News

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.”

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

Kansas, Penn. Consider How They Choose Judges

The Kansas Senate plans to vote next week on a proposed constitutional amendment to end the state’s merit-based system for selecting Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court judges, according to Gavelgrab.com and the election debate is heating up in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers in that state have previously tried and failed to amend the state’s system of judicial elections. Now, with suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin facing trial for corruption charges, legislators are again proposing to stop electing judges.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

AOC Report Pans Statewide Veterans Court System

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, last year proposed legislation to set up a statewide framework for veterans’ treatment courts, which would operate much like drug courts. During consideration, the bill was amended to instead call for a study of the matter by the Administrative Office of the Courts. The recently released report is far from supportive of the idea, finding that establishing a statewide system in 2013 is “neither necessary or preferable,” Knoxnews.com reports. Instead, the AOC maintains that the “most effective and cost-efficient method of assisting … [veterans] is to permit each judicial district to retain the discretion to address this issue after considering available resources and the needs of the relevant population."

read more »

State Rep. Pleads Guilty to DUI, Gun Charges

State Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, pleaded guilty today to DUI and gun-possession charges stemming from a 2011 traffic stop in Nashville, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. Todd wills serve 40 hours in jail and perform 24 hours of community service. He was also fined $350 and lost his right to carry his gun during a year of probation, among other terms of his conviction.

read more »

Judicial Redistricting May Be on Legislature’s Docket

Tennessee’s judicial districts have not been redrawn since 1984 and some powerful voices in the General Assembly are saying it is time to rework the borders to reflect changes in the state’s population, according to TN Report. “Rural counties have become suburban counties, and suburban counties now wrestle with issues similar to urban counties,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a statement. “Put simply, our state is a dramatically different place than it was when the last redistricting occurred. This naturally results in inefficiency and misallocation of resources.” Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, the new chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, which likely would handle the task, said the issue is “worthy of consideration.” The TBA has obtained a draft map and talking points supporting its proposed changes. Both were circulated last fall.

read more »

Ramsey Looks at Alternatives to Limits on Bills

While members of the state House spent much of their first week in session wrangling over a new cap on how many bills each member can propose, Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is developing a plan of his own to cut down on the volume of bills, WPLN reports. Saying that the filing cap is not his preferred approach, Ramsey instead is considering dropping the deadline for filing bills. His rationale? Legislation would be higher quality if there’s no rush to file, duplication would be reduced as members see what others have drafted and lawmakers would be able to respond to current events that take place throughout the session.

read more »

House Caps Bills at 15 Per Member

The House of Representatives voted today to cap at 15 the number of bills each member can introduce. House Speaker Beth Harwell originally had proposed a limit of 10. Democrats criticized the move calling it censorship. In other news, the House also voted for a rule supported by Harwell barring members from asking others to cast votes for them when they are absent. The Tennessean reports.

read more »

Kyle Asks GOP to Open Meetings

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis is calling on Republicans to make the chamber subject to open government laws, saying he wants to see more transparency in the legislative branch. Currently, the legislature does not fall under open government laws that apply to other government agencies, and it cannot bind future General Assemblies to its rules. But Kyle said the chamber could at least adopt the open meetings laws for the two-year session that began this week. While some Republicans called the move political, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, agreed to take up the issue at an upcoming Rules Committee meeting, reports the Memphis Daily News.

read more »

Legislature Re-Elects Constitutional Officers

The General Assembly has unanimously re-elected Secretary of State Tre Hargett for a four-year term and Comptroller Justin Wilson and Treasurer David Lillard for two-year terms. Hargett is a former chairman of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and represented Bartlett in the state House from 1997 through 2006. Wilson is a Nashville tax attorney and former aide to Gov. Don Sundquist. Lillard, of Germantown, is a former member of the Shelby County Commission and a financial and tax attorney. All three were first elected in 2009. The Memphis Daily News has more.

read more »

New Senate Judiciary Chair Named, Among Others

Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey today removed Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, as head of the Judiciary Committee and replaced her with Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. Beavers told reporters she suspected that her efforts to ramp up accountability for judges might have played a role in the decision. "I think a lot of the judges really objected to us redoing their ethics," she told the Associated Press. Ramsey denied the move was in response to pressure from anyone saying, “We wanted to take a different direction.” The Memphis Daily News has the story. Other chairs also were named this week. See the list of all House chairs and Senate chairs at Knoxnews.com.

read more »

Tenn. Legislative Session Convenes

The 108th General Assembly convened Tuesday by re-electing House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville. The legislature has its largest freshman class in years, with 31 new members of the 132. The 99-member House has 23 new members, and the Senate has eight. Republicans rule both chambers with a supermajority of more than two-thirds of the membership in each house. Read more at the Commercial Appeal.

read more »

General Assembly to Convene Tuesday

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell says she’s ready to “fight for” rule changes she’s proposed to modify how the chamber does business. Considering those rules will be job number one when the General Assembly convenes Tuesday, she says. Harwell will first name a special rules committee, and within hours it could take up her suggestions, reports WPLN. At least one proposed rule, which limits each member to sponsoring just 10 bills, has resulted in grumbling among lawmakers and lobbyists. Harwell says it will make the House run more efficiently. Read more about the rules changes being considered and about the new faces in the legislature this session.

read more »