News

GOP Leaders Call for Rep. Durham to Resign

Tennessee House Republican Chair Ryan Haynes and House Speaker Beth Harwell are asking Rep. Jeremy Durham to resign from the state legislature, The Tennessean reports. Durham, R-Franklin, resigned from his House leadership position Sunday afternoon, amidst a growing controversy over sexual harassment charges related to inappropriate text messages.

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State Officials Volunteer to Fill Up State Food Banks

Members of the Tennessee Supreme Court joined lawmakers and other state officials last Wednesday for a community service project aimed at filling up the state’s five food banks. The volunteers packed 50,000 meals in 90 minutes at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville. "They call it food insecurity, but I don't mince words: It's hunger,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who organized the event. “We can't abide that in Tennessee, and so we're trying to help people help themselves." Read more from The Commercial Appeal.

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Bill Would Keep Expert Compensation Private

Republican lawmakers and the Tennessee Medical Association proposed a bill that would halt public release of compensation given to experts who testify, The Tennessean reports. "If attorneys are able to continue accessing and disclosing doctors’ personal financial information, which has no relevance on a trial, it will dissuade more physicians from testifying in important issues," said Dave Chaney, a spokesman for the TMA. The TBA opposes the bill because rules that deal with court procedure should be handled by an existing rulemaking commission, TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur told The Tennessean.

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Guns, Abortion Included in Gov. Haslam's 2016 Agenda

Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2016 legislative agenda includes public safety and issues related to handguns and abortion. The Republican governor also will introduce the Fetal Remains Act, which would require more reporting of the disposition of fetal remains and establish a mandatory assessment process for surgical treatment centers that annually perform more than 50 abortions. “The Fetal Remains Act strengthens accountability and transparency for surgery centers performing abortions,” Haslam said. The Tennessean also reports Haslam will also attempt to lower the cost of obtaining a handgun permit.

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Lawsuit Challenges Validity of Marriage Licenses

A lawsuit filed today by former state Sen. David Fowler on behalf of five Williamson County residents questions whether Tennessee law relative to the licensing of marriages is valid and enforceable following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges. At a Capitol press conference, Fowler asked, "How does anyone, regardless of the sexes of the parties, get a valid marriage license pursuant to an invalid law?" The lawsuit names Williamson County Clerk Elaine Anderson as the defendant and asks her to stop issuing marriage licenses until the lawsuit is resolved, The Tennessean reports. The lawsuit comes one day after the House Civil Justice subcommittee killed the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act

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10th Justice? Why Judge Judy of Course

Nearly 10 percent of college graduates surveyed in a poll believe Judith Sheindlin, known as “Judge Judy” on her television show, serves on the U.S. Supreme Court. The poll, conducted by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, also found that 60 percent of college graduates could not correctly identify a requirement for ratifying a constitutional amendment. Results from the poll are detailed by the council in "A Crisis in Civic Education." Read more from CNN.

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Judicial Confirmation Committee Adopts New Proposal

The Conference Committee on Judicial Confirmation for SB1/HB 142 today adopted a report supporting a newly developed proposal that embodies a confirmation process that the TBA supports. The report will go before the House and Senate next week. Under the proposal, the House and Senate will meet in a joint session and a majority yes vote of the combined House and Senate is needed to confirm an appointee. An appointee may be rejected if there is a majority of no votes cast or if one body votes to reject the appointee by a two-thirds vote. Read more from the Nashville Post

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Fewer Lawyers Participating in Congress

The ABA Journal highlights a new paper, "The Declining Dominance of Lawyers in U.S. Federal Politics," which argues that fewer lawyers are participating in Congress because they are being “squeezed out” by those who have made politics a career. While nearly 80 percent of members of Congress were lawyers inthe mid-19th century, today that number is less than 40 percent. Nick Robinson, a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School and author of the study, also says that financial incentives of corporate law practice may keep lawyers in private practice. 

