Local News Articles

Smithville Man Charged with Vehicular Homicide in Double Fatality

March 28, 2012
Kayla Biddy and Brian Walton (Herald-Citizen Photo)

A Smithville man has been charged with vehicular homicide in a Jackson County accident last month that killed a Cookeville man and his girlfriend.

29 year old Randy B. Johnson is charged with two counts of vehicular homicide in the death of 21 year old Brian C. Walton of Cookeville and 22 year old Kayla C. Biddy of Cleveland. Johnson was also charged with driving on a suspended license.

According to the Herald Citizen, Johnson was driving a 2005 Dodge Ram pickup and had three passengers, Kandle R. Bethcher of Cookeville in the front seat and the young couple in the back seat. He lost control of the vehicle on a curve, and the truck ran off the road, went airborne, struck a tree and landed on its top. The accident happened on Saturday, February 25, on Highway 135 near Spring Creek in Jackson County.

Walton and Biddy, who had just recently become engaged to be married, were killed instantly, according to the report. Investigators said the four occupants of the truck had been at a gathering of four-wheeler enthusiasts.

THP Trooper Darren Butler said the charges against Johnson were for allegedly being "unable to operate the vehicle safely" thus causing the deaths of Walton and Biddy. Johnson is under a $250,000 bond and he will be in court April 6.

UCHRA Delays Action on Future of Lakeside Resort

March 27, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
UCHRA to make decision on Lakeside Resort April 17
Lakeside Resort
Lakeside Resort Boat Slips

The UCHRA has delayed a decision on the future of Lakeside Resort in DeKalb County until April 17.

Members of the UCHRA Policy Council, chaired by DeKalb County Mayor Mike Foster, met Monday morning in Cookeville to review proposals from four groups wanting to either buy, lease, or manage the facility. But members of the council wanted to find out more about these groups, so they have postponed action until April 17. In the meantime, those submitting proposals will be asked to provide references, financial statements, and if chosen, to put up a $750,000 insurance policy against any damages to the facility. The groups have until April 9 to comply with the council's request. Another committee will review the proposals and make a selection recommendation to the full policy council.

Robin Driver of Center Hill Chalets, Inc is among those who have submitted a proposal to manage Lakeside Resort, and to "purchase the facility once it is profitable".

Others who have offered bids include Donnie Davidson of the Davidson Investment Group and Deanna Ebert Pierson of PeopleBuildersUSA, both of whom want to purchase Lakeside, and Bob Sortis who wants to initially lease the facility to be used as a Christian Retreat.

Lakeside Resort, consisting of 139 acres on the banks of Center Hill Lake off of the Cookeville Highway, has created problems for UCHRA financially, apparently being unable to support itself or to service the debt on the $1.6 million note owed on property there.

UCHRA acquired Lakeside Resort several years ago, securing a 25 year lease at a dollar a year from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who owns the property. According to UCHRA officials, the lease included provisions that the property be used for area recreation and an educational facility. Whoever the UCHRA sells or leases the property to will most likely have to continue to agree to those same provisions.

UCHRA currently partners with Tennessee Tech to offer a Professional Resort and Quantity Food Management course, which was formerly taught through Pellissippi Community College. But the funding for that class will no longer be available once the current students graduate the program in June.

Lakeside offers guest cottages and apartments along with the lakeside lodge, featuring 26 units, 18 lake front and eight pool front, classrooms, and boat slips.

The lodge was built using funds from Rural Development, who offered UCHRA a $1.5 million low-interest loan, aimed at helping with job and educational development in rural counties.

Last October, 10 Lakeside employees, including full and part time, workers were laid off, reportedly saving approximately $165,000 for the 2012 fiscal year.

Robin Driver's plan calls for Center Hill Chalets, Inc to "manage Lakeside Resort and all facilities associated with it, as well as weddings, banquets, corporate and business gatherings while at all times promoting the best interests of UCHRA".

