News

AG: State Parks Outsourcing Legal

Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office issued an opinion determining that the planned outsourcing of facilities management at state parks is legal under state law, the Nashville Post reports. The opinion did include one caveat, stating that outsourcing must be approved by the State Building Commission.

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Uniform Limited Partnership Bill Passes Committee

The Tennessee Uniform Limited Partnership Act of 2017, drafted by a joint committee of the Tennessee Bar Association’s business and tax law sections, passed its first committee today with unanimous support in the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee. This legislation coordinates the limited partnership statute with those governing corporations and limited liability companies, updates the law for limited partnerships to operate in the modern business environment while allowing current limited partnerships to operate under existing law. This bill is the first of the TBA’s legislative package to be on a legislative calendar and is sponsored by Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, in the House and Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood, in the Senate. You can learn more and show your support via TBAImpact.

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Fewer Lawyers in Cabinet Than Previous Administrations

President Donald Trump’s cabinet currently includes only two lawyers, lower than any of the previous four administrations, the Wall Street Journal reports. Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are the only lawyers in the cabinet so far. A third, R. Alexander Acosta, is awaiting confirmation as Secretary of Labor. In previous administrations, lawyers accounted for 40 to 70 percent of 16 cabinet positions.
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State Leadership Considers Open Records Exceptions

At a recent Tennessee Press Association meeting, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Beth Harwell both said they would consider reviewing the hundreds of exemptions to the Open Records Act that are allowed, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Since the law was first passed, more than 350 exceptions have been enacted.

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Knoxville Businessman Announces Gubernatorial Run

Knoxville businessman and former Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced his bid for the Republican nomination for governor today, the Nashville Post reports. Boyd has already named several seasoned Republican political operatives as staff. Sen. Mark Green announced his candidacy in January, and other GOP politicians are expected to also join the race.
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LAW Chapter Opposes Judicial Elections Bill

Following previous announcements by the Tennessee Bar Association and the Nashville Bar Association, the Lawyers’ Association for Women, Marion Griffin Chapter in Nashville has come out in opposition to a bill requiring non-partisan judicial elections in Shelby and Davidson counties. “LAW strongly opposes SB135/HB98 due to its selective application to only two counties in Tennessee and its effect of diminishing the authority of local jurisdictions in state and county judicial elections,” the group’s statement reads.
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Longtime Legislator Douglas Henry Dies at 90

Tennessee’s longest serving legislator Douglas Henry died yesterday in Nashville. He was 90. Henry, a conservative Democrat, was first elected to a House seat in 1954 and to the Senate in 1970. Educated at Vanderbilt Law, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. As a legislator, he spent many years as chair of the Senate’s Finance, Ways and Means Committee and was considered an “expert” on the state’s budget. Henry is remembered fondly by Democrats and Republicans alike, and was a mentor to many. “There will never be anybody else like Senator Henry in the Tennessee legislature,” Nashville attorney Bobby Thomas told the Tennessean. “He had no personal agenda and no personal ambition. He just wanted to do what all of our elected officials ought to do, and that's what's good for the public.” A public visitation is scheduled for Thursday on at Tennessee State Capitol from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and again at 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. A memorial service will take place Friday at 11 a.m. at the Downtown Presbyterian Church at 154 Fifth Avenue North.
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Beavers Calls for Attorney General Elections

A Tennessee lawmaker wants the state attorney general to be elected by voters by 2024, the Lebanon Democrat reports. Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, has sponsored a joint resolution to amend the state’s Constitution to make the change, and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it. In Tennessee the attorney general is appointed by the state Supreme Court for an eight-year term.
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Shelby County Sets Timeline to Replace Lovell

The Shelby County Commission announced this week the timeline to replace Rep. Mark Lovell, WREG-TV reports. Lovell resigned in February amid allegations of inappropriate sexual contact. Applications for the District 95 seat will be available on the Shelby County Commission website March 21-27, interviews will be conducted March 29 and an official selection will be made during the commission’s April 3 meeting. District 95 voters will eventually vote in a special election in 2017 to decide a permanent replacement.
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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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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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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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