News

Committees Move Campaign Finance Bill, Asset Forfeiture, Probate Clean Up

Tennessee House and Senate committees both moved forward with legislation that would double the number of campaign finance audits, the Tennessean reports. Also at the legislature, the asset forfeiture bill, as amended in the House, was recommended for adoption in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The TBA-backed probate clean up legislation, sponsored by Sen. John Stevens (R-Huntington), cleared a Senate committee with minor changes.
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Ethics Commission Issues Show Cause Notice to Durham

The Tennessee Ethics Commission unanimously voted this morning to issue a show cause notice to former state representative Jeremy Durham, moving forward an investigation that could lead to tens of thousands of dollars in fines, the Tennessean reports. The notice alleges that he repeatedly failed to fully disclose all necessary information on his disclosures. An audit by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance found 690 possible violations, and Durham could potentially be assessed up to $10,000 for each one.
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Senate Committee Recommends ADA Pay Increase

The Senate Judiciary Committee today recommended a new pay scale for assistant district attorneys general. Salaries under the bill (SB 1249/HB 1250), as amended, would rise by $8,000 to $14,000. A similar bill for assistant district public defenders will be heard next week. The bill's sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R- Collierville), indicated that if the effort to fund road construction out of the state's general fund rather than an increase in the gas tax is successful, none of the committee’s recommendations like this one for general fund expenditures are likely to be funded.

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Legislators Pay Family Members with Campaign Accounts

A number of Tennessee lawmakers paid family members with campaign funds, the Tennessean reports. Five Republicans and five Democrats in the House were found to have paid family members for services like “labor,” “accounting” and “volunteer service.” State law prohibits elected officials for paying family members unless the money covers legitimate campaigning.
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Memphis Bar Voices Support for LSC

The Memphis Bar Association (MBA) sent a letter last week to Tennessee’s elected officials in Washington, urging that the federal government continue to provide “robust funding” for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The LSC, the largest funder of civil legal aid in the country, faces the total elimination of funding under a proposed Trump administration budget. TBA President Jason Long issued a similar statement against the budget cuts in March, as did ABA President Linda Klein.
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AG Office Issues Letter Promising to Defend State’s Rights

The Attorney General’s office will defend Tennessee’s right to pass legislation at odds with federal directives, Chief Deputy Attorney General Paul Ney wrote in a letter to Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge. The Tennessean reports the letter said in part, “We reaffirm our commitment to protecting the interests and rights of the State and to standing behind and supporting our Tennessee school districts.” Legislation has been proposed in the past two sessions that would have gone against federal policies, specifically an Obama-era directive designed to prevent school districts from enacting regulations on access to bathrooms for transgender students.

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AG Office Issues Letter Promising to Defend State’s Rights

The Attorney General’s office will defend Tennessee’s right to pass legislation at odds with federal directives, Chief Deputy Attorney General Paul Ney wrote in a letter to Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge. The Tennessean reports the letter said in part, “We reaffirm our commitment to protecting the interests and rights of the State and to standing behind and supporting our Tennessee school districts.” Legislation has been proposed in the past two sessions that would have gone against federal policies, specifically an Obama-era directive designed to prevent school districts from enacting regulations on access to bathrooms for transgender students.

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Senate Republicans Kill Filibuster to Pave Way for Gorsuch

Senate Republicans deployed the “nuclear option” today, permanently changing rules to bypass a Democratic filibuster and clear the way for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority vote, the New York Times reports. Republicans needed 60 votes to confirm Gorsuch without changing the rules, but could only secure 55, leading to the rule change. Knoxnews confirms that Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker voted in support of the change.

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Nashville Attorney Named to State Housing Board

Austin McMullen, an attorney in the Nashville office of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, has been appointed to the Tennessee Housing Development Agency board of directors by House Speaker Beth Harwell, the Nashville Post reports. “(I) have full confidence that he, along with the rest of the board, (will) continue to create safe, sound, affordable housing opportunities,” Harwell said.
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Coalition for Sensible Justice to Host Reception, Discussion

The Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice will hold a reception and discussion in Nashville on April 11 featuring Kentucky Secretary of Justice and Public Safety John Tilley and Dyer County Sheriff Jeff Box. The topic will be smart-on-crime justice reform in Tennessee. The event will take place at the Hermitage Hotel, 231 6th Ave. North, from 5:30 – 7 p.m.
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House Axes Gift Transparency Bill, Senate Pushes for Campaign Donor Limit Increases

The Tennessee Senate last night voted to approve a bill that would allow it to double current campaign contribution limits, a week after the House killed a bill that would have required legislators to report gifts worth more than $100, the Tennessean reports. The Senate bill, which comes from Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, would allow Senate campaign donation limits to reset every two years instead of four. The transparency bill died in the House Local Government Subcommittee on March 28.
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House Axes Gift Transparency Bill, Senate Pushes for Campaign Donor Limit Increases

The Tennessee Senate last night voted to approve a bill that would allow it to double current campaign contribution limits, a week after the House killed a bill that would have required legislators to report gifts worth more than $100, the Tennessean reports. The Senate bill, which comes from Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, would allow Senate campaign donation limits to reset every two years instead of four. The transparency bill died in the House Local Government Subcommittee on March 28.
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House Axes Gift Transparency Bill, Senate Pushes for Campaign Donor Limit Increases

The Tennessee Senate last night voted to approve a bill that would allow it to double current campaign contribution limits, a week after the House killed a bill that would have required legislators to report gifts worth more than $100, the Tennessean reports. The Senate bill, which comes from Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, would allow Senate campaign donation limits to reset every two years instead of four. The transparency bill died in the House Local Government Subcommittee on March 28.
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Report: Lawmakers Spent Campaign Cash on Car Washes, Dry Cleaning, Entertainment