Under the proposal, Center Hill Chalets would charge a management fee of 40% on all revenue generated by the lease management and rental of the facilities. UCHRA would retain ownership of the Lakeside Complex and keep the remaining 60% of the revenue, most of which would be used to service the debt still owed on the facility.

According to the company's background information, "Center Hill Chalets, Inc has been managing vacation rental property on Center Hill Lake since 2002 and is the only state licensed company on Center Hill Lake, managing over forty individual properties in the Center Hill Lake and Rock Island areas. Having managed resort property the past ten years, Center Hill Chalets, Inc has a vast knowledge of the market and how to maximize the revenue from the property while keeping the overhead in check. Center Hill Chalets has been profitable every year and has had increased revenue for the past three years in a row."

Bob Sortis wants to convert Lakeside Lodge into a Christian Retreat. Sortis currently serves as the Resort, Food, and Hospitality Management teacher at Lakeside and operates catering for Lakeside Resort. He is also a licensed realtor and is a property manager for several different rentals in Cookeville.

In his proposal, Sortis wrote that "Lakeside Lodge would continue to be the prime alternative corporate meeting spot and a gorgeous wedding location. In addition, Lakeside Lodge would become the premier event locale by hosting events such as Marriage Enrichment Seminars, Church Retreats, Pastor's Getaways, Music/Fine Art Festivals, Car Shows, and educational seminars."

Sortis wants to add a prayer room, fitness room, spa services, recreation room including original fine artworks in cabins/rooms, horseback riding, teach art, photography, cooking, and canoeing classes, expand the gift shop, create a fishing and a swimming area in the lake, and open hiking trails.

Sortis proposes to lease Lakeside Resort with the intention to purchase under certain conditions.
The lessee (Sortis) agrees to pay UCHRA a monthly rental fee of $5,000 per month.

In 2011, Lakeside sales were $608,000 at a 24% occupancy rate. Based on a 50% occupancy rate, anticipated 2012 sales will be $1.2 million. If sales reach or exceed $1 million, lessee (Sortis) will pay UCHRA a yearly bonus of $60,000.

Sortis proposes ten, one year contracts to be signed upon acceptance of the proposal.
Contracts would be automatically renewed yearly unless UCHRA is notified by the lessee (Sortis), thirty days prior to the renewal date. In the first five years, lessee (Sortis) will assume the loan from Rural Development.

Donnie Davidson of the Davidson Investment Group wants to purchase assets of Lakeside Resort and has proposed a cash offer of $500,000, contingent upon the Corps of Engineers extending the lease of the Lakeside Resort operation through the year 2042. All assets and property improvements would become the ownership of Davidson Investment Group upon payment to UCHRA.

Deanna Ebert Pierson, of PeopleBuildersUSA, proposes to purchase and create a true resort atmosphere at Lakeside Resort. PeopleBuildersUSA, founded in 2006, is a faith-based 501(c) 3 organization.

Pierson proposes to establish Lakeside as a year round, full service lodging and educational facility for corporate retreats, small meetings, and church groups.

She is offering a purchase price of $1.8 million for the entire holdings of Lakeside Resort and to enter into a lease management contract pending approval of the loan and any and all other necessary documents. Yearly payments of $130,000 would be made to USDA to service the debt on the existing loan.

County Seeks to Name Dry Creek Bridge in Honor of the Late PFC Billy Gene Anderson

March 27, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
PFC Billy Gene Anderson
Dry Creek Bridge on Highway 70 near Dowelltown

The county commission Monday night adopted a resolution asking the Tennessee General Assembly to name the bridge over Dry Creek on Highway 70 in honor of the late Private First Class Billy Gene Anderson, United States Army.

