News

Obama: Failure to Vote on Nominee Undermines Democracy

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama says the U.S. Senate’s refusal to hold an up-or-down vote on his Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland “could weaken our most important institutions, erode public trust and undermine our democracy.” He also argues that subjecting nominees to “an endless cycle of political retaliation” leaves important legal questions unanswered and makes Americans more cynical about government. As of today, Garland has been waiting 125 days for a vote. He now ties Justice Louis Brandeis for the longest wait. Obama also used the editorial to call on the Senate to agree to terms for considering future nominees within a set period of time. The ABA Journal has more on the proposal.

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Mitchell: Frivolous Lawsuit Bill May Discourage Abuse Claims

Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, has announced that he is filing legislation to repeal a new law that was intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Mitchell argues that the law could be used to discourage sexual abuse claims. “Under this new law, should you sue the state and a state employee and lose, you could be forced to pay their attorney’s fees,” Mitchell said. “Not all lawsuits are successful, but that doesn’t mean that they are frivolous.”

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Criminal Justice Overhaul on Tap for September

The U.S. House of Representatives will take up six bills designed to overhaul the criminal justice system in September, Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday. The Wisconsin Republican says that both parties went too far on the criminal code in the 1990s. “We’ve learned that there are better ways to dealing with these problems than locking up someone for 20 or 30 years. You end up ruining their lives, ruining their families, hurting communities. And then when they try to reenter into society, they’re destitute,” Ryan told National Public Radio. Roll Call has more on the story.

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New Harassment Policy in Place for Officials, Staff

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has announced the immediate implementation of a new workplace harassment policy for the Tennessee General Assembly. The new policy expands the current focus on sexual harassment to include all workplace harassment and includes for the first time a transparency component, which will require that a public report be issued for any elected official or staff member found to be in violation of the policy. The new policy is the result of recommendations from a committee appointed by Harwell. Humphrey on the Hill has more from speaker's office and a link to the policy.

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Nashville Gender Equity Council Announced

Mayor Megan Barry introduced a new Council on Gender Equity at a press conference yesterday morning, revealing a 45-person group that will identify gender inequity problems and recommend solutions on a range of issues, including access to health and child care, economic opportunities and family services. The all-volunteer council will be chaired by DVL Seigenthaler head Ronald Roberts, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Members include Pat Shea, head of the YWCA; rock icon Jack White, who owns Third Man Records; Juvenile Judge Sheila Calloway; and Brenda Gadd, the TBA's public policy coordinator.

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Durham Admits 'Handful' of Interactions, Suspends Campaign

Rep. Jeremy Durham, R- Franklin, today suspended his campaign, the Tennessean reports. In a late afternoon press conference, Durham denied most of the allegations against him but said “a handful of interactions’ were true. Yesterday, Durham responded to a special committee’s investigation into his conduct through his attorney. A statement from lawyer Bill Harbison questioned why no one involved had ever filed a sexual harassment complaint and dismissed allegations “from witnesses whose identity is completely anonymous.” GOP leaders continued today to call for him to step down. “Representative Durham’s denials are insulting to the brave women whose testimony was detailed in the report," House Speaker Beth Harwell said. "Representative Durham needs to make absolutely clear he is not seeking re-election."

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Reaction to Durham Report Continues

State Republicans and Democrats weighed in late yesterday and today with reactions to Rep. Jeremy Durham’s conduct and an investigative committee’s decision not to recommend expulsion of the Franklin Republican. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, called Durham’s acts “repulsive and unacceptable,” while Lt. Gov. and Senate leader Ron Ramsey called Durham “despicable” and said he would push for a special session to expel him if he wins reelection this fall. Fellow Franklin-area legislators also expressed dismay. GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said Durham “lied to me" and Republican Sen. Jack Johnson called Durham’s actions “abhorrent” and “completely unacceptable.” Democrats began calling last night for a special session to consider Durham’s expulsion, with Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini saying Durham is a “serial sexual harasser.” The Tennessean and Humphrey on the Hill have more.

