Bill aims to prevent tragedies after horrific death of two adopted children in Roane County

(NASHVILLE) – The Tennessee Senate today unanimously approved legislation requiring adoptive parents receiving subsidies to annually provide the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) with medical or school enrollment records to ascertain a health check.  State senators cast their votes in favor of the legislation while standing in honor and remembrance of two children who suffered horrific deaths after being abused by their adoptive parents.  Senate Bill 270, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), also authorizes DCS to initiate a face-to-face visit if the adoptive parent fails to provide the documentation and foul play might be suspected. 

“This was an abhorrent crime,” said Sen. Yager, who represents Roane County in the Tennessee Senate.  “About 99% of adoptive parents do an outstanding job.  However, there is a fraction who abuse children while pocketing their adoption subsidy, which is intended to help support the child’s needs.  That is who this bill targets.  We must do everything we can to ensure this never happens again.”

The arrest warrant said the children were fed a “starvation diet of light bread and water” by their adoptive parents.  They were also locked in a basement and caged in isolation.  Roane County law enforcement authorities found the body of one of the deceased children, a young girl, buried in the family’s barn in Roane County.  The second child, a boy, was found buried in the back yard of the adoptive parents’ adult biological son in Knox County.  Authorities believe the children were buried several years before discovery.  The adoptive parents continued receiving financial benefits for both children after their death. 

“This legislation would ensure that DCS receives an annual notification on any child when the adoptive parents are receiving subsidy payments,” added Sen. Yager.  “Most importantly, it provides DCS with the authority to check on the child when that information is not received and foul play is suspected to hopefully prevent such tragedies.”

The adoptive parents each face multiple counts of felony murder, abuse of a corpse, aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect. They also each face counts of abuse of a corpse, theft, TennCare fraud, and falsification of educational or academic records.  The adoptive parents had claimed the children were home schooled. 

Presently, DCS gives an incentive for foster families to adopt their foster children by promising a monthly adoption subsidy until the children are age 18 to 21.  Once the adoption is finalized, DCS caseworkers do not check back in. Parents are requested to sign an affidavit to promise they are adhering to the agreement every two years. 

The bill now must pass the House of Representatives, where it is sponsored by Representative Mary Littleton (R-Dickson), before it goes to the governor’s desk for his signature.  

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(NASHVILLE) — A resolution allowing voters to change the way Tennessee’s Attorney General is selected was approved 25-7 on Monday evening by the Tennessee Senate.  Senate Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), calls for a transparent nomination process by the Tennessee Supreme Court in selecting the State Attorney General, followed by a confirmation vote of the nominee by a majority of both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly.

“This resolution calls for an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution to require the Supreme Court to nominate an individual in an open meeting with a recorded vote,” Yager said.  “It would further require a confirmation of that nomination by the General Assembly.  This retains an important role for the court in the selection process, while providing an oversight role to the General Assembly through the confirmation process.   It is consistent with the intentions of the authors of our State Constitution who wanted officials directly elected by the people to have a role in the appointment.”

The 1870 constitution required Supreme Court judges be elected by Tennessee voters.  Yager said the current system of appointing justices means the selection of the State Attorney General is twice removed from the public.  Tennessee is the only state in which the State Supreme Court appoints the attorney general.  The votes taken by the court on nominees currently are not disclosed to the public. 

“This compromise is an improvement over how Tennessee currently selects the State Attorney General,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville).  “It leaves the independence of the judiciary to nominate someone, makes it more transparent in the process, and then gives that confirmation to the people through their elected representatives.” 

Once the nomination is made, the legislature would have 60 days to go through the confirmation process. In the event that the candidate is rejected, then the court would have 60 days to make another nomination.

The resolution now goes to the House of Representatives where it must also receive a two thirds majority.  Once approved by the House, it will go to Tennessee voters in 2022 where it must receive a majority of votes cast in the gubernatorial election.

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Bill aims to prevent tragedies after horrific death of two adopted children in Roane County

(NASHVILLE) — Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) received approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee today for legislation requiring adoptive parents receiving subsidies to annually provide the Department of Children’s Services with medical or school enrollment records to ascertain a health check.  Senate Bill 270 comes after the horrific deaths of two Roane County children.  It  also authorizes DCS to initiate a face-to-face visit if the adoptive parent fails to provide the documentation and foul play might be suspected. 

“This was an abhorrent crime,” said Sen. Yager, who represents Roane County in the Tennessee Senate.  “These children lived in barbaric conditions which are hard for us to imagine in the worst of nightmares.  We must do everything we can to ensure this never happens again and that children in the state’s custody are adopted into loving homes, not those who would abuse them while pocketing their adoption subsidy.”

