News

Nashville’s Drug Court Facing Funding Woes

Studies show that drug courts are more effective and cheaper than state prisons, but Nashville Judge Jennifer L. Smith reports she is facing funding woes that are shrinking the local program, according to the Tennessean. The number of drug court residents has dropped from more than 100 to about 70 in the past few years as Davidson County fines and forfeitures, which are a significant source of income for the court, also have dropped. Smith says so far she has secured $50,000 from the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and has asked the state Department of Correction to increase its funding level.

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Judge Denies State’s Motion to Dismiss Voter Registration Suit

U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger today denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by four groups challenging a new voter registration law that imposes penalties for turning in incomplete forms, The Daily Memphian reports. The suit, brought by the NAACP, Democracy Nashville-Democratic Communities, The Equity Alliance and the Andrew Goodman Foundation, argues the law places “burdensome requirements” on organizations trying to register people to vote and will have a “chilling effect” on registrations. In her ruling, Trauger said, “If Tennessee is concerned that voter registration drives are being done incompetently, it can engage in public education efforts without relying on a complex and punitive regulatory scheme.”

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Hagerty Makes U.S. Senate Run Official

Bill Hagerty, the former U.S. Ambassador to Japan and former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic Development, officially entered the Republican primary for U.S. Senate today, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Hagerty stepped down as ambassador in July amid widespread speculation he would seek the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. He joins Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi in the Republican primary. Nashville attorney James Mackler is the lone Democrat to announce a run to date.

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Sethi Leaves Job to Focus on Senate Race

Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi is stepping down as head of Healthy Tennessee while concentrating on his bid for the U.S. Senate, The Tennessee Journal reports. Sethi’s wife, Maya, will assume his former duties as president and CEO of the organization, which provides free health fairs and organizes symposiums and candidate forums. Sethi is the only major Republican in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander so far, though former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty is expected to formally enter the race soon.

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Anti-SLAPP, Collaborative Family Law Headline September TBJ

Tennessee recently adopted a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (“Anti-SLAPP”) statute to provide additional protections for certain fundamental constitutional rights. The Tennessee Public Participation Act was passed without opposition in the 111th General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee, effective July 1. Learn about Tennessee's new Anti-SLAPP statute in this September Journal article by Todd Hambidge, Robb Harvey, John P. Williams, Braden Boucek and Dan Haskell. Also, Collaborative Family Law is covered in a feature by Irwin Kuhn and a column by Marlene Eskind Moses and Ben Russ, detailing this new Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 53. TBA President Sarah Y. Sheppeard writes about the importance of being a mentor and having a mentor — even long into her career. Read these and more in the September issue!

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Students Continue Push for Easier Voter Registration

Chattanooga high school students who last year drafted legislation calling for anyone with a driver’s license to be automatically registered to vote at age 18 are launching a petition drive to try to convince the legislature to rethink its proposal, The [Columbia] Daily Herald reports. The students developed their voter registration proposal through the TBA YLD’s Catalyst program, which teaches students about government by encouraging them to prepare actual legislative proposals. “It’s definitely harder to register to vote in Tennessee than in some states and unfortunately too many young people don’t think about it or take action to make sure they are registered in time to vote in an election,” said Fisher Latham, a recent CSAS graduate who did his senior project on the legislation.

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Faison to Lead House GOP Caucus

The Tennessee House Republican Caucus has voted Rep. Jeremy Faison as its next chairman, the Tennessean reports. The caucus held the meeting to elect a replacement for former Caucus Chair Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, who was recently confirmed as House Speaker. Faison, who had been one of former House Speaker Glen Casada's most vocal detractors, told fellow members that under his leadership, caucus meetings would be run "very fairly," with members having the freedom to speak their mind and be who they are. 
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Hardaway Says House Judiciary to Hold Hearings on Byrd Allegations

New House Judiciary Committee member G.A. Hardaway says the panel will hold hearings on embattled state Rep. David Byrd no matter what the state attorney general opines, the Daily Memphian reports. Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Michael Curcio confirmed the committee doesn’t need the attorney general’s opinion, but noted that Speaker Cameron Sexton asked him to wait before starting an investigation. The response could determine the committee’s direction.
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House Minority Leader to Back Resolution Denouncing White Nationalism

