News

Conservative Forum Focuses on Criminal Justice Reform

Conservatives gathered in Nashville Wednesday for a conversation over criminal justice reform, the Tennessean reports. Attendees discussed topics ranging from curbing court fees that prevent people from obtaining driver’s licenses to providing jobs for people who are released from prison. Panelists also showed support for decriminalizing minor, non-violent offenses as a way to cut down the state’s prison population. “It’s important that conservatives understand the reality of our criminal justice system,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of the conservative think tank the Beacon Center of Tennessee. “We want conservatives to understand what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years isn’t working.” The event was hosted by the Charles Koch Institute.

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Durham: Likely to Sue State over Expulsion

Jeremy Durham told News Channel 5 he most likely will sue the state over his expulsion. Appearing a day after lawmakers voted to expel him from the Tennessee House of Representatives, Durham said he was denied due process, and that lawmakers broke their own rules. He also said there is a culture of misbehavior on Capitol Hill, from daily happy hours to smoking marijuana.

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Ethics Committee Dismisses Complaints against Harwell

The House Ethics Committee, which has not gathered in seven years, met today and unanimously dismissed a series of complaints filed against House Speaker Beth Harwell for actions related to the investigation and expulsion of former Rep. Jeremy Durham. The committee said the complaints, filed by Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, had no merit for moving forward. Prior to the panel taking up his complaints, Womick rescinded two of his five allegations, saying he was considering advancing them at a later date, the Tennessean reports.

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Airbnb Drawing Attention of State Lawmakers

In town for the special session this week, senators also are discussing another emerging controversy: how to regulate Airbnbs and other short-term rentals. The possibility of a new state law has localities watching closely, since many already have enacted regulations about tax collection, official permits and penalties for disruptive tenants. Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, says he is concerned there is a “hodgepodge” of laws across the state, Nashville Public Radio reports. The Senate will hold a hearing Thursday at 9 a.m. on the issue. According to NPR, only Arizona has taken statewide action. The legislation there stripped regulatory powers away from localities and imposed a single tax collection system.

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Lawmakers Fix DUI Law, Close Special Session

Tennessee lawmakers today approved changes to a DUI law that will preserve the state’s access to $60 million in federal funding, the Tennessean reports. The Senate approved the measure on a vote of 31-1 this morning. During the debate, several senators entertained the idea of sending the federal government a bill to pay for the $25,000-a-day special session. The House later approved the bill on an 85-2 vote. Both chambers concluded their work around 10:30 a.m.

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State to Subpoena Durham’s Tax Returns

State election finance officials said today they plan to subpoena tax returns for expelled Republican lawmaker Jeremy Durham. The state Registry of Election Finance has already subpoenaed a number of records from Durham and his bank, but says it needs more information to determine if there are any violations of campaign finance laws. The Tennessean reports that the office anticipates the investigation will be completed by October or November.

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Rep. Womick Files 5 Complaints against Harwell

State Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, filed five ethics complaints against House Speaker Beth Harwell Monday, the Nashville Post reports. Each complaint alleges she violated the House Ethics Code in handling the investigation into Rep. Jeremy Durham’s workplace behavior. Rep. Steve McDaniel, chair of the House Ethics Committee, said legal counsel is reviewing the filings. “If [the complaints are procedurally] found to be compliant according to rules, we will have a meeting of the Ethics Committee in the next day or two and decide if they rise to the level of action,” he said.

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Durham Expelled from House on 70-2 Vote

Rep. Jeremy Durham was expelled from the Tennessee House of Representatives today during a special legislative session. Durham defended himself before his colleagues, noting that no formal complaint has been filed against him and he has never been charged with a crime. The bipartisan vote of 70-2 came after an hour of discussion. Reps. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, Jimmy Eldrige, R-Jackson, Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, voted present. As many as 12 members did not vote at all, the Tennessean reports. Lawmakers warned Durham against releasing the names of his alleged victims and pleaded with media outlets not to publish the names if he does. Durham had threatened to name his accusers if expelled.

