News

Murfreesboro Attorney, Former Lawmaker Kent Coleman Dies

Former lawmaker and Murfreesboro attorney W. Kent Coleman died today (April 28). He was 61, the Daily News Journal reports. A graduate of Nashville School of Law, Coleman practiced mostly family law in Rutherford County for more than 30 years. He served the 49th district in the General Assembly from 2002 to 2010. He also served on the Tennessee Judicial Council from 2007-2010. A visitation is planned for tomorrow, 4-8 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church, 210 North Spring St. in Murfreesboro. A memorial service will be held Saturday at the church at 3 p.m. 

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Haslam Signs Bill Permitting Counselors to Deny Service

Gov. Bill Haslam today signed into a law a bill that allows licensed counselors and therapists to deny service to clients whose "goals, outcomes or behaviors" conflict with the counselor’s “sincerely held principles.” The bill (SB 1556) shields counselors from civil lawsuits, criminal prosecution and sanctions by the state licensing board. The Tennessean reports Haslam said he felt comfortable signing the law, which as passed, requires a counselor to take a client who has an emergency and life threatening situation. The American Counseling Association condemned the measure, calling it a “hate bill.” 

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Health Care Task Force Holds Inaugural Meeting

A new legislate task force focused on expanding Tennessee’s health coverage held its inaugural meeting Tuesday. “The 3-Star Healthy Project” was established earlier this month by House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville. The task force estimates there’s between 200,000 and 400,000 uninsured individuals in the state, largely consisting of employees in food service and construction industries, as well as veterans. Read more from The Tennessean

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4 Potential Veto Targets

The Times Free Press outlines four recently passed bills that may be targets for vetoes from Gov. Bill Haslam. The list includes one bill that would allow mental health counselors to reject clients based on counselors’ personal principles and a resolution ordering the state to file suit against the Obama administration over the federal government's refugee resettlement program in Tennessee. The article notes last week Haslam became the first governor since 1998 to survive a veto override attempt, this time coming on a bill that sought to make the Bible the state’s official book.

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Federal Judge Orders Recount on Abortion Ballot Measure

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp ordered election officials Friday to recount the votes on the 2014 abortion ballot measure Amendment 1, The Associated Press reports. Sharp said the the method used to count votes was “fundamentally” unfair to the eight Tennesseans who filed a lawsuit challenging the election results. Sharp gave the state 20 days to submit a recount plan. The Tennessean reports Vanderbilt University law professor Tracy George, one of the eight plaintiffs who brought the suit, said the amendment – which made it easier to put restrictions on abortions – would fail on a recount. The federal decision came late Friday, after a Williamson County judge had upheld the vote count. Sharp said that ruling has no impact on his decision. 

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State Legislature Wraps for the Year

The state legislature adjourned for the year earlier this afternoon. The Associated Press shares some of the winning and losing legislation from this year’s session. Winners include: permitting counselors to turn away patients based on counselors’ religious beliefs; calling for a national convention on amending the U.S. Constitution regarding federal power limits; and TBA-opposed legislation requiring people who sue the state to pay legal feels if they lose their lawsuits. Among the measures that didn't make it were designating the Bible as Tennessee’s official book; blocking the implementation of U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling in Tennessee; and eliminating the requirement to have a permit to carry handguns in public.

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Judge Upholds Vote Count on Tennessee Abortion Measure

Circuit Court Judge Michael Binkley upheld the state's method of counting votes on the 2014 abortion measure Amendment 1, The Tennessean reports. Following its passage, eight voters and the chair of Planned Parenthood of Middle & Eastern Tennessee filed suit in federal court challenging the state's method of counting votes. In a 22-page order issued Thursday, Judge Binkley said the language in the state Constitution on how votes for amendments should be counted is “unambiguous.”  

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Lawmakers Pass Bill to Strip Funding from UT Diversity Office

Following a heated debate, the state legislature last night passed a bill stripping state funds from the University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion of funding for one year. The Associated Press reports the funds – a total of nearly $337,000 – will be used for minority scholarships instead. 

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Lawmakers Call for Investigation into Students' Arrest

WKRN reports the state Legislative Black Caucus and other lawmakers today called for a Department of Justice investigation into the handcuffing of students at Murfreesboro's Hobgood Elementary for allegedly not stopping a fight that happened off-campus. “The action by the police is an example of the over disciplining of children of color,” said caucus member Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville. 

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Bill to Legalize, Tax Fantasy Sports Heads to Haslam

The Fantasy Sports Tax Act, which would legalize, regulate and tax fantasy sports betting, is on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam. The Senate signed off on the measure (SB 2109) yesterday. The legislation follows a legal opinion issued by Attorney General Hebert Slatery that said fantasy sports contests are illegal gambling. The fiscal analysis of the legislation estimates $42 million is spent annually in Tennessee on fantasy sports, The Associated Press reports

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Haslam Can Veto Refugee Resettlement Lawsuit

The Tennessean reports Jennifer Donnals, spokeswoman for Gov. Bill Haslam, said the state constitution permits the governor authority to veto a resolution to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement. The Senate signed off yesterday on a change that would allow a private law firm to file a suit on behalf of Tennessee if the state attorney general refuses to sue. The House approved the joint resolution (SJR467) Monday. The Associated Press reports Haslam has previously raised concerns about the legislation. 

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House Votes to Strip UT Diversity Funding

WPLN reports the state House voted last night to strip roughly $5 million from the University of Tennessee's Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The measure (HB 2248) would take the money, which accounts for the agency's total funding, and split it between scholarships for minority students and decals for police cruisers that say "In God We Trust." The move follows two controversial posts on the office’s website. The Senate Education Committee voted in March to remove the office's state funding. 

