News

No Probation for Drunk Drivers Who Kill

A new state law that took effect Jan. 1 mandates that drunk drivers who kill someone must get jail time, WRCB-TV reports. The law, championed by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, was supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which said it was important to take probation off the table as a possible sentence for a drunk driving vehicular homicide. Tom Kimball of the Tennessee District Attorney General Conference also praised the law, saying it is good news for victims’ families.

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Sen. Green Launches Bid for Governor

Tennessee Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, has filed paperwork indicating he will seek the governor’s office in 2018. He is the first to formally file for the state’s highest office, though other Republicans are expected to join the race, the Tennessean reports. Green is the CEO of AlignMD, an emergency room management company. Yesterday, he filed 10 bills for consideration in the new legislative session, including one that would eliminate the state privilege tax paid by doctors and other professionals.

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Chambers of Commerce Lobby for Internet Tax

The state’s four largest chambers of commerce have joined forces to push the legislature to impose a tax on Internet sales, the Tennessean reports. A joint legislative agenda from the Chattanooga, Knoxville Memphis and Nashville chambers lists the tax among their top priorities for the 2017 legislative session. Tennessee currently charges a sales tax, but lacks enforcement for out-of-state retailers that do not pay it according to the paper.

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Schumer, Democrats Prepared to Block Trump Court Pick

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer says he is prepared to block President-elect Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee if he or she is not in the “mainstream.” In an interview yesterday, Schumer said it is “hard for me to imagine a nominee that Donald Trump would choose that would get Republican support that we could support.” Asked if he would do his best to hold the seat open, Schumer responded, “Absolutely.” Schumer also said Democrats will push for a mainstream nominee, according to Roll Call.

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Black Named Interim House Budget Chair

U.S. Rep. Diane Black was named interim chair of the powerful House Budget Committee yesterday, placing her at the crux of the fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Tennessean reports. The interim title reportedly is necessary until Rep. Tom Price, the outgoing chair, is confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Black has represented Tennessee’s Sixth Congressional District since 2010. She is the first woman to serve as chair of the committee.

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Groups Target Medical Malpractice System

Several medical groups want Tennessee lawmakers to replace the state’s malpractice system with one similar to that being used to settle workers’ compensation claims, Nashville Public Radio reports. One of these groups, the North Carolina-based organization Medical Justice, says it would like to make Tennessee the first state to do away with its medical malpractice system. On the other side of the issue, Andy Spears with Tennessee Citizen Action says the current system works fine and the threat of lawsuits forces doctors to take extra precautions.

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Opposition to AG Nominee Sessions Ramps Up

A number of liberal groups are calling for a delay of confirmation hearings for Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to lead the U.S. Department of Justice. Three groups – the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, People for the American Way and Alliance for Justice – say the Jan. 10 hearing should be postponed citing gaps in Sessions’ record that were not addressed in the questionnaire he sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. WCYB has more from CNN. Meanwhile, the NAACP is staging a sit-in at Sessions’ office in Mobile and planning protests at other district offices across the state. Local Memphis and Roll Call report on those developments.

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Report: Rep. Black Top Contender for Budget Chair

U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin is the leading candidate to take the gavel of the powerful House Budget Committee, the Tennessean reports. If selected, the move would make her the fourth Tennessee lawmaker to chair a congressional committee and put her on the front lines of the battle to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Black’s name surfaced earlier this week in reports by Politico that she could move ahead of several federal lawmakers with more seniority.

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New Computer System to Detect Uninsured Motorists

The Tennessee Department of Revenue has installed a new online verification system that will detect motorists who drive without insurance on their cars and trucks. The system, which will be in place next month, will be available to law enforcement officers and county court clerks who register vehicles and issue license plates. It is a follow-through on a 2015 law enacted by the legislature with the declared intent of reducing uninsured drivers, Knoxnews reports. Under the new system, all insurance carriers registered to write personal automobile liability policies in the state must register with the department and provide policy information. The state will then check the reported policies against all registered vehicle information numbers.

