- Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2014
108th General Assembly adjourns for the year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - State lawmakers concluded a session Thursday in which they approved measures to allow folks to buy wine in grocery stores, fight methamphetamine production and give high school graduates free tuition at community colleges.

But the 108th Tennessee General Assembly rejected a key educational proposal to create a program that gives parents the option to move a child from a failing public school to a private school using state funds. It also eliminated planned raises for teachers and state employees, which ended up being one of the most contentious issues toward the end of the session.

Gov. Bill Haslam had planned to give a 1 percent pay increase to state employees and 2 percent to teachers, but later said he wouldn’t be able to because of poor revenue collections.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the House presented proposals to give teachers and state employees one-time bonuses and contingency pay increases, but all those amendments failed.

Haslam said during a press conference after the session that he’s still committed to trying to find ways to make the pay hikes happen, particularly in the case of teachers.

“Going forward, is it a priority for me? The answer is 100 percent,” he said. “People teach for reasons way beyond pay, but it’s a piece of it.”

___

Federal team investigating fatal Tenn. explosion

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A special investigative team of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is looking into an explosion at a Tennessee ammunition plant that killed one person and injured three others.

The blast Wednesday at the Rio Ammunition plant in McEwen, about 55 miles west of Nashville, killed Rodney Edwards and critically injured Joey Clark, who was being treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Thursday. A woman whom authorities have not yet publicly identified was in stable condition, and another man was discharged.

ATF spokesman Michael Knight said local officials spent Thursday clearing the area around the plant of any live ammunition to bring in heavy equipment and stabilize the walls. Once the building was stabilized, the ATF’s National Response Team planned to begin its investigation.

A news release from parent company Maxam said Rio Ammunition produces shotgun cartridges, and the blast occurred during the company’s cartridge loading operations. The release says Rio Ammunition has begun its own internal query and is cooperating with the law enforcement investigation.

ATF spokesman Knight said the company has federal licenses to manufacture firearms and explosives. He said the ATF regulates the cartridge manufacturing, making sure the company complies with standards. The plant is inspected about every two years, Knight said, and a preliminary investigation has not turned up any previous violations.

The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates worker safety in the state, but spokesman Jeff Hentschel said that agency has never inspected the plant. That’s because TOSHA has received no safety complaints about Rio Ammunition, and the plant has not yet come up for random inspection. Records show the company received a certificate of authority from the Tennessee Secretary of State in 2009, a prerequisite to doing business in the state.

Story Continues →