News

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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House Republicans to Hold More Closed Door Meetings

The Tennessee House Republican Caucus will hold more closed door “family discussion” meetings in the future, the Tennessean reports. The change was announced yesterday, and will begin as soon as this month. With the Republicans supermajority in the legislature, it's possible the caucus could determine a position that would pass or defeat pending legislation.
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Legislative Leaders: Not Our Job to Monitor Campaign Finance

In the wake of the audit of former Rep. Jeremy Durham, GOP leadership said that it’s up to the Registry of Election Finance to monitor potential violations, even in situations where the legislature’s money is involved, the Tennessean reports. Among Durham’s 500 potential violations of campaign finance laws, one includes the accusation that he received $7,700 from the legislature for personal expenses for which he’d already reimbursed himself. 
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State House Continues Practice of Pre-meetings

The Tennessee House of Representatives will continue to have "pre-meetings" with lobbyists and members of state agencies prior to formal committee hearings, the Tennessean reports. In 2015, House Republicans were criticized for the practice. Though lawmakers have since begun announcing the meetings, they still face scrutiny, as the meetings don’t have posted agendas, do not appear on public lists and are not broadcast and archived on the legislature’s website.
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Senator Drops Counseling Bill

A controversial counseling bill, which would have required the state to write a new code of ethics for licensed counselors and therapists, has been dropped by its sponsor, the Tennessean reports. Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said he would abandon plans to proceed with the legislation and instead sign on to another bill, SB 449, which would require changes made by any licensed professionals to their codes of ethics to be reviewed by the attorney general and approved by the state legislature. 
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Findings of Durham Audit Released

Former State House Rep. Jeremy Durham was found to have spent more than $10,000 in campaign funds on items prohibited by law, the Tennessean reports. Purchases included lawn care services for his home, suits, sunglasses, spa products, a handgun permit, University of Tennessee football tickets, and more. He also paid over $1,800 to a company to create a forensic copy of his phone to help defend himself against the Tennessee attorney general’s investigation.
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Report from The Hill: AOC Budget Moves Forward

A bill that would remove appellate review from death penalty cases, sending them straight to the Tennessee Supreme Court, passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee unanimously today without discussion and will move on to the full committee next week. After discussion in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, rolled the Senate version of bill and will re-calendar it. The Administrative Office of the Courts spoke on behalf of the Criminal Court of Appeals and replied that its court was split and did not want to take an official position. Senate and House judicial committees also heard the budget of the Administrative Office of the Courts and it was recommended for approval. Although the judicial branch is the third equal branch of government, the Tennessee courts budget represents less than one half of one percent of the entire state budget, with funding coming from the state's general fund. Read the AOC annual report here.

 

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Haslam Bill Package Filed

Gov. Bill Haslam's legislative agenda was filed this week, including his much-discussed transportation funding bill, the Nashville Post reports. The agenda also includes a bill to ban open containers of alcohol in vehicles, a bill to increase internet access in rural communities and a proposal to fund scholarships for non-high school students to attend community college, among others. All bills are sponsored by House Assistant Majority Leader David Hawk, R-Greeneville, with the exception of the transportation bill, called the IMPROVE Act, which is sponsored by Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Thompson Station.
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Report: Durham Gave Campaign Funds to Pro Gambler

Former State Rep. Jeremy Durham gave more than $20,000 in campaign funds to a professional gambler, the Tennessean reports. The recipient of the funds was David Whitis, a friend of Durham’s who Durham represented in a least two criminal proceedings. More information is expected to be revealed tomorrow, when findings from the state campaign finance and ethics investigation into Durham are expected to be released.
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Davidson, Shelby County Judicial Elections Targeted by New Legislation

A Republican lawmaker has filed a bill to create nonpartisan judicial elections, but only in Davidson and Shelby counties, according to the Nashville Post. The bill, filed by Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, would provide that counties with populations over 500,000 must have nonpartisan elections for all “state trial court judgeships, county judicial offices and judicial clerk offices.” Democrats are claiming the bill unfairly targets the two counties in the state that tend to elect Democrats. The TBA’s Committee on the Judiciary has been asked to recommend a policy and is currently reviewing the legislation.
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Neil Gorsuch Selected as SCOTUS Nominee

Judge Neil Gorsuch, from the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch, considered a reliable conservative, is a former Washington, D.C. lawyer educated at Harvard and Oxford. Gorsuch may face challenges to his confirmation, however, as Congressional Democrats consider seeking reprisal after Republicans blocked Obama nominee Merrick Garland last year, according to the New York Times. The American Bar Association issued a response to the pick, which can be read here.
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Democrats Counter Anti-Decriminalization Bill