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Foundation Raising Funds for Harry Burn Statue

The East Tennessee Foundation’s Suffrage Coalition has announced a public fundraising effort to honor East Tennessee legislator Harry Burn, who cast the crucial vote to approve the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. A statue of Burn will be installed on the southeast corner of Clinch Ave. and Market St. in front of the East Tennessee History Center. Designed by Alan LeQuire, it will feature Rep. Burn and his mother, whose historic letter to her son inspired him to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of suffrage. With that vote, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment and make it law. The group hopes to raise $400,000. Learn more from Knoxnews.

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Investigators May Scrutinize Durham Land Deals

Federal authorities likely will scrutinize real estate transactions involving embattled ex-lawmaker Jeremy Durham, former U.S. attorney Jerry Martin told the Tennessean last week. An analysis of property records by the paper reveals that Durham and his wife borrowed $881,800 from a local bank to finance the purchase of three plots of land and construction of three homes in Williamson County. Records also show they transferred the properties in “unusual transactions” to a Spring Hill alderman who built the homes. The Durhams could have made as much as $91,000 in profit, but the deals were not listed on any disclosure statements, the paper reports. Durham’s lawyer Peter Strianse said all real estate transactions were “completely legal and properly reported to the IRS.”

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Lawmakers May Consider Civics Test for Graduation

Beginning in 2017, Tennessee’s public high school students will have to pass a civics test using questions administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to those seeking citizenship, the Johnson City Press reports. The General Assembly passed legislation this year requiring students to answer correctly at least 70 percent of between 25 to 50 questions from the 100 within the test. At this point, passing the test is not a requirement for graduation, but some lawmakers have expressed an interest in making that the case. Only eight other states require statewide testing in civics and only two of those – Ohio and Virginia – require students to pass the test to graduate.

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Groups Join Forces to Preserve Rhea Courthouse

A number of private groups, as well as county government offices, are joining forces to find funds to refurbish the Rhea County Courthouse, the Rhea Herald News reports. The county commission is moving ahead with plans to apply for a Historic Preservation Fund Grant, while the county Historical and Genealogical Society has earmarked $6,700 for courthouse repairs. State Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, is pushing for the state to allocate nearly $200,000 in next year’s budget for roof repair. The courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. A forum on Jan. 15 will allow public debate on future uses of the courthouse as the county’s long term plans call for a new justice center in another location.

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Services Friday for Publisher M. Lee Smith

M. Lee Smith, an influential player in Tennessee Republican politics and longtime publisher and attorney, died yesterday (Dec. 20) from a blood condition. He was 74. A graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School, Smith worked as a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge William E. Miller but soon set his sights on politics and public policy. He joined the staff of Sen. Howard Baker as a legislative assistant in the late 1960s and then became a top aide to Gov. Winfield Dunn in the early 1970s. In 1975, he left government service and founded M. Lee Smith Publishers. Smith is perhaps best known for the Tennessee Journal, a weekly guide to Tennessee government, politics and business that he started. Smith sold the company in 2005, but it remains active today with online and print publications covering law and politics. The Tennessean has more on his life.

Services will be held Friday with visitation at noon and a memorial service at 2 p.m. at Marshall Donnelly Combs Funeral Home in Nashville.

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Vanderbilt to Study Impact of LGBT Policies

Researchers at Vanderbilt University will examine how public policy impacts the health and economics of LGBT people, Nashville Public Radio reports. Funding for the study will come from a $400,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. According to the university’s proposal, researchers will compare data across states to study issues such as how North Carolina’s transgender bathroom bill has impacted economic livelihood, or how non-discrimination policies impact diversity in the workforce. They also will look at the impact of legalizing same-sex marriage and passing laws designed to protect religious freedom. 

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Tennessee Reports Higest Voter Fraud Claims: 40

Though a New York Times investigation found no support for claims that millions of votes were cast illegally on Election Day or that there was widespread fraud, it did find a relatively high number of fraud claims in Tennessee. The Times polled each state and the District of Columbia, compiling data from every jurisdiction except for Kansas. Based on that review, Tennessee had 40 credible allegations of fraud, more than any other state. Mark Goins, the state director of elections, says he believes the high number was due to vigilance by the state. The Nashville Business Journal has more.

