News

AG: Heartbeat Bill is ‘Constitutionally Suspect’

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III wrote in an opinion that the core of a proposed bill banning abortions after a fetal hearbeat is detected is “constitutionally suspect,” the Tennessean reports. Slatery sited one part of the bill -- SB0244/HB0108, sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet and Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough -- as defensible: a provision that would require pregnant women to hear or view a fetal heartbeat before going through with an abortion.
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Services This Weekend for Former Nashville Vice Mayor

Former Vice Mayor of Nashville John “Jay” West died on Wednesday at the age of 65. West served for 12 years on the Nashville Metro Council and was a prominent lobbyist on the Hill. He received his law degree from Nashville School of Law and for a time served as a legislative assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visitation with the family will be Saturday (March 4) from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Spring Hill Funeral Home. A celebration of life will be on Sunday (March 5) at 2 p.m. with visitation prior to the service from noon to 2 p.m. Memorial donations can be made to Faith Methodist Church.
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Tenn. Among 16 States With Anti-Protesting Bills

Tennessee is one of 16 states with bills seeking to regulate protestors and public demonstrations, the ABA Journal reports. Tennessee’s bill removes liability from drivers who hit protestors with their car if the demonstrator was blocking the road. The bills, HB0668/SB0944, are sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough. Other states have legislation that allows lawsuits against protestors to cover the cost of police response, increases penalties for rioting, and makes committing a crime while wearing a hoodie an extra misdemeanor charge.
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Hearing Today on Bill to Tighten Asset Forfeiture Standards

Legislation to reform the asset forfeiture process in Tennessee got a hearing today that lasted more than two hours in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. Watch a video of the proceedings. The bill, HB428 by Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, would establish more stringent standards for seizure and make return of assets easier. The Tennessee Bar Association supports substantial reforms in this area.

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Hearing Today on Bill to Tighten Asset Forfeiture Standards

Legislation to reform the asset forfeiture process in Tennessee got a hearing today that lasted more than two hours in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. Watch a video of the proceedings. The bill, HB428 by Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, would establish more stringent standards for seizure and make return of assets easier. The Tennessee Bar Association supports substantial reforms in this area.

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Bivins Sees Both Sides of Death Penalty Legislation

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeff Bivins told WCYB that there are pros and cons to the legislation that has been proposed that would take death penalty appeals directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the court of appeals. "It would probably speed up the process by six months or so," Bivins said. "But it also is helpful to have the court of criminal appeals review it because they are able to narrow down the issues and it's another set of eyes on that." Shortening the time spent on the process is one goal, but Bivins points out that something may be overlooked in the rush. "It's an incredibly important decision. It's a critical decision," he said. "It's a life or death decision, literally."

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Bivins Sees Both Sides of Death Penalty Legislation

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeff Bivins told WCYB that there are pros and cons to the legislation that has been proposed that would take death penalty appeals directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the court of appeals. "It would probably speed up the process by six months or so," Bivins said. "But it also is helpful to have the court of criminal appeals review it because they are able to narrow down the issues and it's another set of eyes on that." Shortening the time spent on the process is one goal, but Bivins points out that something may be overlooked in the rush. "It's an incredibly important decision. It's a critical decision," he said. "It's a life or death decision, literally."

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Former Rep. Armstrong Will Not Appeal Conviction

Former State Rep. Joe Armstrong will not appeal his felony conviction in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, according to Knoxnews. Armstrong, who represented East Knoxville for 28 years, faced three felonies for hiding a $321,000 windfall from a sin tax hike on which he voted from the IRS. At a trial last year, a jury acquitted him of the two most serious counts and convicted him of filing a false tax return. In January, Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips set him free with house arrest, probation and community service. He leaves with no jail time, but will pay the IRS its money. He retired from the legislature and kept his pension.

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Former Rep. Armstrong Will Not Appeal Conviction

Former State Rep. Joe Armstrong will not appeal his felony conviction in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, according to Knoxnews. Armstrong, who represented East Knoxville for 28 years, faced three felonies for hiding a $321,000 windfall from a sin tax hike on which he voted from the IRS. At a trial last year, a jury acquitted him of the two most serious counts and convicted him of filing a false tax return. In January, Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips set him free with house arrest, probation and community service. He leaves with no jail time, but will pay the IRS its money. He retired from the legislature and kept his pension.

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Attorneys Picked to Join Campaign Training Program

Several Tennessee attorneys are among the inaugural class selected for Emerge Tennessee, a campaign training program for Democratic women interested in running for elective office. Those chosen include Jamie Ballinger-Holden, with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC in Knoxville; Hallie McFadden of Signal Mountain; Martesha Johnson, an assistant public defender and supervising attorney for Metro Nashville; and Carrie Russell, the director of pre-law advising at Vanderbilt University. Also selected was Katharine Heriges, who serves as communications coordinator for the Tennessee Bar Association.

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Senate Approves Bill to Restrict Campaign Fund Investment

In the wake of the Jeremy Durham audit, the Tennessee Senate approved a bill yesterday to put more restrictions on the investments legislators can make with campaign funds, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, introduced the bill that would require campaign funds to be deposited and maintained in a traditional bank account insured by the FDIC. The bill received near-unanimous support in the Senate, with Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, casting the only no vote.
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House Democrats Introduce ‘People’s Bill of Rights’

Tennessee House Democrats unveiled a legislative package yesterday that they called the "People’s Bill of Rights," a list of dozens of bills including legislation to increase expunction for non-violent crimes, lessen sentencing for marijuana possession, increase the minimum wage, eliminate taxes on food, increase penalties for domestic violence crimes, eliminate voter ID laws and more. Access the full document to read more at the Nashville Post.
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Task Force Moves Toward Recommending Fee Hike

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force reviewed and discussed its draft recommendation report Friday at the Nashville School of Law, coming to a consensus on recommending an increase in the compensation rate. The recommendation to be included in its final report calls for increasing the compensation rate in the range of $75-100 per hour, removing caps and removing the difference between in court and out of court billable hour rates. This would apply to criminal defense and juvenile indigent representation. Read the working draft report here.

