News

Task Force Suggests 6 Initial Juvenile Reforms

The state Juvenile Justice Task Force has come up with six initial and tentative recommendations to help rehabilitate juvenile offenders, Fox Chattanooga reports. The list, provided by Senate Majority Leader and task force Chair Mark Norris, calls for (1) reviewing the structure of the current juvenile justice system; (2) ordering treatment instead of jail time for some offenders; (3) collecting data on juvenile crime to determine trends; (4) creating a special group to review juvenile crime data; (5) exploring how probation works; and (6) encouraging partnerships between juvenile courts and schools.

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Trump to Tap Tennessee Fast Food CEO for Labor Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate restaurant chain executive Andy Puzder to be Labor Secretary, the Tennessean reports. Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns fast food restaurants Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, worked as a Trump campaign adviser and is a major critic of what he calls unnecessary federal regulations. A second story highlights five things to know about Puzder, who worked as a corporate lawyer before making his name as a turnaround specialist. Puzder recently relocated to the Nashville area and is in the process of moving the company’s headquarters to Williamson County.

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Stand for Children, Candidates Cleared of Wrongdoing

Stand for Children and four pro-charter school candidates have been cleared of all alleged campaign finance violations, the Tennessean reports. Tennessee Registry of Election Finance board members said yesterday they did not see enough evidence to show there was illegal coordination between Stand for Children and the Nashville-area candidates, voting unanimously to dismiss the case. The complaint had alleged illegal coordination between the organization and the candidates – Miranda Christy, Thom Druffel, Jane Grimes Meneely and Jackson Miller.

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New Information Delays Durham Probe

Investigators will not reveal the findings of a probe into former state representative Jeremy Durham’s campaign finances until February, because “new information” is requiring additional investigation. Drew Rawlins, executive director of the state Registry of Election Finance, said Wednesday the agency has collected all the materials it needs pertaining to Durham’s finances, but it will take more time than expected to conclude the inquiry. Tom Lawless, chairman of the registry, characterized the new information as troublesome. Durham has consistently denied any wrongdoing. The Tennessean has more.

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California Set to Get its 1st Latino AG

California Gov. Jerry Brown has picked U.S. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, to be the state’s next attorney general, the Los Angeles Times reports. If confirmed by both houses of the state legislature, Becerra would be the state’s first Latino attorney general and would succeed Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate. Becerra, 58, has served 12 terms in Congress. He previously worked in the civil division of the state attorney general’s office.

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Former Tennessee Politician Dies in Georgia

Lloyd Hal Blevins Sr. died last Friday (Dec. 2) after a brief illness. After serving four years in the U.S. Navy, seeing service in Japan, the Philippines, South Vietnam and Taiwan, Blevins earned his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law. Following graduation, he took over as owner and operator of the Jonesboro Nursing Home, raised cattle and became active in East Tennessee politics, running as the Democratic nominee for the First Congressional District in 1974 and 1976. Blevins moved to Atlanta in 1976 and later to Houston, before returning to Georgia in retirement.

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Criminal Justice Reform Group Hosts Event

The Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice will host “Stopping the Revolving Door: A Conversation on Safety, Savings and Our Criminal Justice System” on Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Embassy Suites in West Knoxville. Jack McElroy, editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel, will moderate the discussion, which will focus on problems with the current criminal justice system and strategies for change. Panelists will include Lindsay M. Boyd, director of policy for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, and Thomas H. Castelli, legal director for the ACLU of Tennessee. The event is free and open to the public.

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Juvenile Justice Task Force Working Toward Report

The state Juvenile Justice Task Force is working toward a final report and is expected to make a number of recommendations to lawmakers on how juveniles should be treated in the legal system. That makes it likely that the legislature will consider some form of juvenile justice reform in the next session, the Tennessean reports. The task force, chaired by state Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is focused on a number of issues, including the youth probation system, inconsistent court practices across the state and use of valid court orders, which put the weight of the court behind directives for school attendance and curfews.

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Trump Advisor: Corker is Finalist for Secretary of State

Sen. Bob Corker is one of four finalists to become President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state, one of Trump’s senior advisers said Friday, the Tennessean reports. Kellyanne Conway, who managed Trump’s presidential campaign, confirmed the Tennessee Republican is on short list. “We publicly have said there are probably four people right now that have been the narrowed down choices,” Conway said. “That includes Gen. [David] Petraeus and Sen. Bob Corker from Tennessee.” Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani are also still in the mix, according to Conway. 