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Committee Narrows Options for Judicial Confirmations

The Conference Committee on Judicial Confirmation reviewed SB1, HB142 twice today and narrowed the options to three: (1) both chambers would need to reject an appointment for it to fail; (2) one chamber could cause an appointment to fail by voting against it; and (3) 100 votes would be needed from the 132-member General Assembly (House and Senate). The concern remains that one chamber could have more power than the other to confirm or reject an appointee. The General Assembly has 60 days to act on a gubernatorial nomination before it becomes final by default. The conference committee will meet Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. to continue negotiations.

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TMA Seeks Amendment to Protect Damage Caps

The Tennessee Medical Association is asking for a constitutional amendment that protects the General Assembly's ability to set caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, The Commercial Appeal reports. The proposed legislation comes after a Chattanooga judge last year ruled Tennessee’s cap is unconstitutional. TMA argues that the cap is necessary to keep good doctors in the state, but some attorneys argue the caps “infringe on the right of trial by jury.”

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Legislature Has Fewer Women, More Protestants Than Most

The Tennessee General Assembly has fewer women among its members compared to other state legislatures, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The review also found that 92 percent of Tennessee legislators are Protestant, compared to the national average of 38 percent Protestant. Read more from The Knoxville News Sentinel.

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Luncheon with Nebraska Senator to Discuss Death Penalty

The Tennessee Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty will host a luncheon with Nebraska state Sen. Colby Coash on Jan. 27 at noon at the Nashville City Center office of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis located at 511 Union Street. Sen. Coash, R-Lincoln, was a key figure in the repeal last year of Nebraska’s death penalty and will discuss why many state are questioning the alignment of their capital punishment systems with conservative values. The event is free and lunch is $11. Register by Jan. 25 to Amy Lawrence.

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Bill Would Establish Online Voter Registration

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, filed a bill Friday that would establish an online voter registration system in Tennessee, Nooga reports. Voters with an unexpired Tennessee driver’s license or personal ID card issued by the state government would be able to go to a state website to register to vote.

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Committee Weighs Options on Judicial Confirmations

The Conference Committee dealing with the implementation of new judicial confirmation procedures (SB1, HB142), today discussed four options for confirming Gov. Bill Haslam's judicial nominations. A dispute over power that prevented a resolution to the process last year remains, as members debate how votes will be cast and counted in the confirmation process to allow the Senate and House to have an equal voice. The next meeting of the conference committee is scheduled for Jan. 19.

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'Natural Marriage' Act Could Cost State $8.5B

The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act, a bill that says no state agency may enforce the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, could cost the state more than $8.5 billion. The figure, tallied in the bill’s fiscal note, includes federal funding the state receives for programs like TennCare that would be eliminated if the state is noncompliant with federal law. “… Some legislators are endangering billions of dollars in federal funding, not to mention threatening the health insurance, hospital visitation and parenting arrangements of same-sex couples,” said Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. Read more from The Tennessean.

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Conference Committee Weighs 4 Options for Approving Judges

The Conference Committee dealing with the implementation of new judicial confirmation procedures (SB1, HB142), today looked at four possible options for confirming Supreme Court and Intermediate Court appointments from the governor. With Governor Bill Haslam's appointment of Judge Roger Amos Page to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court earlier this month, the clock is ticking on the 60-day time period given the General Assembly to confirm appointees under the Constitutional Amendment approved in 2014. 

The points of contention among legislators are whether one chamber has more power than the other and how confirmation or rejection is determined. The four options the legislators have on the table are below along with the concerns raised:

  1. House and Senate convene a session together and vote together (33 senators; 99 representatives; 132 total legislators). Confirmation requires a majority vote (67 yes votes). (Senators have big concerns that votes by senators would not be needed for confirmation to occur.)
  2. House and Senate convene a session together and Senate votes are weighted by a multiple of three to match house votes. (Representatives have big concerns about this as it gives Senate votes more meaning.)
  3. Confirmation of appointee occurs with a majority vote in the House and Senate whether the vote takes place in a session together or in respective chambers. If either chamber denies the appointment, the appointee is deemed rejected. (Concerns from House is that it gives Senate has more power as it would only take 17 members of the Senate to reject a House confirmed appointee.)
  4. Whether in session together or in respective chambers, a majority House and Senate vote confirms the appointee. In a scenario where the Senate and House differ in majority vote, the 60-day appointment clock continues ticking allowing either chamber time to reconsider its actions. If at the end of the 60-day period, if only one chamber has confirmed the appointment stands. (The same concern from the House is that it gives the Senate too much power.)

