- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


July 13

The Johnson City Press on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The service is responsible for managing and preserving this country’s most historic, scenic and popular vacation destinations.

One of those sites is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is one of this nation’s most visited and beloved national treasures. The park, which covers approximately 521,621 acres in Tennessee and North Carolina, is also a valuable economic tool for our region.

Local leaders know the unspoiled beauty of the Smokies is a vital resource that fuels both commerce and relaxation. The National Park Service’s website describes the Smokies as “world renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life.”

That’s why Americans must be ever vigilant when it comes to protecting these natural resources from poachers, arsonists and litter bugs. The Smokies must also be protected from encroaching development and ecological damage caused by climate change.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the crowning jewel of a park system that is the envy of the world. We should never take it for granted.




July 8

The Knoxville News Sentinel on a new carjacking law:

Carjacking is a serious crime, one that often accompanies other serious, even lethal, felonies by the perpetrators. Thus, the new law that took effect on July 1 requiring longer sentences for those convicted of carjacking is well within reason as a punishment and, it is hoped, as a deterrent.

The bill was co-sponsored by state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, in response to a spate of carjackings in Memphis and in other cities in Tennessee the previous year.

When Kelsey announced last November that he would file his bill, Nashville police had reported at least three carjackings at gunpoint in three months. In Knoxville, three gunmen robbed and carjacked three men outside a Kingston Pike gym, punching one of the victims and pistol-whipping another. Earlier in the year, two teenagers were charged with armed robbery and carjacking a 17-year-old victim outside a West Knoxville child-care center.

The new law stipulates that those convicted of carjacking must serve 75 percent of their sentence before being released on parole. Kelsey initially had proposed 85 percent. With the older law, the minimum prison time for convicted carjackers was 30 percent of the sentence.

Kelsey said, “It was horrible that carjackers were holding drivers at gunpoint and having to serve only 30 percent of their sentence.” He said he was happy to have a part in more than doubling the incarceration time. “This new law will keep Tennesseans safer by ensuring that carjackers serve more time behind bars,” he added.

Tennessee law defines carjacking as “the intentional or knowing taking of a motor vehicle from the possession of another by use of a deadly weapon or force or intimidation.”

Knoxville’s most notorious case was the carjacking and torture-slaying of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom in 2007. The memory of that horrible incident is easily another reason for the stricter punishment.

The state’s criminal code defined carjacking as a class B felony when the Legislature first enacted the law as a separate crime in 1995. Class B felonies are punishable by eight to 30 years in prison, depending on the perpetrator’s previous criminal record. The standard sentence for a convicted carjacker with no prior felony convictions is eight to 12 years.

Tennessee is not among the top 10 or lowest 10 states for automobile theft, of which carjacking is a part. Yet the statistics do not matter nearly as much as the emotional shock of being carjacked and the horror of what can happen as a result.

Even if the victims are not seriously injured, carjacking leaves emotional scars, including a fear that it might happen again. Alfreda Boyd, whose nephew’s SUV was carjacked while he was taking his aunt to the pharmacy, said she and Anthony Boyd Jr. still relive the nightmare.

“I hate that someone’s child has to go to jail, but they should think about that before committing these crimes,” Alfreda Boyd recently told USA Today. She and her nephew, she said, “have not fully recovered from our carjacking. I still can’t go to the store alone.”

We hope the new law serves as a deterrent. If not, the punishment certainly fits the crime.




July 7

The Commercial Appeal on sexual assault allegations at the University of Tennessee:

Officials at every institution of higher learning in the country had better be following the developments in the case against the University of Tennessee alleging a “hostile sexual environment.”

Too bad for any one of them who declares that “It couldn’t happen here.”

UT, it was revealed this week, has agreed to pay $2.48 million to settle the federal Title IX lawsuit mostly arising from UT’s failure to respond appropriately to allegations of sexual assault by members of the football team. And it’s not over yet.

UT still must deal with two sexual violence complaints filed in May with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

And there could be opportunities for accusers to heap more shame on the university in the future. The criminal trials of former football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams are on hold.

UT is not alone in its struggle with this issue. There are 253 U.S. Department of Education investigations underway at 198 postsecondary institutions delving into how alleged incidents of sexual violence are handled.

A public-awareness campaign launched by the Obama administration - “It’s on Us” - is encouraging people to intervene before a sexual assault takes place.

Efforts are underway at scores of universities to facilitate the reporting of alleged sexual assaults and to discipline assailants. At many schools, a “preponderance of evidence” is enough to establish that an assault occurred, rather than requiring cases to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Meanwhile at UT, there is a $2.48 settlement to explain. Raja Jubran, vice chair of the UT Board of Trustees, said in a news release that UT officials “felt confident about our legal position.”

Predictably, the payout is being explained as a way to prevent an emotional toll on those involved, protect the reputation of the university and avoid added legal costs estimated at as much as $5.5 million.

As if there was no merit to multiple complaints of sexual assault and the university’s way of dealing with allegations - by allegedly providing its precious athletes with inappropriate help with their defense.

Nope. No merit at all. Which has been UT’s position from the beginning. The coaching staff could be trusted, the public was assured and the accusations were false.

All of which leads to the assumption that it’s more important at the school - rather than fully exploring the merits of the accusations - to put a stop to the negative headlines and limit damage to the school’s recruiting efforts.

Just write a seven-figure check and move on, the kind of thing universities do when a football coach under contract has outlived his usefulness. Money is no object.

To their credit, university officials, despite their protestations of innocence, have made some promising changes, adding six positions dedicated to sexual assault prevention and response, for example.

Within 60 days, UT system President Joe DiPietro said he plans to appoint an independent commission to review existing programs and efforts around sexual assault.

Would that kind of movement a few years back have saved a number of UT students from the pain, humiliation and suffering they say they endured at the hands of UT athletes?

No one can say for sure. But any school that is not making sure that its system for responding to allegations of sexual violence is fair and complete is putting its students - and its bank account - at too much risk.



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