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Senators Planning Bill to Give ‘DREAMers’ Legal Status

Two U.S. senators are working to give young undocumented immigrants legal status, possibly before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, Roll Call reports. Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, reportedly are drafting legislation to protect the so-called “DREAMERs” – undocumented immigrants who came to the states as children and meet the requirements of federal law. The pair decided to act after President Barack Obama said he would not pardon the young people.

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Cohen Files Measure to Eliminate Electoral College

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, has filed a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College and provide for direct election of the president and vice president, USA Today reports. “For the second time in recent memory, and for the fifth time in our history, we have a President-elect, who lost the popular vote,” said Cohen, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. “The Electoral College is an antiquated system that was established to prevent citizens from directly electing our nation’s president, yet that notion is antithetical to our understanding of democracy,” he argues. The amendment would need two-thirds approval in both the House and the Senate and would then have to be ratified by 38 of the 50 states.

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AOC Director Speaks to TISL Students

Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Director Deborah Taylor Tate recently joined more than 500 Tennessee college students for the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL) Day on the Hill. The TISL program offers college students the opportunity to learn about state government and the political process, while the Day on the Hill provides an opportunity for students to meet their legislators and learn about current policy issues. Tate recounted the number of state officials who are TISL graduates – including Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Treasurer David Lillard, Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeff Bivins and Justice Holly Kirby, and eight other current and former judges – to challenge the students to take advantage of the opportunities they are given.

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Legislation Would End All Medical Malpractice Suits

The Georgia-based nonprofit advocacy group Patients for Fair Compensation again this year plans to seek legislation that would ban all malpractice suits in the state, the Nashville Post reports. The group’s proposal will be introduced by Sen. Jack Johnson and Rep. Glen Casada, both Republicans from Franklin. The proposed plan would create a patients’ compensation system funded by annual fees charged to doctors. Instead of filing a lawsuit, an aggrieved patient would apply for compensation to an administrative law judge who would assess the claim. The bill, which surfaced last year for the first time, is opposed by a number of legislators and the Tennessee Medical Association.

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House Votes to Name Nashville Courthouse for Thompson

The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to approve legislation naming Nashville’s new federal building and courthouse the Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse. The bill, introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, passed on a voice vote. Get details on floor consideration of the bill, H.R. 6135.

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Corker, Blackburn Meet with Trump Today

Two Tennessee elected officials were to meet with President-elect Donald Trump today, Knoxnews reports. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn were said to be traveling to Trump Tower for meetings. Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been rumored to be a prospect for secretary of state. But he said earlier this month that he believes someone else is more likely to get the job. Blackburn, a member of the Trump transition team’s Executive Committee, said she was looking forward to discussing “a broad range of policy issues, the transition, and to continue helping him choose the best people for his administration.”

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Tennessee Waltz Defendants Get Rights Restored

Three former elected officials made infamous for their involvement in the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting have had their rights restored, the Tennessean reports. Former state senators John Ford and Roscoe Dixon and former Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr. all served federal prison time, but have received orders from two judges that restored their rights as citizens. Dixon and Hooks participated in a press conference Monday to discuss the challenges of becoming full citizens again and to encourage others to seek restoration of their rights. The men may vote, serve on a jury and obtain professional licenses, but may not hold public office or own a gun. The FBI’s undercover operation “Tennessee Waltz” ensnared 12 legislators, lobbyists and local officials across the state.

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Is Harold Ford Jr. Being Considered for Trump Cabinet?

Former Memphis Congressman Harold Ford Jr. may be under consideration for a post in the Trump administration, according to the website Politico. Transportation secretary has been mentioned though “other Cabinet posts have not been ruled out.” Ford, a Democrat, supported Hillary Clinton in the presidential campaign, but he is friends with some of Donald Trump’s children. Two sources confirmed that preliminary feelers have been put out about potential posts via “emissaries.” Ford represented Tennessee’s Ninth Congressional District from 1997 through 2007. He left that post to run for the U.S. Senate, a race he lost to current Sen. Bob Corker. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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FBI Focuses on Durham’s Campaign Finances

The FBI recently interviewed at least two people about Jeremy Durham's campaign finances, the Tennessean reports. One individual interviewed also said an investigator with the IRS was present during the session. Questions reportedly focused on specific transactions by Durham and his campaign, and whether there was any indication that Durham engaged in money laundering. The interviews come amid ongoing state scrutiny of how the former lawmaker spent his political contributions. State campaign ethics and finance officials have found a $191,000 discrepancy between campaign finance reports and bank accounts. 

