- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014
Questions about who would get the electric chair

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Lawyers and others disagree on whether a bill that passed in the legislature could legally force death row inmates with older convictions to die by electric chair if lethal injection drugs aren’t available.

The Tennessee Legislature passed a bill that would allow death by electrocution if drugs aren’t available. It’s not clear whether Gov. Bill Haslam will sign the bill into law.

A last-minute amendment on the bill said it would apply to all condemned prisoners, regardless of conviction date. Current law gives inmates who committed crimes before 1999 the choice on whether they want to die by electric chair or lethal injection.

Some lawyers say the government can’t change the method of death for inmates who were already convicted.

“I don’t think so because I think that if someone were sentenced under the lethal injection statute then they cannot change the sentence to execution by electrocution,” Brad MacLean, an attorney who has represented a number of condemned prisoners, said.

Nashville criminal defense attorney David Raybin agreed. Raybin, who helped draft Tennessee’s death penalty law nearly 40 years ago, said lawmakers may change the method of execution but they cannot make that change retroactive. To do so would be unconstitutional, he said.


Officials tour Memphis, review federal investments

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - The heads of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency toured Memphis on Friday to review results of federal investments aimed at improving housing and transportation options, protecting the environment and building stronger regional economies.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Housing and Urban Development Southeast Regional Administrator Ed Jennings hopped on a bus with media and local dignitaries to visit projects funded by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities in Memphis, one of the poorest large cities in the country.

The federal agencies have coordinated on more than $130 million in investments in the Memphis area through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and $4 billion throughout the country.

Investments in Memphis include programs to address negative effects of urban sprawl and automobile dependence on inner-city neighborhoods, improve infrastructure and spur development near Memphis International Airport, and help river ports deal with effects of severe weather.

They also include $6 million from HUD for a $175 million project to refurbish the massive, but empty, Sears Crosstown tower and create a mixed-use “urban village” around it.

The tour included an overview of investments at the Harahan Bridge, which will convert an old automobile bridge into a walking and biking trail connecting Tennessee and Arkansas. They also visited a FedEx facility, the up-and-coming Broad Street business corridor and the Legends Park West housing development.


VW lawyer: Automaker has deals in place outside TN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Volkswagen warned Tennessee officials during difficult negotiations over incentives to expand the German automaker’s lone U.S. plant that the company has already secured offers to build a new SUV elsewhere.

Volkswagen attorney Alex Leath said in a Jan. 27 email to the state Department of Economic and Community Development that the Volkswagen board would be presented options to build the new vehicle at the Chattanooga plant and or “alternative sites outside of Tennessee.”

Tennessee’s $300-million incentive offer to expand the plant has been complicated by Republican politicians’ opposition to the United Auto Workers campaign to unionize workers there.

“While we understand there are some ‘non-deal’ issues that are causing a delay in the TN solution, VW has been successful in reaching agreement on terms at the alternative locations,” Leath said in the email released to The Associated Press by the department.

Volkswagen wants to create a German-style works council at the plant representing both hourly and salaried employees, but can’t do so without the involvement of an independent union.

But Republican leaders in the state have fiercely opposed the UAW gaining a foothold with Volkswagen, arguing that it would hurt Tennessee’s ability to attract other manufacturers and suppliers. Before a February union vote, some warned the state Legislature could reject incentives if the UAW won.


Energy Secretary Moniz praises Oak Ridge projects

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz praised Department of Energy projects at Oak Ridge during a speech Friday at the University of Tennessee, saying they were central to America’s science and economic competitiveness.

The Oak Ridge Reservation in Anderson and Roane counties includes the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the East Tennessee Technology Park and the Y-12 National Security Complex.

Moniz, delivering the university’s Baker Distinguished Lecture on Energy and the Environment, said technologies under development there are an important part of the country’s transition to a clean-energy economy. They include technologies for producing more fuel-efficient vehicles, advanced biofuels and lower-cost batteries for electric vehicles.

He also highlighted the reservation’s role in developing advanced materials. A project to develop affordable carbon fiber products has a wide range of applications from lightweight vehicles to wind turbines, he said, adding a joking apology to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander for mentioning wind energy. Alexander, who was in the audience, has been an outspoken critic of wind-power technology.

Carbon fiber is lightweight and stronger than steel, but currently it is expensive to produce. It is used in products like high-end bicycles. To make it cheaper, the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy awarded a $35 million grant to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for a manufacturing demonstration facility.

Moniz also highlighted a research center for 3-D printing at Oak Ridge and the reservation’s Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, the first Department of Energy innovation hub, which, he said, has already produced products.

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