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House Approves Call to Sue Over Refugee Resettlement

The state House approved a measure (SJR 0467) last night that would order Attorney General Herbert Slately to sue the federal government over a refugee resettlement program. The Senate previously approved the measure and must now sign off on a change that would allow a private law firm to sue on behalf of the state before the measure becomes law, The Associated Press reports. “The passage of this resolution, and the litigation that will follow, puts Tennessee on the wrong side of history,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. 

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Dyer Confirmed to Court of Criminal Appeals

J. Ross Dyer was confirmed to the Court of Criminal Appeals last night during a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly. Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Dyer, who has been the Shelby County Attorney since 2014, to the position in March. He is the first CCA judge to go through the General Assembly’s new confirmation process. Dyer replaces Roger Page, who recently became a state Supreme Court Justice. 

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House Sponsor Pulls 'Bathroom Bill'

Rep. Susan Lynn delayed action on the transgender “bathroom bill” in the House until next year, citing the purpose of studying it further. The measure (HB2414), sponsored by the Mt. Juliet Republican, would have required students in public schools and universities to use bathrooms of the sex on their birth certificates. "I have learned that our school districts are largely following what the bill says," she told The Tennessean

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Haslam Vetoes Bible Bill, Cites Personal Feelings

Gov. Bill Haslam today vetoed a bill (SB1108 / HB0615) that would have made the Bible the official book of Tennessee, WSMV reports. “In addition to the constitutional issues with the bill, my personal feeling is that this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text,” Haslam wrote. The legislature still has time to overturn the veto. The Tennessean earlier this week highlighted potential lawsuits that could come if the measure is made into law. 

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Repeal of 'Spiritual Treatment' Exemption Heads to Haslam

The state House today approved a bill repealing the “spiritual treatment” exemption to Tennessee’s child abuse and neglect statute, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The exemption – approved in 1994 – was intended to shield parents and others from child abuse charges if a child "is being provided treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone” in lieu of medical treatment. The bill (SB1761 / HB2040) won unanimous Senate approval in March. The measure now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is expected to sign it into law. 

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Lawsuits Loom as Haslam Considers Bible Bill

The Tennessean explores the potential lawsuits that Tennessee could face if Gov. Bill Haslam signs off on the Bible as the state’s official book. A handful of legal organizations on either side of the debate have said they will consider legal action if the measure (SB1108 / HB0615) is enacted. “If Tennessee becomes the first state in the nation to recognize the Bible as its official book, it also could become the first state in the U.S. to be sued for it,” the author writes. Haslam has until April 19 to make a decision on the measure. 

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House, Senate Committees Approve Dyer for Judicial Post

J. Ross Dyer, nominated by Gov. Bill Haslam for the Court of Criminal Appeals to fill the vacancy left by state Supreme Court Justice Roger Page, was affirmatively recommend by the House Judicial Ad Hoc Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee today. Action could come as early as Thursday to confirm Dyer in a Joint Session of House and Senate.

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Harwell Announces New Health Care Task Force

Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, today announced the creation of a legislative task force to focus on Tennessee's options for expanding health coverage. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the announcement comes after the failure of the Haslam’s alternative Medicaid expansion plan, “Insure Tennessee,” last year. The task force will be chaired by Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and the group will complete its work by June. 

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Bill Permitting Counselors to Deny Service Heads to Haslam

A bill that would allow Tennessee mental health therapists to deny care for patients based on the counselors’ personal principles is now on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam. The state Senate approved the measure (SB1556) in February and yesterday signed off on a language change that dropped religious beliefs and instead added the broader language of “principles.” The House approved the measure earlier this month. Haslam has said he wants to see the final version before deciding whether to sign it into law, The Associated Press reports

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AG: Bathroom Bill Could Eliminate Title IX Funding

An opinion issued today by Attorney General Herbert Slatery said the Republican-backed transgender bathroom bill could cost the state federal education funding, The Associated Press reports. The measure (HB2414) would require students in public grade schools and universities to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their sex as it appears on their birth certificates. “If only because the U.S. Department of Education, which is charged with enforcing Title IX, interprets Title IX to require that transgender students be given access to restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their 'gender identity' instead of their anatomical gender," Slatery wrote. Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, and Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, requested the opinion.

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Sexual Harassment Panel Issues Final Report

A panel tasked with updating and improving the legislature’s sexual harassment policy yesterday sent its final recommendations to House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville. Suggestions in the report include that the legislature maintain annual statistics on the number of sexual harassment complaints the legislature receives and issue a report if a violation of the policy has occurred, The Tennessean reports. The report comes on the heels of an investigation by Attorney General Herbert Slatery that revealed Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, had “been involved in a pattern of inappropriate behavior."

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Senate, House Pass Bill on Continuing 6-Month Garnishments

Continuing six-month garnishments will now reach individuals who are paid by commission or otherwise, and will be treated as employer garnishments under TBA-sponsored legislation. The measure – SB1969 / HB1775 by Shelbyville Republicans Sen. Jim Tracy and Rep. Pat Marsh – as amended today passed the Senate with a 32-0 vote and the House with a vote of 91-0. Read the amendment that makes the bill.

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Report Says Crenshaw Vote Will Come Monday

The U.S. Senate today reached an agreement to vote on confirmation of Waverly Crenshaw as a U.S. District Court judge in Tennessee's Middle District, according to a post from Knoxville News Sentinel Washington reporter Michael Collins. Crenshaw was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2015 and was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee eight months ago. 

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