Associated Press

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — The Franklin Special School District is changing how it assigns students to schools so that populations will be more diverse.

Because housing patterns have changed, 40 percent of the students who receive free or reduced-price lunches in the Franklin system go to just two elementary schools.

School board member Kent McNish tells The Tennessean that the decision this month to begin rezoning students is an effort to enable more students to have a better shot at success.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt University has scheduled a campus meeting Tuesday evening on its requirement that Christian student organizations comply with its non-discrimination policy.

That policy says any student must be able to seek leadership positions in approved campus organizations.

The Christian groups say that violates their right to be led by fellow believers who support their beliefs and principles, including opposition to sex outside of marriage between a husband and wife.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A University of Tennessee poll shows an overwhelming majority of Tennesseans think texting behind the wheel is as unsafe as drunken driving. Yet 27 percent of respondents said they had texted while driving in the previous month.

The poll was conducted by UT's Center for Transportation Research. It showed a nearly equal percentage of people think drunken driving is highly dangerous, but a quarter of respondents said they had done it in the last 30 days, according to The Knoxville News Sentinel.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's top Republicans say they want to keep the current method of choosing judges and will introduce a constitutional amendment that would require voter approval.

Gov. Bill Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell announced Wednesday in Nashville that they oppose the popular election of Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The father of a gay college student who died after being beaten says he's disturbed by anti-gay legislation being proposed in Tennessee.

Dennis Shepard spoke at a Nashville news conference Wednesday. Shepard's son, Matt, was 21 when he was beaten 14 years ago in Wyoming, tied to a fence and left in the cold by two men he met in a bar.

His death spurred passage of a measure that expanded an earlier federal hate crime law to include sexual orientation, among other things.

NASHVILLE,‭ ‬Tenn.‭ (‬AP‭) — ‬Two Republican state legislators are pushing a measure aimed at allowing local governments to display the Ten Commandments in county courthouses or on public grounds in Tennessee.

Sen.‭ ‬Mike Bell of Riceville and Rep.‭ ‬Matthew Hill of Jonesboro have introduced a bill authorizing counties and cities to set up displays of historical documents and monuments and writings,‭ ‬as the bill reads,‭ "‬recognized to commemorate freedom and the rich history of Tennessee and the United States.‭"

NASHVILLE,‭ ‬Tenn.‭ (‬AP‭) — ‬Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers has withdrawn her proposal to strip Tennessee courts of the power to overturn laws enacted by the state Legislature.

The withdrawal late yesterday came after the proposal came under heavy criticism from members of both parties,‭ ‬including Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.

Beavers,‭ ‬a Republican from Mt.‭ ‬Juliet,‭ said last week that her bill was aimed at reeling in what she called out-of-control courts.

Democratic senators argued the proposal would threaten the independence of the courts.

NASHVILLE,‭ ‬Tenn.‭ (‬AP‭) — ‬A proposal to cut some students‭' ‬lottery scholarships in half is a hot topic this legislative session.

The plan,‭ ‬suggested by a panel of state lawmakers,‭ ‬would reduce by‭ ‬50‭ ‬percent the lottery scholarship awards for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements.

Right now,‭ ‬students can get a scholarship worth‭ ‬$4,000‭ ‬for each of four years if they either earn a‭ ‬3.0‭ ‬grade point average in high school or score a‭ ‬21‭ ‬on their ACT college entrance exam.

CROSSVILLE, Tenn.  (AP)  --   Crossville woman says a convicted murderer sitting on‭ ‬California’s‭ ‬death row has taken her on a‭ ‬26‭ ‬year-long roller coaster ride.

Wesley Shermantine is one half of the notorious‭ "‬Speed Freak Killers‭" ‬who‭ ‬may have committed as many as two-dozen murders in the‭ ‬1980s and‭ ‬90s during a drug-fueled rampage that terrorized California’s Central Valley Region.

