News

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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Tennessee Gains National Attention in GOP Primary

Tennessee is “now one of the biggest hubs for GOP political activity in the country,” according to Politico. The state’s large amount of delegates available (58) in the upcoming March primary and expansive media markets are gaining Republican attention in the primary season. “I’m trying to remember the last time we were seeing this much attention in a Republican primary, this many people paying attention to Tennessee and Southern states,” said Tre Hargett, the secretary of state. “I can’t think of a time.”

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New Law Allows Tennesseans to Request Security Freezes

Tennesseans can now request a security freeze on persons under 16 or who are declared legally incapacitated that will prohibit consumer reporting agencies TransUnion, Experian and Equifax from releasing their credit report. WATE reports that under the new law, the requestor can request the freeze online and must provide valid proof of identification of themselves and the protected consumer.

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Lawmakers' HR Policy Needed, Experts Say

Experts tell The Tennessean that the state legislature needs a human resources system to hold lawmakers accountable. HR officials who work with lawmakers have no power when it comes to discipline, instead lawmakers’ colleagues are responsible for action. “You have more likelihood that somebody could abuse those systems because there is not a strict course of accountability to keep that in check,” said Allison Duke, associate dean of Lipscomb University’s graduate business program. 

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Court Adopts Proposed Rule Amendments; Packages Await Legislative OK

The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted proposed amendments to the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules of Criminal Procedure and Rules of Juvenile Practice. The amendments are set to become effective July 1, 2016, but must first win approval by resolutions of the General Assembly.

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Tennessee Will Not Challenge EPA's New Carbon Limits

Attorney General Herbert Slatery III announced last week that the state will not join in a legal challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon restrictions on power plants. State attorneys in 27 states are suing the Obama administration over the limits, claiming the EPA overstepped its authority. The Times Free Press reports Tennessee Valley Authority, the state’s primary power provider, has already taken most of the steps required to meet the new carbon controls and plans to shut down more than half of its 59 coal-fired generators. Some state Republican lawmakers are urging Slatery to reconsider joining the legal challenge and say that the limits will cause increases in power rates.

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State Sues Chevron, Accuses Company of 'Double Recovery'

Attorney General Herbert Slatery III filed a lawsuit against Chevron, accusing the petroleum company of a 30-year "prolonged and costly scheme" to fraudulently siphon more than $18 million from a cleanup fund. The fund receives four-tenths of a penny per gallon purchased by Tennesseans at the pump and reimburses tank owners for expenses during spill cleanups. The Tennessean reports that the lawsuit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, alleges Chevron and its subsidiaries engaged in "double recovery" by using the funds to pay for leaks and spills at more than 100 Tennessee gas stations while having private insurance also pay cleanup costs.

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Bill Would Ban Guns on Drones

A bill filed by Tennessee State Rep. Daniel Byrd, R-Waynesboro, would make it illegal for a private citizen to attach a gun, rocket launcher or any other similar weapon to a drone. The prohibitions do not apply to law enforcement, The Tennessean reports. "It is an offense for any person, other than a state, federal, or local law enforcement agency, to knowingly attach or affix a weapon to an unmanned aircraft or to use an unmanned aircraft that the person knows has a weapon attached or affixed to it," the bill states.

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Two Lawsuits Challenge State's Abortion Measure

Williamson County Chancery Court Judge Michael Binkley announced that he will make a “speedy” decision about whether votes for and against abortion measure Amendment 1 in November 2014 were counted correctly, The Tennessean reports. A federal lawsuit filed by eight voters after the election is also challenging the method state election officials used to count the measure’s votes. The amendment, approved by 53 percent of the vote, adds these words to Tennessee’s constitution: "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion."

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Application of 'Death with Dignity' Law Circumstantial

The Tennessean examines the application of the state’s Right to Natural Death Act, stating the act was never intended to allow terminally ill patients to ask their physician for medication that would end their life. The act says that Tennesseans can “accept, refuse, withdraw from, or otherwise control decisions relating to the rendering of the person's own medical care, specifically including palliative care and the use of extraordinary procedures and treatment.” Attorney John Jay Hooker, whose death with dignity appeal was denied by the state’s Supreme Court, argues the state’s Constitution already allows residents to choose assisted suicide. "What's the difference between the doctor taking you off the essential ingredients to live and giving you some medicine that will speed up your death?" Hooker said. The Tennessean announced yesterday that Hooker has been named the 2015 Tennessean of the Year in recognition of his work fighting for more than 20 years for the constitutional rights of Tennesseans.

