Government Affairs Update

Follow the TBA's efforts to influence federal and state policy as it fulfills one of the core missions of the association – advocacy for the profession and for our system of justice.

National Democrats Back Mackler in Senate Primary

U.S. Senate Democrats are wading into the open Tennessee Senate race, backing Nashville attorney James Mackler over other announced Democrats, the Nashville Post reports. The endorsement from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee favors Mackler over Marquita Bradshaw, a Memphis environmentalist, and Diana Onyejiaka, a Nashville-based consultant and professor. All three are seeking the Democratic nomination to vie for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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Lawmakers Want to Cancel Nathan Bedford Forrest Day

State Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, filed legislation this week that would remove Nathan Bedford Forrest Day as a day of special observance in Tennessee, the Nashville Scene reports. Governors dating back nearly a century have been required to declare the day a special observation. In 2019, Gov. Bill Lee drew national attention when he signed the proclamation. Lamar’s push comes amid growing attention to the state’s celebration of Forrest. Many have sought the removal of a bust honoring Forrest from a prominent place just outside the House and Senate chambers for years to no avail.

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TBA Launches New Legislative Updates Podcast

The General Assembly is back in session and so are TBA’s Legislative Updates! Hosted by Berkley Schwarz, TBA’s director of public policy and government affairs, and Adams and Reese attorney and TBA lobbyist Brad Lampley, the Legislative Updates podcast provides a weekly breakdown of what’s going on at the state legislature. The show livestreams on the TBA’s Facebook page every Thursday and is run in podcast form each Friday. The Legislative Updates podcast is available on the TBA’s website and anywhere you listen to podcasts. Don't miss the first episode featuring special guest Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, who talks about life as a lawyer legislator and the future of the professional privilege tax. 

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TBA to Focus on Professional Privilege Tax as New Session Begins

The Tennessee legislature convened this week in Nashville for the second year of the 111th General Assembly. The legislature is expected to take up many hot button issues, such as criminal justice reform, health care, medical marijuana and abortion. Additionally, House Majority Leader William Lamberth has indicated that Republicans will push for a reduction on the professional privilege tax, “as the budget allows.” At the end of the 2019 legislative session, the legislature voted to remove 15 professions from having to pay the $400 professional privilege tax. However, seven professions, including attorneys, continue to pay the tax. Eliminating the professional privilege tax is one of the TBA’s top legislative priorities this year, and today the TBA government affairs team joined the NFIB, the Tennessee Medical Association and others in distributing a joint letter to all members of the General Assembly asking them to eliminate the tax. For more information and to contact your legislators on this important issue, go to TBA Impact.

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Lawmakers Call for New Oversight on State Prisons

Following news of a negative audit for state prisons last week, House Minority Leader Karen Camper says the legislature should revive a correction oversight committee to hold the Department of Corrections accountable, the Daily Memphian reports. Others are going a step further suggesting an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation or criminal prosecution may be necessary. Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker said the department concurs, or concurs partially, with all of the findings but contends it operates “safe and secure” prisons and “provides effective community supervision.” In a statement, he said the department is dealing with the problems raised in the report.

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New Blue Book Commemorates 19th Amendment Anniversary

The 2019-2020 edition of the Tennessee Blue Book is now available and it honors the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. Secretary of State Tre Hargett said the commemorative edition recognizes the steadfast efforts of Tennessee suffragists and the pivotal role Tennessee played in ratifying the amendment. The cover of the book — yellow — also honors the symbolic color of the national women’s suffrage movement. Published every two years, the Blue Book is the definitive manual on Tennessee state government featuring biographies of elected and appointed state officials, census data, election statistics, state history and more. Read more from Hargett's office or order your free copy by calling 615-741-2650 or emailing publications.information@tn.gov.

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House Speaker’s Chief of Staff Resigning Today

Days before the start of the new legislative session, House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s chief of staff Scott Gilmer is stepping down, the Tennessean reports. A legislative employee since 2007, Gilmer has served as chief of staff to three House speakers including former Rep. Beth Harwell and Rep. Glen Casada. His resignation is effective today. He will join the Path Company as vice president for business development. Taking over for Gilmer on an interim basis will be Holt Whitt, who most recently served as the speaker’s director of legislation.

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Governor Hopes for Medicaid Decision by Summer

Gov. Bill Lee says he’s hopeful the federal government will approve lump sum funding for the state's Medicaid program by this summer, the Tennessean reports. But he confirmed that officials have not given him a date yet. Tennessee filed a $7.9 billion block grant proposal with federal officials in November. If approved, state lawmakers would then have to vote on the final product. Lee said he is open to calling a special session of the legislature if one is needed.

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Kelsey Seeks to Add ‘Right to Work’ to State Constitution

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Memphis, is helping lead an effort to add Tennessee’s Right to Work law (enacted in 1947) to the state constitution, the Daily Memphian reports. Senate Joint Resolution 648 would add language to the constitution making it unlawful to deny employment based on membership in, affiliation with, resignation from or refusal to join a labor union or employee organization. To take effect, the resolution would have to pass in two sessions of the General Assembly and then be approved by a majority of voters in the following gubernatorial election.

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Bill Would Give Lawmakers Role in Refugee Resettlement

A bill filed by state Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, would change the way the state decides to participate in the federal resettlement of refugees. The new proposal would create a two-step process, Nashville Public Radio reports. First, local governments would have to agree to resettlement. Then the state legislature would consider the issue, with a two-third majority vote required to approve participation. Currently, federal rules rely on the governor of each state to approve statewide resettlements.

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