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Durham Committee Leaves Lawmaker’s Fate to Voters

A special legislative committee today found that state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, engaged in “disorderly behavior” that warranted expulsion, but decided to leave it up to voters to determine whether he should continue serving, the Tennessean reports. Before making its decision, the committee heard the results of Attorney General Hebert Slatery’s inquiry, which found that Durham had engaged sexually with 22 women, including current and former female legislative staff, interns, lobbyists and others between 2012 and 2016. Read the committee's report or follow how the news unfolded today on this timeline of Twitter posts.

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Overbey to Chair Regional Policy Committee

State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, has been elected chair of the Southern Legislative Conference’s (SLC) Human Services and Public Safety Committee. The election was held during the group’s annual meeting, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said Overbey’s “tremendous knowledge and experience in mental health and human services … will be of great benefit to his fellow legislators and this organization." Overbey has served on both the House and Senate Health committees. He currently is chair of the Senate Ethics Committee and a vice chair of the Judiciary and Finance committees.

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Judge Denies Effort to Block Durham Report

Chancellor Russell Perkins today denied state Rep. Jeremy Durham’s request for a preliminary injunction to block release of a report looking into Durham's conduct. Perkins said the Republican lawmaker from Franklin had “not met his burden of showing a likelihood of success” in his effort to block the report. Attorney General Herbert Slatery had argued in a filing late Monday that there was no good reason to block the report his office had prepared for a special House committee. Dismissing Durham’s claim that release of the report would cause him irreparable harm, Slatery countered that Durham’s attempt to thwart publication could do harm to the state and the public interest. The filing also revealed that, according to the AG’s office, Durham “refused” to be interviewed and did not allow investigators direct access to his cell phone. The Tennessean has more on both stories.

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Cohen: Independent Prosecutors Should Investigate Shootings

In light of the recent violence both against and by the police, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, is calling for legislation that would require states to appoint independent prosecutors to examine law enforcement shootings. Cohen argues that because state prosecutors have to work closely with law enforcement to do their jobs, they should not be responsible for investigating and prosecuting instances of deadly force. WPLN has the story.

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Durham Sues AG, House Speaker Over Investigation

Tennessee state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, filed suit Friday against House Speaker Beth Harwell and Attorney General Herbert Slatery to block release of an investigative report into his conduct. The AG's ad hoc committee created to investigate Durham is scheduled to meet Wednesday. A hearing on Durham’s motion will take place Tuesday afternoon. Slatery’s office is expected to respond to the motion today. Durham’s political opponent has called on him to drop the suit, saying he should not delay the release of the report. The Tennessean has more on both stories.

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Trump Taps Blackburn for RNC Convention Speech

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., will take the stage to speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this month, reports the Tennessean. Blackburn was selected by presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, and has referred to herself as a "very unlikely candidate" for Trump's vice president pick. Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker, considered a VP candidate himself prior to removing himself from contention earlier this week, will also attend the convention.

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Brennan Report Highlights 'Gray' Political Funding

A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice highlights the rise of "dark money" spending in local political elections, and how it relates to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision of 2010. One issue of concern is the phenomenon of “gray money," described as Super PACs that claim to disclose their donors receiving money from other PACs, thereby further complicating the identification of the source of funding. The Brennan Center’s findings include the analysis that only 29 percent of outside spending in 2014 was fully transparent in the states examined in the study, which is down from 76 percent in 2006.
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Durham Investigation Expected to Wrap Up Soon

Tennessee state Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, who chairs the ad hoc committee investigating alleged misconduct by Franklin Republican Jeremy Durham, says he expects Attorney General Herbert Slatery to have a report to the panel “in the near future,” the Tennessean reports. The conclusion of Slatery’s investigation is expected to factor into whether the House of Representatives moves forward with possible expulsion proceedings over allegations of misconduct and disorderly and inappropriate behavior.