The next meeting of the conference committee is Jan. 19 at 8 a.m.

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Joint Committee to Address Judicial Confirmation Process

The Senate and House have both now named members to a conference committee that will work on the judicial confirmation process approved in 2014's state constitutional amendment. The House and Senate failed last year to agree on a plan for how the votes for Gov. Bill Haslam’s judicial appointments will occur. The group's report is expected to be presented early in the session. The Senate also released its schedule for the coming year. See who is on the joint committee, view the schedule and read more legislative news here.

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Governor, Senate Lay Out Schedule for Upcoming Events

Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that will give the State of the State address to the joint body of the House and Senate on Feb. 1. Haslam is expected to highlight his priorities for the legislature and funding initiatives in this speech.

New Senate Schedule and Proposed Adjournment Dates

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Report: How Decisions have Transformed Campaign Finance

In a new report, the Brennan Center details how it believes six closely divided U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the last decade have transformed campaign finance in America. The full paper Five to Four, is available online.

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New Trial Date for Armstrong as Defense Prepares Case

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the trial date for state Rep. Joe Armstrong, who is facing charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, has been pushed to Aug. 2 after defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs said he needed more time to prepare. Isaacs is also asking that prosecutors remove any language that indicates Armstrong is a lawmaker or mentions his role in increasing the price of cigarette tax stamps. Armstrong, D-Knoxville, is accused of lying on tax forms in connection with a profit he received from the hike. Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Atchley responded, "In this particular instance, the United States intends to prove Armstrong was motivated from the very start to hide this money and knew from the very start he had to hide this money.”

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Tennessee Legislature Opens 2016 Session

Tennessee lawmakers returned today to the state Capitol for the second half of the 109th legislative session. The TBA keeps you up-to-date on legislation important to the practice of law through TBAToday, government affairs updates online and on Twitter. And look for Action Alerts posted to TBA Impact.

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Rep. Durham to Keep GOP Leadership Position

Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, will keep his position as Majority Whip after House Republican caucus members did not cast enough votes today to reconsider his leadership role. The Tennessean reports a vote was required to suspend the rules in order to discuss the issues surrounding Durham. During a press conference following the meeting, Durham said “he fought to keep his position in order take a stand against the ‘liberal media.'"

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'Honeymoon Over' for Governor, Republican Legislators?

The Knoxville News Sentinel asserts that the “political honeymoon” between Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly's Republican majority may have come to an end. The author cites tort reform limits on damages awards in lawsuits and the governor’s new merit-pay system for state employees. State Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, called for the impeachment of the Republican governor for accepting the gay-marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. “The governor's controversy-avoidance skills may be challenged on multiple other matters that seem to be of high importance to him as well as state legislators,” the author writes.

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6 Lawmakers To Watch as Legislature Returns

The Tennessean published a list of of six lawmakers to watch when the legislature convenes tomorrow. The Republicans are Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin; House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville; and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. Kelsey is expected to advance legislation that will address criminal justice reform. The list also includes Democrats Sen. Jeff Yarbo, D-Nashville; Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville; and Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville. Armstrong was indicted by a federal grand jury in June for felony fraud and tax evasion charges.

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Race in 9th District Could be 'Dramatic'

The Commercial Appeal discusses the potentially “dramatic” race between U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and state Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis. Harris announced last week that he is seriously considering challenging the five-term congressman. Cohen said it would be a “serious political blunder” for Harris to enter the race.

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