- Associated Press - Friday, April 11, 2014
Lawmakers approve $32.4B spending plan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee lawmakers on Thursday approved the state’s $32.4 billion spending plan for the budget year beginning in July after failed attempts to increase the pay of teachers and state employees.

The House approved the measure 68-27 and the Senate voted 28-3 a few hours later in favor of the plan, which removes previously planned salary increases for teachers and state employees to make up for flagging state revenue collections.

The measure now goes to the governor’s desk. Lawmakers hope to adjourn early next week.

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.

In particular, Republican Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough sought to give a $500 bonus to all teachers and state employees who have at least three years of service, and a 1 percent pay increase for all teachers and state employees next year, contingent upon state revenue figures.

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


Coast Guard ends search for 2 men in Miss. River

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Authorities on Thursday called off the search for two men who fell off a Mississippi River barge that overturned in northeastern Arkansas earlier this week, saying both are presumed to have been killed.

Capt. William Drelling, the commander for the U.S. Coast Guard in Sector Lower Mississippi, said searchers haven’t seen any sign of Juan Nieves or Nicolas Perez, who have been missing since the barge capsized Tuesday. When asked if he thought they were still alive, Drelling said, “If we thought they were, we’d still be searching.”

Nieves and Perez fell into the water when the barge flipped over while unloading about 700,000 pounds of steel coil at a Kinder Morgan terminal near Blytheville, which is about 60 miles north of Memphis, Tenn.

Investigators don’t know what caused the barge to capsize.

A ten-mile portion of the river that was closed was reopened Thursday after the Coast Guard suspended their search. The latest reading of the water’s temperature was nearly 50 degrees, and according to Drelling, a person could still have control of their body for about seven hours and stay alive for about 10 hours. The barge sank in about 50 feet of water near the river’s tree-lined banks.

Drelling said the Coast Guard had searched about 40 miles downstream since the search efforts began earlier this week.


Senate approves Haslam’s school voucher bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Senate has approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to create a school voucher program in Tennessee.

The measure approved 20-10 on Thursday is different than the House version that has stalled in the House Finance Committee.

Haslam originally sought to limit the vouchers - or so-called “opportunity scholarships” - to students from low-income families attending the bottom five percent of failing schools.

Under the new version, if there are not enough students for the available slots, then eligibility would be opened to low-income students in districts that have a school in the bottom five percent.

The companion bill would expand eligibility to the bottom 10 percent of failing schools if slots are left. That version has had trouble mainly because of opposition to further expansion of the measure.


3 dead, 1 wounded in Tenn. shooting

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - A teenager was in custody Thursday after a shooting outside of Chattanooga left three people dead and wounded another teenager.

The Times Free Press reports (https://bit.ly/1gcxy3D) 19-year-old Derek Morse was arrested Thursday morning. He is charged with criminal attempted homicide in the Wednesday night shooting, and additional charges are pending.

Less than a week ago, charges against Morse were dismissed in connection with another violent incident where he was accused of opening fire on a carload of people. According to court records, he was charged with aggravated assault and domestic assault in that case. Hamilton County District Attorney General Bill Cox said the judge dismissed those charges because the witnesses repeatedly failed to appear in court.

In the Wednesday shooting, the surviving victim told officers he had been at a motor home with three others when two men came up shooting at them.

Sixteen-year-old Michael Callen was wounded, but he managed to make it back to his nearby home, according to the arrest report. Callen told officers he continued to hear gunfire and heard one of the men saying, “Make sure they’re all dead,” according to the report.

Deputies found three people dead near the motor home, and numerous casings were littering the road. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office identified the victims as John F. Lang, Caleb N. Boozer, and Jon E. Morris.



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