News

Judge Wants to Expand Juvenile Court to 25 Year Olds

Speaking before members of the Rotary Club of Memphis on Tuesday, Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael said he is behind a bill in the state legislature that would expand jurisdiction of the Shelby County Juvenile Court to those 25 years of age or younger. Currently, the court has jurisdiction over a child until he or she turns 19. Michael argued that the change would allow young adult offenders to stay in the juvenile justice system longer and receive needed treatment and rehabilitation, according to the Commercial Appeal.

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Opinion: Senate GOP Inaction Puts Judiciary in Crisis

Nashville appellate lawyer Daniel Horwitz writes in the Tennessean that the U.S. Senate’s “unprecedented inaction” on judicial nominees has thrown the American judicial system into crisis. Horwitz argues that “large swaths of the federal judiciary are simply missing – resulting in excessive delays, exploding dockets and inconsistent application of the law in different parts of the country.” Nearly one-third of federal court vacancies are designated “judicial emergencies,” which means filings exceed 600 per judge. 

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Dickson County CASA Holds First Awards Dinner

CASA of Dickson County recently held its inaugural Champions for Children Awards Dinner and recognized state Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, for her contributions to local children in need, the Tennessean reports. The group also announced a new community service award that will be presented next year. Board chair and TBA Government Relations Committee Chair Meagan Frazier Grosvenor addressed attendees, sharing how her experience serving on the local Foster Care Review Board led her and several colleagues to establish a CASA agency in the county. The group, which is in the final stages of formation, is looking for a full-time executive director.

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Georgia Congressman Takes on Music Licensing Fight

Georgia congressman Doug Collins is vowing a legislative response to the Department of Justice’s recent decision not to update music licensing consent decrees but instead enforce “100 percent licensing,” the Tennessean reports. Under that scheme, a songwriter and publisher may license a song no matter how small a percent ownership they have in the copyright. Many in the music industry fear the new opinion could threaten the practice of co-writing songs, curb the creative process and complicate royalty payouts. 

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Matlock to Challenge Harwell for Speaker Post

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock today told House Republican Caucus members that he will seek election as speaker for the 110th General Assembly. The move by the Lenoir City Republican sets up a contest with House Speaker Beth Harwell, who is expected to seek another term but has faced criticism recently from conservative members, Knoxnews reports.

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Democrats Reportedly Considering 3 Armstrong Alternatives

Three potential candidates have emerged to replace Rep. Joe Armstrong as the Democratic party’s House District 18 nominee, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Party members reportedly are looking to outgoing County Commissioner Sam McKenzie, City Councilman Dan Brown and community advocate Rick Staples as top candidates to replace Armstrong on the ballot. The party has called an Aug. 18 meeting to select a candidate. Armstrong, who had run unopposed in his primary race last week, was convicted Monday on a felony charge of filing a false income tax return, disqualifying him from seeking re-election.

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Armstrong Guilty on 1 Count, Party to Find New Candidate

Federal jurors found state Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, guilty of one felony count of filing a false income tax return today, while acquitting him of two other charges: conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and tax evasion. Jurors began deliberating Friday and resumed discussions today, the Tennessean reports. A felony conviction disqualifies individuals from seeking office, so the local Democratic party has until Sept. 29 to nominate a new candidate, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State. Armstrong was unopposed in Thursday’s primary.

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Todd's Lawyer Says Arrest Was a Stunt

State Rep. Curry Todd pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning in Shelby County General Sessions Court to a misdemeanor charge of stealing an opponent's campaign signs, but his lawyer questions the timing and handling of the arrest. The Commercial Appeal reports that his lawyer Ted Hansom said the arrest appeared to be "a calculated stunt to embarrass him on the eve of an election." A person working with opponent Mark Lovell's campaign videotaped Todd last month taking some of Lovell's signs from along a busy street. In a twist, Lovell, who filed the complaint, paid Todd's $100 bond.

