News

Judge Dismisses Suit Challenging Senate Filibuster

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan dismissed a legal claim that Senate filibusters, a stalling tactic often used to block judicial nominations, deny majority rule in an unconstitutional fashion, Gavel Grab reports. Judge Sullivan said that Common Cause and other plaintiffs did not have a legal right to litigate the issue, and that it would infringe on the Senate’s power if the court took the case.

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Ramsey to Join GOPAC Advisory Board

Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville will join the Legislative Leaders Advisory Board of GOPAC in 2013, reports the Nashville Ledger. Formed in 1978, GOPAC is a conservative political group that recruits and trains Republican political candidates. According to Ramsey, the group was crucial to his early success in the legislature.

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Senator to Propose Arming Teachers

In the aftermath of last week’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Knoxville, said he plans to introduce legislation in January that will require every school in the state to have at least one armed person on campus, according to The Tennessean. A growing number of states have proposed similar legislation, including laws allowing teachers and school administrators to carry concealed firearms at school, the paper reports.

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Rep. Carr Considering Race Against DesJarlais

Republican State Rep. Joe Carr from Lascassas announced today that he is forming an exploratory steering committee to test the viability of a campaign for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District. That seat currently is held by U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. Carr said he made the move because voters have told him their trust in DesJarlais has been violated. Chattanoogan.com reported the news.

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GOP Speaker Proposes House Overhaul

Republican Speaker Beth Harwell today announced a proposal to overhaul and restructure the House committee system in order to streamline the process and save money, she says. State House members would be limited to introducing 10 bills per legislative session and could no longer be able to vote on legislation for colleagues away from their seats. Additionally, the Judiciary Committee would be split into civil and criminal justice panels, and the State and Local Government Committee split into one panel dealing with state legislation and the other regarding local laws. The proposal faces review by the House Rules Committee.

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Norris Elected to Lead Government Group in 2014

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader and Adams and Reese Special Counsel Mark Norris, R-Collierville, has been selected chair-elect of the national Council of State Governments, a bipartisan professional association serving all three branches of government in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, beginning in 2013. Norris, the first Tennessean elected to the leadership post, will take office as chair in 2014. Norris works in the Memphis office of Adams and Reese. He has served in the state Senate since 2000 and as majority leader since 2007. Read more on the firm’s website

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DUI Trial for Rep. Todd Delayed

State Rep. Curry Todd's trial on DUI and gun-possession charges was postponed Friday after attorneys said discussions with prosecutors about a possible plea were ongoing. The judge reset the date for Jan. 11, 2013. Todd has entered a not-guilty plea to charges of driving under the influence, possession of a handgun while under the influence, and violating the state's implied-consent law by refusing a breath-alcohol test. The charges were filed after he was stopped by Nashville police late on the night of Oct. 11, 2011, on a busy street near Vanderbilt University. The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports

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Democrats Opt to Maintain Current Leadership

Tennessee Democratic Party Caucus chairman Mike Turner of Old Hickory fended off a challenge from Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar, who said he would bring a more cooperative spirit to the position. With reelection, Turner said he expects to be as fiery as ever. Democrats in both chambers return to the upcoming session with historically low numbers as Republicans hold two-thirds majorities.

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Miss. Lobby Firm to Open Nashville Office

Mississippi-based government relations and lobbying firm Capitol Resources is opening an office in Nashville, the Nashville Post reports. Established in 2001, the firm has a strong foothold in the South with offices in Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, and Washington D.C. Former Tennessee Republican Party Executive Director Adam Nickas has been hired to oversee operations.

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Wine Legislation to be Considered in 2013

State. Sen. Bill Ketron stated Tuesday that he plans to support a bill allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores during the 2013 General Assembly session. Although past attempts at the legislation never made it out of subcommittees, Ketron says he plans to offer a measure enabling public referendums in the 33 areas that allow liquor by the drink and package stores. Many small business owners oppose the legislation, protesting that they would not be able to compete with large corporations such as Wal-Mart of Kroger that can buy in bulk.

