News

Federalist Society Hosts Electoral College Debate

The attorney and student chapters of the Federalist Society in Memphis will host a debate on the relevance of the Electoral College next week. The event will take place Oct. 4 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the University of Memphis School of Law. The debate will feature Memphis lawyer John L. Ryder with Harris Shelton and former Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr., now with Bass, Berry & Sims in Nashville. Ryder is general counsel to the Republican National Committee and litigation counsel to the Shelby County Election Commission. Cooper served as counsel to former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen. Both teach campaign finance and elections at Vanderbilt Law School. RSVP to Melanie Busch.

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Spivey Accuses House Clerk of Inappropriate Behavior

State Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, is calling for an investigation into allegations that House Clerk Joe McCord mentally and emotionally abused a Legislative Plaza employee. In a letter sent to the Tennessean yesterday, Spivey said McCord raised his middle finger at the staff member’s two-year-old granddaughter and called the employee vulgar names. Harwell responded by blasting Spivey and suggesting the move may be motivated by his displeasure with how Jeremy Durham’s case was handled. “It is disrespectful for him to attempt to play political football with our state employees and their jobs, all because he personally disagreed with Jeremy Durham's expulsion,” she said.

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Brooks Running for House GOP Caucus Chair

State Rep. Kevin Brooks of Cleveland tells Nashville Post Politics that he is running to chair the House Republican Caucus, anticipating the current chair, Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin, will vacate the seat to run for House majority leader. “I think Glen and I will be a great team, should leadership allow us to serve together,” Brooks said. “He recruited me to run for office in 2006, and it's a great feeling to think about serving with him now, together.” Brooks is the first House member to declare for the post.

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Matlock Pledges ‘Covenant’ to House Members

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, who last month announced a challenge to House Speaker Beth Harwell for leadership of the chamber, has sent out a “Covenant with the Caucus” to House Republicans. In an email Matlock said the document “addresses the guiding principles that have inspired me to seek the office of Speaker.” The one-page document does not offer specifics about Matlock’s legislative priorities, but instead lays out his commitment for how he would run the House. The Nashville Post has more on the story.

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Rep. Carter Weighs Bid to Replace McCormick

Tennessee state Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, says he is considering whether to seek the House majority leader position, the Times Free Press reports. Carter, an attorney and former county General Sessions Court judge, said he has been surprised by encouragement from constituents to seek the post. “While my priority between now and Nov. 8 will be helping fellow members win re-election, I’ve decided to listen to supporters and prayerfully consider running for Majority Leader,” he said. Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, has already announced she is running. Three others reportedly are considering a run: Assistant Majority Leader Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland; Republican Caucus Chairman Glenn Casada, R-Franklin; and Health Committee Chairman Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville.

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Lawmakers Propose New Courthouse be Named for Fred Thompson

Nashville’s new federal courthouse, set to open in 2021, would be named for lawyer and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson under legislation introduced today by the state delegation. The Tennessean reports that Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander introduced a bill to name the courthouse after Thompson on the Senate side, while the entire House delegation, except for Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, introduced the bill in the House. Cooper declined to sign on to the bill saying he favors a “naming contest” that would allow Middle Tennesseans to choose the name.

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Federal Officials Accept DUI Fix

The National Highway Traffic Administration has confirmed that Tennessee is back in compliance with federal standards for drunken drivers under the legal drinking age, the Associated Press reports. A hastily-called special legislation session last week fixed a law that federal officials said would cost the state $60 million in federal road money. Humphrey on the Hill has the story.

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Another Bid to Advance Judicial Nominees Fails

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., urged the U.S. Senate on Tuesday to agree to vote on seven district court nominees who have been waiting the longest for full Senate consideration. But Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky objected and instead proposed a shorter list that included Ed Stanton from Tennessee but omitted a  nominee from New Jersey. Booker objected, proposed a vote on just Stanton and the New Jersey nominee -- who have been waiting the longest for votes -- and McConnell once again disagreed. It was the latest effort to break a partisan logjam and confirm judicial nominees, Gavel Grab reports.