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Democrats Call for Voter ID Law Changes

Seizing on recent federal court decisions that have struck down voter identification laws in several southern states, Tennessee Democrats today called for changes to state law. Citing decisions by federal judges in North Dakota, North Carolina and Texas – which have similar voter identification laws as Tennessee – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, said the tide is turning on such measures. He also pointed to circuit court decisions that have come from courts within the jurisdiction of the Sixth Circuit to argue the time has come to revamp Tennessee state law. Read more in the Tennessean.

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Early Voting Falls to Half of 2014 Levels

The state Division of Elections reported today that 281,278 Tennesseans voted early for Thursday’s election – only about half the early vote reported in 2014 and below the 2012 early turnout as well. Early voting ended this past Saturday. The reported statewide total includes 178,915 persons voting in Republican primaries and 89,534 voting in Democratic primaries. In 2014, early voting numbers totaled 564,733 with 354,226 Republicans and 164,939 Democrats going to the polls before election day. Humphrey on the Hill suggests some reasons why numbers may be down.

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Rep. Todd Charged With Campaign Sign Theft

Authorities say state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, has been arrested after failing to respond to requests to be interviewed by sheriff’s officials over accusations that he stole a rival’s campaign signs. Humphrey on the Hill reports that Todd was arrested on a charge of theft under $500. Law enforcement wanted to question the legislator after a video surfaced showing him removing signs belonging to his opponent Mark Lovell from alongside a road. Todd told media outlets that took the signs but he had permission from the property owner to remove them and place his own signs.

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Special Ouster Session Short on Signatures

The idea of calling a special session of the legislature to consider the ouster of state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, and possibly Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, appears to be losing steam, Humphrey on the Hill reports. As of Friday, only nine of the necessary 66 state House members had signed either of two submitted petitions. One petition would call for a special session to consider the expulsion of Durham. The second petition targets both Durham and Armstrong. House leaders have set a deadline of Aug. 5 for members to sign one or both of the resolutions.

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Haslam Not Involved in Durham Ouster Plans

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is renewing his call for state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, to resign, but says he will not interfere in the process for convening a special legislative session to oust him. Haslam told reporters today that he will leave it to lawmakers to decide when to call the special session, Humphrey on the Hill reports. The effort to expel Durham gained ground when reports surfaced that he would qualify for a state pension if not ousted. The Tennessean reports today that even if he is removed, he still will qualify for a lifetime of state health care benefits.

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Haslam Names Lawyer to Senior Policy Staff

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today that attorney Stephen Smith will join his office Aug. 2 as senior advisor for policy and strategy. Smith is currently the deputy commissioner for policy and external affairs at the Tennessee Department of Education, where he has been central to the administration’s push for accountability, teacher tenure reform, expansion of school choice, modernization of the teacher salary schedule and enhancement of the state’s funding formula for education. Smith replaces Will Cromer, who is now deputy director and chief of staff of TennCare.

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Harwell, 2 Others Receive Open Government Award

State House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and two other state lawmakers have been honored for their support of open government in Tennessee. The Tennessee Press Association awarded Harwell and Reps. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, and Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, its 2016 Open Government Award on Friday, Knoxnews reports. Harwell was honored for her “unprecedented policy of requiring committee chairs to give notice of unscheduled meetings” and for insisting the attorney general's report of Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, be made public. Ramsey and Sanderson were recognized for using their committees to give open-government bills a full hearing.

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House Leaders Propose Aug. 15 for Special Session, New Petition Adds Armstrong

House Republican leaders are proposing that a special session to consider the expulsion of Rep. Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin be held on Aug.15, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Two-thirds of the members of both chambers — 66 in the House and 22 in the Senate — are needed to convene a special session. Late today, Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, circulated his own petition for a special session that includes Durham and Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who is under federal indictment on fraud and tax evasion charges. The petition being circulated by Speaker Harwell only names Durham. The Tennessean has more on Casada's move.

