News

Sen. Berke Annouces for Mayor Race

State Senator Andy Berke today announced his candidacy for office of the mayor of Chattanooga, the Chattanoogan.com reports.

Thompson Will Run for Senate in District 24

Brad Thompson formally announced his candidacy for State Senate District 24 last week, NWTN Today reports. He is director of community development for the City of Martin and served for many years as a top aide to Congressman John Tanner. The district includes Benton, Carroll, Gibson, Henry, Obion and Weakley counties.

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Editorial: Linking Welfare to Drug Tests a Good Idea

In an editorial, the Times-Free Press says "it is entirely reasonable that Tennessee lawmakers have passed a bill linking welfare benefits to drug tests for recipients" who are suspected of using drugs. The paper says multigenerational dependence on welfare is a serious enough problem already and the move should help "stop subsidizing lifestyles of drug abusers."

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Many Incumbent Lawmakers Face Primary Opposition

Of the 33 legislative primary races this year, the majority involve GOP incumbants, the TNReport says. There are 26 GOP legislators facing challengers, while only 10 sitting Democratic lawmakers face primary opposition. As a result of redistricting, however, four of these races will pit incumbent against incumbent. The primary election is Aug. 2.

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Chancellor to Decide Breeding's Eligibility to Run for 89th District Seat

Hamilton County Chancellor W. Frank Brown III will preside over the trial to determine whether Shelley Breeding qualifies as a Knox County candidate who can run for the new 89th District state House seat. A May 16 trial date has been set. Breeding wants to run as a Democrat for the seat, which lies wholly in Knox County near Anderson County. A map shows Breeding's house is in Anderson County, to which her property taxes are paid, but her driveway and mailbox are in Knox County. The News Sentinel has more

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Legislature Wraps Up 107th Session

The 107th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned Tuesday – the earliest adjournment since 1998 – after a flurry of action in the final days. Legislation approved and sent to the governor included:

HB 2385/SB 2247, which overhauls the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel

SB 3597/HB 3576, which prohibits state colleges and private colleges receiving more than $24 million in state funds from imposing antidiscrimination policies on religious student groups. The bill, designed to address a situation at Vanderbilt University, was vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam today. WATE.com has more

HB 2868/SB 3005, which expands state racketeering laws to include criminal gangs, and imposes additional jail time and fines of up to $250,000 for gang members. The Times Free Press reports

SB 1325/HB 1379, which requires proof of citizenship to get state services. Learn more in the Memphis Daily News

SB 2580/HB 2725, which requires drug testing for some welfare recipients. The Tennessean reports

HB 3234/SB 2908, which authorizes referendums on whether Shelby County’s suburbs may form municipal school districts. The Memphis Daily News has more

The legislature did not act on a contentious gun issue that would have allowed employees to store weapons in vehicles parked on company lots and failed to pass a measure that would have allowed Tennessee to join an interstate compact challenging the federal health care law

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General Assembly Scrambles to Finish Amid Tensions

Lawmakers in the General Assembly say they hope to have the session wrapped up by tonight. They had also hoped to end last week, but a provision in the state budget that would close a youth detention center led to a mini rebellion among Democrats and rank and file Republicans. It was a fight that exposed division between the two houses in the legislature and among Republican lawmakers. Listen to the story from WPLN

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GOP Arrives at Difficult Budget Accord

Republican legislative leaders on Friday night mended a rift that had emerged between House and Senate lawmakers over local “pork barrel spending.” They agreed on about $1 million worth of additional reductions in a rarely called budget “conference committee."  TNReport has more

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House Panel Votes Down 'Guns in Trunks' Bill

A House committee voted Tuesday to kill a guns measure that has pitted firearms advocates against business groups. The bill, backed by the National Rifle Association, allows anyone with a handgun carry permit to store loaded guns in vehicles parked on company lots — regardless of employers' wishes. The committee voted 15-8 to send the measure to a summer study committee. Advocates of the bill, however, are pushing for a floor vote despite the move. The Tennessean has details

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Haslam's Budget Moving to Senate Floor

