News

House Sponsor Pulls 'Bathroom Bill'

Rep. Susan Lynn delayed action on the transgender “bathroom bill” in the House until next year, citing the purpose of studying it further. The measure (HB2414), sponsored by the Mt. Juliet Republican, would have required students in public schools and universities to use bathrooms of the sex on their birth certificates. "I have learned that our school districts are largely following what the bill says," she told The Tennessean

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Haslam Vetoes Bible Bill, Cites Personal Feelings

Gov. Bill Haslam today vetoed a bill (SB1108 / HB0615) that would have made the Bible the official book of Tennessee, WSMV reports. “In addition to the constitutional issues with the bill, my personal feeling is that this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text,” Haslam wrote. The legislature still has time to overturn the veto. The Tennessean earlier this week highlighted potential lawsuits that could come if the measure is made into law. 

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Repeal of 'Spiritual Treatment' Exemption Heads to Haslam

The state House today approved a bill repealing the “spiritual treatment” exemption to Tennessee’s child abuse and neglect statute, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The exemption – approved in 1994 – was intended to shield parents and others from child abuse charges if a child "is being provided treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone” in lieu of medical treatment. The bill (SB1761 / HB2040) won unanimous Senate approval in March. The measure now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is expected to sign it into law. 

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Lawsuits Loom as Haslam Considers Bible Bill

The Tennessean explores the potential lawsuits that Tennessee could face if Gov. Bill Haslam signs off on the Bible as the state’s official book. A handful of legal organizations on either side of the debate have said they will consider legal action if the measure (SB1108 / HB0615) is enacted. “If Tennessee becomes the first state in the nation to recognize the Bible as its official book, it also could become the first state in the U.S. to be sued for it,” the author writes. Haslam has until April 19 to make a decision on the measure. 

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House, Senate Committees Approve Dyer for Judicial Post

J. Ross Dyer, nominated by Gov. Bill Haslam for the Court of Criminal Appeals to fill the vacancy left by state Supreme Court Justice Roger Page, was affirmatively recommend by the House Judicial Ad Hoc Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee today. Action could come as early as Thursday to confirm Dyer in a Joint Session of House and Senate.

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Harwell Announces New Health Care Task Force

Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, today announced the creation of a legislative task force to focus on Tennessee's options for expanding health coverage. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the announcement comes after the failure of the Haslam’s alternative Medicaid expansion plan, “Insure Tennessee,” last year. The task force will be chaired by Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and the group will complete its work by June. 

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Bill Permitting Counselors to Deny Service Heads to Haslam

A bill that would allow Tennessee mental health therapists to deny care for patients based on the counselors’ personal principles is now on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam. The state Senate approved the measure (SB1556) in February and yesterday signed off on a language change that dropped religious beliefs and instead added the broader language of “principles.” The House approved the measure earlier this month. Haslam has said he wants to see the final version before deciding whether to sign it into law, The Associated Press reports

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AG: Bathroom Bill Could Eliminate Title IX Funding

An opinion issued today by Attorney General Herbert Slatery said the Republican-backed transgender bathroom bill could cost the state federal education funding, The Associated Press reports. The measure (HB2414) would require students in public grade schools and universities to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their sex as it appears on their birth certificates. “If only because the U.S. Department of Education, which is charged with enforcing Title IX, interprets Title IX to require that transgender students be given access to restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their 'gender identity' instead of their anatomical gender," Slatery wrote. Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, and Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, requested the opinion.

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Sexual Harassment Panel Issues Final Report

A panel tasked with updating and improving the legislature’s sexual harassment policy yesterday sent its final recommendations to House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville. Suggestions in the report include that the legislature maintain annual statistics on the number of sexual harassment complaints the legislature receives and issue a report if a violation of the policy has occurred, The Tennessean reports. The report comes on the heels of an investigation by Attorney General Herbert Slatery that revealed Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, had “been involved in a pattern of inappropriate behavior."

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Senate, House Pass Bill on Continuing 6-Month Garnishments

Continuing six-month garnishments will now reach individuals who are paid by commission or otherwise, and will be treated as employer garnishments under TBA-sponsored legislation. The measure – SB1969 / HB1775 by Shelbyville Republicans Sen. Jim Tracy and Rep. Pat Marsh – as amended today passed the Senate with a 32-0 vote and the House with a vote of 91-0. Read the amendment that makes the bill.

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Report Says Crenshaw Vote Will Come Monday

The U.S. Senate today reached an agreement to vote on confirmation of Waverly Crenshaw as a U.S. District Court judge in Tennessee's Middle District, according to a post from Knoxville News Sentinel Washington reporter Michael Collins. Crenshaw was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2015 and was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee eight months ago. 

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Harwell Moving Durham's Office to 'Protect All Parties'

State Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, will be moved to offices away from the Capitol complex as an investigation into alleged inappropriate behavior continues, House Speaker Beth Harwell announced today. Durham’s access to committee rooms and the House chamber will be limited to when meetings are taking place, the Nashville Post reports. "Although the Attorney General's investigation is ongoing," Harwell, R-Nashville, said, "I feel compelled to take proactive steps to protect all parties concerned until the conclusion of the investigation." The move comes as Attorney General Herbert Slatery announced he found Durham’s “alleged behavior may pose a continuing risk to unsuspecting women" at the Capitol complex. 