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Corker Withdraws As Potential Trump VP

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, told the Washington Post today that he has withdrawn from consideration as a potential running mate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Corker said he informed Trump of his decision while campaigning with him yesterday. “There are people far more suited for being a candidate for vice president, and I think I’m far more suited for other types of things,” Corker told the paper. But he praised Trump during the interview and said he remains eager to serve as an informal adviser to the candidate. According to WKRN, a tweet from Corker’s office today clarified that the senator would still be open to a cabinet position.

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Fetal Assault Law Expires

A controversial law that charged new mothers with assault if they took opiates during pregnancy and their babies were born addicted has expired. Critics of the measure, including the ACLU and Addiction Campuses, argued that the law made women afraid to reach out for help. News Channel 5 has more.

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Panel Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would provide key protections to innocent persons whose property is seized under federal civil asset forfeiture laws, the ABA Journal reports. The legislation represents the most significant reform of the forfeiture laws since 2000, according to the ABA, which backed the measure. Among its provisions, the bill raises the government’s standard of proof to “clear and convincing” evidence, provides counsel for indigent property owners, institutes a new early hearing process, and allows for easier recovery of legal fees for property owners who prevail in their cases.

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2016 Legislative Wrap Up

While most of the public attention has been focused on the new law that allows wine to be sold in grocery stores, there are dozens of other new laws that impact lawyers. Read a wrap up of legislation enacted in the current session. Laws that take effect July 1 are highlighted in yellow.

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State Lawmakers Meet with Federal Health Officials

A group of Tennessee lawmakers were in Washington, D.C., today to meet with federal regulators as part of an effort to improve access to health care coverage for the uninsured. The group – formally known as the “3-Star Healthy Project” – were to meet with officials from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and present a plan to address the needs of uninsured veterans and those struggling with behavioral health issues, the Tennessean reports. The group includes Reps. Karen Camper, D-Memphis; Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough; Roger Kane, R-Knoxville; Steve McManus, R-Cordova; and Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville; as well as Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville.

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Health Department Names New Legislative Lead

The Tennessee Department of Health has named Jeremy Davis as its new assistant commissioner for legislative affairs, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Davis comes to this new role after serving as a legislative liaison for the department and as a policy assistant for Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris. He succeeds Valerie Nagoshiner, who has been promoted to chief of staff.

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New UT Diversity Adviser to Work with Lawmakers

The head of the University of Tennessee system has appointed an adviser to focus on increasing diversity across the school’s multiple campuses and serve as a liaison to state lawmakers. Noma Anderson, who most recently was a dean at the school’s health sciences center, says she will represent the school on Capitol Hill “in a more consistent way, not waiting for a general hearing” or a controversy to erupt. This past session, the legislature defunded the UT Diversity Office over its instructions on using gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive language about holiday parties. Nashville Public Radio reports.

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Black Caucus to Hold Criminal Justice Forum

The Tennessee legislature’s Black Caucus will hold a public forum in Memphis on July 10 to discuss criminal justice reform issues. The event will run from 3 to 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church-Broad. According to the Commercial Appeal, the caucus won legislative approval this year for several bills aimed at reforming criminal justice laws, including one making it easier to have a criminal record expunged in cases of mistaken identity and another preventing the state from asking a job applicant about a criminal history early in the interview process. 

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Law Allowing Guns on Campus Goes Into Effect July 1

A new state law that permits full-time faculty, staff and other employees of Tennessee's public colleges and universities who have handgun-carry permits to carry their guns on campus will go into effect July 1. The Tennessean reports that police at the University of Tennessee on Monday will start registering employees who want to carry guns on the Knoxville campus.

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Holt Will Pay for Handgun Carry Permits

State Rep. Andy Holt today announced that he will personally pay for the first five people that contact his office to get their handgun carry permits. “I want people to arm themselves,” said Holt, R-Dresden. “I think members of the LGBT community are starting to realize how crazy it is that Democrats want to leave them completely defenseless.”

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