News

Bill Would Dramatically Alter Judicial Evaluations

An amended bill (SB1058/HB1227) that emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee today reconstitutes the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, and also provides that if the commission recommends against a judge then “a vacancy occurs," apparently not permitting the sitting judge to stand for retention election.

The surprise move by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, amended a caption bill with an unrelated body to dramatically change the way that evaluations of appellate judges occur under the Tennessee Plan. When advocates for the present system earlier asked for copies of the amendment they were denied copies. The committee adopted the amendment by a 6-1-1 vote, with Vice Chair Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, objecting to the committee voting when advocates had not had an opportunity to see or consider the change.

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Lt. Gov. Releases Judicial Redistricting Proposals

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has released 14 different judicial redistricting plans put forward for consideration. “The response we have gotten to our public call for judicial district maps is extremely encouraging,” Ramsey earlier said in a statement to TNReport. “I would especially like to commend the Public Defenders Association as well as the Tennessee Bar Association for coming to the table and sharing their ideas.” A bill (SB 780/HB 636), which is expected serve as the vehicle for redistricting, is set for a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

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Bill Would Allow Student ID, Ban Library Card for Voting

A new bill introduced by state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Lebanon, would allow student photo identification cards issued by state universities and colleges to comply with Tennessee’s voter photo ID law. But SB 125 also would explicitly prohibit photo IDs issued by public libraries and other local agencies and governments from meeting that requirement, The Commercial Appeal reports. The legislation would reverse a Tennessee Court of Appeals decision upholding library cards as valid ID for voting. That case is pending before the state Supreme Court, which is expected to issue a ruling by summer.

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AG: State Cannot Nullify Federal Gun Laws

Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper has found that legislative attempts to block the enforcement of federal gun laws in the state are unconstitutional. The opinion says the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause trumps state statutes, making it unlawful to nullify firearms laws made on the national level. He goes on to say the state legislature also can’t take a backdoor route and criminalize the enforcement of gun laws in Tennessee. Nashville Public Radio has the story.

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Bill Would Raise Standard for Protection Orders

State Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville has introduced legislation that he says will help “avoid abuse of the judicial system by making it tougher to get orders of protection,” the Elizabethton Star, reports. But the director of a domestic violence prevention group says it could put more women in danger. HB 1128 would raise the level of proof needed for a one-year order of protection from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” Hill said he introduced the bill to begin a conversation on the issue, leaving the door open to further revision.

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Supermarket Wine Bill Advances in Senate

A proposal to allow cities and counties to hold referendums on expanded wine sales scored its first legislative victory today when the Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 5-4 to advance SB 0837. The measure still must be approved by the Senate Finance Committee before heading to the floor, the Memphis Daily News reports. The House began its hearings on the issue today, but has not yet scheduled a vote.

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TBA Response to Judicial Redistricting, Upcoming Civility Forum Make News

The TBA has been featured in a number of news stories this past week about its response to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s judicial redistricting proposal. In an article in the Tennessean, Gif Thornton, who represents the TBA on Capitol Hill, said lawyers “look forward to playing a constructive role in the process and helping draw the best lines possible.” An article in Knoxnews quoted TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur saying, "There always needs to be careful analysis of the way in which the districts are laid out and their caseloads. The most important thing is whether you have the right level of judicial resources, not what counties which judge is in.” That same story ran in the Times News. In an earlier article, Ramsaur cautioned that the process be done “with some sensitivity.” On Monday, Ramsey encouraged the TBA to submit its own recommendation for drawing new lines.

Also this week, the TBA’s upcoming civility forum in Knoxville was covered by The Chattanoogan.

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Legislators, TBA Leaders Gather at Big Shrimp Event

More than100 Tennessee lawmakers and their staffers came together with members of the Tennessee Bar Association during the annual Big Shrimp legislative reception Tuesday night at the Tennessee Bar Center. The event gave attorneys the opportunity to meet with senators and representatives in a relaxed atmosphere. The TBA's Leadership Law class also attended the event, after spending a day learning about Issues in Policy and Politics. The class heard from a panel of lawyer legislators, a group of lawyer lobbyists and an expert on judicial selection. In addition, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper addressed the group and class members attended a session of the Senate's Judiciary Committee.