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Sponsor of DUI Law Sorry for Special Session

The sponsor of the drunken driving law that forced state lawmakers to return to the Capitol this week for a special session says he is sorry. Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, tells Nashville Public Radio that his goal all along was to make it tougher on underage drivers convicted of DUIs. Though he still thinks 18 to 21 year olds should face up to 48 hours in jail if arrested for drunken driving, he is going along with the move to repeal the law given the time constraints. Federal authorities have given the state until the end of the month to fix DUI laws or lose $60 million in highway funds.

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Commission to Consider Filling Armstrong Seat

Knox County Commission Chairman Dave Wright says he will wait until hearing from the state that the position held by outgoing state Rep. Joe Armstrong is vacant before calling a commission meeting to decide whether to fill the seat before the Nov. 8 election. Armstrong announced his departure last Thursday. Knox County Democrats have selected Rick Staples to replace Armstrong on the ballot. Armstrong faces a sentencing hearing Nov. 30, Knoxnews reports.

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Durham Blasts Accusers, House Leaders in Letter

Embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, sent an eight-page letter to his House colleagues yesterday in advance of possible action on his expulsion this week. In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Tennessean, he denies all accusations, defends himself, attacks the women who alleged sexual misconduct and blasts House leadership for its handling of the investigation. Durham also threatens to release a document that would name the 22 women who accused him of inappropriate conduct and release text messages he says could prove his innocence.

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Harwell’s Challenger to Miss Special Session

The Republican lawmaker who has announced plans to try to unseat Beth Harwell as speaker of the House will not be attending next week’s special session, the Tennessean reports. Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, informed his colleagues yesterday that he will be absent from the three-day session due to business commitments. “When I announced my run for Speaker, I began taking steps to transition the day-to-day operations of my business to my family. The business trip I will be attending next week has been planned for some time and is one of the final steps in this transition process,” he said.

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Rep. Armstrong Leaves Office Following Conviction

State Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, gave up his seat in the General Assembly yesterday following conviction for filing a false tax return, the Tennessean reports. A federal jury found Armstrong, a 28-year veteran of the legislature, guilty of hiding profits of roughly $321,000 from a 2007 cigarette tax-stamp sale. The conviction rendered him unable to hold public office. Armstrong won re-nomination for his seat while on trial. Local Democrats have nominated Rick Staples to seek the seat in his place.

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Pressure Growing on Garland Appointment

Increasing pressure for a vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, says he will object to committee meetings until the Judiciary Committee schedules a session to consider Garland. New Mexico lawyer Steven Michel is attacking on another front, filing in federal court to have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, be told that the Senate cannot ignore a Supreme Court nominee. Current Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is also speaking out, saying this week that lawmakers should “wake up and appreciate” that a president can appoint justices anytime during his term. She later said she thinks “cooler heads will prevail” in deciding whether to consider Garland’s appointment. The ABA Journal and CBS News have more.

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Harwell: Durham Expulsion Vote Will Happen

House Speaker Beth Harwell indicated today that there will be an effort to expel embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham when the legislature reconvenes in a special session next week. “Expulsion motions are procedural in nature, so it is permitted regardless of the call,” Harwell told The Tennessean. “There will be a motion and a vote on expulsion, and I welcome the opportunity to vote for it.” The legislature will reconvene Monday at 2 p.m. to deal with a DUI law that puts federal transportation funding in jeopardy.

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House Approves Rights for Sexual Assault Survivors

The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously Tuesday for legislation outlining a federal bill of rights for survivors of sexual assault. The legislation would ensure that survivors in federal criminal cases have a right to a sexual assault evidence collection kit, to be told of the results and to be notified in writing before the kit is destroyed. Lawmakers said they are troubled by the number of untested rape kits that remain in the country, despite efforts to reduce a national backlog. The bill now heads to the Senate, where similar legislation was approved this spring. WRCB-TV has the Associated Press story.