The resolution states "Whereas, it is fitting that the DeKalb County Commission honor residents of DeKalb County who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Whereas, the late Private First Class Billy Gene Anderson, United State Army, made that sacrifice for his country on May 17, 2010 while serving in Afghanistan and

Whereas, PFC Billy Gene Anderson served with courage, giving his life for his country and the beliefs he held. He deserves proper recognition for his service as a proud representative of the United States Army, and the greatest sacrifice anyone can make.

Whereas, PFC Billy Gene Anderson selfishly gave his life while serving his country and it is appropriate that we ask the Tennessee General Assembly to honor his memory by naming the Bridge over Dry Creek on Highway 70 as a lasting monument to him.

Now therefore Be it enacted by DeKalb County Commission that the Tennessee General Assembly be asked to name the Dry Creek Bridge the PFC Billy Gene Anderson Memorial Bridge and signs be erected and maintained to permanently honor the memory of PFC Billy Gene Anderson"

Doug Stephens Appointed to the School Board

March 26, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Doug Stephens

Doug Stephens was appointed by the county commission Monday night to fill a vacancy on the school board in the sixth district.

By a vote of 7-6-1, Stephens got the nod over Boyd Trapp to serve out the unexpired term of Bruce Parsley, who resigned effective December 31.

Members of the commission voting for Stephens were Jack Barton from the second district, Bradley Hendrix from the third district, Wayne Cantrell and David McDowell from the fourth district, Jerry Adcock from the fifth district, Jeff Barnes from the sixth district and Larry Summers from the seventh district.

Those voting for Trapp were Elmer Ellis, Jr from the first district, Bobby Joines from the second district, Jerry Scott from the third district, John Green from the fifth district, Marshall Ferrell from the sixth district, and Jimmy Poss from the seventh district.

Mason Carter from the first district passed.

During the February 27 meeting, neither Stephens or Trapp received enough votes to get the appointment. Two roll call votes were taken and in each case, it was a six to six tie. Two members of the commission, John Green and Mason Carter were absent that night and County Mayor Mike Foster chose not to break the tie.

Jeff Barnes, who had voted for Trapp last month, switched his vote to Stephens this time.

Stephens will serve in this appointed position until August 31.

Disaster Recovery Center Now Open in DeKalb County

March 26, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page

A Disaster Recovery Center to help survivors of the February 29 to March 2 storms is now open in DeKalb County.

Gene Kauffman, FEMA Public Information Officer, said If you were affected in any way, visit the Recovery Center at the County Administrative Building, 724 South Congress Boulevard in Smithville. Hours are 8:00 a.m until 6:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m.

Specialists can answer questions about FEMA assistance, the SBA Disaster Loan Program and the status of your FEMA application.

Register with FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or register online at disasterassistance.gov.

Smithville Man Found Stabbed to Death in Kentucky

March 26, 2012

A Smithville man was reportedly found stabbed to death in Kentucky on Saturday.

Dead is 52 year old Patrick L. Dunlap

Nashville media are reporting that police responded to the call at 380 Hatcher Valley Road in Horse Cave, Kentucky of a person being stabbed Saturday around 5 p.m.

When police arrived they found Dunlap lying motionless on the ground with knife wounds to his body.

Police arrested Douglas Miller and charged him with murder.

Police also arrested Deborah Thistlewaite and placed her in the Hart County Jail on unrelated warrants.

Kentucky State Police are continuing their investigation into the death.

Two Charged with Burglary and Theft of Property at Local Business

March 26, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Matthew Malachi Lawson
Willie Ray Murphy
Bobby Wright Washer

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department has arrested two men in the recent burglary of a local business on Highway 70 east.

28 year old Matthew Malachi Lawson of Haley Road, Smithville and 29 year old Willie Ray Murphy of West Bryant Street, Smithville are charged with burglary and theft of property over $1,000 on Saturday, March 17. They were arrested on Friday, March 23. Bond for each is $10,000 and they will be in court on April 5.

