News

Judicial Selection Gets Last Dance

It appears that the legislation on judicial selection will once again get "the last dance, last chance for love" in the words of the Donna Summer song. Action on the principal surviving bill at this point, HB0142,/SB0001, was deferred until Wednesday, which could be the last day or next to the last day of this annual legislative session. The bill contains provisions establishing a new trial court vacancy commission which, much like the judicial selection and nominating commissions before, would submit three names to the governor to fill vacancies on the trial bench. The bill also implements the new constitutional provision establishing gubernatorial nomination, confirmation and retention of appellate judges. Discussions continue on details of how the two bodies of the General Assembly can express themselves on confirmation. Legislative action on selection of judges has been decided in the last week of session for almost a decade.

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Legislators May Ban School Boards from Suing with State Funds

With more than a half a dozen school districts suing the state over a lack of funding for education, lawmakers want to ban them from using state funds for their legal crusade. Legislators reportedly are adding a provision to one of several budget bills that would ban local school districts from using state money for attorney’s fees, court costs or other expenses to sue the state, the Nashville Scene reports.

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State Lawmaker Arrested on DUI Charge

State Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, is facing charges of drunken driving and violation of the implied consent law, Knoxnews reports from the Associated Press. Media reports indicate that Nashville police pulled over the first-term legislator on Friday morning and arrested him after he declined to submit to a sobriety test. Beck represents portions of downtown Nashville, East Nashville, Old Hickory and Germantown. He is scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

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Senate Approves Bill Calling for Elected AG

The state Senate voted 23-9 today to begin the lengthy process of giving Tennessee voters the say on whether the state attorney general should be popularly elected in 2020, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The resolution now goes to the House. If it receives a majority vote there, it would then go on to be considered by the 110th General Assembly, which will convene in 2017. There it would need a two thirds vote in each chamber before it could go on the ballot.

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Legislators Pass Protocol for Rape Exam Kits

Lawmakers approved and sent to the governor a bill that would create a statewide protocol for the collection of sexual assault evidence kits, the Commercial Appeal reports. The bill would require that evidence be tested within 60 days of healthcare providers turning them over to law enforcement agencies. The measure also directs the state’s Domestic Violence Coordinating Council to create a model policy for responding to reports of sexual offenses, and requires law enforcement agencies to establish written procedures with the same or higher standards.

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Negotiators Strip Capitol Provision from Guns-in-Parks Bill

A conference committee today stripped out a provision allowing handguns on state Capitol grounds from the “guns-in-parks bill," the Memphis Daily News reports. The conference committee was necessary after the Senate refused to strike the provison, which the House already had removed. The compromise bill must now be approved by both chambers, which could come this week.

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TBA Leaders in DC for ‘ABA Day’

TBA President Jonathan Steen, President-elect Bill Harbison, YLD President Rachel Moses and Executive Director Allan Ramsaur are in the nation’s capital this week as part of the ABA Day legislative effort. The group will be meeting with Tennessee legislators as well as learning about issues of importance to the legal profession. The Tennessee participants join other leaders from national, state and local bar associations across the country. Learn more about the effort in the ABA Journal.

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Rep. Haynes Elected State GOP Chair

State Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville was elected chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party Saturday by the party’s State Executive Committee. He replaces Chris Devaney, who resigned two months into a new two-year term. Haynes defeated executive committee member Rebecca Burke, fellow state Rep. Mary Littleton of Dickson and Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain. He says he will resign from the House when the legislative session adjourns, Knoxnews reports.

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Legislators Revive Elected AG Bill

The state Senate was scheduled to vote today on an issue that has become familiar in judicial politics: electing Tennessee’s state attorney general. Sen. Mae Beavers, R- Mt. Juliet, who unsuccessfully tried to pass a similar measure twice last year, is calling for an amendment to the state’s constitution to make the position subject to public election beginning in 2020. The resolution (SJR 63) is co-sponsored by Lee Harris, D-Memphis. Read more in the Memphis Business Journal.

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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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