News

Golden Appointed to Judicial Nominating Commission

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, on Thursday appointed David A. Golden of Hawkins County to the Judicial Nominating Commission, the Chattanoogan reports. Golden, one of those recommended for the post by the Tennessee Bar Association, will fill the vacancy left by the retirement of commission member Theresa Lee. Golden joined Eastman Chemical Company in 1995 as an attorney, eventually rising to the position of vice president, associate general counsel and corporate secretary.

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AOC Report Pans Statewide Veterans Court System

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, last year proposed legislation to set up a statewide framework for veterans’ treatment courts, which would operate much like drug courts. During consideration, the bill was amended to instead call for a study of the matter by the Administrative Office of the Courts. The recently released report is far from supportive of the idea, finding that establishing a statewide system in 2013 is “neither necessary or preferable,” Knoxnews.com reports. Instead, the AOC maintains that the “most effective and cost-efficient method of assisting … [veterans] is to permit each judicial district to retain the discretion to address this issue after considering available resources and the needs of the relevant population."

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State Rep. Pleads Guilty to DUI, Gun Charges

State Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, pleaded guilty today to DUI and gun-possession charges stemming from a 2011 traffic stop in Nashville, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. Todd wills serve 40 hours in jail and perform 24 hours of community service. He was also fined $350 and lost his right to carry his gun during a year of probation, among other terms of his conviction.

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Judicial Redistricting May Be on Legislature’s Docket

Tennessee’s judicial districts have not been redrawn since 1984 and some powerful voices in the General Assembly are saying it is time to rework the borders to reflect changes in the state’s population, according to TN Report. “Rural counties have become suburban counties, and suburban counties now wrestle with issues similar to urban counties,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a statement. “Put simply, our state is a dramatically different place than it was when the last redistricting occurred. This naturally results in inefficiency and misallocation of resources.” Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, the new chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, which likely would handle the task, said the issue is “worthy of consideration.” The TBA has obtained a draft map and talking points supporting its proposed changes. Both were circulated last fall.

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Ramsey Looks at Alternatives to Limits on Bills

While members of the state House spent much of their first week in session wrangling over a new cap on how many bills each member can propose, Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is developing a plan of his own to cut down on the volume of bills, WPLN reports. Saying that the filing cap is not his preferred approach, Ramsey instead is considering dropping the deadline for filing bills. His rationale? Legislation would be higher quality if there’s no rush to file, duplication would be reduced as members see what others have drafted and lawmakers would be able to respond to current events that take place throughout the session.

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House Caps Bills at 15 Per Member

The House of Representatives voted today to cap at 15 the number of bills each member can introduce. House Speaker Beth Harwell originally had proposed a limit of 10. Democrats criticized the move calling it censorship. In other news, the House also voted for a rule supported by Harwell barring members from asking others to cast votes for them when they are absent. The Tennessean reports.

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Kyle Asks GOP to Open Meetings

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis is calling on Republicans to make the chamber subject to open government laws, saying he wants to see more transparency in the legislative branch. Currently, the legislature does not fall under open government laws that apply to other government agencies, and it cannot bind future General Assemblies to its rules. But Kyle said the chamber could at least adopt the open meetings laws for the two-year session that began this week. While some Republicans called the move political, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, agreed to take up the issue at an upcoming Rules Committee meeting, reports the Memphis Daily News.

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Legislature Re-Elects Constitutional Officers

The General Assembly has unanimously re-elected Secretary of State Tre Hargett for a four-year term and Comptroller Justin Wilson and Treasurer David Lillard for two-year terms. Hargett is a former chairman of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and represented Bartlett in the state House from 1997 through 2006. Wilson is a Nashville tax attorney and former aide to Gov. Don Sundquist. Lillard, of Germantown, is a former member of the Shelby County Commission and a financial and tax attorney. All three were first elected in 2009. The Memphis Daily News has more.

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New Senate Judiciary Chair Named, Among Others

Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey today removed Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, as head of the Judiciary Committee and replaced her with Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. Beavers told reporters she suspected that her efforts to ramp up accountability for judges might have played a role in the decision. "I think a lot of the judges really objected to us redoing their ethics," she told the Associated Press. Ramsey denied the move was in response to pressure from anyone saying, “We wanted to take a different direction.” The Memphis Daily News has the story. Other chairs also were named this week. See the list of all House chairs and Senate chairs at Knoxnews.com.

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Tenn. Legislative Session Convenes

The 108th General Assembly convened Tuesday by re-electing House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville. The legislature has its largest freshman class in years, with 31 new members of the 132. The 99-member House has 23 new members, and the Senate has eight. Republicans rule both chambers with a supermajority of more than two-thirds of the membership in each house. Read more at the Commercial Appeal.

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General Assembly to Convene Tuesday

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell says she’s ready to “fight for” rule changes she’s proposed to modify how the chamber does business. Considering those rules will be job number one when the General Assembly convenes Tuesday, she says. Harwell will first name a special rules committee, and within hours it could take up her suggestions, reports WPLN. At least one proposed rule, which limits each member to sponsoring just 10 bills, has resulted in grumbling among lawmakers and lobbyists. Harwell says it will make the House run more efficiently. Read more about the rules changes being considered and about the new faces in the legislature this session.

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GOP Considers 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Plan

In the ongoing fight between businesses and gun-rights advocates over restricting guns in parking lots, House Republicans are exploring a compromise, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, proposed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that would still allow businesses to ban guns from vehicles on their property, but prohibits them from searching those vehicles for the sole purpose of checking for guns. While Campfield’s proposal interested many members, House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said “nobody knows what the bill’s going to look like.”

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GOP Supermajority Divided on Some Issues

As the opening of 108th General Assembly nears, many see the Legislature’s new Republican “supermajority” as divided, with one faction leaning towards moderate views and business interests and the other more conservative. Hot button issues that may cause division this year will include worker’s compensation, Medicaid expansion, and the sale of wine in grocery stores. The Knoxville News Sentinel has more.

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Haslam Plans Re-Election Kick Off

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will kick off his re-election bid with a reception Jan. 7 in Knoxville. He also has a fundraiser planned in Nashville sometime before Jan. 8 when the legislature goes into session. Though no primary opponent is expected, House Minority Leader and Ripley Democrat Craig Fitzhugh has said he is willing to be a candidates that Democrats could "rally around" at the top of the ticket in 2014. KnoxNews.com Columnist Georgia Vines reports

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Sen. Herron Running for Tenn. Democratic Party Chair

State Sen. Roy Herron confirmed today that he is running for chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, the Tennessean reports. Herron, who decided to run after a family member’s health issue was resolved late last week, joins at least four other candidates for the position: Jane Hampton Bowen, Dave Garrison, Wade Munday and Ben Smith. The state party’s 72 executive committee members will decide on Jan. 26.

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Senate Confirms New Judges; More Votes Likely

The U.S. Senate has confirmed five more district court judges, for a total of 13 confirmations so far this month, the Legal Times reports, and more votes are possible when lawmakers return to Washington, D.C. tomorrow. That makes December the second most active month for filling the federal bench during this session of Congress, behind the 15 confirmations made in October 2011.

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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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