News

Committee Weighs Options on Judicial Confirmations

The Conference Committee dealing with the implementation of new judicial confirmation procedures (SB1, HB142), today discussed four options for confirming Gov. Bill Haslam's judicial nominations. A dispute over power that prevented a resolution to the process last year remains, as members debate how votes will be cast and counted in the confirmation process to allow the Senate and House to have an equal voice. The next meeting of the conference committee is scheduled for Jan. 19.

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'Natural Marriage' Act Could Cost State $8.5B

The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act, a bill that says no state agency may enforce the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, could cost the state more than $8.5 billion. The figure, tallied in the bill’s fiscal note, includes federal funding the state receives for programs like TennCare that would be eliminated if the state is noncompliant with federal law. “… Some legislators are endangering billions of dollars in federal funding, not to mention threatening the health insurance, hospital visitation and parenting arrangements of same-sex couples,” said Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. Read more from The Tennessean.

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Conference Committee Weighs 4 Options for Approving Judges

The Conference Committee dealing with the implementation of new judicial confirmation procedures (SB1, HB142), today looked at four possible options for confirming Supreme Court and Intermediate Court appointments from the governor. With Governor Bill Haslam's appointment of Judge Roger Amos Page to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court earlier this month, the clock is ticking on the 60-day time period given the General Assembly to confirm appointees under the Constitutional Amendment approved in 2014. 

The points of contention among legislators are whether one chamber has more power than the other and how confirmation or rejection is determined. The four options the legislators have on the table are below along with the concerns raised:

  1. House and Senate convene a session together and vote together (33 senators; 99 representatives; 132 total legislators). Confirmation requires a majority vote (67 yes votes). (Senators have big concerns that votes by senators would not be needed for confirmation to occur.)
  2. House and Senate convene a session together and Senate votes are weighted by a multiple of three to match house votes. (Representatives have big concerns about this as it gives Senate votes more meaning.)
  3. Confirmation of appointee occurs with a majority vote in the House and Senate whether the vote takes place in a session together or in respective chambers. If either chamber denies the appointment, the appointee is deemed rejected. (Concerns from House is that it gives Senate has more power as it would only take 17 members of the Senate to reject a House confirmed appointee.)
  4. Whether in session together or in respective chambers, a majority House and Senate vote confirms the appointee. In a scenario where the Senate and House differ in majority vote, the 60-day appointment clock continues ticking allowing either chamber time to reconsider its actions. If at the end of the 60-day period, if only one chamber has confirmed the appointment stands. (The same concern from the House is that it gives the Senate too much power.)

The next meeting of the conference committee is Jan. 19 at 8 a.m.

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Joint Committee to Address Judicial Confirmation Process

The Senate and House have both now named members to a conference committee that will work on the judicial confirmation process approved in 2014's state constitutional amendment. The House and Senate failed last year to agree on a plan for how the votes for Gov. Bill Haslam’s judicial appointments will occur. The group's report is expected to be presented early in the session. The Senate also released its schedule for the coming year. See who is on the joint committee, view the schedule and read more legislative news here.

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Governor, Senate Lay Out Schedule for Upcoming Events

Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that will give the State of the State address to the joint body of the House and Senate on Feb. 1. Haslam is expected to highlight his priorities for the legislature and funding initiatives in this speech.

New Senate Schedule and Proposed Adjournment Dates

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Report: How Decisions have Transformed Campaign Finance

In a new report, the Brennan Center details how it believes six closely divided U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the last decade have transformed campaign finance in America. The full paper Five to Four, is available online.

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New Trial Date for Armstrong as Defense Prepares Case

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the trial date for state Rep. Joe Armstrong, who is facing charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, has been pushed to Aug. 2 after defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs said he needed more time to prepare. Isaacs is also asking that prosecutors remove any language that indicates Armstrong is a lawmaker or mentions his role in increasing the price of cigarette tax stamps. Armstrong, D-Knoxville, is accused of lying on tax forms in connection with a profit he received from the hike. Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Atchley responded, "In this particular instance, the United States intends to prove Armstrong was motivated from the very start to hide this money and knew from the very start he had to hide this money.”

