News

House Passes Bill to Arm Constables

The state House has voted to allow constables in Tennessee to be armed if they are certified by the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, the Memphis Daily News reports. The chamber voted 92-1 on Thursday to approve HB1094 sponsored by Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville. The companion bill, SB1008, is awaiting a full floor vote in the Senate.

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Ramsey: Bill Making Bible Official Book ‘Belittles’ Tome

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey opposes a fast-moving bill making the Holy Bible the official book of Tennessee, saying it "belittles the most holy book ever written." Ramsey told reporters yesterday that he had concerns about the measure passed earlier in the day by the Senate State and Local Government Committee with seven members voting aye and two abstaining. "I'm just adamantly opposed to that,” Ramsey said. “The Bible is my official book. It is. It shouldn't be put in the Blue Book with 'Rocky Top,' cave salamanders and the tulip poplar" tree. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has the story.

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Streaming Problems at Legislature ‘Unacceptable’

Legislative staffers are calling video streaming problems on the Tennessee General Assembly's website unacceptable, the Memphis Daily News reports from the Associated Press. The online video has been available intermittently over the last two weeks. House Clerk Joe McCord said in an email to members Monday that all meetings and floor sessions are being recorded regardless of the streaming issues, and that DVD duplicates are being made for archival purposes.

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Tracy Considers 2nd Run Against DesJarlais

State Sen. Jim Tracy, R- Shelbyville, says he is weighing another challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the Fourth Congressional District’s Republican primary next year, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Tracy lost by just 38 votes to incumbent DesJarlais in 2014. Also said to be weighing a primary challenge is Grant Starrett, a 27-year-old Nashville-area attorney who worked in Republican Mitt Romney’s two presidential campaigns. Starrett also led a group that tried unsuccessfully to oust three Democratic justices on the Tennessee Supreme Court last August.

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Rep. Littleton to Run for Republican Party Chair

Second-term state Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, is joining the race to become the next chair of the Tennessee Republican Party, the Associated Press reports. She joins Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville, who already announced he will seek the office. The position is open because Chris Devaney is stepping down to become executive director of the Chattanooga-based Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti. The party is scheduled to elect a new chair on April 11, the Memphis Daily News reports.

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Healthcare Liability, Workers' Comp Bills See Action

The Senate sponsor of legislation to establish an administrative system for addressing healthcare liability and errors announced today that the bill (SB507 by Sen. Jack Johnson and HB546 by Rep. Glen Casada) will not receive any further consideration this year, but will be the subject of an ad hoc committee study this summer. Also today, the Senate version of a bill to create a system for allowing employers to create a private workers' compensation plan bypassing the state system (SB721 by Sen. Mark Green and HB 997 by Rep. Jeremy Durham), cleared its first hurdle in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee by a 6-0-2 vote, with one member absent.

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Bill to Study E-filing, Indigent Representation, Lawyer Pay Advances

A bill establishing task forces to implement e-filing in Tennessee trial courts and to review changes to the appointment of counsel for indigent parties advanced out of the Senate Judiciary and House Civil Justice Subcommittees this week.  SB649/HB141 requires that both task forces be formed by July 15, and will be required to report their findings and recommendations by Dec. 5. Legislators also asked that the task force consider a bill SB1009/HB1025 that would raise the rate of pay for attorneys doing appointed work. TBA House of Delegates member and Athens attorney Bridget Willhite testified on the need for the increase.

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Legislative Task Forces to Study Pay for Lawyers, E-filing, Indigent Representation

Legislative Hearings

Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, speaks to colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee on his bill to raise the pay of attorneys doing court-appointed work.

Legislative Hearings

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Keep Track of Legislation of Interest to Tennessee Lawyers

Activity in the Tennessee General Assembly is now in full swing. Keep track of the action by following the TBA Action List for news about bills the TBA has a direct interest in -- those it has initiated, taken a position on, or has a policy on -- or the TBA Watch List, which offers a broader list of bills of interest to the Tennessee legal community.

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Harwell Asks Leaders to Open Secret 'Pre-Meetings'

Many Tennessee House committees routinely go behind closed doors first for unannounced "pre-meetings" where they discuss pending bills before they come up in committees and subcommittees, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Advocates of open government as well as some legislators and lobbyists have questioned the process, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, is now asking  House  leaders to end the practice, The Tennessean reports.

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5 Issues to Watch This Week in General Assembly

As the General Assembly inches toward its expected end in late April, more potentially controversial bills are on committee agendas, the Tennessean reports. The list includes legalization of cannabis oil and medical marijuana, longevity pay and minimum wage, motorcycle helmet restrictions and drinking in cars.

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Campaign Report: Dark Money Up, Direct Donations Down

Reports released recently by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance show that political action committees spent more than $10 million to influence elections in the state last year. The Knoxville News Sentinel cited the data in reporting that direct donations decreased from the 2012 election year while so-called independent expenditures increased. The Tennessee Forum had the most independent expenditures, including spending $668,686 to attack three state Supreme Court justices. Almost all of its money came from a PAC set up by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey operating under the name of RAAMPAC.

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Senate Directs Local Law Enforcement to Ban Racial Profiling

The Tennessee Senate approved a bill Monday that requires local law enforcement agencies to enact policies prohibiting racial profiling, Knoxnews reports. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, sponsored the bill and said it would require local agencies to adopt policies by Jan. 1, 2016. A bill passed several years ago encouraged adoption of such policies but only 37 agencies have taken action thus far. The new bill is awaiting committee review in the House.

