News

Haslam Budget Plan: Pay Back Highway Fund, Spend Surplus Wisely

Gov. Bill Haslam plans to pay back $260 million the state borrowed from its highway fund during the recession and present plans for spending a half-billion dollar revenue surplus during his State of the State Address on Monday, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. "Our object in this budget will be to spend those dollars on places where the state has either underinvested in the past — and I would say education is at the top of that list,” Haslam said. 

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Haslam Addresses Clearing Open Records Requests

Gov. Bill Haslam has not clarified whether his upcoming budget will include new positions to help clear hundreds of open records requests. However, the Republican governor said he did recognize the need to clear the backlog. Comptroller Justin Wilson requested nearly $265,000 in the budget to help with the increasing requests for information, the Associated Press reports.

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Bill Would Allow Gun Owners to Sue Business Owners

“How do we reconcile one’s right to bear arms with another’s right to govern his or her property?” It’s a question The Trace explores in an article about a Tennessee bill that would hold business owners liable for injuries suffered by concealed permit holders who are not allowed to bring firearms onto the premises. Bill sponsor Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, argues, “If you deny me the chance to protect myself, you’re assuming the responsibility to protect me.”

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Harwell Seeks AG Investigation of Durham

House Speaker Beth Harwell asked state Attorney General Herbert Slatery III to investigate Rep. Jeremy Durham following allegations that Durham had an affair with a former representative. "Additionally, I have asked (the Attorney General) to issue a report with their findings. If and when an expulsion resolution comes before the House of Representatives, the report could be part of that process," Harwell, R-Nashville, said. Harwell's request comes after Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey earlier today claimed Durham, R-Franklin, had an affair with an unnamed representative and then forced that representative to resign. Three state representatives have resigned in the last year: Rep. Mike Harrison, Rep. Ryan Haynes and Rep. Leigh Wilburn. Read more from the Nashville Post.

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Haslam Signs Judicial Confirmation into Law

Judicial confirmation legislation implementing the 2014 Amendment to the Tennessee Constitution was signed into law Jan. 28 by Gov. Bill Haslam. Earlier that day, the House of Representatives adopted the Conference Committee report for SB1, HB142 with a vote of 86-5 completing the last of the needed legislative actions. Read the full process.

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Senate Approves Judicial Confirmation Plan

A proposed judicial confirmation plan jumped another hurdle today. The Senate unanimously adopted the Conference Committee on Judicial Confirmation’s report for SB1, HB142. The House will take it up on its message calendar during tomorrow morning's floor session. 

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Challenge to State Abortion Laws on Hold

The outcome of a Texas case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging abortion laws will impact a legal challenge in Tennessee. The operators of three Tennessee abortion clinics filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s abortion laws, including a 2015 requirement that clinics performing 50 or more surgical abortions each year be regulated as ambulatory surgical care centers. U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp granted a temporary hold on the proceedings until the Supreme Court case is resolved. "The standards expected to be addressed by the Supreme Court will be critical for developing and evaluating the relevant evidence in this case," lawyers for the state and the clinics noted in their joint request for the halt. Read more from The Tennessean.

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Supreme Court Ruling on Juveniles Could Impact Columbia Case

U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that juveniles serving life sentences for murder must be considered for parole may impact a Columbia case. Charles Lowe-Kelley was sentenced to two consecutive life terms when he was a teenager for the shooting deaths of two people. Thomas Hutto, Kelley's attorney, argues that the two terms are equal to life without parole because Kelley was a juvenile when sentenced. “I think (Monday’s ruling) gives a lot of good ammunition for an appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Courts,” Hutto said. Read more from The Daily Herald

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Rep. Durham Leaves GOP Caucus

Republican House members admitted today that they knew about the allegations of inappropriate behavior by State Rep. Jeremy Durham for months, The Tennessean reports. “I was approached separately by two different women that work around the Legislature in some capacity who alleged to have had inappropriate communications from Rep. Durham,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said. Durham, R-Franklin, today announced that he will resign from the House GOP caucus.  

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New Committee Will Review Sexual Harassment Policy

House Speaker Beth Harwell is creating an independent committee to review the legislature’s 19-year-old sexual harassment policy. Harwell, R-Nashville, also announced that as a precautionary measure, interns will not be permitted to attend receptions or events related to the legislature. The announcement comes on the heels of The Tennessean investigation that revealed Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, sent inappropriate text messages to women who worked in the statehouse. GOP leaders have come under fire from Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini, who today called for Harwell and House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Frankin, to resign from their leadership positions. The Tennessean reports Mancini claims the pair created a “toxic workplace."

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Outspoken Attorney, Politician John Jay Hooker Dies at 85

Nashville attorney and politician John Jay Hooker died Sunday morning. He was 85. Hooker, previously a partner at the firm of Hooker, Hooker and Willis, ran for various political offices in Tennessee, including governor. After being diagnosed with stage four melanoma in January 2015, Hooker began urging Tennessee lawmakers to adopt “death with dignity” legislation. “John Jay Hooker Jr.’s remarkable personality spread a bright light across Tennessee government and politics for a half century,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. “He had friends everywhere.” Funeral announcements have not been announced yet. Read more from The Tennessean.

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Bill Would Allow Legislature to Appoint Solicitor General

A bill (HB2143) proposed by House Republican Caucus Chair Glen Casada would allow the General Assembly to appoint the state’s solicitor general. The position, currently held by Andrée Blumstein, is appointed by the state attorney general. “My concern is the judiciary interjects itself too much into the doings of the legislature,” Casada, R-Franklin, said. “And having a legislature-appointed solicitor general would provide more balance." Read more from Humphrey on the Hill

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GOP Leaders Call for Rep. Durham to Resign

Tennessee House Republican Chair Ryan Haynes and House Speaker Beth Harwell are asking Rep. Jeremy Durham to resign from the state legislature, The Tennessean reports. Durham, R-Franklin, resigned from his House leadership position Sunday afternoon, amidst a growing controversy over sexual harassment charges related to inappropriate text messages.

