News

Kurita Loses 6th Circuit Appeal

Former state Sen. Rosalind Kurita on Thursday lost a federal appeal of her ouster as the Democratic nominee in her 2008 bid for re-election to the Tennessee General Assembly, the News Sentinel reports. In a brief ruling, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge's refusal to reinstate Kurita to the ballot after Democratic officials declared her 19-vote primary win as "incurably uncertain."

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Welfare Drug Testing Among New Laws Taking Effect

A measure to require drug testing as a condition for receiving welfare and the reduction of the sales tax on groceries are among new laws taking effect in Tennessee. The welfare legislation requires new welfare applicants to undergo a special screening process. If suspicion is raised after the screening, then the applicant will be tested for drugs. The proposal differs from an original version that would have required blanket testing. The Tennessean has more [subscription required]

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Opinion: Tenn. Plan a National Model, Don't Change It

In an opinion piece in the Tennessean today, American Bar Association President William T. 'Bill' Robinson explains how Tennessee's system for selecting appellate court judges, the Tennessee Plan, is nationally respected as "an open process that is as free from political influence as possible." He warns that a proposed constitutional amendment would change the system "for the worse" and would "politicize the courts and diminish the perception of appellate judges as fair, impartial and well-qualified." The proposed amendment allows the governor to appoint judges who have gone through no public screening process, with no assurance that a broad candidate pool had been considered, he points out, saying "it is critical for courts to be insulated from undue political influence."

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Editorial: State Should Stop Trying to Pass Immigration Legislation

In an editorial, the Commercial Appeal says the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this week in the Arizona immigration law case "should send a message to Tennessee's legislators that they should stop trying to pass similar legislation."

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Cooper Staffer Seeks to Replace Arriola

While a handful of names have been bandied about as potential successors to Davidson County clerk John Arriola, the one getting the most play so far is that of Brenda Wynn, a fixture in Nashville government and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s office, according to the Tennessean’s In Session Blog. Wynn is vying for the temporary appointment by the Metro Council in August, and said she would run for the Democratic nomination when voters elect the clerk on a more permanent basis in November. Wynn was the first director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods under then-Mayor Bill Purcell and has been Cooper’s director of community outreach since he took office in 2003.

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Editorial: Attorney-Client Privilege Trumps Public's Right to Know

Tennessee’s Open Meetings Law requires all public business to be conducted in the sunshine, but in an editorial today, the Daily News Journal discusses why the attorney-client privilege is an exception to that. The paper agrees that meetings with counsel should be in private, but cautions as to what topics should and should not be covered behind closed doors.

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Field for Hawk's Seat Increases After Domestic Charges

Two of the three candidates opposing state Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, in this summer's Republican primary acknowledge they had no plans to enter the contest until the incumbent was charged with domestic assault on his wife. Hawk's primary opponents are attorneys Duncan Cave, Bradley Mercer and Ted Hensley, a county commissioner and real estate broker. The News Sentinel has more

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Hurley Reelection Site Redirects to Opponent

The website for the reelection of state Rep. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City, sends visitors instead to the website of Kent Calfee, her opponent in the August Republican primary. Both candidates said they were unaware of the website redirect until informed Friday by the News Sentinel. Hurley promptly cast blame on Calfee and his supporters, but Calfee says he was unaware and that apparently the website registration was not maintained. "I would assume that if you're holding office and you had a website, you would maintain the control of it," he said.

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Shipley Starts Campaign for 3rd Term

Tennessee state Rep. Tony Shipley kicked off his re-election bid for a third term in office Thursday night with testimonials from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, other state lawmakers and local officials, according to the Kingsport Times News. Shipley, R-Kingsport, is again seeking the 2nd House District seat in the GOP primary and faces a challenge from former Kingsport Alderman Ben Mallicote.

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High Court Declines to Review Residency Dispute

The Tennessee Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from Shelley Breeding, who wanted to run for Knox County's new seat in the state House but was ruled ineligible because her home is just outside the district, WATE reports.

Settlement Reached in Voter Files Case

A spokesman for Tennessee Secretary of State Tré Hargett and state Election Coordinator Mark Goins say they both welcome a settlement reached last week in a legal dispute involving state voter files. Tennessee Democratic Party officials say their data experts found full or partial voter histories missing for about 11,000 state-maintained voter files they obtained last month. The assertions were introduced in federal court Friday in a lawsuit filed by Democrats and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, who was turned away from the polls in the March primary. U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp requested both sides agree to a proposed consent decree, which they did Friday night. It will be submitted to the court this week. The Times Free Press reports

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Candidate to Take Appeal to Supreme Court

Shelley Breeding will ask the Tennessee Supreme Court to hear the residency issue that is keeping her off a Democrat primary ballot for the new 89th House District seat. Breeding has disputed the accuracy of maps that show part of her residential lot, including her house, are in Anderson County, while her driveway and mailbox are in Knox County, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.

DA's Role in Campaign Questioned

A Roane County election official is calling for an investigation into whether 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson violated the law by aiding the campaign of former state Rep. Dennis Ferguson for Roane County road supervisor, the News Sentinel reports. Johnson depicts the matter as a "lapse in judgment" in which an employee reserved a domain name for the candidate as an unpaid favor outside business hours. He said no further campaign work occurred.