Tennessee state legislators spent campaign dollars on questionable items like flowers, car washes, Amazon Prime memberships, basketball tickets, wedding gifts and more, according to an investigation by the Tennessean. Regulatory oversight of how state elected officials spend their money is nebulous, with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance randomly auditing just 2 percent of campaign accounts each year. Currently Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, are proposing changing state law so that the registry would audit 4 percent of campaign finance reports.
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Memphis Lawmaker Goes After Drug Lobbyists

In a state House committee this week, Memphis Rep. Joe Towns (D-Memphis) railed against drug lobbyists when a bill designed to make oral chemotherapy medication more affordable got held up over a financial reporting amendment, the Memphis Daily News reports. The outburst occurred when Rep. Bill Beck (D-Nashville) proposed a reporting transparency amendment to the bill, which reportedly received blowback from drug lobbyists who threatened to kill the bill. “What chapped me is these damn lobbyists, these pharmaceutical people and the people that think they run this building – and nobody’s voted for them,” Towns said.
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GOP Could Consider Alternative Strategies to Confirm Gorsuch

Other than taking the “nuclear option” — which would change the rules regarding filibusters — Senate Republicans have other options to confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, the ABA Journal reports. One option is the “two-speech rule,” in which senators could only give two speeches in a legislative day, and if the Senate doesn’t adjourn for the night, one “legislative day” could go on for weeks. It would limit each Democrat to two speeches and after they are finished, only a simple majority vote would be needed for confirmation. The second option is a recess appointment, in which the president could put Gorsuch on the bench during a recess, but the appointment would only last until the next session of Congress, which would end in late 2018 or 2019.
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GOP Could Consider Alternative Strategies to Confirm Gorsuch

Other than taking the “nuclear option” — which would change the rules regarding filibusters — Senate Republicans have other options to confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, the ABA Journal reports. One option is the “two-speech rule,” in which senators could only give two speeches in a legislative day, and if the Senate doesn’t adjourn for the night, one “legislative day” could go on for weeks. It would limit each Democrat to two speeches and after they are finished, only a simple majority vote would be needed for confirmation. The second option is a recess appointment, in which the president could put Gorsuch on the bench during a recess, but the appointment would only last until the next session of Congress, which would end in late 2018 or 2019.
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Judge: Williamson Strong Not a PAC

An unregistered political group that was fined by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance for its engagement during the 2014 Williamson County school board elections is not a PAC, according to Judge Michael Begley. The Tennessean reports that the group, called Williamson Strong, faced a complaint from former school board member Susan Curlee for its expenditures towards a website, domain hosting and social media presence. The registry found those expenditures to count as political and issued a fine, but the ruling by Judge Begley overturns that finding.
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Probate Omnibus Bill Ready for House Floor Vote

TBA-backed HB 567 has passed through its final House committee and is ready to be scheduled for a House floor vote. That is expected no later than next week. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, is referred to as the Probate Omnibus Bill. It will update the Tennessee Code to reflect the elimination of the inheritance and estate tax. Two amendments are traveling with the legislation, deleting sections to avoid any negative impact to court orders on bank accounts, land titles and insurance policies. The companion bill, SB 769, sponsored by Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, is expected to go before the Senate Judiciary committee as soon as next week.

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AG: 'In God We Trust' License Plates Constitutionally Suspect

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery III said in a legal opinion that a bill requiring “In God We Trust” on license plates is “constitutionally suspect,” the Tennessean reports. Slatery’s opinion, released Friday, said despite the historical context of the phrase, it “clearly has religious overtones” and would violate the Constitution if it was added to all license plates. He adds, however, that having the option to include it on a plate would be more defensible. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) and Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta). The AG’s office issued the opinion at the request of Sanderson.
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AG: 'In God We Trust' License Plates Constitutionally Suspect

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery III said in a legal opinion that a bill requiring “In God We Trust” on license plates is “constitutionally suspect,” the Tennessean reports. Slatery’s opinion, released Friday, said despite the historical context of the phrase, it “clearly has religious overtones” and would violate the Constitution if it was added to all license plates. He adds, however, that having the option to include it on a plate would be more defensible. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) and Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta). The AG’s office issued the opinion at the request of Sanderson.
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Public Radio Reporter Fired After Legislator Complains

A 32-year-old journalist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s public radio station WUTC-FM was reportedly fired after a legislator complained about her, the Nashville Scene reports. Jacqui Helbert was traveling with the Cleveland High School Gay-Straight Alliance as they attended the Tennessee Equality Project’s Day on the Hill. The group met with Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), who both later complained to Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) that they didn’t know they were being recorded for a story. Gardenhire complained to the UTC chancellor’s office about Helbert, who was later fired. Helbert said she was wearing full gear and had visible press credentials for the entire day.
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State House Approves Bill to Block Local Marijuana Laws

The Tennessee House approved a bill today that would block marijuana decriminalization measures recently passed by the Nashville and Memphis councils, the Tennessean reports. The bill would repeal any local law pertaining to drugs that is inconsistent with state statutes. The local ordinances would give police the option to hand out lighter civil citations for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
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Former Nashville Employee Claims Firing Violated Civil Rights

A former Metro Nashville worker filed suit against the city in federal court today, claiming her civil rights were violated in her firing, the Tennessean reports. Danyelle Bennett is seeking $2 million in damages over her termination, which she said was tied to a November Facebook post in which she posted a graphic in support of President Donald Trump’s victory. In comments about the post, Bennett’s response to one statement included the use of a racial expletive.
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Dean Announces Campaign Team

Gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean made several major selections for his campaign staff, the Tennessean reports. Included on the team are Nashville attorney and former mayoral candidate Charles Robert Bone as finance chairman, and longtime Democratic operative Courtney Wheeler as campaign manager.
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