News

Panel Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would provide key protections to innocent persons whose property is seized under federal civil asset forfeiture laws, the ABA Journal reports. The legislation represents the most significant reform of the forfeiture laws since 2000, according to the ABA, which backed the measure. Among its provisions, the bill raises the government’s standard of proof to “clear and convincing” evidence, provides counsel for indigent property owners, institutes a new early hearing process, and allows for easier recovery of legal fees for property owners who prevail in their cases.

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2016 Legislative Wrap Up

While most of the public attention has been focused on the new law that allows wine to be sold in grocery stores, there are dozens of other new laws that impact lawyers. Read a wrap up of legislation enacted in the current session. Laws that take effect July 1 are highlighted in yellow.

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State Lawmakers Meet with Federal Health Officials

A group of Tennessee lawmakers were in Washington, D.C., today to meet with federal regulators as part of an effort to improve access to health care coverage for the uninsured. The group – formally known as the “3-Star Healthy Project” – were to meet with officials from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and present a plan to address the needs of uninsured veterans and those struggling with behavioral health issues, the Tennessean reports. The group includes Reps. Karen Camper, D-Memphis; Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough; Roger Kane, R-Knoxville; Steve McManus, R-Cordova; and Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville; as well as Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville.

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Health Department Names New Legislative Lead

The Tennessee Department of Health has named Jeremy Davis as its new assistant commissioner for legislative affairs, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Davis comes to this new role after serving as a legislative liaison for the department and as a policy assistant for Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris. He succeeds Valerie Nagoshiner, who has been promoted to chief of staff.

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New UT Diversity Adviser to Work with Lawmakers

The head of the University of Tennessee system has appointed an adviser to focus on increasing diversity across the school’s multiple campuses and serve as a liaison to state lawmakers. Noma Anderson, who most recently was a dean at the school’s health sciences center, says she will represent the school on Capitol Hill “in a more consistent way, not waiting for a general hearing” or a controversy to erupt. This past session, the legislature defunded the UT Diversity Office over its instructions on using gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive language about holiday parties. Nashville Public Radio reports.

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Black Caucus to Hold Criminal Justice Forum

The Tennessee legislature’s Black Caucus will hold a public forum in Memphis on July 10 to discuss criminal justice reform issues. The event will run from 3 to 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church-Broad. According to the Commercial Appeal, the caucus won legislative approval this year for several bills aimed at reforming criminal justice laws, including one making it easier to have a criminal record expunged in cases of mistaken identity and another preventing the state from asking a job applicant about a criminal history early in the interview process. 

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Law Allowing Guns on Campus Goes Into Effect July 1

A new state law that permits full-time faculty, staff and other employees of Tennessee's public colleges and universities who have handgun-carry permits to carry their guns on campus will go into effect July 1. The Tennessean reports that police at the University of Tennessee on Monday will start registering employees who want to carry guns on the Knoxville campus.

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Holt Will Pay for Handgun Carry Permits

State Rep. Andy Holt today announced that he will personally pay for the first five people that contact his office to get their handgun carry permits. “I want people to arm themselves,” said Holt, R-Dresden. “I think members of the LGBT community are starting to realize how crazy it is that Democrats want to leave them completely defenseless.”

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Spivey: Durham Investigation 'Reeks of Political Witch Hunt'

The Tennessean reports Rep. Bill Spivey, R-Lewisburg, has joined other Republican lawmakers who are calling for an end to Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s investigation of Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin. In a letter to the head of the committee that initiated the investigation, Spivey cited concerns over some of Slatery’s actions in the investigation and said that the probe "reeks of a political witch hunt.” State election officials announced earlier this month that they are also investigating Durham’s finances. 

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Minorities Underrepresented in 47 Legislatures, Including Tennessee

A new analysis by The Associated Press finds minority residents are underrepresented — in terms of the numbers of seats they hold relative to their shares of state populations — in 47 state legislatures across the country, including Tennessee's. White residents comprised 74.5 percent of Tennessee's estimated 2014 population, but white lawmakers held 84.7 percent of the total 132 seats in the state Legislature. The Knoxville News Sentinel takes a closer look at the issue and argues that a more diverse legislature could be in the state’s future based on recent elections.  

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Nashville Schools to Sue State for Education Funding

The Metro Nashville Public Schools board voted yesterday to sue the state for a larger share of education funding, The Tennessean reports. The board claims Nashville is not receiving the adequate amount of funds for English language learners, despite reportedly having the highest ELL population in the state. Shelby County Schools and seven Hamilton County-area districts are already suing the state for education funding. 

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Rep. Holt Giving Away AR-15s at Fundraiser

The Tennessean reports that Rep. Andy Holt said he is standing behind his decision to give away a semi-automatic rifle, similar to the one used in the Orlando shooting, at his upcoming fundraiser. "It has nothing to do with the style of weapon. It has everything to do with who’s behind the weapon," said Holt, R-Dresden. The Nashville Post later reported that Holt is doubling the prize, giving away two of the AR-15 assault rifles.

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TBA Members Speak at Indigent Task Force Meeting in Cookeville

Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville today hosted the sixth meeting of the Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force’s statewide listening tour. TBA members Bridget Wilhite and Lisa Cothron attended the meeting and shared their personal stories of practicing in rural communities and appointments of juvenile and criminal indigent clients. It was noted that in McMinn County, less than two dozen attorneys are available for appointments and there is often a caseload burden in addition to costs not being covered by the current compensation rate and caps. About 30 people from the judicial system attended today’s meeting along with task force members: Nashville School of Law Dean William Koch, DarKenya Waller, Susan Matson, Dwight Tarwater, Chief Justice Sharon Lee and Lela Hollabough. The task force wraps up its statewide tour in Nashville on July 29 at the Nashville School of Law.