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6th Congressional District Race a Rematch from 2010

The nasty primary between U.S. Rep. Diane Black and tea party activist Lou Ann Zelenik two years ago is being repeated this summer as the two face off in August for the Republican nomination to represent Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District. The battle also could help shape the character of the Tennessee Republican Party for years to come — offering voters a straight-up choice between a firebrand activist and a veteran Republican lawmaker who differ in style more than they differ on policy. Read more in the Tennessean

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Rep. Curry Todd Indicted

State Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, has been indicted by a Davidson County grand jury on charges of driving under the influence and possession of a handgun while under the influence stemming from his October 2011 arrest, The Tennessean reports. Todd, a chief proponent of a 2010 law that allowed permit holders to carry guns into places that serve alcohol, was arrested after officers found a loaded handgun in his vehicle during a traffic stop. Despite the arrest, Todd, who is a retired police officer, does not face opposition for his House seat. Speaker of the House Beth Harwell said Monday that the indictments will make it “difficult if not impossible” for Todd to be restored to his powerful post as chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee from which he resigned after his arrest.

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Court May Take Second Look at Campaign Financing Case

At their private conference, the justices of the Supreme Court are scheduled to decide Thursday whether and how to take a second look at the Citizens United campaign finance decision. Observers believe that it's a sure bet that the court will look at it. The justices have already temporarily blocked a lower court decision in the case. In that decision, the Montana Supreme Court seemed to defy the higher court by saying that a state law regulating corporate political spending was constitutional notwithstanding Citizens United. The main question on Thursday, then, will be how the court will reverse the Montana decision. It could call for briefs, set the case down for argument in the fall and issue a decision months later. Or it could use a favorite tool of the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. — the summary reversal. Read more in The New York Times

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Online Efforts Don't Impress Open Government Advocates

Gov. Bill Haslam announced moves to give taxpayers access to state construction and traffic tie-up data on their smartphones this fall and just finished a massive overhaul of the state’s website in an effort to give residents more information. But various open government groups give Tennessee’s website grades ranging from a “B” overall, to a “C+” for transparency of the state budget process to a “D-” for online access to government spending data. The Tennessee Report looks into it

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New District Pits Two Established Memphis Dems Against Each Other

Democratic primary voters in Memphis must choose between two of the party's Memphis leaders -- State Sens. Jim Kyle and Beverly Marrero -- as a result of this year's redistricting of the state legislature. Shelby County is losing one of the six Senate seats it has held since the 1960s because of slower population growth than other areas, placing Kyle and Marrero together in a newly configured Senate District 30. Read about the candidates in the Commercial Appeal, and the issues the redistricting raises for them.

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Governor Signs 3 Anti-Crime Bills

Gov. Bill Haslam signed three anti-crime measures into law earlier this week. The laws include an increase in mandatory jail time for repeat domestic violence offenders; an increase in sentences for convicted felons with guns that include some specific circumstances for longer sentences; and making aggravated assault, robbery and aggravated burglary a higher class of felony with a longer sentence when committed by groups of three or more people. The Daily News Journal reports

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One Bill Vetoed, Many Left to Die Alone

Gov. Bill Haslam used his veto powers for the first time in his administration to kill one piece of legislation that passed after debate and discussion in the waning hours of the Tennessee House of Representatives’ final session, while others simply died in committees in the last days of the session that ended last month. The Murfreesboro Post shows you the bills

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Watson Announces Re-election Plans

State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, announced this weekend that he is seeking re-election to the House of Representatives' 22nd district, which is composed of Meigs, Polk and Bradley counties. Read his statement in the Cleveland Daily Banner

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Cohen Begins Campaign in Earnest

Ninth District congressman Steve Cohen opened his Memphis headquarter Saturday, casting himself not only as a candidate for reelection but as an organizing figure in local Democratic politics. The Memphis Flyer has more

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Paper Looks at Romney's Record on Judicial Appointments

A story in today's issue of the Washington Post analyzes Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's position on judicial appointments, beginning with his pledge as a new governor to clean up Massachusetts' system -- which he said was "riddled with patronage and backroom deals" -- to his 2008 decision to dismiss members of the nominating commission he had created after clashes over appointments. The story suggests that Romney ended his time in office pushing through "a surge of judicial nominees, some with controversial records, others with the kind of political connections he once condemned." The Romney campaign defended his record saying he “put in place groundbreaking reforms” and selected judges "he felt had the appropriate temperament, judicial philosophy and demonstrated capability" to be on the bench.

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Need for More Lawyers in Legislature a Bipartisan Issue

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick has come right out and said it: "We need more attorneys in the House of Representatives. We need more attorneys in our (Republican) Caucus." It's a non-partisan feeling, with Phillip North, a Democratic lawyer who is running for the state Senate in Nashville, making a similar point in recent fund-raising materials. A century or so ago, columnist Tom Humphrey writes, "close to half of our citizen legislators were lawyers. More importantly, the committees that control bills dealing with the legal system were completely dominated by lawyers." In the just-completed 107th General Assembly, he points out that there were only three lawyers among the nine members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and just three among the 16 members of the House Judiciary Committee. The chairmen of the judiciary committees were almost always lawyers in recent decades. Today, they are nonlawyers — former court reporter Sen. Mae Beavers in the Senate and former deputy sheriff Rep. Eric Watson in the House.

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Workers' Comp Changes Likely on Horizon

Tennessee companies could see a reduction in workers' compensation premiums later this year according to The Tennessean, depending on the outcome of complex negotiations over the rates doctors receive for treating workers' comp patients. Several business groups support the measure, saying that an overall rate reduction would help make Tennessee more competitive with neighboring states, but many in the health care community say cuts would hurt medical providers and even force some of them to stop treating patients. Gov. Bill Haslam chose not to tackle workers' compensation reform this year, but is exploring major changes. Many observers expect this will be a major issue for the legislature in 2013.

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