News

Haslam Shuts Down Ramsey's 'Guns on the Plaza' Plan

The Nashville Scene reports Gov. Bill Haslam told Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey that it is not Ramsey's domain to decide to allow guns into the Legislative Plaza. “We believe the Department of General Services has statutory authority on this issue,” said Jennifer Donnals, Haslam’s press secretary. According to the Times Free Press, Democrats also have objected to plans by Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, to let state handgun-carry permit holders carry loaded weapons in the Plaza. Ramsey has argued that it is the speakers of the Senate and House who control Legislative Plaza.

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Corker's 'Electrify Africa Act' Signed into Law

President Barack Obama signed Sen. Bob Corker’s Electrify Africa Act of 2015 (S.2152) into law earlier this week, Nooga reports. The bill will promote access to power services for 50 million people in sub-Saharan by 2020. “With limited foreign assistance dollars, we need to focus on projects like energy that can be a catalyst for long-term growth throughout the region and reduce poverty,” Corker, R-Tenn., said.

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Two Abortion Measures Withdrawn

Tennessee lawmakers today withdrew two abortion measures that would have required a woman to receive an ultrasound before an abortion (HB 1459) and would have banned the sale of aborted fetal tissue (HB 1709). WLPN reports the measures were withdrawn without explanation.

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House Committee Authorizes AG Investigation of Durham

A state House Ad Hoc Select Committee, created by House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and tasked with investigating Rep. Jeremy Durham, held its first meeting today and unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing state Attorney General Herbert Slatery III “to conduct a full fair and thorough investigation of the allegations of disorderly and inappropriate behavior and misconduct by Representative Durham.” Slatery responded in a statement, “Everyone has one goal – to ensure a thorough and fair investigation while respecting the process and those involved.” Durham, R-Franklin, is accused of having an affair with a former representative and sending inappropriate text messages to women. Read more from the Nashville Scene

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'I Quit!': 10 State Officials Have Resigned

The Tennessean complied a list of 10 state officials who have resigned over the past few weeks. Rep. Jeremey Durham, who resigned as House Majority Whip, along with resignations from Davidson County Election Administrator Kent Wall and Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR) CEO Patricia Weiland are included.

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'Workers' Comp Opt-Out' Bill Dead

The legislation known as the "Workers' Comp Opt-Out" bill is dead for this session. The Tennessee Employee Injury Benefit Alternative legislation, SB721, HB997, by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, was taken off notice this week. Proponents of the bill stated that at this time they do not plan to run it this legislative session. A hearing on the bill scheduled for Feb. 10 in a House committee has been cancelled.   

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Knoxville Republicans Donate Money from Durham to Charity

Knoxville Republican Reps. Eddie Smith and Jason Zachary are donating campaign contributions they received from Rep. Jeremy Durham to a Knoxville women’s charity. Smith and Zachary say they knew nothing of Durham’s alleged sexual harassment when they accepted the money from the Franklin Republican. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports campaign finance disclosures also revealed former Rep. Leigh Wilburn, R-Somerville, donated money she received from Durham to the House Republican Caucus. Attorney General Herbert Slatery III is currently investigating Durham's alleged behavior. 

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House Approves Call for Constitutional Convention

The state House of Representatives this morning approved the call for a Constitutional Convention in an attempt to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, Nashville Public Radio reports. Tennessee is now the fifth state to take the action; 34 states are required to call for a convention in order to propose new amendments to the U.S. Constitution. "If there was ever a time in the history of our republic that states need to take advantage of having that constitutional authority, it is now," Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, said.

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Metro Council Asks Delegation to Oppose Anti-Gay Marriage Bills

Nashville’s Metro Council has asked the Davidson County state delegation to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage and to oppose any bills that are anti-gay marriage. The council yesterday unanimously approved the resolution, The Tennessean reports. “This is letting folks know on the Hill that we request that they simply confer with the Supreme Court ruling on this matter,” said Nancy VanReece, one of the bill’s sponsors.

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Proposal Would Allow Legislature to Set Terms for Trial Judges

A proposal set before the state House Civil Justice Committee would allow the general assembly to set the term limits for trial court judges. Tennessee main trail court judges currently serve a term of eight years. Gavel to Gavel reports that no other states give the legislature “unrestricted power” to set judicial terms.

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Courtroom Facility Dogs Debated in Bill

Lawmakers on Tuesday debated a bill (SB1618) that would give judges the discretion to determine whether to allow courtroom facility dogs in courtrooms, The Tennessean reports. Bill sponsor Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said there is currently no state code on the practice, so some judges are hesitant to allow the dogs into their courtrooms. The courtroom facility dogs are used to provide comfort to children who may be apprehensive to testify in court. “Who is losing in that whole process of waiting are the children,” said Marianne Schroer, executive director of Williamson County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

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U.S. Rep. Fincher Will Not Seek Another Term

U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., said today that he will not seek re-election, The Commercial Appeal reports. Five Republican candidates announced they will run for his seat: State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown; George Flinn, a Memphis radiologist; Tom Leatherwood, Shelby County Register of Deeds; David Kustoff, former U.S. attorney; and Steve Basar, Shelby County Commissioner.

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Rep. Hill Elected as New Majority Whip

House Republicans elected Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, as their new House Majority Whip, The Tennessean reports. The position was previously held by Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, who stepped down in January following allegations that he sent inappropriate text messages to women. Hill defeated Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, with a 38-33 vote.