According to Sheriff Patrick Ray, "Murphy went around to the side of the building (a business) and busted out a glass door. He then entered the business. While Murphy was in there, he took out some power tools for concrete work. Lawson, who brought Murphy to the business, sat in the vehicle and served as the lookout person. Lawson then left and later returned to pick up Murphy and the stolen equipment".

59 year old Bobby Wright Washer of Gay Road, Smithville is charged with driving under the influence. His bond is $1,500 and he will be in court on April 5.

Sheriff Ray reports that on Sunday, March 25 a deputy was dispatched to a vehicle which had run off the roadway on Highway 56. The officer arrived and saw that Washer's truck was in the ditch. He had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person and he was unsteady on his feet. His speech was also very slurred. Washer performed poorly on all field sobriety tasks and he submitted to a blood test. Sheriff Ray said Washer admitted to drinking more than a six pack of beer.

Mary Evins Elected to Serve as Delegate to Democratic National Convention

March 25, 2012
Mary Evins
Local Democratic Delegates

Mary A. Evins of Smithville, daughter of the late Congressman Joe L. Evins, has been elected as one of three female delegates, along with a female alternate, to attend the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte North Carolina this September from Tennessee's 6th congressional district.

Local delegates who attended to elect the congressional district delegates to the National Convention were Mary Evins, Jimmy and Joyce Poss, Jim Judkins, Harry Lasser, Joyce Hendrixson, Vincent Baker, Jerry Comfort, and Barbara Comfort. "DeKalb County was allotted only nine delegates or votes in the process while larger counties such Rutherford, Sumner, Bedford, and Putnam counties were alocated many more votes. There were approximately 30 total individuals who initially tried to qualify to be a delegate to the National Convention from the 6th congressional district." said Jim Judkins, chairman of the local party.

Evins teaches U.S. History at MTSU. Her mother was the late Ann Smartt Evins. Her paternal grandfather was the late Edgar Evins of DeKalb County, a former Mayor of Smithville and State Senator and her maternal grandfather was the late Judge Robert Smartt of Warren County.

Evins is one of a few to have ever been a delegate to the Democratic National Convention from DeKalb County. Among others were the late Joe L. Evins, McAllen Foutch, and M.T. Puckett.

(Bottom Photo: Bottom Row left to right: Barbara Comfort, Joyce Hendrixson, Harry Lasser,Mary Evins, Joyce Poss; Top Row: Jim Judkins, Jimmy Poss, Vincent Baker, Jerry Comfort

DeKalb 911 to Implement Reverse Calling For Local Tornado Warnings

March 23, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page

Effective April 1, the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District (911 Center) will implement a notification service (reverse 911 calling) in the event of local tornado warnings to alert those in the path of the storms

Brad Mullinax, Director of the 911 Center, said the calls will be placed automatically free of charge to anyone in DeKalb County who has landline telephone service with DTC Communications, Ben Lomand, or Twin Lakes and who may be threatened by a tornado. Those wanting to be alerted by cell phone, text messaging, or e-mail will have to register but there will be no charge to sign up.

The Hyper-Reach emergency notification service is integrated with NOAA weather alerts for approaching tornadoes and storm paths. The system automatically receives information from NOAA of a tornado along with its predicted path and areas that will likely be affected. Hyper-Reach can be set to automatically call all the phone numbers in that predicted area with a warning.

"The 911 center has subscribed to Hyper-Reach to provide weather warnings to the public of DeKalb County," said Mullinax. "The way this thing works is, when there is a severe weather warning that has been issued for DeKalb County, then its going to call the people of the county on their home telephone line. It will not call everyone. It will only call the people in the path of the storm. It will use our public switch network, which is DTC Communications, or if you live across the river it'll use Twin Lakes or if you're close to the Warren County line it'll use Ben Lomand's telephone network. The calls will go out when a warning is issued so when a tornado warning is issued, these calls are going to start going out. This will not be used just for severe thunderstorm warnings, it'll only be strictly for tornado warnings," said Mullinax.

