News

Former State Rep. Armstrong to Keep Pension

Former state Rep. Joe Armstrong will collect his legislative pension in spite of his federal felony conviction for tax fraud, Knoxnews reports. Armstrong represented Knoxville’s 15th District from 1988 until this year. He will draw a yearly pension of $28,744.08 or $2,395.34 per month, the maximum allowed. A spokesperson for the state retirement system said that since his felony conviction was not related to his legislative service, he will retain his pension.

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Rep. Harwell, Sen. McNally Nominated for Speaker

Tennessee state House Speaker Beth Harwell staved off a challenge today as Republicans voted to keep her in leadership, the Tennessean reports. Harwell, who has been speaker since 2011, defeated Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City by a 40-30 vote. Republicans also returned Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, to the post of majority leader by a vote of 42-29. In the state Senate, Republicans unanimously nominated Randy McNally of Oak Ridge to be the next speaker. If elected by the full chamber in January, he also will serve as lieutenant governor, taking over for the retiring Ron Ramsey. Other GOP leaders were returned to office with Sen. Mark Norris of Collierville approved as majority leader and Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro approved as caucus chairman, the Nashville Post reports.

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Firearms Group Wants Harwell Removed as Speaker

The Tennessee Firearms Association says it has had enough of Republican Rep. Beth Harwell as speaker of the state House, the Tennessean reports. The group circulated a lengthy email yesterday criticizing Harwell for not sufficiently supporting President-elect Donald Trump. “The last six years have proven that the establishment Republican perspective and control tactics of Beth Harwell cannot be reconciled with the current trend that the voters have demanded across Tennessee by their overwhelming support of Donald Trump,” the email reads.

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Court: School Zone Law Does Not Apply to Facilitating Sale of Drugs

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that the Drug-Free School Zone Act does not apply when a defendant is convicted of “facilitation of possession” in a school zone, overturning both the trial court and appellate court decisions in the case of Stanley Bernard Gibson, who had received a sentencing enhancement based on the proximity of his crime to a school. In a unanimous opinion, the court found that the state drug-free school zone law specifically lists the offenses to which it applies, and facilitation is not among them. They affirmed the underlying conviction but remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing.

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Cohen Asks DOJ to Investigate Justice Center Issues

U.S. Rep Steve Cohen has requested that the U.S. Department of Justice look into recent computer problems at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center, Local Memphis reports. The Memphis Democrat sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch Tuesday following reports that a system upgrade at the center resulted in inmates being "lost" in the system and  stuck in jail for hours after posting bail. “If true, these reports are deeply concerning,” Cohen wrote. “No one should spend one additional minute, let alone days, in jail when, under law, they are supposed to be free.”

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Shelby Commission Rejects Marijuana Ordinance

For the second time in recent days, the Shelby County Commission has rejected a proposal that would have reduced the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Commercial Appeal reports that the commission rejected the bill on a 4-9 vote. Opponents cited a variety of reasons for their objections, including the negative impact of marijuana use on education, the damage marijuana can do to the lungs and brain, availability of existing diversion programs and the belief that the issue should be addressed on the state level.

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Corker Draws 2018 Primary Opponent

Larry Crim, a Nashville businessman and CEO of Christian Counseling Centers of America, has thrown his name into the 2018 Republican primary to challenge Sen. Bob Corker, the Nashville Post reports. Crim has run multiple times as a Democrat for U.S Senate and House seats, including an attempt earlier this year to represent Memphis while still living in Nashville. He even previously said he would run in the Democratic primary to challenge Corker. For his part, Corker has filed to keep his seat though many believe he may be asked to join the Trump cabinet.

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Johnson Likely Has Too Few Votes to Pull off Upset

Gloria Johnson’s hope that provisional ballots could unseat incumbent State Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, in the 13th District race appeared to be dashed Monday after election officials reviewed the contents of five locked ballot boxes, Knoxnews reports. Johnson has not conceded the race, although her challenge appears mathematically impossible, the paper argues. She is 154 votes short with only 86 provisional ballots left to verify.