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State Officials Volunteer to Fill Up State Food Banks

Members of the Tennessee Supreme Court joined lawmakers and other state officials last Wednesday for a community service project aimed at filling up the state’s five food banks. The volunteers packed 50,000 meals in 90 minutes at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville. "They call it food insecurity, but I don't mince words: It's hunger,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who organized the event. “We can't abide that in Tennessee, and so we're trying to help people help themselves." Read more from The Commercial Appeal.

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Bill Would Keep Expert Compensation Private

Republican lawmakers and the Tennessee Medical Association proposed a bill that would halt public release of compensation given to experts who testify, The Tennessean reports. "If attorneys are able to continue accessing and disclosing doctors’ personal financial information, which has no relevance on a trial, it will dissuade more physicians from testifying in important issues," said Dave Chaney, a spokesman for the TMA. The TBA opposes the bill because rules that deal with court procedure should be handled by an existing rulemaking commission, TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur told The Tennessean.

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Guns, Abortion Included in Gov. Haslam's 2016 Agenda

Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2016 legislative agenda includes public safety and issues related to handguns and abortion. The Republican governor also will introduce the Fetal Remains Act, which would require more reporting of the disposition of fetal remains and establish a mandatory assessment process for surgical treatment centers that annually perform more than 50 abortions. “The Fetal Remains Act strengthens accountability and transparency for surgery centers performing abortions,” Haslam said. The Tennessean also reports Haslam will also attempt to lower the cost of obtaining a handgun permit.

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Lawsuit Challenges Validity of Marriage Licenses

A lawsuit filed today by former state Sen. David Fowler on behalf of five Williamson County residents questions whether Tennessee law relative to the licensing of marriages is valid and enforceable following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges. At a Capitol press conference, Fowler asked, "How does anyone, regardless of the sexes of the parties, get a valid marriage license pursuant to an invalid law?" The lawsuit names Williamson County Clerk Elaine Anderson as the defendant and asks her to stop issuing marriage licenses until the lawsuit is resolved, The Tennessean reports. The lawsuit comes one day after the House Civil Justice subcommittee killed the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act

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10th Justice? Why Judge Judy of Course

Nearly 10 percent of college graduates surveyed in a poll believe Judith Sheindlin, known as “Judge Judy” on her television show, serves on the U.S. Supreme Court. The poll, conducted by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, also found that 60 percent of college graduates could not correctly identify a requirement for ratifying a constitutional amendment. Results from the poll are detailed by the council in "A Crisis in Civic Education." Read more from CNN.

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Judicial Confirmation Committee Adopts New Proposal

The Conference Committee on Judicial Confirmation for SB1/HB 142 today adopted a report supporting a newly developed proposal that embodies a confirmation process that the TBA supports. The report will go before the House and Senate next week. Under the proposal, the House and Senate will meet in a joint session and a majority yes vote of the combined House and Senate is needed to confirm an appointee. An appointee may be rejected if there is a majority of no votes cast or if one body votes to reject the appointee by a two-thirds vote. Read more from the Nashville Post

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Fewer Lawyers Participating in Congress

The ABA Journal highlights a new paper, "The Declining Dominance of Lawyers in U.S. Federal Politics," which argues that fewer lawyers are participating in Congress because they are being “squeezed out” by those who have made politics a career. While nearly 80 percent of members of Congress were lawyers inthe mid-19th century, today that number is less than 40 percent. Nick Robinson, a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School and author of the study, also says that financial incentives of corporate law practice may keep lawyers in private practice. 

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Committee Narrows Options for Judicial Confirmations

The Conference Committee on Judicial Confirmation reviewed SB1, HB142 twice today and narrowed the options to three: (1) both chambers would need to reject an appointment for it to fail; (2) one chamber could cause an appointment to fail by voting against it; and (3) 100 votes would be needed from the 132-member General Assembly (House and Senate). The concern remains that one chamber could have more power than the other to confirm or reject an appointee. The General Assembly has 60 days to act on a gubernatorial nomination before it becomes final by default. The conference committee will meet Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. to continue negotiations.

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TMA Seeks Amendment to Protect Damage Caps

The Tennessee Medical Association is asking for a constitutional amendment that protects the General Assembly's ability to set caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, The Commercial Appeal reports. The proposed legislation comes after a Chattanooga judge last year ruled Tennessee’s cap is unconstitutional. TMA argues that the cap is necessary to keep good doctors in the state, but some attorneys argue the caps “infringe on the right of trial by jury.”

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Legislature Has Fewer Women, More Protestants Than Most

The Tennessee General Assembly has fewer women among its members compared to other state legislatures, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The review also found that 92 percent of Tennessee legislators are Protestant, compared to the national average of 38 percent Protestant. Read more from The Knoxville News Sentinel.

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Luncheon with Nebraska Senator to Discuss Death Penalty

The Tennessee Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty will host a luncheon with Nebraska state Sen. Colby Coash on Jan. 27 at noon at the Nashville City Center office of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis located at 511 Union Street. Sen. Coash, R-Lincoln, was a key figure in the repeal last year of Nebraska’s death penalty and will discuss why many state are questioning the alignment of their capital punishment systems with conservative values. The event is free and lunch is $11. Register by Jan. 25 to Amy Lawrence.

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Bill Would Establish Online Voter Registration

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, filed a bill Friday that would establish an online voter registration system in Tennessee, Nooga reports. Voters with an unexpired Tennessee driver’s license or personal ID card issued by the state government would be able to go to a state website to register to vote.

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