News

Bill Assigning ‘Natural, Ordinary Meaning’ to Terms Heads to Haslam’s Desk

The Tennessee Senate voted 23-6 yesterday to assign “natural and ordinary meaning” to terms in state law, drawing criticism from LGBT groups who view the bill as discriminatory, the Tennessean reports. The bill fails to define what terms it seeks to clarify, but resembles a similar previous measure that singled out terms like “husband” and “wife.” Sen. John Stevens (R-Huntingdon) said the bill was designed to compel courts to side with Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion in the landmark same-sex marriage ruling. The House approved the measure last month, so it now heads to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk for approval.

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Longtime Bankers Association General Counsel to Step Down

Tim Amos, longtime lobbyist for the Tennessee Bankers Association, will leave the group at the end of the year to launch his own legal and government affairs firm, the Nashville Post reports. Amos joined the organization as general counsel in 1985. Prior to that, he was an attorney for the Tennessee General Assembly, where he worked with the Senate and House Commerce committees and the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.
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New Law Would Toughen Penalties, Fines for Elder Abuse

Legislation that increases penalties and fines for elderly abuse and creates a new offense for those who do not report it passed out of the House Criminal Justice Committee today and will now go to the House Finance Committee. Sponsored by Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, and Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, the bill (HB0810/SB1230) is supported by the District Attorneys General Conference, which was acting on findings provided by a governor’s task force. The Senate version of the bill, which is set to go before the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, differs some from the House version. It applies the protection to those 80 and older, while the House version applies it to those 70 and older. A fiscal note attached to the bill says there would be a $4.2 million cost for additional incarceration if the bill is passed.

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Asset Forfeiture Bill Delayed in House, Moves Forward in Senate

A bill which would change state law to require a conviction before a criminal’s assets are seized has moved forward with amendments in the Tennessee Senate, but was taken off-notice in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, effectively delaying it until next year. The bill was taken off-notice without discussion by its sponsor, Rep. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville). In the Senate, the bill will head to the floor with an amendment that requires the seizing law enforcement officer to mail a Notice of Forfeiture Warrant Hearing to the owner within five days of the seizure and allows the property owner to be present at the probable cause hearing.
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Williamson County Businessman Joins Governor’s Race

Williamson County businessman Bill Lee, former CEO of Lee Company, will seek the Republican nomination for governor of Tennessee, the Tennessean reports. Lee, a political novice, will face former Tennessee Economic and Development Commissioner Randy Boyd and likely several others in the GOP primary. On the Democratic side, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has announced his candidacy as well.
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Williamson County Businessman Joins Governor’s Race

Williamson County businessman Bill Lee, former CEO of Lee Company, will seek the Republican nomination for governor of Tennessee, the Tennessean reports. Lee, a political novice, will face former Tennessee Economic and Development Commissioner Randy Boyd and likely several others in the GOP primary. On the Democratic side, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has announced his candidacy as well.
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ASAE Opposes Tennessee Bill Aimed at Association Codes of Ethics

The American Society of Association Executives has released a statement against a Tennessee bill that would require state licensing boards to create unique ethics rules for each profession, thus undermining ethical codes established by professional associations. “This bill potentially puts additional unnecessary burdens on all state licensed professionals in Tennessee, and may cause Tennessee professionals to be out of compliance with nationally recognized standards for their vocation,” the organization wrote in a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam on April 19. The bill was created to allow mental health counselors and therapists to disregard sections of the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics in order to deny services to LGBT individuals. ASAE argues that the legislation gives "rise to state sanctioned discrimination."
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Tennessee AG Says Bill Could Conflict with Gay Marriage Ruling

Attorney General Herbert Slatery says in a new opinion that legislation requiring the use of the “natural and ordinary meaning” of undefined words in Tennessee code -- including “husband,” “wife,” “mother” and “father” -- could conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling as well as state laws about interpreting gender-specific words as inclusive, the Times Free Press reports. The Senate could vote on the bill next week. The House passed it last month.
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Tennessee AG Says Bill Could Conflict with Gay Marriage Ruling

Attorney General Herbert Slatery says in a new opinion that legislation requiring the use of the “natural and ordinary meaning” of undefined words in Tennessee code -- including “husband,” “wife,” “mother” and “father” -- could conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling as well as state laws about interpreting gender-specific words as inclusive, the Times Free Press reports. The Senate could vote on the bill next week. The House passed it last month.
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Gilmore Announces Run for State Senate

Tennessee Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, announced her intention to run in 2018 for the state Senate seat now held by Sen. Thelma Harper, the Tennessean reports. Gilmore was first elected to the state House in 2006, and previously considered challenging Harper in a Democratic primary in 2014. It is unclear whether Harper will seek reelection next year.
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TBA to Join Push for Legal Services Funding in Washington

Lawyers from Tennessee and other states will be in Washington next week to speak to members of Congress and their staffs about the importance of funding for the Legal Services Corporation as part of ABA Day 2017. The TBA effort will be lead by President Jason Long and will include President-elect Lucian Pera, YLD President Rachel Mancl, TBA Legislative Counsel Gif Thornton and Executive Director Emeritus Allan Ramsaur. Nashville attorneys Ann Pruitt from the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and Jonathan Cole, president of the National Conference of Bar Presidents, will accompany the delegation as they visit each lawmaker from Tennessee in the American Bar Association's annual effort to connect policymakers with constituents in the legal profession.

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Nashville Attorney to Challenge Corker for U.S. Senate

James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran, will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Senator Bob Corker in 2018, the Tennessean reports. Prior to practicing law in Nashville, Mackler was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in the 101st Airborne Division, and later became a JAG officer.
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Governor's Gas Tax Bill May Get Speaker Support

Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislation to increase gas taxes may gain support from House Speaker Beth Harwell, the Nashville Post reports. After a Harwell-backed amendment to strip gas and diesel tax hikes from transportation funding failed to advance this week, she said she is keeping an open mind on the governor’s bill. Democratic legislators, whose votes are likely needed for passage, are threatening they will help kill it unless the governor offers concessions for their support, the Post says.

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Sit-In Demonstrators Arrested at State Capitol

Two of 11 demonstrators sitting in at the governor’s office yesterday were arrested by state troopers, the Tennessean reports. The demonstrators were there to call for the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, and sang songs and prayed in the office until the arrests occurred. The two who were arrested were charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, while nine others were cited with trespassing and released.
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Bill to Create Solicitor General Office Dead for Year

A bill that would have moved many duties of the attorney general’s office to a newly created solicitor general’s office is dead for the year, the Nashville Post reports. The legislation would allow the General Assembly to jointly appoint a solicitor general, who would serve as the head of the legal department of the state. AG employees would move over to the new office and the AG would only be responsible for reporting opinions of the Supreme Court.
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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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