Gov. Bill Haslam's $31 billion spending proposal was approved unanimously by the Senate Finance Committee last night and was scheduled for a floor vote today. The plan seeks to phase out Tennessee's inheritance tax and lower the state's sales tax on groceries. The proposal also calls for raises for state employees and more spending on construction on college campuses. Read more in The Memphis Daily News

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House Passes 'Loser Pays' Bill

After more than two hours of debate, the Tennessee House voted 58-38 yesterday for a "loser pays" system that allows judges to assess fees of up to $10,000 on plaintiffs who bring suits determined to have "no basis in fact or law." Opponents contend the bill, HB 3124, will intimidate average citizens from going to court against big corporations. Several amendments were offered and defeated, including one that would have required defendants to pay plaintiff’s costs if their motions to dismiss are denied. The measure now goes to the Senate, where it was expected to be considered today. The News Sentinel has more

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Henry Returns to Legislature

State Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, returned to the legislature today and attended Senate Finance Committee proceedings. The 85-year-old lawmaker was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Tuesday for tests after he experienced high blood pressure and felt dizzy in a caucus meeting. The Memphis Daily News reported the update

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Sen. Henry Hospitalized

State Sen. Douglas Henry, 85, was hospitalized today after experiencing dizziness brought on by high blood pressure. He was checked into Vanderbilt Hospital shortly after this afternoon’s session ended. Henry was alert and able to move about on his own, a spokesman said. Henry’s condition will delay when the budget is taken up again in the Senate,  Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said. Henry, a Nashville Democrat, is the vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which is currently reviewing the budget. The Tennessean has more

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Bill to Change Attorney General Selection Fails

A proposal to change the way the state attorney general is selected failed 16-15 in the Senate. Under the proposal, the governor would have appointed an attorney general and the legislature would have confirmed the selection. Currently, attorneys general are selected by state Supreme Court justices. Read the AP story

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Conservatorship Bill Passes House, Goes to Governor

The state House voted unanimously Monday for a bill designed to protect citizens targeted to have their lives placed under the control of conservators. In brief discussion before the 95-0 vote, Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, said the bill would require those petitioning to place someone in a conservatorship to disclose their relationship to the target of the petition and to disclose whether they had a criminal record. The bill already has passed the Senate and is expected to go to the governor later this week. Read more in the Tennessean

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Amendment Moving Forward Would End Merit Selection

In this final week of the 107th General Assembly, the legislature appears poised to pass a resolution to amend the state constitution to introduce a modified federal style of appointments to fill appellate and Supreme Court vacancies. SJR 710, by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, eliminates current language in the Constitution that contemplates elections, and replaces it with a process by which the governor will appoint a judge, subject to the confirmation by both houses of the General Assembly. Once in office, the judge would stand for a retention election. This change would end the current merit selection/retention election process in Tennessee

The resolution passed in the Senate on Monday and is set for consideration tomorrow in the House. If passed, the resolution would be before the 108th General Assembly, where it would require a two-thirds vote, in order to go on the ballot for public consideration in November 2014.

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Eligible to Run? Candidate's Property Straddles District Line

A woman who has filed to run to run as a Democrat for the new 89th District state House seat lives in a house that seems to be in Anderson County, although her driveway and mailbox are in Knox. The 89th District lies entirely in Knox County. On Monday, Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret asked Chancellor John Weaver for a declaratory judgment. State Election Coordinator Mark Goins has said it appears to him that Shelley Breeding is an Anderson County resident, but that the election commission should seek a court ruling. Breeding is registered to vote in Knox County, her vehicle has Knox County tags, and she was recently summoned for jury duty in Knox County. The News Sentinel has more

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Legislative Session May End This Week

Tennessee lawmakers say they hope to wrap up the 107th General Assembly this week, although there are about "60 to 70" unresolved issues. Among those are the budget, proposals on how to select Supreme Court justices and an effort to ban teaching about gay issues in schools. The News Sentinel has more

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Press Reports 'Robocalls' on Judicial Selection

The Tennessee Journal and other sources this afternoon reported that supporters of a constitutional amendment to end merit selection and institute legislative confirmation for Tennessee judges (SJR 710) are using an "artificial turf" campaign technique to try to generate the appearance of popular support for their viewpoint. The technique involves calls to voters who, if they agree with the position of the group making the calls, are then connected with their senator or representative's office to express their views. The campaign technique is referred to as artificial turf or Astroturf because it can give the appearance of real grassroots support.