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Procedure Set for Special Legislative Session

The special session called by Gov. Bill Haslam to fix an issue with the state’s drunken driving law will begin next Monday at 2 p.m. and end sometime on Wednesday, officials have announced. Haslam issued a proclamation Friday calling for the session. The proclamation limits action to revision of a bill passed earlier in the year that changed the punishment for persons aged 18-21 for drunken driving and any related matters. The “fix bill” is expected to be approved without opposition but must pass on three separate readings on different days to comply with the state constitution. A final vote is expected on  Wednesday. Knoxnews has more.

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Stanton Judicial Appointment Caught in Stalemate

With time running out in this congressional session, Senate Democrats say they will increase pressure on Republicans to hold confirmation votes on judicial nominees, including Edward Stanton III of Memphis. The Senate returns to work today after a seven-week break. Stanton, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, has waited almost a year for a floor vote on his nomination to be a U.S. district court judge. President Obama nominated him to fill a vacancy in May 2015 and the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously last October to send his nomination to the Senate floor. The Commercial Appeal reports that 27 other nominees, including 18 district court judges, also are waiting for a vote.

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Durham Closes Title Company

Just days after state officials announced a $191,000 discrepancy between Rep. Jeremy Durham’s election finance reports and bank records, the outgoing Franklin Republican closed his business. Records show that Durham dissolved Battleground Title & Escrow on Aug. 15, according to the Tennessean. The paper previously reported that the state Registry of Election Finance launched an investigation into whether Durham used campaign funds for his business. Durham has denied the allegations.

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Haslam Calls Special Session over Highway Funds

Gov. Bill Haslam is calling a special legislative session to try to resolve an issue that could cost the state $60 million in federal highway funds, the Tennessean reports. The moves comes after lawmakers approved legislation to increase the allowable blood alcohol limit for 18- to 20-year-olds and increased penalties for violations. Federal authorities say the state’s law is not in compliance with its zero tolerance law, which forces states to set 0.02 as the allowable blood-alcohol level for drivers under 21. After weeks of discussion with federal authorities, Haslam announced the need for a special session.

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Court Square Series: Sept. 15 in Cookeville

The TBA’s 2016 Court Square series will head to Cookeville on Sept. 15. The three-hour course will be held at the Higher Education Campus. Parke Morris, Nathan Ridley and Donald J. Farinato will address privilege law in Tennessee, legislative updates and the revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act.

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Poll: Majority Want Drug-Free School Zone Reform

A bi-partisan majority of Tennessee residents support reforming the state’s drug-free school zone law according to a recent poll conducted by icitizen and Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris. The poll found that more than eight in 10 support reform of the Tennessee Drug-Free School Zone Act, which enhances penalties for drug crimes that occur within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare, library, recreational center or park. “Although drug-free school zones may sound good on the surface, they seem to create some troubling inequities,” Harris told the Memphis Flyer. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk previously has said that the law is applied inconsistently with the legislation’s intent. While the intent “was to keep drugs away from schoolchildren … this enhancement puts … violations on par with second degree murder.”

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Democrats Blame Harwell for DUI Snafu

State House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, is blaming Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, for creating an environment that put the state in jeopardy of losing $60 million in federal highway funds, Knoxnews Politics reports. “This was not an accident,” Stewart said Wednesday. “This was the direct result of specific policies put in place by Speaker Beth Harwell.” He went on to say that Harwell’s decision to accelerate the pace of legislative sessions, place a cap on the number of bills lawmakers can introduce, and ignore concerns about the state’s fiscal review process all have led to the current situation. The state is facing the loss of federal funding after increasing the blood alcohol level allowed for 18- to 20-year-olds found driving drunk.

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Feds Open Investigation of Rep. Durham

Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into campaign expenditures by Franklin Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham, the lawmaker’s lawyer confirmed to the Tennessean today. The U.S. attorney’s office reportedly has issued two subpoenas for records related to campaign finance issues and a possible tax violation. Durham’s lawyer Peter Strianse said his client was complying with those orders. The move comes in addition to an investigation by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, which is looking at alleged discrepancies in Durham’s campaign records.

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New Family Law CLE Videos Online

If you missed the TBA Family Law Section's annual family law forum, the sessions are now available online. Speakers focused on legislative updates, criminal implications in divorce and using digital evidence to win your case.

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