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Harwell Begins Posting Legislative Pre-meetings

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has begun posting a list of legislative pre-meetings on the legislature’s website after receiving scrutiny for allowing lawmakers to hold the meetings without notifying the public. The Tennessean reports that the change occurred on Friday. Pre-meetings are usually held in legislative conference rooms and allow lawmakers to discuss a bill prior to its appearance in committee.
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Ethics Complaint Filed Against Nashville Democrat

An East Tennessee Republican filed an ethics complaint against House Minority Caucus Leader Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, claiming that Stewart used his questioning of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to benefit his law firm, the Tennessean reports. Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, filed the complaint yesterday. Stewart questioned TEMA with regards to the Gatlinburg wildfires during a committee hearing, and his firm, Branstetter, Stranch and Jennings, is currently representing someone affected by the fire.
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DA Appointed to Investigate Durham

A Bradley County district attorney confirmed yesterday that he has been assigned to investigate former State Rep. Jeremy Durham, WBIR reports. Stephen Crump has been given the case, after Williamson County District Attorney Kim Helper requested a special prosecutor due to conflicts of interest between Durham and her office. 
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Lawmakers Want $25 Million from Surplus for Fire Relief

East Tennessee lawmakers are pushing for Gov. Bill Haslam to include at least $25 million of the $1 billion in state surplus money to go to Gatlinburg wildfire relief, Knoxnews reports. Rep. Haslam said much of the surplus money is already targeted for other initiatives, but is looking at other options. A bill providing property tax relief to victims of the fires cleared a House committee today.
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TBA Opposes Bill Imposing Non-partisan Judicial Elections

Legislation to impose non-partisan elections for judges and clerks in Davidson and Shelby counties was deferred two weeks by its Senate sponsor today. The TBA opposes the bill, and has said "the TBA opposes the imposition of any election process on selective counties, whether by removal of the current local option or by establishing a new method different from that generally applicable to other counties. The TBA favors statewide uniformity as to the authority of local jurisdictions to prescribe the methods of filling state trial court judgeships, county judicial offices and judicial clerk offices." The Nashville Post today also cited opposition to the bill from the Nashville Bar Association.
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ABA Report Provides Updates on Legislation

The American Bar Association’s first Washington Letter chart for 2017 has been released and has updates on bills in Congress that the ABA has championed or opposed during the previous congressional session. Updates include information regarding the ABA’s support of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the ABA’s support of adequate funding for the Legal Services Corporation. Read the full chart here.
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Investigation Finds Lovell Violated Sexual Harassment Policy

Former state House Rep. Mark Lovell was found to have violated the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, the Tennessean reports. The specific details were not included in the investigation memo, but a special House subcommittee determined Lovell was in violation of the policy. Because he resigned on Tuesday, House Ethics Committee Chairman Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, said that they could not level any punishment.
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Lawmakers Fail to Complete Sexual Harassment Training

More than one-third of Tennessee House lawmakers failed to complete a mandatory 22-minute sexual harassment training video before the Jan. 31 deadline, the Tennessean reports. The video was made a requirement for lawmakers as a part of a new sexual harassment policy instituted last year following the Jeremy Durham scandal. Harassment at the legislature was put back in the headlines when Rep. Mark Lowell resigned this week after allegations of sexual misconduct.
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Lawmakers Call for 'Jeremy’s Law' Repeal

Tennessee Democratic legislators are calling for a repeal of what’s known as “Jeremy’s Law” in the wake of the resignation of Rep. Mark Lovell, Humphrey on the Hill reports. The law was unofficially named for former Rep. Jeremy Durham, and mandates that any victim of sexual harassment who sues the state and loses must then pay for the legal fees of the defense. Following allegations that Lovell engaged in sexual misconduct, Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, said that by passing the law the General Assembly “unwisely raised unprecedented barriers to harassment victims seeking justice.”
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State Rep. Lovell Resigns Amid Allegations

State Rep. Mark Lovell, R-Eads, resigned today following allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with a woman, the Tennessean reports. House Speaker Beth Harwell said that because he resigned, the legislature will not push for further investigation into the matter. Lovell said the accusations are false.
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Bills Head to TBA Sections and Committees for Review

In the Tennessee General Assembly the TBA is currently tracking 141 pieces of legislation of interest. Requests are currently going to sections and committees for review. Examples of these bills include SB1378/HB1394, a “Right to Die” bill in which adults suffering from a terminal disease may request medication for the purpose of ending life, and SB0944/HB0668, a tort liability and reform bill which would provide civil immunity for drivers who injure protestors blocking traffic.
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Lawmakers File 1,400 Bills by Deadline

Tennessee legislators introduced more than 1,400 bills in time for last week’s Thursday filing deadline, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Included are topics like eliminating sales tax on diapers and feminine products, a new rule requiring high school students to pass a civics test and a bill allowing law enforcement to impound the vehicles of people arrested for patronizing prostitutes. Gov. Haslam has not commented on any bills yet, with the exception of the so-called “bathroom bill,” in which he said he would prefer to let litigation play out before Tennessee considers the issue.
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