News

Judiciary Committee Holds First Meetings

The Senate Judiciary Committee met for the first time this year, passing out of committee Senate Joint Resolution 9, which calls for a convention committee of the states to plan for an Article V convention to propose a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. The convention of the state committee is set for July 11 in Nashville, according to the resolution's sponsor, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. This passed out with a vote of 8 in favor and 1 against. Senator Lee Harris, D-Memphis, presented Senate Bill 18, clarifying that a person petitioning for a certificate of employability does not have to be in the process of restoring the person's rights of citizenship in order to get the certificate. This bill will be considered during next week’s committee meeting on Tuesday.
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Haslam Gives State of State; Deadline for Bills Next Week

The Tennessee General Assembly is officially underway with Monday night’s joint meeting of the Senate and House to hear Governor Bill Haslam’s State of the State address. The governor’s budget hearings are expected to kick off next week, with the filing deadline for legislation set for Feb. 9. Budget hearings will run through the week of March 17 and the expected budget amendment deadlines will be the third week in March. At this time, the legislature is expected to adjourn its business sine die near the end of April.

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Harwell Launches Opioid Taskforce

A new legislative task force will tackle Tennessee’s growing opioid and painkiller abuse crisis, the Tennessean reports. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, formed the task force to identify strategies to address addition, abuse and misuse of illegal and prescription drugs. The bi-partisan group will be chaired by Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville.
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Kelsey, Civil Lawyers Discuss Legislative Topics

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey today wrapped up his town hall-style meetings with a packed room of civil law practitioners. Issues raised by the Germantown Republican and by those lawyers present ranged from estate planning to family law. TBAImpact is a useful tool for legislative engagement and advocacy and will be updated with legislation in February. If you have questions about policy or the Tennessee General Assembly, reach out to TBA Public Policy Coordinator Brenda Gadd.

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Do Harwell Actions Point to Gubernatorial Run?

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has opened a new campaign finance account for her 2018 race, according to campaign finance reports filed yesterday and reported by the Nashville Post. Additionally, Gov. Bill Haslam’s office announced today that senior advisor Leslie Hafner would be resigning her post to serve as senior policy advisor to Harwell. Harwell has not formally declared her candidacy for governor, but the Post reports that these signs appear to indicate her interest.
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Sen. Kelsey Hosts Memphis Town Hall for Lawyers

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey today held a town hall-style meeting for criminal lawyers practicing in Shelby County. The Germantown Republican asked attending attorneys if bills passed last year -- such as legislation regarding “certificates of employability” and the 2016 Public Safety Act -- were working. Issues expected to come up this year, such as expanding expungement laws and changing procedures so that death penalty cases go directly to the Tennessee Supreme Court, also were discussed. Kelsey will hold a similar style meeting for civil lawyers on Friday at 1:30 p.m. CST in room 230 at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

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Armstrong Receives 3-Year Probation

Former State Rep. Joe Armstrong escaped prison time for his tax evasion conviction, with a federal judge calling the act an “isolated incident” in an otherwise “exemplary” life. Knoxnews reports that Armstrong will receive three years of probation instead. Armstrong was convicted of filing a false tax return after a deal he made with a tobacco wholesaler to buy cigarette tax stamps, and then resell them after 42-cent tax hike went into effect. 
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House Rep. to Push for Driver’s License for Ex-Prisoners

State Rep. Mark Lovell, R-Eads, will push for a bill in the legislature that will make it easier for former prisoners to obtain driver’s licenses, the Commercial Appeal reports. Lowell said that a driver’s license is vital for a person trying to re-enter society. However, it is often difficult for a former inmate to get one because of a law requiring the suspension of one’s license after one year of unpaid criminal court costs. 
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Lawmakers Seek to Change Professional Privilege Tax

Although the state legislature’s filing deadline is still two weeks away, five bills have already been filed to make changes to the state’s professional privilege tax, the Tennessean reports. Three of the five propose a complete phase out of the tax, while a bill by John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, proposes exemption of the tax for those in the first year of their profession, and bill filed by Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville, seeks to allow anyone over the age of 65 who makes less than $16,000 to receive a 75 percent rebate. “Reduction or repeal of the professional privilege tax would unburden Tennessee lawyers who seek to represent underserved communities,” said Tennessee Bar Association President Jason Long.
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Details Set for Attorney Town Halls in Memphis

Details have been finalized for two town hall meetings for lawyers hosted in Memphis by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. Sen. Kelsey will host criminal law practitioners on Jan. 26 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. CST and civil law practitioners on Jan. 27 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. CST. Both meetings will take place at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, 1 N Front Street, in Room 230. Please contact TBA Public Policy Coordinator Brenda Gadd if you are interested in attending.

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Lawmaker Requests AG Opinion on Parks Privatization

Tennessee Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, has requested an opinion from Attorney General Herbert Slatery III on whether Gov. Haslam’s plans to privatize hospitality services at parks violate state procedures. The Times Free Press reports that Bowling, whose district includes the Falls Creek Falls state park, asked for the opinion at the request of park employees.
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Haslam Names Barnes DHS Commissioner

Danielle Whitworth Barnes was named commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services today by Gov. Haslam. Barnes is currently the deputy commissioner and general counsel for the Department of Human Resources, but began her career in state government at the DHS. Barnes is a 2013 graduate of the TBA Leadership Law program.
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Tennessee Lawmaker Hoping to Repeal Recess Requirement in Schools

Tennessee House Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, is proposing a bill in the General Assembly that would repeal a law requiring students to have periods of recess at school, the Tennessean reports. Dunn said that the requirement is too restrictive, and is a "scheduling nightmare” for schools and teachers. Once the law is repealed, Dunn added “someone can come along behind that to deal with physical activity."
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Senate Judiciary Chair Kelsey to Meet with Lawyers

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, is hosting a pair of town hall meeting for lawyers next week in Memphis. Sen. Kelsey will host criminal law practitioners on Jan. 26 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. CST, and civil law practitioners on Jan. 27 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. CST. Please contact TBA Public Policy Coordinator Brenda Gadd if you are interested in attending. She will provide location information once it is determined.

