(AP) – Here’s a look at the top 10 Tennessee stories of 2019, according to an Associated Press survey of reporters, editors and broadcasters.
1. CASADA CONTROVERSY: Rep. Glen Casada resigned as House speaker in August amid multiple scandals, including explicit text messages, after a vote of no confidence from fellow House Republicans. The move prompted an August special session in which Rep. Cameron Sexton was voted in as speaker. Tennessee had not seen a speaker resign early since 1931 in the Senate.
2. SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Republican Gov. Bill Lee narrowly secured a victory on school vouchers in the Legislature in May. The legislation will divert tax dollars to private education and allow participating families to receive debit cards worth up to $7,300 in state education money each year only for Davidson and Shelby county students.
3. EXECUTIONS: Continuing to buck the national slowdown in executions, Tennessee put three inmates to death in 2019 and Attorney General Herbert Slatery asked the state Supreme Court for permission to execute another nine people on death row. Since Tennessee resumed executions in August 2018, four of the six prisoners put to death have chosen the electric chair, a method no other state has used since 2009.
4. TENNCARE BLOCK GRANT: Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s administration shipped off a plan in November for the federal government to consider, requesting to become the first state to receive funding in a lump sum for its Medicaid program, TennCare. The block grant proposal, which lawmakers called for under a new state law, drew plenty of concerns that the plan could compromise care for the state’s most vulnerable low-income and disabled citizens. Lee has insisted it won’t.
5. CYNTOIA BROWN: Fifteen years after Cyntoia Brown was charged with murder, the woman who says she was a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim when she killed a man in 2004 was released from prison in August after former Republican Gov. Bill Haslam commuted her life sentence in January. Brown drew celebrity support for her clemency plea and has published a book since her release from prison.
6. VOTER REGISTRATION PENALTIES: New restrictions on voter registration groups advocated by Republican Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett cleared the Legislature and GOP Gov. Bill Lee signed off on them, only to see the penalties blocked by a federal judge before they would’ve taken effect. In a first among states, the law includes fines for groups with paid workers that submit too many incomplete registration forms.
7. VOLKSWAGEN UNION: Workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga in June voted against forming a factory-wide union, handing a setback to the United Auto Workers’ efforts to gain a foothold among foreign auto facilities in the South. The vote followed an announcement in January that the Chattanooga factory will be the focus of an $800 million investment in the company’s manufacturing of electric vehicles in North America. The company broke ground on the expansion in November.
8. NASHVILLE NFL DRAFT: Nashville transformed its downtown to draw about 600,000 people over three days for the NFL Draft in April, smashing the previous record when Philadelphia drew 250,000 fans over the three days of the 2017 draft.
9. INMATE ESCAPE: Tennessee convict Curtis Watson was charged with sexually assaulting and strangling female corrections administrator Debra Johnson at West Tennessee State Penitentiary before escaping prison grounds on a tractor in August.
10. RURAL KILLINGS: Michael Cummins was charged with killing eight people in rural Westmoreland in April, including his parents, uncle and a 12-year-old girl. Six victims were found dead in a rural trailer. A prosecutor has indicated he plans to seek the death penalty against Cummins.