TBA president Danny Van Horn said that personal calls from trusted Tennessee lawyers to lawmakers would go a long way to blunt the effect of these artificially generated calls. The latest scientific survey conducted by the TBA shows that 83 percent of Tennessee lawyers back the Tennessee Plan.

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TRA Reform Bill Moves Ahead

Despite a plea from the Republican chair of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and criticism from Democratic legislators, a Senate committee Thursday approved Gov. Bill Haslam's plans for transforming the agency. "Maybe it'll work. Maybe not," TRA Chair Kenneth Hill told the committee. "Why go there and inflict damage to the utilities of Tennessee and to the people of Tennessee … then have to come back and fix it?" he asked. Read more from Knoxnews.com

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Judicial Selection Deferred to Next Week

Legislative action this week on judicial selection issues ended in almost as big a muddle as it began.

Today, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, deferred action to Monday night on his constitutional amendment, SJR 710, which would remove merit panels from the process and replace it with Washington-style confirmation when selecting and retaining judges in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, the House seems set to pass only the House counterpart to the Kelsey plan and not move forward with the two resolution strategy that seemed to be emerging at the end of last week. The House counterpart to Sen. Mark Norris’s resolution (SJR 183), which was successful in the Senate on Monday night, will not see consideration in the House Finance Committee until Tuesday at the earliest.

Lost in all of the mêlée is any consideration of how the next election for all judges -- which the constitution requires to be held in August 2014 -- will be conducted. The TBA and allies in the business, civic and legal communities remain committed to stability and consistency, which the current process offers while the debate on the need for and the best outline of future changes takes place.

Contact with lawmakers -- and as importantly, feedback with the TBA on that contact -- are important ways each lawyer can contribute to the future of a fair and impartial court system.

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Bill Directs AOC to Study Special Vet Courts

Tennessee veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems stemming from military service could soon have their own special courts should they find themselves facing prosecution in the state’s criminal justice system. The state House unanimously passed a bill today, HB 3394/SB 3222, which directs the Administrative Office of the Courts to study whether it is feasible for the state to establish specialized courts for veterans. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on April 12. TN Report has more

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DUI Proposal Headed to Governor

A proposal that may increase the penalty for drunken driving when a child under 18 is a passenger in the vehicle is headed to the governor. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, was unanimously approved in the state House on Tuesday. The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate last month. Under current law, a person arrested for DUI with a minor in the vehicle is sentenced to a mandatory minimum incarceration of 30 days and a fine of $1,000. The new proposal requires the incarceration be served consecutively with any sentence for DUI, vehicular assault, vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide. The Memphis Daily News has more

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Conservatorships Under Scrutiny

Concern over possible abuses in the conservatorship process is prompting some elderly advocates to call for reforms and model laws across the country that grant more rights to the individual and offer more protection. The Tennessean reports on one recent case where an 82-year-old Nashville woman lost all of her possessions in a conservatorship case. State Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, has filed a bill that would provide additional protection to people facing conservatorship, the newspaper reports. “We’ve got to make sure that people aren’t put into conservatorship without due process,” Odom says. His bill would set new notice requirements before a conservatorship could be imposed. It also would require additional medical proof, including sworn statements from three physicians, that an emergency conservatorship was justified.

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Judicial Selection Hits 'Stalemate'

Legislators have reached what Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris calls "the stalemate place" on how Tennessee's top judges should be selected and are now racing to delay a decision until next year. After a convoluted series of events, the Senate has before it two proposals for amending the state constitution. The two competing proposals are SJR183 by Norris, R-Collierville, and SJR710 by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville. Norris's bill, as amended, would repeal the current constitutional provision declaring that top judges "shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state" and declare instead that the legislature is "authorized to establish, by law, a system of merit-based appointments with retention elections for the judges of the Supreme Court and for the judges of the intermediate appellate courts." Kelsey's measure would adopt a system similar to that used by the federal government. The governor would appoint the judges, subject to confirmation by the legislature. The News Sentinel has the story

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