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Tennessee Legislature Opens 2016 Session

Tennessee lawmakers returned today to the state Capitol for the second half of the 109th legislative session. The TBA keeps you up-to-date on legislation important to the practice of law through TBAToday, government affairs updates online and on Twitter. And look for Action Alerts posted to TBA Impact.

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Rep. Durham to Keep GOP Leadership Position

Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, will keep his position as Majority Whip after House Republican caucus members did not cast enough votes today to reconsider his leadership role. The Tennessean reports a vote was required to suspend the rules in order to discuss the issues surrounding Durham. During a press conference following the meeting, Durham said “he fought to keep his position in order take a stand against the ‘liberal media.'"

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'Honeymoon Over' for Governor, Republican Legislators?

The Knoxville News Sentinel asserts that the “political honeymoon” between Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly's Republican majority may have come to an end. The author cites tort reform limits on damages awards in lawsuits and the governor’s new merit-pay system for state employees. State Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, called for the impeachment of the Republican governor for accepting the gay-marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. “The governor's controversy-avoidance skills may be challenged on multiple other matters that seem to be of high importance to him as well as state legislators,” the author writes.

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6 Lawmakers To Watch as Legislature Returns

The Tennessean published a list of of six lawmakers to watch when the legislature convenes tomorrow. The Republicans are Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin; House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville; and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. Kelsey is expected to advance legislation that will address criminal justice reform. The list also includes Democrats Sen. Jeff Yarbo, D-Nashville; Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville; and Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville. Armstrong was indicted by a federal grand jury in June for felony fraud and tax evasion charges.

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Race in 9th District Could be 'Dramatic'

The Commercial Appeal discusses the potentially “dramatic” race between U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and state Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis. Harris announced last week that he is seriously considering challenging the five-term congressman. Cohen said it would be a “serious political blunder” for Harris to enter the race.

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GOP House Caucus to Discuss Durham's Fate

Peers of House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham will discuss removing the Franklin Republican from his leadership position when the legislature reconvenes tomorrow. The Tennessean reports it is unclear what action of Durham’s resulted in the formal caucus, but Durham, R-Franklin, faced criticism after he requested a lenient sentence for a former youth pastor convicted of possessing child porn. "Durham is a walking cancer for the caucus ... From his questionable interactions with lobbyists to the way he berates staff and his inappropriate relationship with colleagues, this needed to happen a while ago,” said a high-ranking Republican official.

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Legislative Session Begins Tuesday

The Tennessee General Assembly will reconvene tomorrow at noon. The TBA advocates on behalf of its members for the passage of legislation important to the practice of law. This session will be focused on the budget surplus, implementation of 2014 constitutional amendment on judicial selection, indigent defense representation funding and many other initiatives. Stay tuned for Action Alerts on TBAImpact and government affairs updates online and in TBAToday. 

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Fayette Commissioners Pick Jenkins for State Rep. Post

Fayette County Commissioners on Thursday selected retired University of Tennessee agricultural extension agent Jamison “Jamie” Jenkins to fill the remainder of former state Rep. Leigh Wilburn’s term in the state House of Representatives. Wilburn resigned the seat in December, a little more than a year into her freshman term. The district includes all of Fayette and McNairy counties and a narrow strip of Hardeman County.

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Judicial Confirmation Process Needs to Be Addressed, Lawmaker Says

Knoxville Rep. Bill Dunn wants legislators to quickly address the judicial confirmation process, following Gov. Bill Haslam’s appointment of Roger Amos Page to the Tennessee Supreme Court. A 2014 state constitutional amendment allows the the governor’s appointees to be subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. The House and Senate failed last year to agree on a plan for how the votes would occur; the vote is required within 60 days from the start of the annual session on Jan. 12. Dunn, R-Knoxville, wants to tack on a “sunset” provision to a plan discussed last year that would require the process to be revisited in 2017. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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Lawmaker 'Lost Confidence' in TRICOR CEO

Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, said he has “lost confidence” in Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction’s CEO Patricia Weiland. Yager and other lawmakers confronted the longtime CEO on Thursday following an audit that revealed financial mismanagement. The mistakes, which included TRICOR and the Department of Correction operating without a contract, led to a $4 million deficit and TRICOR ending its prison food program. "I don't have any confidence in (Weiland’s) ability to clean up this problem that has been created under her watch," Yager said. Read more from The Tennessean.