"When we call you at home (on landline telephone), there will be no opt out for you not to receive the service. We're going to call you if there is a tornado warning. There will be no way for you to say, I don't want to receive those calls. We feel its a public safety issue and we will call you in the event there is a tornado headed toward your house. The system makes up to three attempts to reach you by phone. If you don't answer the call by the third attempt, it is supposed to leave you a message on your answering machine or voice mail," said Mullinax.

"There are limitations to the system," he said. "When these things (calls) go out, there is a time frame for the warning. For example, a warning might be issued at 9:00 p.m. and be in effect until 9:30 p.m. One of the limitations with the system is that once that warning expires, then it will stop calling the people of DeKalb County. If it does not get everyone (in the storm path) notified before the storm warning expires, then the calls will stop when the storm warning expires. It has the capability of calling between 300 and 500 people per minute. It will only call home telephone numbers by default. So for cell phones, text messaging and that kind of thing, it will require a different type of procedure. But by default, everyone in DeKalb County will be notified in the event of a tornado warning on their home (landline) telephone number, if you live in the path of the storm," said Mullinax.

"Sometimes people don't realize the limitations of a cellular network," he said. " For instance during the tornado here on February 29, we had problems with people in the county making calls in the area of Cookeville Highway, where the storm hit. We had responders who could not call out because the cellular network was just overwhelmed with calls. So I want to take this opportunity again to stress how important it is for people to keep their home (landline) telephone service, if for nothing else, to receive severe weather warnings. This service we're providing to the county is free. It doesn't cost the public anything. We're paying for it with Emergency Communications District
(ECD) funds. It won't increase your taxes. There is no cost associated with this. What we're asking is that you try to maintain that home (landline) telephone service so we can get you notified quickly in the event of an emergency," said Mullinax.

"We will start accepting sign ups on April 1," he said. " If you want to sign up for tornado warnings for cell phones, text messaging, or e-mail notifications, you can click the following links at http://www.hyper-reach.com/tndekalbsignup.html or visit http://www.dekalb911.org

No signs ups are required for landline customers of DTC, Ben Lomand, or Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperatives. Those telephone numbers are already in the DeKalb 911 database.

The terms and conditions are as follows:

"DeKalb County, TN" provides this notification service for informational purposes only and makes every effort to post accurate and reliable information. "DeKalb County, TN" makes neither warranties, guarantees nor representations of any type as to the content, accuracy or completeness of the information contained in or disseminated through the notification service, or any related services.

The User understands when subscribing to this notification service that "DeKalb County, TN" cannot guarantee 100 percent delivery of any message in a timely manner. "DeKalb County, TN" utilizes third parties' infrastructure to deliver messages such as Text Messages (SMS) and voice calls that may be unavailable due to those third parties' infrastructure issues. These may be due to congestion, weather, power, acts of terrorism, etc.

Furthermore, this notification service is dependent upon external providers such as your telephone carrier, your wireless carrier or e-mail delivery service, and it is dependent upon the proper functioning of your own telephonic equipment, such as your telephone, mobile phone, or PBX.

"DeKalb County, TN" will make every effort to ensure delivery of messages, but due to above unforeseen circumstances and due to these dependencies, "DeKalb County, TN" cannot guarantee delivery of any message to you in a timely manner, nor can it guarantee that any notification will be received by the intended recipient.

Service costs, such as phone usage and text message charges, from your carrier are your responsibility.

The services, Information, and data made available through this service are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind. "DeKalb County, TN" and its authorized agents and contractors make no representations or warranties regarding the condition of functionality of this service, its suitability for use, of that these services will be uninterrupted or error-free.

"DeKalb County, TN" and its authorized agents and contractors shall not be liable for any loss or injury caused in whole, or in part, by their actions, omissions, or contingencies beyond their control, including in procuring, compiling, or delivering the information, or arising out of any errors, omissions, or inaccuracies in the information regardless of how caused, or arising out of any user's decision, or action taken or not taken in reliance upon information furnished.

