Kingsport Times News. May 18, 2021.

Editorial: Deed Book A is coming home

As Winston Churchill said, “never, never, never give up.” It took 124 years, but because what is now neighboring Washington County wouldn’t give up, an irreplaceable piece of Tennessee history will return to Northeast Tennessee from whence it came and where it belongs.

It’s a collection of documents recording land transactions in the region including the very first in what would become the state of Tennessee. That first document is an agreement between Watauga and Nolichucky settlement leaders and chiefs of the Cherokee Nation on March 19, 1775.

The collection is called Deed Book A. It does not include the original documents, but it is a copy of transactions between 1775 and 1782, the creation of which was supervised by a Jonesborough resident named Nathan Shipley. It is one half of a larger document collection that includes Deed Book B.

Deed Book A had been stored in Jonesborough for more than half a century when it was sent to Nashville in 1897 as part of the county’s contribution to the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition. Nashville never sent it back. It was placed in the Tennessee State Library and Archives, and appeals for its return went ignored.

Last year in February, state Rep. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough, and state Sens. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, and Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, met with the secretary of state to request the deed book be returned. Every state legislator representing Northeast Tennessee signed a letter to that effect.

The state responded that Deed Book A is state property because at the time it was created, Shipley was a state employee who served as a land commissioner and was acting as such to fulfill requirements of an 1806 state law asking for copies of North Carolina land grants.

Not so, said Washington County Archivist Ned Irwin, who reported that when the copy was made, Shipley was serving as a Washington County justice of the peace and a land surveyor. He also noted Shipley was not appointed land commissioner for Tennessee until 1815, more than eight years after the copies of the land grants were supposed to be filed in Nashville.

At long last, Nashville has agreed that the document is indeed the property of Washington County, and this June 1, which marks the 224th anniversary of statehood, Secretary of State Tre Hargett will hand it over.

But Deed Book A isn’t just Washington County’s property. It may be in the custody of that county, and certainly that’s where it should be archived. But it also belongs to Kingsport and Sullivan County. Hawkins and Greene counties also have claim to it. And so does the rest of the state because when the transactions it records took place, Washington County was part of North Carolina. Established in 1777 nearly 20 years before Tennessee was even a state, it stretched from the mountains to the Mississippi River.

In 1779, North Carolina set the county seat at Jonesborough because it was a central distance from the then existing major areas of settlement on the frontier: the Watauga settlement along the Watauga River to the east (later Carter County); Jacob Brown’s settlement along the Nolichucky River to the southwest (later southern Washington County and eastern Greene County); the North of the Holston settlement (later Sullivan County) to the northeast; and the Carters Valley settlement (later Hawkins County) to the northwest.

Deed Book A belongs to all of us. We should be proud that it has come home.

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Johnson City Press. May 13, 2021.

Editorial: Tennessee quickly forgot ‘essential workers

Tennessee has already shamefully, though not surprisingly, turned its back on thousands of workers we deemed essential last year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, Gov. Bill Lee wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor informing the agency that the state will opt out of a federal supplemental unemployment program, effective July 3.

The decision to forego the available funds, which cuts weekly assistance to the jobless by more than half, was because “Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state,” Lee said in the letter.

Compounding the damage done by the massive cut, which returns the state’s available assistance to among the lowest in the country, the General Assembly approved a bill this year to decrease the unemployment benefits period from 26 weeks to 12, the shortest in the nation.

For months, business owners, many in service industries, have pushed for unemployment subsidies to end, characterizing labor shortage issues as “people not wanting to work” when jobless benefits outstripped the wages they were offering. None of the loudest voices seemed to consider that the issue may have been with the paltry pay rather than worker laziness.

As of March, Tennessee’s unemployment rate was 5%, 22nd in the nation and hardly a figure that suggests a crisis of worker apathy.

Trends, however, do put the state among the worst for median income, percentage of residents living in poverty and proportion of workers paid at or below the federal minimum wage.

That minimum rate of $7.25 an hour, less than a living wage even using local calculations, is in effect here because the state’s leaders have never set one on their own. Congress last increased the federal minimum in 2009 despite an estimated cost of living increase of more than 20% since then.

The jobs most likely to pay the minimum or less are in the leisure and hospitality, education and health services and retail trade industries — the cashiers, servers, cooks and nursing home attendants who couldn’t work from home while a deadly virus tore through our country.

They took on hazardous conditions to make sure all of our lives didn’t grind to a complete halt, and it’s past time we started supporting these hard workers in securing adequate pay instead of accusing them of sloth.

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Cookeville Herald-Citizen. May 18, 2021.

Editorial: Stronger sentencing needed for vehicular homicide

If you happen to come upon a complete copy of all the laws of the state of Tennessee — something known as the Tennessee Code Annotated or TCA — you will likely notice that Title 39 of that code relates to Criminal Offenses and Chapter 13 of Title 39 addresses “Offenses Against Person.”

From there, you may navigate more specifically to TCA 39-13-213, the law that relates to vehicular homicide, and that’s where things can get a bit complicated.

TCA 39-13-213 contains more than 500 words explaining that vehicular homicide “is the reckless killing of another by the operation of an automobile, airplane, motorboat or other motor vehicle.”

It then goes on to list those things that drivers may do that would legally qualify as reckless — like drinking, drag racing, or speeding through a construction zone.

The confusion for many comes not so much from determining whether someone has recklessly caused a death, but deciding what kind of punishment should result.

District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway had to inform a Putnam County family earlier this year that the man who had caused the death of their loved one would be spending no more than eight years in jail and would likely be getting out sooner than that.

Dunaway was not pleased with that sentence, and neither are we, which is why we support the D.A.’s efforts to have the state legislature impose a greater sentence for such crimes.

Those efforts were stalled this year because of concerns about the potential cost, and while we applaud lawmakers for considering the cost of any legislation, we would argue that this particular change in state law is worth the price.

Our reading of TCA 39-13-213 shows that sentences can range anywhere from 48 hours to 10 years, depending on the circumstances. And while we don’t want to take away the discretion that judges have in tailoring punishment to the circumstances of a particular case, we believe that they should have the option to impose a more severe punishment than is currently allowed.

Lawmakers should be able to figure out a way to do that without breaking the budget.

END