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We're #1: Magazine Says Tenn. Legislature Worst of the Worst

Mother Jones magazine, the left of left publication best known for unearthing the videotape of Mitt Romney making the controversial “47 percent” remarks, has ranked Tennessee No. 1 -- for having the nation’s worst legislature, the Tennessean political blog reports. The magazine condemned lawmakers for encouraging abstinence-only sex education, among other laws.

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Opinion: Tort Law Likely to Get Day in Court Soon

Knoxville lawyer Deborah Stevens, president and managing shareholder of Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop, writes in Knoxnews.com that the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 is likely headed for a courtroom soon as challenges to the law are winding their way through the system. She points to one specific case pending in the Middle District of Tennessee, which could expedite review of the law. In addition to asserting that the law is unconstitutional, the case asks the federal judge to “certify” the question to the Tennessee Supreme Court. If the judge were to do so, the case would be "fast-tracked" to the court.

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Rep. Hawk in Court for Arraignment

Tennessee Rep. David Hawk was in Greene County Criminal Court Friday to waive his arraignment. He was indicted by a grand jury last week and faces a felony reckless endangerment charge after an incident in March involving his estranged wife. "This has been a nightmare," Hawk said. "I strongly maintain my innocence in this situation." Judge John Duggar removed himself from the case because he knows Hawk and works with his wife. Hawk will be back in court on May 30, by which time the state Supreme Court will have decided which judge will hear the case. WCYB.com has the story

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Support Growing to End Campaign Donation Limits

Tom Humphrey writes in Knoxnews.com that legislators are moving toward repeal of campaign contribution limits while requiring more rapid and complete disclosure. House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said the concept is at the core of a "comprehensive" revision of state campaign finance law he and Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron hope to introduce when the General Assembly reconvenes. On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle recently said the time has come to "re-think" past support of contribution limits because they are no longer effective. Even Common Cause of Tennessee, which has been a staunch advocate of contribution limits, has "almost come to the conclusion" that ending limits but providing fuller disclosure “would be appropriate.”

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Collateral Source Rule Examined in New TBJ

In the December Tennessee Bar Journal, Nashville lawyer Bill Walton writes why he believes the Collateral Source Rule should probably be reexamined. President Jackie Dixon talks with some former lawyer-legislators and studies the sacrifice a person makes to run for office, but also the need for more lawyers to serve. There is a lot more in this issue, including civil jury trials, banking and estate planning. Read it online or look in the stack of your weekend mail for the printed copy.

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6th Circuit Remands Third-Party Access Case

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals today ordered a lower court to reconsider whether Tennessee’s requirements for third parties to get on the ballot are still unconstitutionally restrictive in light of legislative changes made while the ruling was on appeal. The Memphis Daily News reports that earlier this year, a federal district court struck down state rules requiring third-party candidates to collect about 40,000 signatures and turn them in seven months before the election to qualify to run and then to be selected through a primary. After that ruling, the General Assembly changed the law to make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot.

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Kyle Retains Leadership Post in Close Vote

Senate Democrats today narrowly agreed to renew Sen. Jim Kyle as head of its caucus, giving him a narrow victory over Memphis colleague Sen. Reginald Tate, the City Paper reports.

House GOP Elects Leaders

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell tentatively won a second two-year term as speaker, while Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga was unanimously re-elected as majority leader of the Republican Caucus yesterday. Other leaders elected include Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin, Assistant Majority Leader Kevin Brooks of Cleveland and Floor Leader Vance Dennis of Savannah. Though most members of the leadership did not face opposition, Tullahoma's Judd Matheny was defeated in his re-election bid for speaker pro tempore – the House's number two post – by Rep. Curtis Johnson of Clarksville. The full House will vote on several of the appointments in January. See a list of all leaders elected on Chattanoogan.com.

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Harwell Wins Second Term as Speaker

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell tentatively won a second two-year term as speaker today, but her Republican colleagues dumped Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny, who championed anti-Islam legislation in the House, the Commercial Appeal reports.

