Dunn defends ‘kooky’ bills

Sandra Clark

State Rep. Bill Dunn says the so-called “kooky” bills introduced in virtually every legislative session grab media attention from more serious matters.

Seeking election to his 12th two-year term, Dunn works in a swirl of insanity called the Tennessee General Assembly. Earlier this month, the state attorney general reported that 22 women had claimed sexual harassment by Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham. Just last week, Rep. Martin Daniel accosted former Rep. Steve Hall in front of four witnesses at a local radio station.

Sounds pretty kooky, but Dunn would blame it on the media.

“Reporters ask me, ‘Don’t you have better things to do?’ and my answer is, ‘Don’t you have better things to cover?’”

Speaking in Powell, Dunn rattled off three bills that drew attention.

The Monkey Bill was sponsored by Dunn in 2012. It became law without Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature. Writing in the Huffington Post, Dr. Peter Hess said creationist tactics have evolved.

“Eighty-seven years after the notorious Scopes trial, the Tennessee Legislature recently passed a bill encouraging teachers to present the ‘scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses’ of topics that arouse ‘debate and disputation’ such as ‘biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning.’”

Scopes, of course, was the East Tennessee teacher convicted in 1925 of violating a Tennessee law that forbade the teaching of human evolution in the state’s public schools. Despite court rulings that teaching evolution can’t be banned and teachers can’t be forced to teach creation science or intelligent design, Dunn offered what Hess calls “the subtler approach.”

In Powell, Dunn said he won’t claim his legislation was responsible, but since “Tennessee had the fastest improving test scores three years in a row,” his bill certainly hasn’t hurt education.

The Bible Bill was sponsored by first-term Rep. Jerry Sexton. Haslam vetoed this bill that designated the Bible as the state’s official book.

Dunn said debate was passionate, with both sides quoting the Bible. When it came time to vote, Dunn said yes. “The Bible already is the official book. I just voted to affirm it.”

Diversity at UT. Dunn said discussion to abolish the Office of Diversity at the University of Tennessee “went downhill so fast it was hard to sort out the facts. … My idea of diversity is unique individuals, not group identity.”

The Legislature finally voted to defund the Knoxville campus office for one year, leading to the resignation of director Rickey Hall. The funds were switched to a scholarship fund (which may or may not exist) for minority engineering students.

“We balance our budget, we fund our pensions and education has improved,” Dunn said. And if the media would just quit talking about those kooky bills …

McMillan settles into divorce court

Judge Greg McMillan says the law is the law, and “a judge has to find the facts and then apply the law.”

The young jurist has settled in at the Fourth Circuit Court, commonly called divorce court. He’s just the third judge in the court’s 50-year history. Judge George S. Child Jr. served two terms, Judge Bill Swann served 40 years and now McMillan has served two years.

Chris Rohwer introduced McMillan to the North Knox Rotary Club. Rohwer drew on their friendship through Habitat for Humanity where he said McMillan is known as “Oops.”

The judge agreed. “I’ve had stitches twice and a broken bone.” He volunteers “because it’s recharging spiritually.”

Take a look at his caseload through June 2016: divorces filed (without kids) – 300; divorces with kids – 212; orders of protection requested – 928; orders of protection dismissed or renewed – 1,107.

“Last year we had 2,055 orders of protection filed; we’re on pace to have 2,200 this year.”

McMillan hears divorce cases on Mondays and Tuesdays.

On Wednesdays, he hears appeals from Juvenile Court and state-filed cases to terminate parental rights.

On Thursdays, he hears orders of protection cases. To move the docket, Knox County’s three chancellors and other Circuit Court judges rotate to sit with him, doubling the court’s capacity.

On Fridays, he hears motions, giving each case one hour. If the lawyers can’t finish in an hour, the case drops to the bottom of the day’s docket. He usually schedules 18-19 cases and has not yet failed to clear his Friday docket.

What has he learned on the bench?

“People’s capacity to be cruel to one another is infinite.”

He added: “It’s a challenging job. I’m physically worn out at the end of the day.”

McMillan manages to find time to teach a class in negotiating as an adjunct professor at UT Law School. He is active in sailing with the Concord Yacht Club, and he volunteered with the Boys and Girls Club when his kids were younger.

In response to a question, he said the filing fee for a divorce is “slightly over $400.”

Daniel and Hall: They’re two for you!

Campaign stress overtook Martin Daniel and Steve Hall last Thursday as the men appeared, along with Bryan Dodson and James Corcoran, on the Hallerin Hilton Hill radio show. You can hear the scuffle on Hill’s podcast.

First there’s Hall, shrilly calling Daniel a liar. It’s live radio at its best.

Then Daniel pushes back his chair and removes his headphones. “I thought he was heading for the door,” Hill’s producer, Chris Marion, said later. “But he took a right,” toward the chair of Steve Hall.

Hall started to rise and Daniel pushed him back into his chair. As fights go, it was mild. You can hear Hallerin yelling, “Whoa, whoa!”

Noted for his calm, almost sequetious demeanor, Hallerin Hill tried to get the men to apologize after Marion pulled them apart.

“Is there anything you’d like to say?” he asked.

You can just see them bristling. Only Dodson and Corcoran spoke. The interview over, Marion suggested Hall and Daniel leave separately. Daniel left the room, followed by Dodson, Corcoran and Hall. Marion followed them out, saying, “I don’t want this to spill over into the hallway.”

This left Hallerin shaking his head and wondering what had just happened.

Daniel beat Hall in the Republican primary in 2014. The rematch will be decided by West Knox voters on Aug. 4.

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