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Daniel’s Challenger Files Police Report, Calls on Incumbent to Quit

State House candidate Steve Hall filed a police report Friday claiming he was assaulted by incumbent Knoxville Republican Rep. Martin Daniel, Knoxnews reports. This came a day after Daniel reportedly shoved the challenger during a confrontation that occurred during a radio broadcast. Knoxville police have assigned an investigator to the case. No charges have been filed. Hall also called on Daniel to suspend his re-election campaign.

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GOP Leaders Start Process for Special Durham Session

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and Republican Caucus Chair Glen Casada began circulating a formal petition today that would authorize the House to convene a special session and consider a resolution to expel Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, from his seat. Harwell announced yesterday that while she originally opposed a special session, she had changed her mind. Democratic leaders had called for a special session after a report from the Attorney General was released. The Tennessean reports that the session may also consider the removal of Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who was indicted last year on federal felony fraud and tax evasion charges.

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Democrats Call for Blocking Durham Pension

Tennessee House Democrats, who have been calling for a special session to expel Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, over allegations that he sexually harassed at least 22 women, are now trying to block him from receiving a lifetime pension. Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart said today that Durham will automatically qualify for a pension starting at $300 per month in November, even if he loses his primary next month, unless the legislature acts. Humphrey on the Hill has more.

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McConnell Renews Vow: Obama Will Not Fill Vacancy

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doubled down Tuesday on his pledge to block President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee from a confirmation hearing and vote this year, CQ Roll Call reports. “On that sad day when we lost Justice Scalia, I made [a] pledge that Obama would not fill his seat,” McConnell said yesterday from the stage of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. When it comes to picking a Scalia successor, McConnell said, “That honor will go to Donald Trump next year.”

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Obama: Failure to Vote on Nominee Undermines Democracy

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama says the U.S. Senate’s refusal to hold an up-or-down vote on his Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland “could weaken our most important institutions, erode public trust and undermine our democracy.” He also argues that subjecting nominees to “an endless cycle of political retaliation” leaves important legal questions unanswered and makes Americans more cynical about government. As of today, Garland has been waiting 125 days for a vote. He now ties Justice Louis Brandeis for the longest wait. Obama also used the editorial to call on the Senate to agree to terms for considering future nominees within a set period of time. The ABA Journal has more on the proposal.

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Mitchell: Frivolous Lawsuit Bill May Discourage Abuse Claims

Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, has announced that he is filing legislation to repeal a new law that was intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Mitchell argues that the law could be used to discourage sexual abuse claims. “Under this new law, should you sue the state and a state employee and lose, you could be forced to pay their attorney’s fees,” Mitchell said. “Not all lawsuits are successful, but that doesn’t mean that they are frivolous.”

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Criminal Justice Overhaul on Tap for September

The U.S. House of Representatives will take up six bills designed to overhaul the criminal justice system in September, Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday. The Wisconsin Republican says that both parties went too far on the criminal code in the 1990s. “We’ve learned that there are better ways to dealing with these problems than locking up someone for 20 or 30 years. You end up ruining their lives, ruining their families, hurting communities. And then when they try to reenter into society, they’re destitute,” Ryan told National Public Radio. Roll Call has more on the story.

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New Harassment Policy in Place for Officials, Staff

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has announced the immediate implementation of a new workplace harassment policy for the Tennessee General Assembly. The new policy expands the current focus on sexual harassment to include all workplace harassment and includes for the first time a transparency component, which will require that a public report be issued for any elected official or staff member found to be in violation of the policy. The new policy is the result of recommendations from a committee appointed by Harwell. Humphrey on the Hill has more from speaker's office and a link to the policy.

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Nashville Gender Equity Council Announced

Mayor Megan Barry introduced a new Council on Gender Equity at a press conference yesterday morning, revealing a 45-person group that will identify gender inequity problems and recommend solutions on a range of issues, including access to health and child care, economic opportunities and family services. The all-volunteer council will be chaired by DVL Seigenthaler head Ronald Roberts, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Members include Pat Shea, head of the YWCA; rock icon Jack White, who owns Third Man Records; Juvenile Judge Sheila Calloway; and Brenda Gadd, the TBA's public policy coordinator.

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