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Rep. Armstrong Resigned in June from Leadership Position

State Rep. Joe Armstrong announced publicly last week that he quietly "stepped down" from his minority leader pro tempore position in June, after being indicted that same month on federal fraud and tax evasion charges, the Associated Press reports. Armstrong, D-Knoxville, pleaded not guilty to the charges in connection to an increase in the state's cigarette tax. "At this point, the position is still open for me after I'm vindicated to come back," Armstrong said.

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Last Meeting of House Ethics Committee Was in 2010

The House Ethics Committee has not met since the 106th General Assembly, which convened in 2009 and 2010, according to committee attorney Doug Himes. Its meetings are driven by when there is a complaint, and he says since it hasn't received a complaint in at least five years that's why it hasn't met. "There haven't been regular meetings, because of the fact that we haven't had any complaints," Himes told The Tennessean. He said there have been less than 10 complaints since 2003 and none have been deemed credible or substantiated by the committee.

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Judge: Student ID Cards Cannot be Used at Polls

A ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger upheld Tennessee's voter ID law prohibiting the use of student identification cards at the polls, The Tennessean reports. Judge Trauger granted the state’s request to dismiss the case brought by students in March. "Under the Tennessee Voter ID Law, everyone is required to obtain some form of acceptable photo identification in order to vote," Trauger wrote in the memo. "Students, like everyone else, can select among a state-issued driver license, a United States passport, or the free, state-issued non-driver identification card. … It does not automatically follow that not allowing them to use their student identification cards imposes a severe burden or otherwise abridges their right to vote."

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Ethical Campaign Courses Online

Ethical campaign courses are now available online from the Tennessee Bar Association. The TBA CLE programs offer guidance for state and local lawmakers, judges, candidates for executive, judicial or legislative positions, and campaign chairs and their counsel. Topics include finance compliance, election law and ethics.

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State Denies Metro's Employment and Wage Records Requests

The Tennessean reports the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development denied two records requests by Metro Nashville officials for wage and employment data. Metro officials are seeking the information for use in its plans to create a new affordable housing policy. State attorneys argue that the data is confidential information that state labor workers cannot disclose under federal law. “We’re trying to create affordable housing where the jobs are, and for us to really understand where the jobs are, we need the most up-to-date data. And they’re not willing to share that data with us,” Metro Planning Department Executive Director Doug Sloan said.

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Lawmakers Urge Scalia to Recuse Himself from Case

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., are calling for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to recuse himself from Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, an affirmative action case. Justice Scalia was accused of being racist after comments he made during oral arguments. "I think he should be held accountable," Grayson said. "We have to understand that this is a government of laws, not of men, and we need to have unbiased justice." Read more from KUTV.

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Pennsylvania High Court Says Governor Can Delay Executions

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the governor's constitutional authority to postpone executions in the state, The Associated Press reports. Gov. Tom Wolf issued the moratorium after taking office last January, saying the death penalty system was "riddled with flaws, making it error prone, expensive and anything but infallible." Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams challenged Wolf’s decision. "We extend our condolences to the victims of these horrendous crimes, who will not soon see the justice that was imposed by the jury and upheld by the courts," Williams said.

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Court Adopts Updates to Rule Governing Licensing of Attorneys

Out-of-state lawyers received an early Christmas present from the Tennessee Supreme Court when the Court today adopted new rules allowing practice pending admission for lawyers who are seeking Tennessee admission and are licensed in other jurisdictions. The new provisions, part of an over-all rewrite of the admissions rules in Tennessee, were largely backed by the TBA and Tennessee Board of Law Examiners.

The spouses of active-duty service members stationed in Tennessee also have a new pathway to a temporary license while their spouses are based in Tennessee. The two-year temporary military spouse license is subject to revocation if the military spouse relocates.

The rule change on practice pending admission is by far the most sweeping of the changes and could effect hundreds of lawyers who are licensed in other jurisdictions and have practiced for at least five years and seek a “comity” admission. Interpretations of a 2011 change in the rule had severely restricted practice pending admission. Such admissions will still require that the lawyer “associate” with a lawyer admitted in Tennessee during the one-year permission to provide legal services.  

The revised rule also:
• Clarifies various ways in which legal services can be provided including by fully licensed lawyers, by lawyers granted permission to engage in special or limited practice and through temporary practice.
• Permits for the first time the TBLE to permit lawyers with degrees from schools not accredited with the ABA in other U.S. jurisdictions and who have five years in practice to sit for the bar exam.
• Establishes a single deadline for future applications to sit for the exam of May 20 and Dec. 20.
• Eliminates negotiable instruments and bulk transfers from required exam topics.
• Establishes a new amnesty period for in-house counsel registration through July 1, 2016.
• Requires that applicants who attended law schools in foreign countries obtain an onsite LLM taught in English at an ABA accredited or Tennessee approved law school.

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