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Report: Loophole Allows Donors to Obscure Campaign Donations

A study of campaign contributions by the Tennessean reveals that a loophole in state campaign finance laws allows donors to skirt campaign contribution limits. Among its findings, the paper discovered that Republican donor Andy Miller used more than a dozen names, addresses and job descriptions when giving as much as $550,000, possibly more than is allowed under law. In total, the paper found eight variations of Miller’s name and nine different addresses on campaign finance reports.

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Blackburn, Hagerty Join Presidential Transition Team

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, has been named a member of the presidential transition team, which will assist President-elect Donald Trump and his staff with transition tasks. Blackburn has been a strong supporter of Trump for months, often appearing on national television as his surrogate. Another Tennessean, former Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty, also has been named to the Trump team. He will be director of presidential appointments. Finally, speculation has been rampant that U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Chattanoogan, could be named secretary of state. The Tennessean and Nashville Business Journal have more on these moves.

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GOP Leader Will Not Seek Re-election

Tennessee Republican Party Chair Ryan Haynes plans to leave his post later this year, capping an 18-month tenure that saw criticism of his leadership despite continued GOP gains at the statehouse, the Tennessee reports. “It was an awesome challenge and I am honored we have taken the party to a place where we have more Republicans elected in Tennessee than ever before,” Haynes told the paper. He says he plans to move to the private sector and spend more time in Knox County. Haynes was elected chair in April of 2015 after leaving his seat in the statehouse.

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Juvenile Law Annual Forum Coming Soon

The TBA will host its annual Juvenile Law CLE on Dec. 1 at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville. Speakers will include representatives from Vanderbilt’s Center of Excellence for Children in State Custody and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS). Sessions will cover case law updates, immigration issues in juvenile court, and using medical evidence in severe abuse cases. A panel on DCS administrative hearings and policies and a session on ethical issues in juvenile courts will round out the day. Learn more or register online.

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Former U.S. Attorney Kustoff Wins Congressional Seat

Germantown attorney David Kustoff won the Eighth Congressional District seat Tuesday night, defeating Democratic nominee Rickey Hobson of Somerville, the Memphis Daily News reports. The district covers 15 counties in West Tennessee including parts of Shelby County and Memphis. The seat has been held by Stephen Fincher, but he announced in February he would not seek another term. Kustoff is a former U.S. attorney and chair of the Shelby County Republican Party.

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Johnson Not Conceding in District 13 House Race

Former state Rep. Gloria Johnson, running to unseat incumbent Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, has filed an injunction against the Knox County Election Commission seeking access to names of provisional voters so her campaign can make sure they show up at the commission with a photo ID by the close of business today. Johnson made the move after saying the local election commissioner and state elections coordinator would not return her calls, Nashville Post reports. Johnson lost to Smith by 154 votes on Tuesday night. There are still 597 provisional ballots to be counted countywide, though it is not clear how many are for District 13. Knoxnews reports that 56 ballots were cast without photo ID. The remainder to the provisional ballots require verification of the voter’s registration.

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GOP Bolsters Control of General Assembly

Tennessee Republicans bolstered their “ironclad grip” on the General Assembly in yesterday's general election, dealing yet another blow to the minority party, which “continues to lose its relevancy at a rapid rate,” the Tennessean reports this morning. One bright spot for Democrats, however, was the pick up of state House seat from Shelby County, the Memphis Daily News reports. Get legislative election results here. See other election results by county in Tennessee and across the country.

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Get Judicial Election Results Tonight

Gavel to Gavel’s Bill Raftery will provide live election night coverage and results of more than 60 state supreme court races and four ballot items that could have a direct impact on state court systems. Voters in Oregon and Pennsylvania will be asked whether to extend or eliminate mandatory retirement ages for judges. Voters in Georgia will consider whether the legislature should take over the state’s judicial disciplinary commission. And voters in Arkansas will decide whether to extend the terms of office for clerks of court from two years to four years. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. EST.