Voter ID Problems Few, But Critics Continue Fight

State Election Coordinator Mark Goins says the voter hotline received hundreds of calls on election day, but that only two were related to photo IDs. There are skeptics, however, who believe that the state's 2011 law requiring a photo ID to vote discouraged some people from voting. Nashville attorney Doug Johnston, whose firm is challenging the law in Tennessee's Supreme Court, says even a few is too many. In Hamilton County, 13 voters had to cast provisional ballots because they lacked photo ID, according to the county election commission. The Times Free Press reports

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Burke Takes Step Toward Mayoral Race

State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, moved a step closer to running for mayor today, picking up official papers to qualify for the Chattanooga mayoral election, the Times Free Press reports. Berke had previously announced his intention to give up his senate seat and run for mayor. He’s since raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the campaign.

Montana Voters: Citizens United Ruling Was Wrong

Montana residents used their votes to protest a U.S. Supreme Court decision that had overturned that state’s 1912 campaign finance law, the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog reports. Voters in Montana gave 75 percent of their vote to support an initiative disputing the high court’s constitutional analysis and directing the state’s congressional delegation to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the court’s 2010 Citizens United campaign finance ruling.

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Tennessee Faces Deadline on Health Exchanges

State officials appear divided on whether to create a Tennessee health insurance exchange program or leave the job to the federal government. With a deadline for the decision approaching next week, Gov. Bill Haslam tells WPLN News that he’d rather the state run its own program, but GOP leaders in the legislature may have other ideas.

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Election Puts Fewer Lawyers In Senate, More In House

When the Tennessee General Assembly convenes in January, the State Senate will have eight lawyers, five fewer than the last session. The only lawyer winning in a seriously contested general election race was John Stevens (R - Huntingdon) who will take over the District 24 seat vacated by lawyer Roy Herron (D - Dresden). The 33-member body numbered 13 lawyers among its membership when the session opened in 2010. Following the early-session resignation of Jamie Woodson (R - Knoxville) and the retirement of Andy Berke (D - Chattanooga), Mike Faulk (R - Church Hill) and Joe Haynes (D - Goodlettsville), only two incumbent lawyers faced election during this cycle. Jim Kyle (D - Memphis) was unopposed in the general election, and Tim Barnes (D - Clarksville) was defeated by physician Mark Green (R - Clarksville). Nashville lawyer Phillip North made a bid for Haynes' substantially-redrawn seat, but was defeated by physician Steve Dickerson (R - Nashville).

In the State House, wins by Andrew Farmer (R - Sevierville) , Mike Carter (R - Chattanooga), William Lamberth (R - Portland) and Jeremy Durham (R - Franklin) mean that the House will have a net gain of three lawyers. Along with Vance Dennis, lawyers in the Republican Caucus will increase from two to five. Three Democrats, Craig Fitzhugh (D - Ripley), Mike Stewart (D - Nashville) and John Mark Windle (D - Livingston), round out the eight lawyers who will service in the House this session. Get full election results from the Tennessee Secretary of State.

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Voters Affirm Merit Selection in High-Dollar Contests

Voters across the country rejected changes to judicial merit selection plans and gave their support to sitting justices who faced expensive ouster attempts. Ballot measures in Florida, New Hampshire, Missouri and Arizona that would have changed judicial selection procedures all went down in defeat, the Wall Street Journal reports in its Law Blog. And in Florida and Iowa, where well financed campaigns were launched to defeat sitting justices in retention elections, all survived, the Pew Center reports on its Stateline website.  In both states, lawyers and legal groups were actively involved in the campaigns.

Two other states had closely watched judicial elections. In Michigan, the GOP held on to control of the state’s Supreme Court, with Republican candidates holding on to two contested seats in partisan elections, Michigan Live reports. And in Alabama, the state’s former chief justice – Roy Moore – was returned to office, Alabama.com reports. He had been ousted from the position in 2003 after refusing to remove a monument of the 10 commandments from the state judicial building in Montgomery. You can find additional judicial election results from the National Center for State Courts.

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