Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


July 10

Cleveland Daily Banner on a new Tennessee driving law:

...Days into the launch of a new life-changing state law — Public Chapter No. 412 — we hope Cleveland and Bradley County motorists are paying attention.

If not, chances are good your wallets today are significantly lighter. Not to put too fine a point on it, but $50 to $200 lighter. Some of the less fortunate might even have racked up three points on your violator's driving record.

Some call it the "hands-free" law; others know it as "put down the cellphone" law when sitting behind the steering wheel of a moving vehicle.

By any name, its fragrance likely is considered not-so-sweet by drivers who are caught in the act. But it's now the law of land — at least, in Tennessee — and it's a good law. Though we don't wish ill of violators, we do support the work of local law enforcement officers who will be saving lives by upholding the state decree.

As for the new mandate that took effect July 1, here's the gist: Under the law, violation is now a Class C misdemeanor and is considered a moving traffic violation.

Fines for these violations include:

—$50 for a first-time offense.

—$100 for a third-time offense, or higher; and, if the violation results in a vehicular accident.

—$200 for a violation that occurs inside a work zone while workers are present; or, if the violation occurs in a marked school zone while flashers are in operation.

It's this simple: The new law does not permit drivers to operate a motor vehicle while holding or supporting a cellphone or mobile device with any part of his/her body.

Obviously, there are exceptions . some of them common-sense applications to an otherwise excellent legislation.

For instance:

—Drivers are permitted to use an earpiece, headphone device or device worn on a wrist to conduct voice-based communication. Drivers may use one button on a cellphone or mobile device to initiate or terminate voice communication.

—Drivers are allowed to use a cellphone or other wireless telecommunications device to communicate with law enforcement agencies, medical providers, fire departments or other emergency service agencies while driving a motor vehicle, if the use is necessitated by a bona fide emergency.

For a full understanding of other exceptions under the Hands-Free Law, we recommend visiting But, don't do it while you're driving.

Locally, Bradley County Sheriff Steve Lawson and Chief of Police Mark Gibson have primed their patrol units to uphold these new driving standards.

They should . not just because it's the law, but because it's all about public safety and saving lives.

We agree with Lawson's assessment. In a front-page story in our newspaper only days before the law's effective date, the sheriff told us, "I am thrilled the Legislature passed this law in an effort to keep people safe on the roads. This isn't a problem we only see in young drivers; we see this as a problem with drivers of all ages, and it has gotten out of control."

We could have said it better. We commend the Bradley County sheriff for his candor.

To local motorists, we urge: Take the new Hands-Free Law seriously. In truth, it is state legislation that is long, long overdue.

So, unless you're just chewing at the bit to hand over some of your hard-earned money, we recommend putting that cellphone down and leaving it alone; at least, until you arrive at your destination or you find a safe spot to park on the road shoulder.

It's not just your life. It's everybody's life who shares the road.



July 7

Johnson City Press on Fraternities at Tennessee universities:

The days when social fraternities are free to manage off-campus houses appear to be numbered. Higher education institutions across the country gradually have exercised more scrutiny and control with the organizations out of safety concerns, including forcing them to move to campus facilities.

Headlines have included deaths by exhaustion from hazing, alcohol abuse and drug overdoses.

While East Tennessee State University thankfully has not experienced a fraternity-related death, its chapters have faced probation and suspensions following incidents of hazing, alcohol abuse, unauthorized parties and a shooting.

After decades of complaints from neighbors in the "Tree Streets" neighborhood adjacent to the main campus, ETSU finally has been able to secure on-campus locations for four of its five active chapters. As Staff Writer David Floyd recently reported, the university stopped recognizing new off-campus fraternities a year ago.

Floyd also reported that alumni of Pi Kappa Alpha, one of the university's original Greek-letter organizations, have a goal of eventually returning to ETSU. The fraternity's national organization yanked the chapter's charter after the university suspended it in 2016. Any comeback would be without its West Pine Street house, which an alumni organization sold in May.

So that leaves Sigma Chi at 734 W. Maple St. A fraternity housing officer told Floyd the chapter intends to stay in the house while watching how the other fraternities adapt to the on-campus digs.

"We want to be good neighbors to the Tree Streets and the neighbors around us, and for the most part, we have been," Peck Gill told Floyd.

Tree Streets residents deserve better. "The most part" is not good enough, especially in Sigma Chi's case. In 2015, ETSU suspended Sigma Chapter after police reported that a fight at a chapter house party led to shots fired outside the West Maple location.

It's time for ETSU to stop recognizing off-campus chapters altogether.

The social fraternity experience can be positive learning settings for students via campus involvement, leadership training, philanthropy, intramural sports and other activities. Nothing about a campus setting would inhibit that.



July 7

Johnson City Press on a black woman winning the Miss Tennessee title for the first time:

Brianna Mason smashed headlong through an 81-year-old barrier last weekend, becoming the first black woman ever crowned Miss Tennessee, and we as East Tennesseans could not be more proud.

Her historic accomplishment and perseverance — she competed four times for the crown, the latest as Miss Greene County — makes her an exemplary role model for girls and women in this state, especially those of color.

We hope Mason's win and her year-long turn on the throne will help us redefine standards of beauty that, if the contests' past 87 winners are an indication, have historically skewed toward white skin and straight hair.

When she visits grade schools across the state, one of Miss Tennessee's outreach duties during her reign, young black girls will see that they, too, are beautiful and their contributions are heard and valued.

Until 1950, Mason and women like her could not have competed in the Miss America Pageant. The contest's infamous and racist rule number seven plainly stated that "contestants must be of good health and of the white race."

It took 20 years after the abolition of rule number seven for the Miss America Pageant to see its first black contestant, Cheryl Browne. Thirteen years later, Vanessa Williams took the crown as the first black Miss America in 1983.

The state contest's first black winner, although it should have happened sooner, comes at a time when women of color are gaining unprecedented recognition by the pageant community.

Currently, the reigning Miss America, Nia Franklin; Miss USA, Cheslie Kryst; and Miss Teen USA, Kaliegh Garris, are all black women.

When Mason competes for the Miss America crown in September, we will be rooting for her to win.

We would love for her to show the rest of the nation the progress the state, especially we here in the east, has made and our continued commitment to breaking down the barriers holding back women of color.

Good luck, Brianna! Bring home the crown.


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