"DeKalb County, TN" and its authorized agents and contractors shall not, in any event, be liable for any direct, indirect, punitive, special, incidental, or consequential damages, including. without limitation, lost revenues or lost profits, arising out of or in any way connected with the use or misuse of the information or lack of information through this service, or with the delay or inability to use this service, or from any information, documents, services, software, or other material obtained through this service, or otherwise arising out of the use of this service, whether based on contract, tort, strict liability or otherwise, even if "DeKalb County, TN" and/or any of its authorized agents, contractors, employees, or affiliates have been advised of the possibility of damages

For Text Message Notifications

While SMS text messaging service is included in the "DeKalb County, TN" package, the standard carrier charges for your land-line and mobile services will still apply. When an alert occurs, "DeKalb County, TN" will send an SMS to the designated number. If the SMS recipient does not want SMS sent to this number they can send the keyword "STOP" at any time to cancel the SMS portion only. If there are any questions during the SMS session, the user can simply call 800-737-5080 to obtain help instructions. If you have opted for SMS Service, then your "DeKalb County, TN" alert notifications will be received via SMS (text-message) to the accepted mobile number at a rate of 1 or more SMS messages per qualified event.

By selecting the "I Accept" box, you are acknowledging you understand the above statements and are agreeing to register for the "DeKalb County, TN" notification service.

Senator Beavers’ Capitol Hill Week

March 23, 2012
State Senator Mae Beavers

State Senators continued to work through busy schedules this week on Capitol Hill, approving several important proposals including a proposal that calls for drug testing for welfare recipients with a past history for a drug arrest, measures to reduce the risk of flight by illegal aliens involved in traffic accidents and legislation to give teachers more authority over discipline in the classroom.

Drug Test / Welfare Recipients – The Senate Health and General Welfare Committee voted 7-1-1 in favor of legislation which calls for drug tests for applicants for Welfare benefits when that person has been arrested on a drug charge within five years. Senate Bill 2580 applies to adult recipients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Under the federal Welfare Reform Act passed in 1996, states were authorized to conduct drug testing for TANF recipients. The bill does not affect aid provided to children under the program.

Illegal Aliens / Risk of Flight -- The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-2 to approve Senate Bill 2604 that allows the court clerk to set bail for traffic violations at a higher amount than normally permitted for a defendant who is unlawfully present in the U.S. and is deemed a risk of flight. The bill, which now goes to the Finance Committee, is sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet).

Similarly, Senator Beavers led passage of another measure through the Senate Judiciary Committee requiring an officer to arrest a driver involved in an accident that results in serious bodily injury or death when the driver lacks a valid driver’s license and evidence of financial responsibility. Beavers said Senate Bill 2350 prohibits the issuance of a citation in lieu of an arrest in such circumstances due to the risk of flight. The bill is named the “Ricky Otts Act.” Mr. Otts was killed by an unlicensed driver who was suspected of being in the country illegally.

Felons with Firearms – The full Senate voted this week to enact tougher sentences for gun possession by those with prior violent felony convictions. Currently, illegal possession of a firearm for convicted violent felons is punishable as a Class E felony, which carries a one to six-year sentence and up to $3,000 in fines. Senate Bill 2250 would increase the offense to a Class C felony, which is punishable by a 3 to 15-year sentence and up to $10,000 in fines for convicted felons carrying a firearm whose crime involved the use of force, violence or a deadly weapon. The punishment would be a Class D felony for felons whose conviction involved a drug offense. The bill will be heard on final consideration in the House of Representatives on Monday.

