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Ken Yager

HB 0368/SB 0893 is harmful to the interests of Oak Ridge and Tennessee

My email to State Senators Randy McNally and Ken Yager:

As a scientist and an elected official in the city of Oak Ridge, which trades on its scientific reputation, I urge you both to vote against SB 0893, the “critical thinking” bill.

Professional science teachers and the scientific community as a whole correctly interpret this as a bill to legitimize the teaching of creationism, intelligent design, and other non-science-based worldviews as science, by relabeling the real science as “debate”. (Science teachers already can and do discuss the fact that scientific teaching may be at odds with what children have learned at home or in Sunday school — passing a new law won’t help them.)

Mere discussion of this proposed legislation is making Tennessee a laughingstock in the scientific community, both nationally and globally. Passing it will do real harm to the ability of Oak Ridge and the state of Tennessee to continue to represent ourselves as leaders in science and technology. Please vote against this, in the interest of the economic future of the city of Oak Ridge and the state of Tennessee.

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Continuing discussions on next phase of Hwy 95 widening

TDOT has supplied notes on a recent meeting between the agency and Southwood subdivision homes, held in State Senator Ken Yager’s Harriman office on May 15.

TDOT recorded the following “Home owners concerns and requests regarding alternatives/design changes” (thiis is what the homeowners said to TDOT), but I have not yet seen TDOT’s analysis:

Health, noise and safety- Proposed road will not leave much room between houses and traffic lanes. The shifting of lanes towards houses will generate more noise and long exposure to it will affect health.

Existing tree lines in front of houses will be cut to build the roadway and slopes. Removal of this natural barrier will open the possibility of vehicles running over the slopes and landing on the backyard of houses. Guardrail does not provide good protection. A noise wall or any other kind of wall between roadway and houses will be an appropriate safety device. Buying houses close to the roadway is another alternative.

Roadway cross section, median ditch- Plan shows a median ditch from old Sweet Gum entrance to Southwood entrance but there is no ditch in front of Sweet Gum subdivision. Begin ditch form Southwood entrance to save property and trees. A flush median in this area can be an alternative. Would like an urban typical adjacent to the subdivision.

Roadway alignment- All ROW for building the road is taken from homeowner’s side whereas empty Federal land (DOE property) is available on the other side. TDOT can work with the Feds to secure property on the north side.

Communication gap- The subdivisions were built after the acquisition of ROW by TDOT. The developer Mr. J.W. Gibson did not pass the information about imminent road construction to them. The City of Oak Ridge on the other hand issued permits to build houses. The owners requested an electronic copy of the final deed between Mr. Gibson and TDOT.

Delaying the project- The project took several years to reach this stage. It can be delayed further for the changes they are requesting now.

Consideration should be given to any change that would lessen the project impact on the subdivision. Example: speed limit in the vicinity of the subdivision.

ADDED May 27th: Some people have asked about TDOT’s requirements for evaluating the impacts of highway projects. Here’s a link to their guidance on the subject: Tennessee Environmental Procedures Manual, Chapter 5

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Tennessee: Please don’t take these two backward steps

I expected the state budget to be the main topic Monday morning at the League of Women Voters’ monthly Breakfast with the Legislators, and I was right (as Bob Fowler reported in the News Sentinel). I didn’t predict the discussion that occurred over reauthorization of the Tennessee Plan (the procedure that Tennessee uses to select judges for the state’s highest courts) and proposals to return to the days when most school superintendents were elected, not appointed. When asked about these topics, neither State Senators Randy McNally or Ken Yager gave clear and forthright statements of support for the status quo. Both hemmed and hawed a lot, and Yager’s comments suggested that may be leaning toward returning to direct election of appellate court judges (but only in non-partisan elections — he said he opposed having appellate judges elected in partisan elections) and that he might want to let counties go back to electing school superintendents.

I found myself with the sinking feeling that the Republican majority in the State Senate is committed to restoring direct elections for these positions, and that our two local Senators were reluctant to say anything contrary to their party’s position.

Direct election of senior judges and school superintendents is a bad idea. We need to maintain an independent judiciary that makes decisions based on the law, not on popular opinion or the wishes of big campaign contributors. Also, we need for our public schools to be run by professional educators who are motivated by the needs of children, not the need to be re-elected.  I hope the General Assembly members recognize that changing back to direct election of these offices would be a major step backward — no, make that two steps backward — for Tennessee.

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