The arrest warrant said the children were fed a “starvation diet of light bread and water” by their adoptive parents.  They were also locked in a basement and caged in isolation.  Roane County law enforcement authorities found the body of one of the deceased children, a young girl, buried in the family’s barn in Roane County.  The second child, a boy, was found buried in the back yard of the adoptive parent’s adult biological son in Knox County.  Authorities believe the children were buried several years before discovery.  The adoptive parents continued receiving financial benefits for both children after their death. 

The discovery was made last summer when a third child was found walking on a Roane County road alone by a passerby who alerted law enforcement authorities.  The abusers had five adoptive children in which the state reportedly paid them an adoption subsidy. 

“This legislation would ensure that DCS receives an annual notification on any child when the adoptive parents are receiving subsidy payments,” added Sen. Yager.  “Most importantly, it provides DCS with the authority to check on the child when that information is not received and foul play is suspected to hopefully prevent such tragedies.”

The adoptive parents each face multiple counts of felony murder, abuse of a corpse, aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect. They also each face counts of abuse of a corpse, theft, TennCare fraud, and falsification of educational or academic records.  The adoptive parents had claimed the children were home schooled. 

Presently, DCS gives an incentive for foster families to adopt their foster children by promising a monthly adoption subsidy until the children are age 18 to 21.  Once the adoption is finalized, DCS caseworkers do not check back in. Parents are requested to sign an affidavit to promise they are adhering to the agreement every two years. 

The bill now advances to the floor of the Senate for final consideration.  It is also pending action in the House of Representatives where it is sponsored by Representative Mary Littleton (R-Dickson).   

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(NASHVILLE), February 24, 2021 — A resolution allowing voters to change the way Tennessee’s Attorney General is selected was approved on Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Senate Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), calls for a transparent nomination process by the Tennessee Supreme Court in selecting the State Attorney General, followed by a confirmation vote of the nominee by a majority of both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly.

“This is one of the most important appointed positions in the state,” said Senator Yager.  “The State Attorney General has over 340 employees and a budget of over $50 million, not to mention the important decisions that are made which affect the lives of the people of Tennessee.”

The 1870 constitution required Supreme Court judges be elected by Tennessee voters.  Yager said the current system of appointing justices means the selection of the State Attorney General is twice removed from the public.  Tennessee is the only state in which the State Supreme Court appoints the attorney general.  The votes taken by the court on nominees are not currently disclosed to the public. 

“The reason for this legislation is two-fold,” Yager said.  “It will provide for a more transparent process in the selection of nominees.  The second is that confirmation by the General Assembly will make the process accountable to the people by giving elected officials a role in the process.”

“This proposal adheres to the intention of the authors of our 1870 State Constitution, while keeping intact the current nomination role for the judiciary,” he continued.

The resolution would require the votes of the Tennessee Supreme Court justices to be held in open court with recorded votes. Once the nomination is made, the legislature would have 60 days to go through the confirmation process. In the event that the candidate is rejected, then the court would have 60 days to make another nomination.

The resolution, which was approved by the 111th General Assembly in 2019, must receive a two-thirds majority of the 112th General Assembly under the Tennessee Constitution.  Once on the ballot, constitutional amendments must receive a majority of votes cast in the gubernatorial election in 2022.

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NASHVILLE — State Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) praised action taken by the Tennessee State Building Commission’s Executive Committee on Monday to transfer 1.6 acres to Stephens Baptist Church for property being used for church operations.  This action will resolve prior boundary issues and clearly delineate the property to be utilized by the Church.

“I am delighted that this matter will be resolved soon and that this property will be transferred to the Church,” said Senator Yager, who worked with the University of Tennessee and Stephens Baptist Church on the matter.  “This is a huge relief as the property is needed for church operations and parking capacity.” 

Yager also credited Representative John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) and Morgan County Executive Brian Langley who were very supportive in finding a solution.

The transfer of property will be made from the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture (UTIA), which owns approximately 8,361 acres in Morgan and Scott Counties for their Cumberland Forest Research and Education Center.  In 1952, the UTIA granted Stephens Baptist Church the perpetual right to use approximately .42 acres of Cumberland Forest property to build and operate a Church building. According to the Building Commission, it has been determined that a portion of the building was constructed outside this area and the Church has used an additional area parking.  

“This Church is a very vibrant and important part of our community,” Yager added.  “I appreciate Morgan County Executive Langley for bringing this to my attention and Rep. Windle for lending his strong advocacy for the Church.  I also appreciate the cooperative attitude and leadership of Pastor Kilby and the wonderful congregation of this Church who do great work in this community.” 

“We are very grateful that UT has agreed to transfer the property and that it will remain part of the Stephens Baptist Church for future generations to worship,” Yager concluded.

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