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McNally Names New Senate Chief of Staff

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, appointed Rick Nicholson as Senate Chief of Staff on Friday. A 26-year veteran of the General Assembly, Nicholson started in the chief clerk’s office, later being appointed assistant chief clerk. In 2001, he went to work for McNally as a committee research analyst and in 2012, he was appointed Senate budget director by then Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. Nicholson replaces Lance Frizzell, whose appointment expired in January. Humphrey on the Hill has the news from McNally’s office.

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Holder to Lead Effort to Redraw District Lines

Former Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday formally announced a new effort aimed at redrawing state districting maps. After the 2008 election, Republicans poured money into state legislative races, gaining control of redistricting that took place after the 2010 census. During Obama's presidency, Democrats lost more than 1,030 seats in statehouses, governor's mansions and Congress. The new organization, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, will devote legal and political resources to reapportionment, which will happen after the 2020 census. WRCB-TV has more from the Associated Press.

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House Creates Sexual Harassment Panel

The Tennessee House has created a committtee to focus on complaints of sexual harassment. The Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Subcommittee will have authority to conduct investigations and “subpoena and compel the attendance of witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony and require and compel the production of any documents or other items of evidence relative to any matter under investigation.” Any recommendations for corrective action will be reported to the speaker. Unlike the full Ethics Committee, the work of the subcommittee will be private. Knoxnews has more from USA Today

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Bill Would Allow Open Carry without Permit

Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, has introduced legislation to eliminate the requirement that gun owners obtain a permit to openly carry handguns in Tennessee. Those wanting to carry a handgun in a concealed manner would still be required to obtain a permit, according to the legislation. Van Huss has introduced similar bills in the past but his colleagues have rejected those efforts, the Tennessean reports. Van Huss argues that 29 states, including Missouri, West Virginia and Louisiana, have some form of permitless carry.

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Lawyer Legislators to Head Key Panels, Return in 2 Weeks

The Tennessee General Assembly adjourned its biannual organizational session today after speakers appointed committee chairs and members in their respective chambers. For the first time in 10 years, all three key committees dealing with legal issues will be chaired by lawyers. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, returns as Senate Judiciary Committee chair. House Criminal Justice Committee Chair William Lambreth, R-Cottontown, will continue to head that panel. And Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, will take the helm of the House Civil Justice Committee. Humphrey on the Hill has more.

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Task Force Finalizes Juvenile Justice Recommendations

As the legislature convenes in Nashville this week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, juvenile court officials, judges, district attorneys and academics are pushing for a major overhaul of state sentencing laws for juveniles who commit serious crimes. The Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force met Monday to finalize recommendations that members hope will set the agenda for the legislature in the coming year. The Tennessean looks at the proposals.

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Legislators, Staff Must Watch Sexual Harassment Video

All legislative staff, interns and lawmakers are being required to watch a 15-minute sexual harassment training video at the start of the new legislative session, the Tennessean reports. The video reportedly covers all aspects of the law along with examples of the types of circumstances that might create a hostile discriminatory practice. The move is part of the leadership’s effort to address cultural issues identified in last year’s report on the activities of then-representative Jeremy Durham.

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Day 2 of Sessions Hearing Offers Conflicting Views

For a second day, the issue of racism was at the center of the confirmation hearing for attorney general designate Jeff Sessions, UPI reports. After questioning Sessions for more than 10 hours yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee today turned its attention to testimony from others – including three black lawmakers who all recommended against his confirmation. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Cedric Richmond, D-La., questioned Sessions’ past views on race and whether he would aggressively pursue civil rights, equal rights and justice for all citizens. Representing a different perspective, Sessions’ former chief counsel, who also is black, told the committee, “I have not seen the slightest hint of racism because it does not exist.”

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California Bans State Travel to Tennessee

A law in California banning state-sponsored travel to Tennessee has gone into effect, the Times Free Press reports. California passed the ban last year, after Tennessee approved a law that allows counselors and therapists to reject clients whose goals are at odds with the professionals’ “sincerely held beliefs.” The law was considered by many to be an affront to the LGBT community. California has also approved travel bans on North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas for their actions on LGBT-related issues.

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Lawmakers Re-file Bill to Name Courthouse for Thompson

The Tennessee congressional delegation re-filed legislation Monday to name the new federal courthouse in Nashville after former Sen. Fred Thompson, Knoxnews reports. A similar bill was approved by the House of Representatives last year but the congressional term ended before the Senate considered it. The Tennessean had that story. The new $194 million structure would be known as the Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse under the proposed legislation. Thompson, who died in 2015 at age 73, represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2003.

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McNally, Harwell Take Gavel of Respective Chambers

The Tennessee General Assembly reconvened today for the 110th session. In the Senate, Randy McNally was elected the state’s next lieutenant governor. The move was largely ceremonial, with Senate Republicans selecting McNally as their nominee during a caucus meeting in November. McNally, 72, is the longest serving current member in the legislature. Handing off the gavel to McNally was Ron Ramsey, the East Tennessee Republican who helped the party obtain supermajorities in both chambers. Ramsey announced his retirement last year. In the House, Nashville Republican Rep. Beth Harwell was formally re-elected as speaker today. That move was also ceremonial as she survived a challenge from Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, last November for the post. The Tennessean has more on both stories.

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