out of the frame. We've got some electrical problems throughout the high school and maybe the middle school and vocational school also. We're trying to clear those up. We're just waiting until tomorrow morning (Thursday) so we can get into the buildings to see what's really wrong. A tree blew down behind the vocational school at the high school and damaged a fence. The high school football scoreboard looks like its twisted around.. We've got a lot of aluminum off the facial board of the vocational school that is blown off onto the street. We've seen metal on top of the buildings from different places. We're not sure where its come from. But there's damage to where we don't want to let the kids go into the school buildings tomorrow morning (Thursday) so that's why we've decided to close schools. We'll evaluate some things tomorrow (Thursday). Hopefully we'll be back in school Friday morning. We've got people showing up from the insurance and roofing companies tomorrow morning (Thursday) to help us get things going," said Willoughby.

PLAY VIDEO BELOW OF DIRECTOR OF SCHOOLS MARK WILLOUGHBY

One Person Confirmed Dead In Holiday Haven Area From Wednesday Afternoon Storm

February 29, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Garage destroyed on Ponder Lane

A severe thunderstorm, which may have spawned a tornado, has claimed one life and caused significant structure damage to homes, garages, and outbuildings in the Cookeville Highway area.

County Fire Chief Donny Green told WJLE that damage assessments are still underway. "We're in the Cookeville Highway area and we have what appears to be a tornado touchdown. It may have touched down in a couple of areas of the county, one being off of Holiday Haven Drive, where it looks like we have a confirmed fatality. The second being at the end of Puckett's Point. We're trying to investigate at this time to see if it was the same tornado. Apparently we've also had significant damage in the falling water area which is around Johnson's Chapel. We have responders here from our county and from adjoining counties. We're still in the assessment phase. We've had significant structure damage but no reports of other injuries other than the fatality," said Chief Green.

PLAY VIDEO BELOW OF COUNTY FIRE CHIEF DONNY GREEN

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for DeKalb County at 3:46 p.m. and central dispatch/911 received the first reports of damage two minutes later.

Local veterinarian Dr. Scott Little said he was at his residence on Ponder Lane when the storm struck "There was the weirdest noise. In fact my father texted me and said there's a weird sound outside. And there certainly was. I got the kids up and put them into a closet. I was looking out the windows to see what was going on. When the wind started blowing really hard I went and got back in the closet and I guess it wasn't sixty seconds later when I came back out that all the trees all around the house were blown down. They say it (tornado) sounds like a train and that is certainly what it sounded like. It was a constant sound. It wasn't like anything I've ever heard. The sound lasted for maybe about two minutes and it was hard to tell where it was coming from. I would assume it was just the sound of the wind," said Dr. Little

While the wind destroyed a garage belonging to his nearest neighbor Ronnie Burton, Dr. Little said his home didn't get much damage. "It blew a window out but there wasn't much damage to the house at all. A lot of trees around the house fell down," he said

No one on Ponder Lane was injured

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