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Commission Will Not Appoint Armstrong Replacement

The Knox County Commission will not appoint someone to fill the remainder of former state Rep. Joe Armstrong’s term, Knoxnews reports. Putting someone in office for a few weeks does not seem to be worth the effort required, according to several commissioners who discussed the issue during a work session this week. The county Democratic Party has already nominated Rick Staples to run. He faces Independent candidate Pete Drew on the Nov. 8 ballot. In addition, Rhonda Gallman has launched a grassroots and online campaign as a write-in candidate for the seat.

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State CASA Holds Annual Meeting, Presents Awards

Tennessee CASA this week recognized State Rep. Charles Sargent, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich and Nashville lawyer Meagan Frazier for their efforts to help abused and neglected children. Sargent, R-Franklin, received the President’s Award, while Hommrich received the Light of Hope Award for shepherding the department through an overhaul of the foster care system. Frazier received the Champion for Children Award for starting a CASA program in Dickson County. The group reported it served 5,250 children last year. “That sounds good,” said Executive Director Lynn Farrar. “But there are 20,000 children abused and neglected in Tennessee who could use a volunteer.” The Tennessean has photos from the event.

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Chamber, ACLU, Others Unite in Justice Reform Effort

The ACLU of Tennessee, the Beacon Center, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee Association of Goodwills have launched the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice, which will work at the state level for juvenile justice, sentencing reform and recidivism reduction. ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg says the coalition will be a “powerful advocate for smart-on-crime policies at the legislature,” the Nashville Post reports.

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Rep. McCormick to Step Down as Majority Leader

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, will not seek re-election to his post of House majority leader, a position he has held since 2011, the Times Free Press reports. McCormick told fellow GOP caucus members in a letter that he is "incredibly proud of the work" of the House. Leadership elections will likely occur in late November or early December, and Rep. Shelia Butt today became the first lawmaker to officially throw her name in the race. Republican Caucus Chair Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, are also said to be considering a run, the Tennessean reports.

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State Rep.: Marijuana Decriminalization Could Cost Cities

If the Nashville and Memphis city councils move ahead with plans to modify marijuana laws, state Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, says he may try to withhold state highway funding from those areas. The Tennessean reports that Lamberth, chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee, is considering legislation to deny funds from cities that do not enforce criminal penalties as outlined in state law.

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Report: Opioid Lobby Spends Big in Tennessee

Tennessee politicians received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions over the past decade from pharmaceutical companies and other members of the Pain Care Forum, a coalition that meets monthly to discuss opioid-related issues, according to an investigation by the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity. The groups examined the industry’s influence at statehouses around the nation. About $560,000 went to Tennessee state candidates and state political parties, and more than $1 million went to those running for federal office, the study found. The Tennessean has a breakdown of giving.

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Court: States Cannot Require Proof of Citizenship for Federal Elections

State laws that require voters to show proof of citizenship before voting in federal elections were knocked down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the ABA Journal reports. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court opinion nixed a similar Arizona law that required proof of citizenship for federal voter registration applicants. The latest suit was filed by voting rights groups after the U.S. Election Assistance Commission allowed states to request citizenship information for residents who used federal forms for mail-in voter registration. The ruling does not impact state laws that require applicants to swear they are U.S. citizens but do not require proof. It also does not prohibit states from asking for proof of citizenship in state and local elections.

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Conservative Forum Focuses on Criminal Justice Reform

Conservatives gathered in Nashville Wednesday for a conversation over criminal justice reform, the Tennessean reports. Attendees discussed topics ranging from curbing court fees that prevent people from obtaining driver’s licenses to providing jobs for people who are released from prison. Panelists also showed support for decriminalizing minor, non-violent offenses as a way to cut down the state’s prison population. “It’s important that conservatives understand the reality of our criminal justice system,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of the conservative think tank the Beacon Center of Tennessee. “We want conservatives to understand what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years isn’t working.” The event was hosted by the Charles Koch Institute.

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Durham: Likely to Sue State over Expulsion

Jeremy Durham told News Channel 5 he most likely will sue the state over his expulsion. Appearing a day after lawmakers voted to expel him from the Tennessee House of Representatives, Durham said he was denied due process, and that lawmakers broke their own rules. He also said there is a culture of misbehavior on Capitol Hill, from daily happy hours to smoking marijuana.