With a special session of the legislature three days away, House Minority Leader Karen Camper, D-Memphis, says the timing is right for a resolution condemning neo-Nazis and white nationalists, the Daily Memphian reports. Camper said she will support a resolution by Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, calling out 37 white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. The measure urges law enforcement to recognize them as terrorist organizations and go after their criminal elements with the “same fervor” they would other terrorist groups to protect the country. Clemmons’ resolution failed in a subcommittee in 2018 after failing to receive enough support to open discussion.
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Resolution to Expel Rep. Byrd Not on House Calendar for Special Session

The likelihood of the House hearing a resolution calling for Rep. David Byrd's expulsion on Friday is waning, the Tennessean reports. Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, filed a resolution to be heard during Friday's special legislative session that would oust Byrd, but House Minority Leader Karen Camper confirmed the item will not be placed on the House calendar. House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, said that it would need to be brought up under the "unfinished business" portion of the meeting. It's unclear who made the decision not to include the resolution on the calendar, the paper reports.
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State Officials Launch Probe into Casada Campaign Finances

State officials initiated a probe today of embattled former House Speaker Glen Casada's campaign finances, as well as other prominent elected officials, the Tennessean reports. Hank Fincher, a member of the Registry of Election Finance, said the audit was necessary, given news reports about Casada's spending, notably his use of a state plane 10 times in the last three months. The registry will also audit former Republican state senator and Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron, as well as Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, the Daily Memphian reports.
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Tomorrow is Final Day to Apply for Public Service Academy

Considering a run for office? Tomorrow is the final day to apply for the 2019 Public Service Academy, the TBA's bipartisan training program designed to teach attorneys the skills they need to run for city council, county commission, school board and other local public offices. Last year's program included presentations from legal and political leaders like former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell and U.S. Attorney (and former state senator) Doug Overbey, as well as political campaign professionals from both sides of the aisle. Apply now at www.tbapsa.org.
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Former Tennessee Legislator No Longer Seeking U.S. Senate Seat

A month after Republican Jamie Woodson said she was considering a run for U.S. Senate, the former state legislator said she is no longer weighing the option, the Tennessean reports. Woodson said she "had been hoping" that former Gov. Bill Haslam would seek the position, but he announced last month that he would not as well. President Donald Trump previously tweeted his support of Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty running for the position.
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Rep. Dunn to Fill Speaker Role Until Special Session

Republican State Rep. Bill Dunn has taken over the duties of the Speaker of the House following today’s resignation of Speaker Glen Casada, the Tennessee Journal reports. The Knoxville legislator, who is the body’s Speaker Pro Tem, will be in charge until a new leader is chosen Aug. 23 during a special session. The GOP Caucus has already selected Rep. Cameron Sexton to fill the post.

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Casada Faces Campaign Finance Probe

The Registry of Election Finance is expected to launch an examination of House Speaker Glen Casada's financial records at its upcoming August meeting, the Tennessean reports. Casada, who maintains a political action committee in addition to his personal campaign committee, has in excess of $560,000 at his disposal. Casada is expected to resign from his role as Speaker on Aug. 2, though he will retain his elected position. House Republicans will meet tomorrow to decide who will replace Casada in the top leadership position in the House.
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Casada Denies Allegations of Quid Pro Quo in Voucher Vote

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, issued a letter yesterday denying allegations that he offered incentives to lawmakers in exchange for their votes in favor of the Educational Savings Account bill, the Tennessean reports. Reports have claimed Casada offered "incentives" to representatives, in the form of funding projects in their districts, as well as an alleged promise of a military promotion for another representative, in exchange for their votes. In his letter, which he posted on his Facebook page, Casada called the allegations "unequivocally false."
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Sen. Hensley Accused of Prescribing Drugs to Family, Employee

Tennessee Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, has been accused by state medical officials of prescribing controlled substances to his family members and an employee with whom he was in a “personal relationship," the Tennessean reports. Hensley, who is also a doctor, is accused of writing the prescriptions between December 2014 and March 2015. The charges may affect Hensley's medical license but they are not criminal allegations.
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Motion: Remove Coffee County DA as Special Prosecutor in Activist's Case

Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott should be disqualified from handling a case involving Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada because of his role in lobbying the legislature, as well as his anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT and racially insensitive views, a new court filing argues. NewsChannel5 reports that the motion was filed by the lawyer for student activist Justin Jones, who faces assault and disorderly conduct charges for allegedly throwing a cup onto an elevator with Casada and other lawmakers back in February. Northcott was assigned as a special prosecutor after allegations surfaced that the Speaker's Office may have doctored an email in an effort to frame Jones.
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House Speaker Casada Asks Judge to Relieve Him of Alimony Obligations

Outgoing House Speaker Glen Casada has asked a judge to relieve him of obligations to pay alimony to his ex-wife, saying he no longer has the income to keep up with his obligations, NewsChannel5 reports. The filing blames the loss of Casada's job with Merck pharmaceuticals, a position he claimed he voluntarily resigned from earlier this year amidst the same scandal that led to him stepping down as House Speaker. "Due to his advanced age and the circumstances of his unemployment, it is highly unlikely that Mr. Casada will be able to secure comparable employment," Casada's attorney Sarah Richter Perky wrote in a motion.
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Haslam, Green Back Out of 2020 Senate Run

Former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Rep. Mark Green both confirmed today that they would not seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate next year when current Sen. Lamar Alexander retires, the Tennessean reports. "While I think serving in the United States Senate would be a great privilege and responsibility, I have come to the conclusion that it is not my calling for the next period of my life," Haslam said. Green said he would be focusing his time on helping re-elect President Donald Trump and winning back GOP control of the House.
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Dunn Out of Tennessee House Speaker Race

Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, confirmed that he has taken himself out of consideration for the Speaker of the House race, Knoxnews reports. Dunn doesn't plan on endorsing another candidate. Former House caucus chairman Ryan Williams and Reps. Mike Carter, Matthew Hill, Curtis Johnson, Jay Reedy and Cameron Sexton have all said they intend to run for speaker.
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Rep. Johnson to File Legislation to Expel Legislator Accused of Sexual Misconduct

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, says she will file a resolution to expel Rep. David Byrd from the General Assembly during the August special legislative session, Knoxnews reports. Byrd, R-Waynesboro, was accused by three women last year of sexually assaulting them when he was their high school basketball coach in the 1980s. He has not publicly denied the allegations, but said he has done nothing wrong since being elected to the legislature in 2014. The special legislative session was called by Gov. Bill Lee to replace Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, as House Speaker.
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Running for Office? TBA Public Service Academy May Be For You

Ready to run? The TBA's Public Service Academy (PSA) will begin accepting applications from potential political candidates on Monday. The PSA is a bipartisan training program that provides Tennessee attorneys with the tools to run for local public offices. It takes place over the course of two weekends in the fall, during which fellows will learn strategy, campaign finance, work-life balance and more. In 2018, the TBA launched the program and trained its inaugural class of 29 attorneys. Several are running for office now.
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Williams, Sexton Confirm They Will Seek House Speakership

The race to succeed Glen Casada as speaker of the House of Representatives got a little more crowded this week, after two more Republican candidates launched their own bids, the Tennessean reports. Former House Republican Caucus chair Ryan Williams formally announced his bid in a letter to his colleagues, while Rep. Cameron Sexton, who serves as the House Republican Caucus chair, officially confirmed his entry into the race this week. Williams and Sexton join Reps. Mike Carter, Matthew Hill, Curtis Johnson and Jay Reedy as those vying to be speaker.
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Gov. Lee Calls for Special Legislative Session to Replace Casada

The Tennessee House of Representatives will vote on its next speaker Aug. 23, when Gov. Bill Lee is calling lawmakers to return to Nashville for a historic special legislative session, the Tennessean reports. Lee signed a proclamation making the call today, saying a special session to elect a new speaker was "in the best interest of our state." Current House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, will resign from his leadership position Aug. 2 — his 60th birthday — though his replacement likely will be determined in a July 24 House Republican Caucus meeting.
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