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Court: Videos Do Not Meet Statutory Standard for Exploitation Conviction

The Tennessee Supreme Court today reversed and dismissed the conviction of a Knoxville-area man for “especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor” saying the videos he took of his 12-year-old daughter showed nudity but not sexual activity, both of which are needed to meet the requirements of the statute. The decision sends the exploitation convictions back to the lower court for a new trial on different charges with the justices suggesting the state might want to consider a charge of "attempt to commit especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor." The justices let other convictions related to the case stand. Read the decision

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Overbey Reappointed to Legal Task Force

State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, has been reappointed to the Council of State Governments’ Legal Task Force, the Daily Times reports. The bi-partisan legal task force reviews litigation in federal courts that may potentially impact the states and the relationship between the federal government and states. Overbey is first vice chair on the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee and chair of the Ethics Committee.

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Challenger Accuses Rep. Mitchell of Slander

Nathan Massey, who is running for state House District 50 said today he plans to seek legal action against his opponent Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, for slander, WSMV reports. The allegations stem from a mailer the group “Friends of Bo Mitchell” recently sent out. The mailing referenced Massey’s previous marriages and divorces and featured photos suggesting he was outside of a hotel with a mistress. “Bo Mitchell is a bully and has a history of making baseless, reckless attacks on his opponents, and this time he has gone too far. I see his latest assault as an attack on my successful business and on my family personally, and for that very reason, I intend to see Mr. Mitchell in court,” Massey said in a release.

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Lawmakers, ACLU Blast Delay in Polk Release

A number of Tennessee lawmakers and the state chapter of the ACLU say a Nashville man in custody for two years on false allegations should be released immediately. The Tennessean reported this week that Robert E. Polk, 33, was still in custody even though his wife admitted she made up the charges that sent him to prison. The situation has also led some lawmakers to call for a study of the parole board to see if there are loopholes that allow appeals to take so long. A parole board spokeswoman said Polk will get a new hearing to review his case.

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Lawmaker to Try Again on ‘MaKayla’s Law’

State Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, says lawmakers should reexamine gun safety in the wake of deaths like MaKayla Dyer, a Jefferson County girl killed last year by her 11-year-old neighbor, reportedly because she refused to show him a puppy. Kyle says she will again attempt to get penalties in place for adults who do not secure their guns and a child gains access to the weapon and shoots someone. These cases are “often 100 percent preventable had the guns been stored safely. Safe storage does save lives,” Kyle said. In Dyer’s case, the young shooter was able to get his father’s shotgun from a closet, Nashville Public Radio reports.

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Hot Topics in Real Estate Coming Friday

This Friday the annual Hot Topics in Real Estate CLE – produced by the TBA and the Tennessee Land Title Association – will be held at the AT&T Building in downtown Nashville. The program will offer insight into commercial lending, a summary of the first year of the TILA-RESPA Integrate Disclosure Rule and an annual legislative report. Other sessions will cover advanced title issues, 1031 tax free exchanges and the recent February ALTA survey changes.

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5 Lawmakers Invested with GOP Donor Miller

Five Republican state lawmakers have invested in companies owned by “anti-Muslim” GOP donor Andy Miller, the Nashville Post reports. New campaign disclosures reveal that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Sens. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, have invested in various companies, including Omed Rx, QMedRx and Diatech Oncology of Franklin. The report comes after news last week that Reps. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, rented a house from Miller, who also has financial ties to expelled legislator Jeremy Durham and took several legislators on a trip to Europe in 2011.

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Harwell Could Face Ethics Hearing Next Week

State Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, who serves as chairman of the House Ethics Committee, tells the Tennessean that he will try to convene committee members late next week to take up a complaint filed against House Speaker Beth Harwell by Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale. The complaint questions Harwell’s handling of a variety of situations, including the case of Rep. Curry Todd, the expulsion of Jeremy Durham and the alleged actions of House Clerk Joe McCord. Womick says these incidents show that Harwell’s leadership has become “unpredictable and vindictive."

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Democrats Blast Calls to Block Clinton Court Picks

Three U.S. senators have mentioned the possibility of blocking any Supreme Court candidate nominated by Hillary Clinton if she were to become president. The comments from Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have angered the White House and Senate Democrats, Roll Call reports. Senate Judiciary ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont said such a move would amount to a “piecemeal evisceration of the Constitution.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said such calls threaten “the same kind of dysfunction that has infected Washington for the last six years.”

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