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Davidson County Election Commission Chairman Resigns

Davidson County Election Commission Chairman Ron Buchanan announced today plans to resign amid a WSMV investigation questioning the commission’s expenses. Buchannan’s resignation comes after he called a WSMV female reporter an obscenity for allegedly violating interview guidelines. “I said it. I meant it. I still mean it,” Buchanan said. “That was the one word that I could think of that accurately conveyed what I was thinking at that time." Read more from The Tennessean

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Sexual Harassment Committee Holds Private Meeting

The sexual harassment advisory committee established last week by House Speaker Beth Harwell met privately this morning, The Tennessean reports. Harwell tasked the committee with reviewing the legislature’s sexual harassment policy. Committee member Frank Gibson, public policy director for the Tennessee Press Association, said that the group did not make any formal decisions today. “All meetings going forward will be substantive in nature and will be open to the public.” Harwell, R-Nashville, said.

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Bibles in Prison, Fancy Eggs to be Removed from State Law?

Bibles in prison and “fancy eggs” are the focus of the Office of the Repealer during the 2016 legislative session. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the office suggests eliminating a "fancy fresh egg marketing program" established in 1951; two Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would dissolve the program. The office also suggests doing away with an 1829 mandate for providing a Bible to every prison inmate.

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Tennessee Moves Closer to Call for Constitutional Convention

A measure approved by the House State Government Committee would allow Tennessee to call for a national convention on amending the U.S. Constitution to limit the federal government’s power. If the bill passes, Tennessee would join legislatures in four states – Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Alaska – to adopt resolutions calling for a “convention of states,” a movement led by the Citizens for Self-Governance. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel

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Haslam Budget Plan: Pay Back Highway Fund, Spend Surplus Wisely

Gov. Bill Haslam plans to pay back $260 million the state borrowed from its highway fund during the recession and present plans for spending a half-billion dollar revenue surplus during his State of the State Address on Monday, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. "Our object in this budget will be to spend those dollars on places where the state has either underinvested in the past — and I would say education is at the top of that list,” Haslam said. 

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Haslam Addresses Clearing Open Records Requests

Gov. Bill Haslam has not clarified whether his upcoming budget will include new positions to help clear hundreds of open records requests. However, the Republican governor said he did recognize the need to clear the backlog. Comptroller Justin Wilson requested nearly $265,000 in the budget to help with the increasing requests for information, the Associated Press reports.

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Bill Would Allow Gun Owners to Sue Business Owners

“How do we reconcile one’s right to bear arms with another’s right to govern his or her property?” It’s a question The Trace explores in an article about a Tennessee bill that would hold business owners liable for injuries suffered by concealed permit holders who are not allowed to bring firearms onto the premises. Bill sponsor Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, argues, “If you deny me the chance to protect myself, you’re assuming the responsibility to protect me.”

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Harwell Seeks AG Investigation of Durham

House Speaker Beth Harwell asked state Attorney General Herbert Slatery III to investigate Rep. Jeremy Durham following allegations that Durham had an affair with a former representative. "Additionally, I have asked (the Attorney General) to issue a report with their findings. If and when an expulsion resolution comes before the House of Representatives, the report could be part of that process," Harwell, R-Nashville, said. Harwell's request comes after Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey earlier today claimed Durham, R-Franklin, had an affair with an unnamed representative and then forced that representative to resign. Three state representatives have resigned in the last year: Rep. Mike Harrison, Rep. Ryan Haynes and Rep. Leigh Wilburn. Read more from the Nashville Post.

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Haslam Signs Judicial Confirmation into Law

Judicial confirmation legislation implementing the 2014 Amendment to the Tennessee Constitution was signed into law Jan. 28 by Gov. Bill Haslam. Earlier that day, the House of Representatives adopted the Conference Committee report for SB1, HB142 with a vote of 86-5 completing the last of the needed legislative actions. Read the full process.

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Senate Approves Judicial Confirmation Plan

A proposed judicial confirmation plan jumped another hurdle today. The Senate unanimously adopted the Conference Committee on Judicial Confirmation’s report for SB1, HB142. The House will take it up on its message calendar during tomorrow morning's floor session. 

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Challenge to State Abortion Laws on Hold

The outcome of a Texas case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging abortion laws will impact a legal challenge in Tennessee. The operators of three Tennessee abortion clinics filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s abortion laws, including a 2015 requirement that clinics performing 50 or more surgical abortions each year be regulated as ambulatory surgical care centers. U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp granted a temporary hold on the proceedings until the Supreme Court case is resolved. "The standards expected to be addressed by the Supreme Court will be critical for developing and evaluating the relevant evidence in this case," lawyers for the state and the clinics noted in their joint request for the halt. Read more from The Tennessean.

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Supreme Court Ruling on Juveniles Could Impact Columbia Case

U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that juveniles serving life sentences for murder must be considered for parole may impact a Columbia case. Charles Lowe-Kelley was sentenced to two consecutive life terms when he was a teenager for the shooting deaths of two people. Thomas Hutto, Kelley's attorney, argues that the two terms are equal to life without parole because Kelley was a juvenile when sentenced. “I think (Monday’s ruling) gives a lot of good ammunition for an appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Courts,” Hutto said. Read more from The Daily Herald

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