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Court Rejects Attempt to Force Action on Garland

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday denied an attempt to get the court to force the Senate to consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, WRCB-TV reports. Roberts rejected the emergency appeal without comment. The lawyer bringing the case, Steven Michel of New Mexico, had argued that Senate obstruction of the nomination violated his rights as a voter under the Constitution. For his part, Garland is preparing to return to the bench of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., where he serves as chief judge. He is set to start hearing arguments on Jan. 18 according to that court.

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Report: Trump Could ‘Immediately’ Reshape TVA Board

President-elect Donald Trump will get an immediate opportunity to reshape the panel that governs Tennessee’s power utility, Nashville Public Radio suggests in a piece today. That is due mostly to the fact that Congress adjourned for the year without confirming President Barack Obama’s three nominees: Joe Ritch of Huntsville; former gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter; and Peter Mahurin of Bowling Green. Despite being the largest public utility in the country, TVA’s board has rarely been a priority for any administration, NPR says.

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Internet Sales Tax Survives 1st Legislative Test

Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed rule requiring out-of-state Internet retailers to collect sales tax from Tennessee customers passed its first legislative test yesterday, the Times Free Press reports. Opponents, who had sought to add a “negative recommendation” to the bill, failed in that effort during the Joint Government Operations Committee session. The rule now becomes part of an omnibus bill covering proposed rules across state government. The next step will be the individual House and Senate Government Operations Committees, where opponents could try to strip the rule from the bill.

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Report: 2 Testify in Possible Durham Bribery Case

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed witnesses to testify before a grand jury considering criminal charges against former state lawmaker Jeremy Durham, the Tennessean reports. One witness told the Tennessean that questions focused on Durham’s use of campaign funds. A copy of one subpoena obtained by the paper indicates the grand jury is investigating “federal criminal laws involving, but not necessarily limited to, bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud.”

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Immigration Activists Call for Unified Resistance

Immigration reformers must coordinate their efforts to combat threatening policies from the incoming administration, Democratic federal lawmakers told attendees at the National Immigrant Integration Conference in Nashville. Among those making the case was Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Pramila Jayapal, the first Indian-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Nashville’s Rep. Jim Cooper also made an appearance, during which he called Tennessee a “special state” because both of its senators voted in favor of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. That measure, which would have offered a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, was never taken up for a vote on the floor of the House. Read more from the Tennessean.

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Legislative Panel Meets Thursday on Internet Sales Tax

A Tennessee lawmaker says it is unclear what action a legislative panel will take this week on Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed rule to require out-of-state retailers with no physical presence in the state to collect state and local sales taxes on Internet purchases. “What happens Thursday is anybody’s guess right now,” Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, told the Times Free Press. The Department of Revenue’s proposed rule would apply to out-of-state Internet retailers and catalog sellers with sales exceeding $500,000 annually. 

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Democrats Re-elect Harris, Yarbro to Senate Posts

State Sens. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, were re-elected to leadership positions in the 110th General Assembly, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Harris was re-elected Senate minority leader, while Yarbro was re-elected Democratic Caucus chair. The pair say their party will be more active in "getting the word out” on issues such as health care, outsourcing and public transit issues during the next legislative session.

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ABA Revises ‘Model Business Corporation Act’ Book

The American Bar Association (ABA) Business Law Section has published the 2016 version of the “Model Business Corporation Act,” offering the first complete revision of the book since 1984. The model act is a free-standing business corporation statute that can be enacted in its entirety by a state legislature. It is the basis for business corporation statutes in 32 states and Washington, D.C., and the source for many provisions in the general corporation statutes of other states, according to the section.

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Durham Documents ‘Irretrievable’ after Devices Reset

Tennessee legislative staff have destroyed “files, documents, photographs, emails and other information” that were on computers and tablets used by Jeremy Durham while he was a member of the House of Representatives, the Tennessean reports. The paper learned of the move after it requested information related to Durham’s activities. Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration told the paper that Durham’s electronic devices have been set back “to factory default settings” and all documents are “irretrievable."

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