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Bill Permitting Video Testimony Fails in House Committee

A bill, which as amended would have permitted live video transmission of testimony in criminal cases, failed to move forward today. The measure (HB0400) by Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer, was placed on the summer study calendar of the House Criminal Justice Committee. The TBA opposed the measure on the grounds that it contravened the Confrontation Clause of the Tennessee Constitution, which grants the accused the right to "face to face" confrontation. Nathan Ridley, representing the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, testified against the legislation.

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House Approves Bill That Permits Counselors to Deny Service on Religious Grounds

The Associated Press reports a bill that would allow counselors to turn away patients based on their personal beliefs has passed in the state House. The Senate already approved the measure (SB1556 / HB1840), but must approve an amendment adopted by the House before the bill can head to Gov. Bill Haslam. The American Counseling Association has condemned the measure.

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AG: Fantasy Sports Are 'Illegal Gambling' in Tennessee

An opinion released today from Attorney General Hebert Slatery said all fantasy sports contests amount to “illegal gambling” in Tennessee. “The participants do not control how selected athletes perform in actuality on a given day …Thus, absent legislation specifically exempting fantasy sports contests from the definition of 'gambling,' these contests constitute illegal gambling under Tennessee law,” Slatery writes. The Tennessean reports the opinion was requested by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.

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Challenge to Abortion Amendment Vote in Court Today

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp today said he will rule as soon as possible in a case challenging the way the state tabulated votes for a 2014 constitutional amendment, which clarified the state does not protect abortion. Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter, arguing for the state, said there is no proof that voters participated in a voting scheme that asked voters to “double your vote” by skipping the governor’s race and approving Amendment 1. Amendments must be passed by “a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor.” Nashville attorney Bill Harbison, who is representing the plaintiffs, said the state is incorrectly interpreting the way the amendment votes should be counted. Read more from The Associated Press

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Bill Altering DUI, Drug Penalties Heads to Governor's Desk

The bill that would lower the legal penalties for repeated drug possession and increase penalties for repeat DUI offenders is now headed to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk. The Tennessean reports the state Senate yesterday approved the measure (HB 1478) with a 32-0 vote after the House signed off on it last week. 

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State Senate, House Sign Off on Bible as State Book

The state Senate on Monday voted to make the Holy Bible the state’s official book by a 19-8 margin, The Tennessean reports. The state House approved the measure (SB1108 / HB0615) last year, and now the speakers of the House and Senate must sign off on the legislation before it can officially head to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk. A spokesperson for Gov. Haslam today said the "governor has constitutional questions and personal reservations about this legislation," the Associated Press reports

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Record Number of Women Seek GOP-Held Seats in Legislature

The Tennessean reports at least 23 women from across the state are running as Democrats in hopes of entering the male-dominated Tennessee legislature. Most of the women, whose ages range from 28 to 77, are running for public office for the first time. Sydney Rogers is running for the seat of House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and communications professional Holly McCall is seeking the seat of Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin.

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Sen. Dickerson Writes About Evidence Preservation Bill

Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville wrote an op-ed for The Tennessean about his bill, SB 2342, which would preserve biologic evidence until the defendant is executed, dies or is released from prison. “…The cost and effort to maintain biologic evidence is minimal when compared with our duty to ensure that our criminal justice system provides every possible safeguard when dealing with issues of life and death," he writes. 

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Legal Challenge to Abortion Measure in Court Tomorrow

A challenge to the 2014-voter-approved abortion measure will be heard tomorrow in court. Amendment 1, 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." The plaintiffs -- including Planned Parenthood of Middle & Eastern Tennessee -- are asking the federal court to order sate election officials to recount the vote, the Tennessean reports.

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Democrat Sydney Rogers to Challenge Harwell

Sydney Rogers, executive director of Alignment Nashville, announced she will run as a Democrat to challenge House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, for her seat. “Representative Harwell is in a position to make a difference, and she has become the protector of the status quo,” said Rogers, who is also an administrator at Nashville State Community College. The Tennessean reports Rogers will run for the seat in House District 56, which contains some of Davidson County’s most conservative neighborhoods.

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No Update on Durham Investigation

The Tennessean reports it is unclear if Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s investigation into Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, will be concluded by the end of the legislative session in April. Several lawmakers said they have not received updates from Slatery on the investigation. The probe was launched following allegations of inappropriate behavior and misconduct against Durham.

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House Approves Changes to Drug, DUI Penalties

The state House yesterday approved a measure (HB 1478) that would lower the legal penalties for repeated drug possession, WPLN reports. Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. William Lambert, R-Cottontown, drug possession would become a misdemeanor. The legislation also heightens the penalties for driving drunk in an effort to make people with numerous DUIs serve more time behind bars. The state Senate could vote on the proposal next week.

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178 Apply to Lead Davidson County Election Commission

The Tennessean reports 178 people have applied to be Nashville’s next election administrator. Kent Wall, who currently holds the position, announced in January that he will retire after this month. The Davidson County Election Commission named Deputy Election Administrator Joan Nixon as interim administrator.

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