Legislation filed this week by state Democrats seeks to ease punishments for those found with small amounts of marijuana, the Nashville Scene reports. The bill would still classify possession of up to one-eighth of an ounce of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor, but offenders could only be punished by a fine up to $50. Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville, said that the bill aims to establish statewide consistency and eliminate jail time and massive fines for possession of a very small amount of the drug, but not to make it legal. The legislation comes after Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown filed a bill this week that would override local ordinances that partially decriminalize marijuana.
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Judiciary Committee Holds First Meetings

The Senate Judiciary Committee met for the first time this year, passing out of committee Senate Joint Resolution 9, which calls for a convention committee of the states to plan for an Article V convention to propose a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. The convention of the state committee is set for July 11 in Nashville, according to the resolution's sponsor, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. This passed out with a vote of 8 in favor and 1 against. Senator Lee Harris, D-Memphis, presented Senate Bill 18, clarifying that a person petitioning for a certificate of employability does not have to be in the process of restoring the person's rights of citizenship in order to get the certificate. This bill will be considered during next week’s committee meeting on Tuesday.
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Haslam Gives State of State; Deadline for Bills Next Week

The Tennessee General Assembly is officially underway with Monday night’s joint meeting of the Senate and House to hear Governor Bill Haslam’s State of the State address. The governor’s budget hearings are expected to kick off next week, with the filing deadline for legislation set for Feb. 9. Budget hearings will run through the week of March 17 and the expected budget amendment deadlines will be the third week in March. At this time, the legislature is expected to adjourn its business sine die near the end of April.

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Harwell Launches Opioid Taskforce

A new legislative task force will tackle Tennessee’s growing opioid and painkiller abuse crisis, the Tennessean reports. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, formed the task force to identify strategies to address addition, abuse and misuse of illegal and prescription drugs. The bi-partisan group will be chaired by Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville.
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Kelsey, Civil Lawyers Discuss Legislative Topics

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey today wrapped up his town hall-style meetings with a packed room of civil law practitioners. Issues raised by the Germantown Republican and by those lawyers present ranged from estate planning to family law. TBAImpact is a useful tool for legislative engagement and advocacy and will be updated with legislation in February. If you have questions about policy or the Tennessee General Assembly, reach out to TBA Public Policy Coordinator Brenda Gadd.

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Do Harwell Actions Point to Gubernatorial Run?

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has opened a new campaign finance account for her 2018 race, according to campaign finance reports filed yesterday and reported by the Nashville Post. Additionally, Gov. Bill Haslam’s office announced today that senior advisor Leslie Hafner would be resigning her post to serve as senior policy advisor to Harwell. Harwell has not formally declared her candidacy for governor, but the Post reports that these signs appear to indicate her interest.
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Sen. Kelsey Hosts Memphis Town Hall for Lawyers

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey today held a town hall-style meeting for criminal lawyers practicing in Shelby County. The Germantown Republican asked attending attorneys if bills passed last year -- such as legislation regarding “certificates of employability” and the 2016 Public Safety Act -- were working. Issues expected to come up this year, such as expanding expungement laws and changing procedures so that death penalty cases go directly to the Tennessee Supreme Court, also were discussed. Kelsey will hold a similar style meeting for civil lawyers on Friday at 1:30 p.m. CST in room 230 at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

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Armstrong Receives 3-Year Probation

Former State Rep. Joe Armstrong escaped prison time for his tax evasion conviction, with a federal judge calling the act an “isolated incident” in an otherwise “exemplary” life. Knoxnews reports that Armstrong will receive three years of probation instead. Armstrong was convicted of filing a false tax return after a deal he made with a tobacco wholesaler to buy cigarette tax stamps, and then resell them after 42-cent tax hike went into effect. 
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House Rep. to Push for Driver’s License for Ex-Prisoners

State Rep. Mark Lovell, R-Eads, will push for a bill in the legislature that will make it easier for former prisoners to obtain driver’s licenses, the Commercial Appeal reports. Lowell said that a driver’s license is vital for a person trying to re-enter society. However, it is often difficult for a former inmate to get one because of a law requiring the suspension of one’s license after one year of unpaid criminal court costs. 
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Lawmakers Seek to Change Professional Privilege Tax

Although the state legislature’s filing deadline is still two weeks away, five bills have already been filed to make changes to the state’s professional privilege tax, the Tennessean reports. Three of the five propose a complete phase out of the tax, while a bill by John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, proposes exemption of the tax for those in the first year of their profession, and bill filed by Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville, seeks to allow anyone over the age of 65 who makes less than $16,000 to receive a 75 percent rebate. “Reduction or repeal of the professional privilege tax would unburden Tennessee lawyers who seek to represent underserved communities,” said Tennessee Bar Association President Jason Long.
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