Gangs / Crime – Another bill attacking crime that was approved by the full Senate this week enhances penalties for certain gang-related crimes committed by groups of three or more people one classification higher than if they had acted alone. A person robbed or assaulted by more than one assailant has a much greater chance of suffering severe injury or death. Senate Bill 2252 cracking down on gangs and the “Felons with Firearms” bill are part of a package of public safety bills included in Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda. The bills were recommended by a Public Safety Subcabinet Working Group that developed 11 objectives and 40 action steps in their multi-year safety action plan with the goal of significantly reducing drug abuse and drug trafficking; curbing violent crime; and lowering the rate of repeat offenders in Tennessee.

Historic Documents / Ten Commandments -- Legislation authorizing local governments to display replicas of historic documents such as the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Ten Commandments has passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee. Senate Bill 2641, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), would apply to county or municipal public buildings or grounds and would allow replicas to be displayed in the form of statues, monuments, or any other display that respects the dignity of the documents.

Prescription Drug Abuse -- The Senate Health and Welfare Committee has approved a proposal to curb prescription drug abuse by requiring doctors or their designees to check the state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Database for patients’ prescription history before prescribing an opioid or benzodiazepine substance. Senate Bill 2253 which is included in Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative package, requires pharmacies to collect a patient’s prescription information and report that information to the database within seven days. Currently it must be reported within 40 days. The bill also enhances penalties for doctor shopping from a Class A misdemeanor offense to a Class E Felony when it involves 250 or more pills. The stiffer penalties allow law enforcement officials to go after dealers who distribute the drugs illegally. The bill now goes to the Senate Government Operations Committee before moving to the Finance Committee and then to the floor for final consideration.

Constitutionality / Firearms Legislation -- Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper released an opinion to Senate Judiciary Committee members this week regarding the constitutionality of legislation that would allow gun owners to keep firearms locked out of sight in their vehicle while at their place of employment. The Attorney General opined that Senate Bill 3002 would be constitutionally defensible as two courts have upheld similar bills against such challenges. The bill is sponsored by Senator Mike Faulk (R-Church Hill).

Teachers / Discipline in the Classroom -- Teachers in grades 5 – 12 would have more authority to remove disruptive students from the classroom under legislation. The bill authorizes each teacher, consistent with the local education agency’s (LEA) policy, to manage their classroom, discipline students and refer a student to the principal. It also requires principals to fully support the authority of the teacher to remove a persistently disruptive student as long as he/she was removed within the guidelines developed by the school and the LEA.

Senate Bill 3122 requires LEAs, or school boards, to adopt a complete policy regarding a teacher's ability to remove a disruptive student from the classroom. Under the bill, teachers must file a brief report with the principal detailing the behavior of the removed student. The principal must respond when a teacher refers a student by employing appropriate discipline management techniques that are consistent with the LEA policy and their student code of conduct. Following three documented removals, the principal cannot return a student back to that classroom unless the teacher consents. Similarly, principals would be prohibited from returning a student to the classroom on the day of the removal without the teacher's consent. Finally, the legislation calls for the discipline policy to be disseminated to the students, faculty, staff, and parents or guardians of students.

Parental Involvement / Parent Contracts -- Legislation that would encourage school districts to develop and implement voluntary parental involvement contracts with parents of students passed the State Senate this week. It has been found that when parents collaborate with teachers, educators hold higher expectations of students and higher opinions of the parents. Findings also show that children from diverse cultural backgrounds tend to do better because parents and professionals are bridging the gap between the culture at home and the learning institution. Senate Bill 3588 is designed to encourage and facilitate a parent's involvement in his or her child's education.

Teachers First Amendment Right Protected – The State Senate passed Senate Bill 3060 is aimed at protecting the First Amendment rights of school personnel, including teachers and administrators. The bill seeks to ensure educators can participate in programs that take place either before or after school hours and do not interfere with their school duties, including those of a religious nature as long as they are initiated by students. The action comes after reported incidents where teachers and coaches were admonished for participating in such activities as the “Meet Me at the Pole” prayer event and prayer before sporting events, both of which are outside of school hours.
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