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Ethics Committee Dismisses Complaints against Harwell

The House Ethics Committee, which has not gathered in seven years, met today and unanimously dismissed a series of complaints filed against House Speaker Beth Harwell for actions related to the investigation and expulsion of former Rep. Jeremy Durham. The committee said the complaints, filed by Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, had no merit for moving forward. Prior to the panel taking up his complaints, Womick rescinded two of his five allegations, saying he was considering advancing them at a later date, the Tennessean reports.

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Airbnb Drawing Attention of State Lawmakers

In town for the special session this week, senators also are discussing another emerging controversy: how to regulate Airbnbs and other short-term rentals. The possibility of a new state law has localities watching closely, since many already have enacted regulations about tax collection, official permits and penalties for disruptive tenants. Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, says he is concerned there is a “hodgepodge” of laws across the state, Nashville Public Radio reports. The Senate will hold a hearing Thursday at 9 a.m. on the issue. According to NPR, only Arizona has taken statewide action. The legislation there stripped regulatory powers away from localities and imposed a single tax collection system.

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Lawmakers Fix DUI Law, Close Special Session

Tennessee lawmakers today approved changes to a DUI law that will preserve the state’s access to $60 million in federal funding, the Tennessean reports. The Senate approved the measure on a vote of 31-1 this morning. During the debate, several senators entertained the idea of sending the federal government a bill to pay for the $25,000-a-day special session. The House later approved the bill on an 85-2 vote. Both chambers concluded their work around 10:30 a.m.

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State to Subpoena Durham’s Tax Returns

State election finance officials said today they plan to subpoena tax returns for expelled Republican lawmaker Jeremy Durham. The state Registry of Election Finance has already subpoenaed a number of records from Durham and his bank, but says it needs more information to determine if there are any violations of campaign finance laws. The Tennessean reports that the office anticipates the investigation will be completed by October or November.

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Rep. Womick Files 5 Complaints against Harwell

State Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, filed five ethics complaints against House Speaker Beth Harwell Monday, the Nashville Post reports. Each complaint alleges she violated the House Ethics Code in handling the investigation into Rep. Jeremy Durham’s workplace behavior. Rep. Steve McDaniel, chair of the House Ethics Committee, said legal counsel is reviewing the filings. “If [the complaints are procedurally] found to be compliant according to rules, we will have a meeting of the Ethics Committee in the next day or two and decide if they rise to the level of action,” he said.

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Durham Expelled from House on 70-2 Vote

Rep. Jeremy Durham was expelled from the Tennessee House of Representatives today during a special legislative session. Durham defended himself before his colleagues, noting that no formal complaint has been filed against him and he has never been charged with a crime. The bipartisan vote of 70-2 came after an hour of discussion. Reps. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, Jimmy Eldrige, R-Jackson, Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, voted present. As many as 12 members did not vote at all, the Tennessean reports. Lawmakers warned Durham against releasing the names of his alleged victims and pleaded with media outlets not to publish the names if he does. Durham had threatened to name his accusers if expelled.

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Sponsor of DUI Law Sorry for Special Session

The sponsor of the drunken driving law that forced state lawmakers to return to the Capitol this week for a special session says he is sorry. Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, tells Nashville Public Radio that his goal all along was to make it tougher on underage drivers convicted of DUIs. Though he still thinks 18 to 21 year olds should face up to 48 hours in jail if arrested for drunken driving, he is going along with the move to repeal the law given the time constraints. Federal authorities have given the state until the end of the month to fix DUI laws or lose $60 million in highway funds.

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Commission to Consider Filling Armstrong Seat

Knox County Commission Chairman Dave Wright says he will wait until hearing from the state that the position held by outgoing state Rep. Joe Armstrong is vacant before calling a commission meeting to decide whether to fill the seat before the Nov. 8 election. Armstrong announced his departure last Thursday. Knox County Democrats have selected Rick Staples to replace Armstrong on the ballot. Armstrong faces a sentencing hearing Nov. 30, Knoxnews reports.

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