The bodies of more than a dozen victims are still unaccounted for.‭ ‬Shermatntine now says he’s willing to‭ ‬show authorities where‭ ‬some of those bodies are buried.‭

NASHVILLE,‭ ‬Tenn.‭ (‬AP‭) — ‬A constitutional amendment to ban an income tax in Tennessee has passed the House.

The measure was approved‭ ‬73-17‭ ‬Thursday.‭ ‬The companion legislation passed the Senate last year.‭ ‬The measure must now be approved by a two-thirds vote of both chambers in the next General Assembly before it's placed on the ballot in‭ ‬2014.

Opponents of the legislation say it's unnecessary because the state constitution already bans an income tax and that the measure is politically motivated.

NASHVILLE,‭ ‬Tenn.‭ (‬AP‭) — Tennessee's unemployment rate fell four-tenth to‭ ‬8.7‭ percent in December,‭ ‬the lowest rate in three years.

State officials say that just over‭ ‬11,000‭ ‬people gained employment last month over November when the rate was‭ ‬9.1‭ ‬percent.

From November to December,‭ the professional and business services sector added jobs, as did durable goods manufacturing,‭ ‬and the clothing and accessories sectors.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state trade mission to China and South Korea in April will focus on Tennessee's medical device manufacturers and other health care companies.

The state announced yesterday that Commissioner Bill Hagerty of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development will lead the April trip.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge in Knoxville has ordered a man suspected in a $6.5 million prescription painkiller operation jailed until his trial in March.

The ruling came at a Tuesday detention hearing for Eric Christopher Hefner. 

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Drug Enforcement Administration agent Bethel Poston testified during the hearing that -by conservative estimate - Hefner brought 260,000 pills into East Tennessee in a single year.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers are proposing legislation that could affect Occupy Nashville protesters.

The measure says a person can’t live on publicly owned property that isn't designated or permitted as residential.

Protesters have occupied the plaza across the street from the state Capitol since early October. State troopers raided the encampment in late October and made 55 arrests, but the state has had to back down.

SMYRNA, Tenn. (AP) — The National Weather Service says an EF-0 tornado did touch down near Smyrna yesterday afternoon, causing some property damage but no injuries or deaths.

The tornado had relatively low wind speeds of between 80 and 85 miles per hour. That didn't stop it from overturning a recreational vehicle, uprooting trees and seriously damaging the roof of a house.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — House Speaker Beth Harwell is voicing opposition to efforts to water down Tennessee's open meetings laws. She’s calling on a Republican colleague to drop a bill that seeks to make changes to the current rules.

Spokeswoman Kara Owen said in an email yesterday that Harwell doesn’t support efforts to allow members of local governments to meet behind closed doors as long as a quorum isn't present.

Owen says Harwell has spoken to Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin and that Casada agreed not to pursue the bill this year.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A measure that seeks to ban Tennessee public schools from teaching about gay issues is once again before lawmakers.
The proposal, dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill, is sponsored by Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald and is scheduled to be heard today in the House Education Subcommittee.

The companion bill passed the Senate last year. It limits all sexually related instruction to, as the measure reads "natural human reproduction science" in kindergarten through eighth grade.

MEMPHIS, Tenn (AP/WMOT) --  Two Tennessee newspapers have teamed up to launch PolitiFact Tennessee, part of a national organization that works to hold politicians accountable by fact-checking their statemenst and claims.

The Commercial Appeal of Memphis and the Knoxville News Sentinel will examine claims made by local, state and national officials. PolitiFact Tennessee will also track Gov. Bill Haslam's progress in meeting his campaign promises.

The papers that participate research statements by elected officials and others and rate their accuracy.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's highway deaths in 2011 stayed below 1,000 for just the third time in 48 years.

Preliminary figures released by the Tennessee Department of Safety show the state had 947 traffic-related deaths last year. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, that could make 2011 the safest year on Tennessee roads in nearly a half century.

Last year's preliminary figure is six more than the total in 1963, when the state was less populated and fewer cars were on the road.

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