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.

Tennessee’s First Female African-American Senator to Retire

Sen. Thelma Harper, Tennessee’s first African-American woman to serve in the State Senate, announced today that she is stepping down after 27 years in the legislature. NewsChannel5 reports Harper, the Nashville Democrat representing the 19th district, was also the first woman to preside over the Senate, and spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2000.
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Tennessee Republicans File Bill Against Neo-Nazis

Two weeks after killing a Democrat’s resolution to denounce neo-Nazis, Republican lawmakers have introduced a similar bill of their own, The Tennessean reports. The Republicans’ bill is nearly identical to the one previously filed by Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville; however it omits a paragraph urging law enforcement to pursue white nationalist groups as “domestic terrorist organizations.” Clemmons’ bill made national headlines earlier this month after the House State Government Subcommittee refused to even discuss it. "They either have an intra-party dispute about whether Nazis are bad or they killed my resolution for politically partisan reasons or both," Clemmons said of the new bill, sponsored by House Republican Caucus Chair Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville.
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Byrd Refuses to Resign Despite Allegations

Although House Speaker Beth Harwell has called on him to resign, Rep. David Byrd announced he has no plans to leave the legislature amid allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct with teenage girls 30 years ago, Humphrey on the Hill reports. In his statement to the press, Byrd said that “conduct over 30 years ago is difficult, at best to recall” and said he was disappointed in Harwell for calling for his resignation. WSMV reports that three girls who played on a high school basketball team Byrd coached  have come forward, with one producing a recorded phone call with Byrd in which he apologizes for previous wrongdoings. Two of the girls were 15 and one was 16 at the time of the alleged misconduct.
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Lawmaker Accused of Sexual Misconduct; Harwell Calls for Resignation

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, is calling for the resignation of Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, over allegations of sexual misconduct, WSMV reports. Three women accused Byrd of inappropriate sexual contact Byrd made toward them when he was serving as their basketball coach more than 30 years ago. The women were teenagers at the time. Byrd has not yet responded to the accusations.
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AG Issues Opinion on Constitutionality of ‘Senior Business Judge’ Bill

Tennessee Attorney General Hebert Slatery has issued an opinion on the constitutionality of a proposed bill in the Tennessee legislature that would authorize the Tennessee Supreme Court to designate certain judges with at least one year of judicial service to serve as senior judges to hear complex commercial disputes. One provision of the bill that Slatery found raised “significant constitutional concerns” would allow the court to appoint a senior judge even if that judge had sought reelection or retention and was defeated. “The proposed legislation would undermine the election requirement to an extent not provided in existing law,” Slatery wrote.
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First in Adoption Act Passes Civil Justice Subcommittee

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee today voted to recommend the Tennessee: First in Adoption Act, HB1856, for passage. The completely rewritten legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, and Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, makes significant changes to Tennessee adoption laws. Drafted by members of the newly created Adoption Law Section of the TBA, the comprehensive bill addresses many important issues, such as simplifying and adding to the Tennessee Code the parental surrender form, clarifying parental termination grounds, and affording greater protections to biological fathers attempting to assert their parental rights. The legislation will next be considered by the full Civil Justice Committee. The Senate version will go to its Judiciary Committee.
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Ethics Complaints Against Diane Black Dropped, Harwell’s Delayed

Two campaign finance ethics complaints against gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Diane Black were dropped today, The Tennessean reports. The Registry of Election Finance voted unanimously to dismiss the complaints, as well as to delay taking up three complaints against House Speaker Beth Harwell and her campaign for governor.
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Black Has Most Missed Votes of Tennessee Congressional Delegation

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Sumner County Republican and current candidate for governor of Tennessee, has been absent for 29 of 101 votes at the U.S. House of Representatives this year, making her the least-present member of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation. The Tennessean reports that since launching her campaign, Black has missed more than 50 votes, including a recent vote on a bill to fight sex trafficking, an issue she claims to support. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who has been absent the second most times and is also campaigning for a statewide seat, missed 11 votes this year.
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GOP Stalls Child Marriage Bill, Citing Connection to Gay Marriage Case

House Republicans effectively killed a bill Wednesday that would prohibit child marriages in Tennessee, citing an obscure legal theory that passing the bill could deter a conservative lawyer's case against gay marriage. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory, calls for the state to outlaw marriages where one of the parties is under 18 years of age. The Times Free Press reports that House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, cited an email he received from attorney and former state Sen. David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, arguing that passing Jernigan's bill could interfere with a lawsuit he is mounting to counter the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage.

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Candidate Leaves Leadership Group After Endorsement

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee has resigned from the board of the Nashville Business Coalition after the group publicly urged Democrat David Briley to seek election as Nashville mayor and called on other prospective candidates to stay out of the race, the Tennessee Star reports. Lee said he didn't think leadership groups should discourage others from entering the political process.

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