News

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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Rep. Hawk's Assault Case Continued

Greene County General Sessions court moved back a scheduled appearance by Rep. David Hawk to July 16 in a domestic assault case filed by his wife. The Greeneville Republican lawmaker had been scheduled to appear today. The five-term representative pleaded not guilty a day after the charge was filed March 18. The News Sentinel has more

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Fallen Politicians Talk About Lessons Learned

Politico has a story on four former politicians who left office after each had "a dramatic press conference, a shame-filled public apology, a tearful spouse and the end of a promising political career." One is former Tennessee state Sen. Paul Stanley, who resigned in 2009 after news of an affair with his 22-year-old intern broke. Among his advice now is not to be alone "with someone of the opposite sex after 5 p.m. or after business hours. There's nothing good that can come of it."

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New Law Would Allow Nonviolent Criminals to Clear Records

Tennesseans who have committed certain nonviolent crimes will be able to have their criminal records expunged for a $350 fee under a bill expected to become law July 1. The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Karen Camper and state Sen. Reginald Tate, both D-Memphis, passed by a wide margin earlier this year. Tennesseans convicted of a single felony or misdemeanor for nonviolent theft, certain types of fraud, vandalism, or other nonviolent crimes may qualify. They must have stayed crime-free for the past five years and paid all restitution and penalties. The Commercial Appeal has more

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Legislators Now Can Focus on Election

Before general election races start in earnest, many legislators face primary challenges in newly drawn districts. While many Republicans across the state will face opposition from their political right, Republican-led redistricting has resulted in four Democratic primaries in which incumbents face each other. Read this analysis from The City Paper

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Haslam Signs 'Gateway Sex,' Anti-Abortion Bills into Law

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that adds the concept of “gateway sexual activity” to the state’s abstinence-first sex education curriculum. Other bills now law are the Life Defense Act of 2012, which requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital in the county where they perform an abortion or in a neighboring county; and a bill that will let prosecutors charge alleged assailants with a second count of assaulting or murdering an embryo after an attack on a pregnant woman. The Tennessean has the story

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Prescription Safety Act Signed by Governor

Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law today a bill aimed at tightening restrictions on doctor-shopping and other forms of prescription-drug abuse. The Tennessee Prescription Safety Act of 2012, signed this morning on the steps of the Anderson County Courthouse, requires all prescribers and dispensers in the state to register with Tennessee's Controlled Substance Monitoring Database. The News Sentinel has more

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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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