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2013 TBA Big Shrimp Reception

More than 100 Tennessee lawmakers and their staffers came together with members of the Tennessee Bar Association during the annual Big Shrimp legislative reception at the Tennessee Bar Center. (Photos by Jenny Jones and Brittany Sims)

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Track Legislation of Interest to Tennessee Attorneys

The TBA has a number of tools to help you track action in the Tennessee General Assembly. Read TBA Today for regular news updates and follow the TBA Action List to track bills in the General Assembly that the TBA has a direct interest in -- those it has initiated, taken a position on, or has a policy on. The TBA Watch List is a broader list of bills of interest to the Tennessee legal community.

Medicaid Expansion Ban on Hold

With Gov. Bill Haslam telling reporters today that he will not decide whether the state should expand its Medicaid program before the end of the legislative session, Republican leaders in the General Assembly have put a hold on legislation to ban expansion, the Nashville City Paper reports. Twenty-six Republicans in the House and 16 in the Senate have signed on as co-sponsors of legislation to ban an expansion, but House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey say they want to delay that effort to give the governor time to consider all options. Ramsey said fellow Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey has agreed to delay consideration of his bill. Harwell said her chamber will take a wait and see approach.

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Report Details Length of Judicial Vacancies

The Alliance for Justice, a liberal public interest group that monitors the judicial nomination process, compiled a report listing the nation’s vacant judicial spots and how long they have remained open without a nominee, the Blog of the Legal Times reports. The results show that delays in filling the bench often begin before the nominees even reach the Senate. According to the report, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has a position that has remained open for 3,200 days because of a dispute between California and Idaho senators about from which state the nominee should be. There has been a 2,655-day vacancy in the eastern district of California, 1,925-day vacancy in the western district of Wisconsin, and a 1,619-day vacancy in the northern district of Georgia.

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Business Leaders: Gun Bill is a Negative

Business leaders are speaking out against the bill allowing permitted gun owners the right to store firearms in their cars no matter where they are parked, even on employers’ property. Businesses such as FedEx, Nissan and Volkswagen opposed similar legislation last year but the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve the bill, which now advances to full Senate floor vote tomorrow. "Anything that infringes on the rights of property owners or employers clearly is viewed as a negative by companies that are already here or are looking to locate here," Bill Ozier, chairman of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the Nashville Business Journal.

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Bill to Require Ultrasound, 24-Hour Wait Period for Abortion

State Sen. Jim Tracey, R-Shelbyville, has filed Senate Bill 632 that would require women receive a “transabdominal ultrasound” and wait at least 24 hours before having an abortion. The bill would require ultrasound technicians to display an image of the fetus and make any heartbeat audible to the woman. According to the Tennessean, however, the state constitution has a privacy clause that has limited lawmaker’s ability to place restrictions on women seeking to end a pregnancy, making it highly possible Tracey’s proposal may face a court challenge. State Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, has agreed to sponsor the House version.

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High Court to Decide Voter ID Appeal

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard arguments this morning about whether Memphis photo library cards can serve as government-issued identification under the state’s voter ID law, WBIR News 10 reports. In August, the Court of Appeals ruled that the library cards could be accepted at the polls since Memphis is a branch of the state, however Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Elections Coordinator Mark Goins appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Attorney George Barrett argued to overturn the law, calling it a solution looking for a problem, and citing scant evidence of electoral fraud, WPLN reports. Although it could take months for an official ruling, Justice Sharon Lee told Barrett it was an argument for state lawmakers, not the court.

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State Income Tax Ban Sent to Senate

The Finance, Ways and Means Committee voted 9-1 Tuesday morning to send constitutional amendment Senate Joint Resolution 1 to the floor of the state Senate, permanently banning a tax on personal income or a payroll tax in Tennessee. Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, cast the only vote against the amendment, stating he is against income tax in principle but believes a payroll tax is different, the Tennessean reports.

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Senators Propose “Repealer” to Cut Laws

State Rep. Glen Casada and Sen. Jack Johnson, both Franklin Republicans, have filed HB 500 to create an Office of the Repealer. The repealer's job would be to identify potentially unnecessary rules and regulations, and make nonbinding recommendations to the secretary of state and the legislature every three months and to the governor once a year. “There are hundreds of thousands of rules that are on the books,” Johnson told the Tennessean. “Some for good reason, but some are in all likelihood antiquated and not relevant... We need to clean those up.”

