- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


May 6

The Commercial Appeal on gun legislation in Tennessee:

If you think pro-gun legislators in the Tennessee General Assembly might be satisfied with the extent of their campaign to put loaded firearms in the hands of more people in more places, consider the threat issued this week by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden.

Holt, the House sponsor of a bill that allows employees of Tennessee’s public colleges and universities who have handgun-carry permits to carry their guns on campus, said the law paves the way toward a future in which Tennessee college students will eventually be allowed to pack their Rugers, Sig Sauers and Colts next to their laptops and textbooks.

“My intention,” he added, “is to eliminate all gun-free zones, whether it’s the legislature or a college campus.”

Which seems to be, if not the intention at least something Gov. Bill Haslam is resigned to. Haslam declined to veto the legislation, mildly expressing some concerns but allowing it to become law without his signature.

Haslam had previously shown his weakness on the issue by signing legislation that prohibits state colleges and universities from taking “adverse action” against students and employees with permits for transporting or storing a gun or ammunition in their parked vehicles on campus.

It does seem like an inevitable march toward a riskier environment, thanks to a legislature that has permitted guns in bars, parks and other venues, constantly challenging the limits imposed by a Supreme Court ruling that the Second Amendment is not a license for citizens to go armed in any place under any circumstance.

It’s no mystery why the General Assembly has cavalierly waived aside the rights of businesses to control the possession of guns on their property. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why legislators routinely ignore the warnings of law enforcement officials - and campus police chiefs, in this case - who, through their training and experience, have concluded that firearms proliferation leads to greater risks to the public’s well-being.

The sad fact is that they’re too frightened to listen to the experts when firearms proliferation is being promoted. The National Rifle Association has their ear, and it will continue to fight the re-election hopes of those whose votes offend the gun industry’s powerful lobby.

Tennessee is not unique in this respect. Georgia lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favor of similar legislation during their recent session.

Every one of the state’s 29 public university and college presidents, along with their police chiefs, opposed the bill, but it was a top priority of the NRA.

A veto by Gov. Nathan Deal has, at least temporarily, prevented it from becoming law.

But in Georgia, Tennessee and elsewhere, those concerned with the rising threat of gun proliferation must brace themselves for more of the same.




May 11

The Johnson City Press on keeping pets safe while on state highways:

Tennesseans are forbidden by state law to hold an infant or a child in their laps while they are driving. No rational thinking person would even consider doing such a thing because of the safety risk it would pose to both the child and the driver.

Yet, every day there are Tennesseans who take to our streets with a small dog in their laps. This is not only dangerous for the animal, it also puts the lives of the driver and the other motorists who share the roadways with them in jeopardy.

A deadly single-vehicle accident in Kingsport on Saturday tragically illustrates this point. As the NET News Service reports, a man and his small dog were both killed after the 2012 Honda CRV they were traveling in veered off the right side of Forth Henry Drive and struck a rock embankment. The vehicle then rolled over on the driver’s side and came to a stop.

Police say the driver was transported the hospital where he was later pronounced dead. First responders say his dog, which was sitting on his lap at the time of the accident, was likely killed by the sudden and forceful deployment of the airbags from the steering wheel.

Investigators are speculating the accident was caused by a medical condition or related to a distraction. In any case, police say pets should always be properly restrained (preferably in pet containers) while in a vehicle. That means no uncrated dogs should be riding the in beds of pickup trucks or riding in the laps of either the driver or passenger in the front seats of cars.




May 8

The Knoxville News Sentinel on Tennessee Public Records Act:

State law gives us a tool to hold our public servants accountable: the Tennessee Public Records Act.

Tennesseans have the fundamental right to explore what local and state governments are up to by simply requesting copies of an assortment of public records - everything from emails to investigative reports.

But sadly, in Tennessee this valuable information has become expensive information. It’s being held hostage by some who prefer, it seems, that the public butt out. There are repeated instances across the state where records requests made by media outlets and, more importantly, citizens, have been met with absurd invoices.

Tennesseans have had a right to see their public records for decades. It was only in 2008 that the Legislature changed state law to allow agencies to charge for finding and producing the records when copies were made. In the intervening years, the public records system has been so poorly regulated and haphazardly administered that those in charge, including elected officials with something to hide, have effectively set their own prices. Too often, fees for public records have been a tool used to resist, delay or shut down public oversight of critical public business.

It shouldn’t cost a Chattanooga student $1,700 to determine how the public utility spends its advertising budget. It shouldn’t cost The Tennessean in Nashville more than $50,000 to obtain records detailing how children in state custody have died. Nor The Commercial Appeal in Memphis $7,000 to find out how much generous agriculture property tax breaks cost the rest of us ($90 million a year).

In these last two instances, the fees were reduced after the newspapers engaged in costly or time-consuming fights. Increasingly, though, few media outlets, and precious few citizens, have the financial and legal resources to fight these exorbitant charges.

Too often the bills reflect a common tactic: Those making the request are met with hourly fees for an expensive lawyer or administrator to review records when a clerk could do the work more cheaply. That was the strategy Loudon County used when a $250-an-hour lawyer was employed to fill a citizen’s request last year, racking up a $6,635 bill that the county then used to argue the request was excessive.

A proposal in 2015 that additional fees be permitted just for examining records met a loud and angry reaction from the public, and lawmakers retreated on the idea this year. However, lawmakers did pass a bill requiring all local governments to adopt open-records policies by the end of the year, including statements on how fees are charged.

So now is the time for a clear statement on this issue.

Taxpayers should bear the cost of making and keeping public information public as they historically did in Tennessee until the law was changed. This is, after all, the internet era and public records should be routinely made available on the web.

But if charges are allowed, there must be strict controls to counter abuses. No citizens should have the door slammed on them because they can’t afford to look inside.

The issue surfaced again recently when our sister newspaper in Jackson was hit with a $1,600 bill for records that revealed why the University of Tennessee at Martin was placed on probation by its accrediting body. The newspaper was billed at $108 an hour for UT-Martin’s interim chancellor to review more than 1,000 pages of records before making them public. The Jackson Sun paid that bill so it could look deeply at what’s amiss at UT Martin. It made the decision to get the information into the public’s hands, then fight over the excessive bill later.

It’s hard for us to say it better than the Sun did in its editorial on the issue last Sunday:

“The system is wide open for abuse by government bureaucrats who want to restrict access to public records, particularly those records that may expose their failure to act as good stewards of the public’s business and taxpayer dollars.”





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