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Indigent Representation Task Force Holds Hearing in Cleveland

The state Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force held a public meeting today at the Cleveland State Community College as part of the group’s statewide listening tour. Members of the private bar shared their thoughts on Tennessee lawyers being the lowest paid in the court room. According to one practitioner, her calculations showed that with the $40 out-of-court and $50 in-court rate per hour, she made less than a minimum wage after overhead. Task force members attending today's meeting were: Nashville School of Law Dean Bill Koch; DarKenya Waller, Legal Aid Society; Judge Barry Steelman, Criminal Court Judge in Chattanooga; Susan Matson, State Comptroller’s Office; Chief Justice Sharon Lee; and special guest state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville.

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State Election Officials to Investigate Durham's Finances

The state registry of election finance board voted to audit and investigate the finances of state Rep. Jeremy Durham, The Tennessean reports. Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who is already investigating the Franklin Republican for alleged inappropriate conduct, believes Durham moved money between the title company he owns and his campaign committee. The board will also ask for subpoenas to be issued for Durham, his campaign, his business and various bank accounts.

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Sen. Alexander Acts to Block New Overtime Rule

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., today filed legislation that would nullify the new federal overtime rule that allows full-time salaried employees to qualify for overtime if they make up to $47,476 a year. Alexander argued the change – set to take effect later this year – would reduce work hours and inhibit flexible work schedules. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, joined Alexander in the filing. 

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2016 Legislation Summaries Available Online

The Tennessee Department of Revenue has posted brief summaries of 2016 legislation on its website. Legislation is summarized by categories.

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Health Care Task Force to Present Plan to Federal Authorities

House Speaker Beth Harwell's 3-Star Legislative Task Force is weeks away from showing federal Medicaid officials some of its plan for improving insurance access for Tennesseans. According to WPLN, the group is favoring giving more support to clinics, over offering residents insurance through Medicaid. As many as 300,000 Tennesseans cannot afford insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but still do not qualify for Medicaid.

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AG Opinion Outlines Authority Over Durham Investigation

Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued an opinion on May 26 that outlines his authority to investigate embattled state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin. State Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, requested the opinion. Slatery cites permission from a House Committee granted in February as providing authority over the investigation into sexual harassment claims against the lawmaker. Slatery’s investigation of Durham remains ongoing, The Tennessean reports

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Cities to Pay Millions in 'Jock Tax' Settlements

The city of Memphis will soon return over $2.38 million to more than 900 NBA players as part of a 2015 settlement in a suit challenging the city’s “jock tax.” The National Basketball Players Association sued the state over the tax and claimed some players paid more in the tax than what they earned from the games. The National Hockey League Players' Association also sued the state over the tax and settled in 2015 for $3.27 million. Read more from The Commercial Appeal

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Lawmaker Burns Traffic Ticket in Viral Video

State Rep. Andy Holt posted a video to his Facebook page yesterday that shows the Dresden Republican burning a traffic camera ticket. Holt, who unsuccessfully attempted to outlaw all speed and red light cameras in Tennessee during the 2015 legislative session, argues cities and traffic camera dealers are violating state law. He encourages others on his website to throw their traffic camera tickets in the trash or – like him – light them on fire. 

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State Sues Obama Administration Over Bathroom Directive

Tennessee has joined 11 states in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice over a recent guidance issued regarding which bathrooms transgender students may use, according to the Office of the Attorney General. “As the complaint describes, it is a social experiment implemented by federal departments denying basic privacy rights and placing the burden largely on our children, not adults,” said Attorney General Herbert Slatery. 

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Abortion Ballot Measure Recount Total: $1M

The Tennessean reports the total cost of a court-ordered recount of a 2014 abortion ballot measure could be $1 million. But election officials and attorneys for the state have asked U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp, who ordered the recount, to delay the recount process as election officials prepare for elections in August and November. State attorneys appealed Sharp’s ruling; no court date for the appeal has yet been set. 

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Haslam Signs 1 Bill, Sends 2 On Without Signature

Gov. Bill Haslam today returned the Refugee Resolution unsigned, a measure (SJR 0467) that directs the Attorney General to initiate legal action regarding refugee placements in Tennessee. Haslam has asked the Attorney General to clarify if the General Assembly has the authority to hire outside counsel if the Attorney General fails to pursue action. According to a news release from the governor’s office, Haslam also announced a bill (HB 2248) that will redirect administrative funding for the University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion will become a law without his signature. The Tennessean reports Haslam signed into law today a bill (SB 0047) that reduces the state’s Hall income tax on some dividend and interest this year and eliminates the tax in 2022.

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Durham Calls Police on Reporter; AG Investigation Questioned

Controversy continues to follow State Rep. Jeremy Durham, who on Tuesday called police on Nashville Post reporter Cari Wade Gervin when she attempted to question him on recent campaign finance reports at his house in Franklin, the Post reports. An investigation of alleged improper behavior by Durham also came under question, when State Rep. Rick Womick today requested an opinion from Attorney General Herbert Slatery regarding his authority to conduct investigations of legislators.

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