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Senate Judiciary to be Led by 2 Non-Lawyers

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will be led by two non-lawyers in the next Congress. Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa -- the committee's first ever non-lawyer chair -- will continue in the position he has held since 2014. This week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, became the ranking member of the committee. She replaces Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who was a practicing attorney before he joined Congress. Responding to concerns that Feinstein is not a lawyer, her former chief counsel said the move “illustrates how legal issues are increasingly seen as societal and political issues” and that having “good, hard-working, smart people running these committees” is more important than whether they have a law degree. Today’s General Counsel has an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal story.

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Trump Picks Alabama Sen. Sessions for AG

Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions has been tapped as President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Roll Call reports. Sessions, who sits on the Judiciary, Armed Services, Budget and Environment & Public Works committees, was the first incumbent senator to back Trump. He also has been serving as part of the transition team. Prior to joining Congress in 1996, Sessions was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and a state attorney general. He was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to be a federal district court judge in 1986, but failed to win Judiciary Committee approval. WRCB-TV has more on that issue.

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Former State Rep. Armstrong to Keep Pension

Former state Rep. Joe Armstrong will collect his legislative pension in spite of his federal felony conviction for tax fraud, Knoxnews reports. Armstrong represented Knoxville’s 15th District from 1988 until this year. He will draw a yearly pension of $28,744.08 or $2,395.34 per month, the maximum allowed. A spokesperson for the state retirement system said that since his felony conviction was not related to his legislative service, he will retain his pension.

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Rep. Harwell, Sen. McNally Nominated for Speaker

Tennessee state House Speaker Beth Harwell staved off a challenge today as Republicans voted to keep her in leadership, the Tennessean reports. Harwell, who has been speaker since 2011, defeated Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City by a 40-30 vote. Republicans also returned Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, to the post of majority leader by a vote of 42-29. In the state Senate, Republicans unanimously nominated Randy McNally of Oak Ridge to be the next speaker. If elected by the full chamber in January, he also will serve as lieutenant governor, taking over for the retiring Ron Ramsey. Other GOP leaders were returned to office with Sen. Mark Norris of Collierville approved as majority leader and Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro approved as caucus chairman, the Nashville Post reports.

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Firearms Group Wants Harwell Removed as Speaker

The Tennessee Firearms Association says it has had enough of Republican Rep. Beth Harwell as speaker of the state House, the Tennessean reports. The group circulated a lengthy email yesterday criticizing Harwell for not sufficiently supporting President-elect Donald Trump. “The last six years have proven that the establishment Republican perspective and control tactics of Beth Harwell cannot be reconciled with the current trend that the voters have demanded across Tennessee by their overwhelming support of Donald Trump,” the email reads.

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Court: School Zone Law Does Not Apply to Facilitating Sale of Drugs

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that the Drug-Free School Zone Act does not apply when a defendant is convicted of “facilitation of possession” in a school zone, overturning both the trial court and appellate court decisions in the case of Stanley Bernard Gibson, who had received a sentencing enhancement based on the proximity of his crime to a school. In a unanimous opinion, the court found that the state drug-free school zone law specifically lists the offenses to which it applies, and facilitation is not among them. They affirmed the underlying conviction but remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing.

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Cohen Asks DOJ to Investigate Justice Center Issues

U.S. Rep Steve Cohen has requested that the U.S. Department of Justice look into recent computer problems at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center, Local Memphis reports. The Memphis Democrat sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch Tuesday following reports that a system upgrade at the center resulted in inmates being "lost" in the system and  stuck in jail for hours after posting bail. “If true, these reports are deeply concerning,” Cohen wrote. “No one should spend one additional minute, let alone days, in jail when, under law, they are supposed to be free.”

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