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NAACP Embarks on 'Journey for Justice'

The Tennessee NAACP State Conference will hold its 15th Annual Legislative Day on the Hill in Nashville next Tuesday. The group hopes to engage state lawmakers on issues such as Medicaid expansion, increasing the minimum wage, expanding voting rights and ensuring that Tennessee enacts a new ban on racial profiling. The event is part of a month-long campaign by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP called “Journey for Justice.” The Chattanoogan has more.

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Snow Day for Tennessee Legislature, Votes Moved

Enough members of the Tennessee House and Senate braved the winter storm gripping the state to hold scheduled floor sessions today, but they decided to move the balance of their bills to next week because of heavy absences. Seventy of 99 House members were in attendance, as were 23 of 33 Senators, the Associated Press reports.

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FCC OKs Chattanooga Broadband Expansion

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) ruled last week that Chattanooga may expand its municipal broadband service, overriding a state law blocking the city’s electric utility from expanding its super-fast Internet network beyond its current service area. Tennessee officials who oppose the decision are lining up to block the move, the Associated Press reports. On Tuesday, a group of Republican state lawmakers urged state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to challenge the decision as “a violation of state sovereignty.” Slatery said no decision has been made about next steps but expressed disappointment that the FCC decided to assert authority over a local governmental body. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

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President: Court-Appointed Lawyers Should Get Raise

The March issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal includes a lot of criminal justice-related information, including articles exploring the “unnecessary rigor” provision of the Tennessee Constitution, legislative initiatives on privacy and criminal law, and the successes of a residential drug treatment program. In his column, President Jonathan Steen explains why the rate for court-appointed lawyers should be increased. "The compensation rate for lawyers appointed by Tennessee state courts to represent indigent parties in criminal, juvenile and civil cases has not changed in 20 years. The current rate for court-appointed lawyers is $40 per hour for out-of-court work and $50 per hour for in-court work," he writes. "At $40 an hour for out-of-court work, Tennessee court-appointed lawyers are the lowest paid in the nation."

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Senator Criticizes Post-Conviction Defender’s Office

The state agency that defends death row inmates is being criticized for using taxpayer dollars to pay for a lawsuit seeking information on executions, Knoxnews reports. State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, said the Office of Post-Conviction Defender exceeded its authority when it filed a civil suit seeking the identities of executioners and types of drugs used in an execution. The office disputes Yager’s interpretation saying the law allows it to get involved in “collateral matters.”

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Bill Gives Legislature Power to Set Trial Court Terms

Tennessee trial judges’ terms of service would be set by the General Assembly rather than the state constitution under a new bill proposed by state Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis. The measure, HJR 91, would delete the last sentence of Article 4 in the state constitution, which sets terms at eight years. It has been assigned to the Civil Justice Committee. Gavel to Gavel has more on the proposal.

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Kansas Lawmakers Move to Dismantle Merit Selection

A Kansas State House committee has approved two proposals to end the merit-based selection of Supreme Court justices. One proposal would institute contested, partisan elections for the court, while the other would give the governor unilateral appointment authority, subject to confirmation by the state Senate, according to the Associated Press. Gavel to Gavel reports on the move and raises question about whether either proposal could capture the two-thirds vote needed for House passage. Similar efforts in 2013 were blocked by that requirement, it notes.

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Legislative Session Starts to Heat Up

Activity in the Tennessee General Assembly is now in full swing. Keep track of the action by following the TBA Action List for news about bills the TBA has a direct interest in -- those it has initiated, taken a position on, or has a policy on -- or the TBA Watch List, which offers a broader list of bills of interest to the Tennessee legal community.

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Politics, Policy Focus for TBALL Class Session

Despite challenging weather across the state, members of the TBA Leadership Law class met today in Nashville for a day learning about in policy and politics. The class heard from U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, state Sen. Jeff Yarbro and two lawyer lobbyists. Class members also participated in a mock legislative committee meeting to learn more about how the legislative process works. They capped off the day by attending TBA’s annual Big Shrimp Reception honoring members of the General Assembly and legislative staff.

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Hooker Says ‘Death with Dignity’ His Last Fight

John Jay Hooker tells Frank Daniels with the Tennessean that after a long and very public career, he wants his final legacy to be giving Tennesseans the right to choose how they die. “It is the ultimate civil right,” Hooker says, “to be able to die with dignity, while you still have some choice in the matter.” Last week, Hooker began telling friends that he has been diagnosed with cancer and wants to dedicate his remaining time to passing a Tennessee Death with Dignity law. Last Thursday, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, filed a bill to start the process. Though he has deep misgivings about such laws, Fitzhugh said he did it out of respect for Hooker and his lifelong fight for civil rights.

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Bill Would Raise Rate for Court Appointed Counsel

A bill to increase the rate court appointed attorneys are paid to $100 per hour was filed today in the General Assembly. Senate Bill 1009 and House Bill 1025 were introduced with bipartisan sponsorship in  both houses, with Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, sponsoring the bill in the Senate and Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, and Rep. Andy Farmer, R-Sevierville, sponsoring the bill in the House. The proposal -- a TBA policy initiative in this legislative session -- would enact the first increase in the hourly rate for these attorneys since 1994.

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Public Defender Funding Could Take Hit Under Proposal

A law that ensures budget increases for prosecutors include a corresponding increase for public defenders would go away under legislation introduced last week by state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville. House Bill 241 would delete TCA 16-5-518 in its entirety. The law, which has been on the books since the early 1990s, governs increases in local funding, not state budgets. Go to TBAImpact to weigh in.

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