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TACIR Report Compares Homestead Exemption Amounts

The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations met today to discuss homestead exemption amounts in Tennessee. TACIR is using the report, which compared homestead exemption amounts in other states, to help determine if the exemption amount should be increased to accurately reflect the cost of living. “If Tennessee’s homestead exemption amounts for individuals and joint filers had kept pace with inflation since their adoption roughly 35 years ago, they would now be $18,513 and $21,907 (instead of the current statutory amount of $5,000 and $7,500, respectively),” the report said. The TBA participated in the 2015 TACIR meetings to provide policy information. Read the full TACIR report.

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Congress Returns to Work

The U.S. House of Representatives returned to work Tuesday and McClatchy DC offers this look ahead at Congress’ agenda, including health care, Syrian refugees, gun control and criminal justice reform. “Revamping the nation’s criminal justice system may be one of the few areas where the political parties and differing ideologies find common ground. And it will be difficult,” the author writes.

Whitson to Challenge Durham for Williamson County Seat

Retired Army colonel Sam Whitson announced he will challenge House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham for his seat, The Tennessean reports. "Our citizens must have a state representative with character, courage and a total commitment to our county rather than any personal or future political ambition," Whitson said in an e-mail announcing his campaign. Durham, R-Franklin, faces a GOP caucus meeting next week to determine if he will keep his leadership position. A grand jury declined in December to investigate Durham on prescription fraud charges.

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Lawmakers Respond to Obama Action on Gun Control

Several Tennessee lawmakers and officials have responded to President Barack Obama’s proposed executive action on gun control. Obama's proposal would require those selling guns at gun shows and online to be licensed and would close a loophole that allows buyers of some dangerous weapons to obtain them without going through a background check, The Tennessean reports. “Additional gun laws would not have stopped the violence in California, Chattanooga or Charleston," Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said. "Instead of focusing on those who commit the violence, the President wants to make it harder for the law-abiding to obtain the firearms they need to defend themselves.” Nashville mayor Megan Barry praised the president’s actions, saying, “The proposals (Obama) has put forward are common sense approaches focused on promoting public safety and reducing the proliferation of illegal guns on our streets.”

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Sen. Harris Expresses Interest in U.S. House Seat

The Tennessean reports Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, may challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in the Ninth Congressional District Democratic primary in August. Cohen has held the seat since 2006. “The question becomes whether it is time to pull the curtain back,” Harris said.

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Rep. Womick Introduces New Ultrasound Abortion Bill

Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, again filed the "Woman's Ultrasound Right to Know Act," which requires women to undergo an ultrasound test before they have an abortion. The Tennessean reports the bill, revised from a 2015 edition, also requires the doctor to give the woman the opportunity to see the live ultrasound, see a picture from the ultrasound and hear any heartbeat that may exist. "I think it’s just an attempt by politicians to frighten women who are often in emotional or stressful situations," Jeff Teague, head of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said.

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Guns and Broadband Among Expected Legislative Issues

The Advocate & Democrat reports gun legislation and broadband service will be among key issues Tennessee lawmakers will address in the legislative session scheduled to begin Jan. 12. Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, announced plans to introduce a bill that would allow for college and university faculty and employees on Tennessee’s college campuses to carry handguns on school grounds if they have a valid permit. Follow TBA Impact throughout the legislative session for up-to-date information on bills of interest to the Tennessee legal community.

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Auditors Question State's Readiness for New Merit-Pay System

State auditors and top Human Resources Department officials are sparring over the application of Gov. Bill Haslam's new merit-pay system, The Times Free Press reports. The system replaced across-the-board pay raises for 40,000-plus executive-branch employees. Auditors question if managers and supervisors were adequately trained to deliver objective evaluations. "We feel very confident that our learning initiatives are competent and effective," Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter said during hearing on the audit in December.

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