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Judicial Constitutional Amendment Voted Out Early

The subcommittee of the House Civil Practice today took up and passed HJR 8, the house version of the amendment to the Tennessee constitution to provide for gubernatorial nomination, legislative confirmation and retention election of appellate judges in Tennessee. The resolution was calendared by an unusual early-session suspension of the rules, which usually require a week’s notice for legislation to be heard.

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GOP Leaders Outline Judicial Redistricting Plan

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and other top Republicans in the state Senate are launching an effort to cut, realign, and redistrict the 31 judicial districts for the first time since 1984, The Tennessean reports. Supporters say the state’s judicial map is outdated and riddled with political inconsistencies, including too many judges in some districts and too few in others. Proponents say the new plan could save taxpayer money and rationalize the system by combining communities with similar needs into the same district. Others hope the redistricting plan is not a political move to shift the balance of Tennessee courts.

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Haslam Speech Lays Out Budget, Policy Priorities

Governor Bill Haslam laid out a budget proposal last night designed to address rising costs in health care and education, build up the state’s emergency fund and give state workers a modest pay raise. It also calls for eliminating 30 administrators at the Department of Children’s Services, while adding caseworkers and increasing requirements for those positions, in response to ongoing criticism of the department. Also included was $1.5 million to expand the state’s drug courts. With regard to big issues such as workers compensation reform, school vouchers and Medicaid expansion, remarks were “light on details,” according to one source. However, House Speaker Beth Harwell said she appreciated that the governor left room for lawmakers to put their stamp on his priorities. WPLN has a wrap up. Knoxnews has the text of the speech.

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Haslam Delivers State of the State Address Tonight

Governor Bill Haslam will deliver his State of the State Address this evening before the General Assembly in Nashville, and is expected to unveil a $30 billion budget proposal that will include details about a new school voucher program and funding for state building projects, including new construction on college and university campuses. Tomorrow, the governor hits the road to build support for the initiatives with stops scheduled in Franklin, Memphis, Chattanooga and Blountville. Get a preview of the speech in The Commercial Appeal. At 6 p.m. Central, watch the speech live online.

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New App Connects Users to General Assembly

A mobile app featuring contact information for the 108th Tennessee General Assembly is now available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices, allowing Tennesseans to connect with their legislators and search staff and committee information for all lawmakers. The $4.99 app was developed by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and Bass Berry & Sims PLC. It can be found by searching for the Tennessee General Assembly in the Apple App Store or Google PLAY Marketplace. The Murfreesboro Post reports.

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DAs Release Legislative Agenda

The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference will push an aggressive legislative agenda during the upcoming session, the Leaf-Chronicle reports, including proposed law changes that would facilitate prosecution of serial child sexual abusers, and increase sentences for aggravated child neglect and the most serious attempted first-degree murder cases. Other legislative priorities include changing current law to clearly establish that criminal proceedings can be initiated against defendants who are identified through DNA profiles even if their actual identities are not known at the time the charges are filed; implementing legislation that would allow for more effective prosecution of selling synthetic drugs; changing the law to facilitate the prosecution of prescription drug trafficking; and adding prosecutorial staff in areas with heavy case loads.

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Kelsey Files Bill to Keep Online Comments Anonymous

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, has filed a bill, SB106, to protect the identities of people who post comments on online news articles without using their real names, The Commercial Appeal reports. Saying his bill would "safeguard the free and open exchange of ideas," Kelsey proposes adding a new provision to Tennessee's "shield law," which protects newsgatherers from having to disclose the identities of confidential news sources, with some exceptions. Kelsey said he filed the bill after attorneys for the Shelby County Commission filed a subpoena in federal court asking for the identities of all online commenters on The Commercial Appeal's articles about the push to create new municipal school districts in the Memphis suburbs.

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Golden Appointed to Judicial Nominating Commission

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, on Thursday appointed David A. Golden of Hawkins County to the Judicial Nominating Commission, the Chattanoogan reports. Golden, one of those recommended for the post by the Tennessee Bar Association, will fill the vacancy left by the retirement of commission member Theresa Lee. Golden joined Eastman Chemical Company in 1995 as an attorney, eventually rising to the position of vice president, associate general counsel and corporate secretary.

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