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.

Judge Bars State from Defunding Planned Parenthood STD Program

U.S. District Court Judge William J. Haynes Jr. barred the state from defunding Planned Parenthood of Tennessee in contracts totaling more than $170,000 last year. According to WATE News Channel 6,  Haynes blocked Republican leaders' efforts to keep Planned Parenthood from participating in a federally funded venereal disease prevention program aimed at reducing the infection rate of HIV and syphilis.

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Maryland Legislature Votes to Overturn Death Penalty

The Maryland House of Delegates today joined the Senate, voting to overturn the state's death penalty, putting it a step closer to becoming the 18th U.S. state to abolish executions, Reuters reports. By a vote of 82 to 56, the House agreed to replace capital punishment with a sentence of life without parole. Gov. Martin O'Malley -- who said the death penalty was expensive, did not work and cited a study that death penalty sentencing was racially biased -- has pledged to sign the bill into law.

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Voter ID Bill Moves to House

A bill forbidding use of Memphis Library photo identification cards for voting, but allowing student photo IDs won approval from the state Senate Thursday and now moves on to the House for consideration, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Judicial Selection Plan to Go Before Voters

With House passage this week, the proposed constitutional amendment that would change how appellate court judges are selected will now go before voters in 2014. The proposal (SJR 2) would replace Tennessee’s current plan of merit selection and retention elections with a system allowing for the governor to appoint appellate judges, subject to legislative confirmation, followed by retention elections. The House passed the proposal 78-14 on Monday, the City Paper reports, while the Senate had earlier given its OK on a 29-2 vote.

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Bill Would Dramatically Alter Judicial Evaluations

An amended bill (SB1058/HB1227) that emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee today reconstitutes the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, and also provides that if the commission recommends against a judge then “a vacancy occurs," apparently not permitting the sitting judge to stand for retention election.

The surprise move by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, amended a caption bill with an unrelated body to dramatically change the way that evaluations of appellate judges occur under the Tennessee Plan. When advocates for the present system earlier asked for copies of the amendment they were denied copies. The committee adopted the amendment by a 6-1-1 vote, with Vice Chair Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, objecting to the committee voting when advocates had not had an opportunity to see or consider the change.

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Lt. Gov. Releases Judicial Redistricting Proposals

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has released 14 different judicial redistricting plans put forward for consideration. “The response we have gotten to our public call for judicial district maps is extremely encouraging,” Ramsey earlier said in a statement to TNReport. “I would especially like to commend the Public Defenders Association as well as the Tennessee Bar Association for coming to the table and sharing their ideas.” A bill (SB 780/HB 636), which is expected serve as the vehicle for redistricting, is set for a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

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Bill Would Allow Student ID, Ban Library Card for Voting

A new bill introduced by state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Lebanon, would allow student photo identification cards issued by state universities and colleges to comply with Tennessee’s voter photo ID law. But SB 125 also would explicitly prohibit photo IDs issued by public libraries and other local agencies and governments from meeting that requirement, The Commercial Appeal reports. The legislation would reverse a Tennessee Court of Appeals decision upholding library cards as valid ID for voting. That case is pending before the state Supreme Court, which is expected to issue a ruling by summer.

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AG: State Cannot Nullify Federal Gun Laws

Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper has found that legislative attempts to block the enforcement of federal gun laws in the state are unconstitutional. The opinion says the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause trumps state statutes, making it unlawful to nullify firearms laws made on the national level. He goes on to say the state legislature also can’t take a backdoor route and criminalize the enforcement of gun laws in Tennessee. Nashville Public Radio has the story.

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Bill Would Raise Standard for Protection Orders

State Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville has introduced legislation that he says will help “avoid abuse of the judicial system by making it tougher to get orders of protection,” the Elizabethton Star, reports. But the director of a domestic violence prevention group says it could put more women in danger. HB 1128 would raise the level of proof needed for a one-year order of protection from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” Hill said he introduced the bill to begin a conversation on the issue, leaving the door open to further revision.

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Supermarket Wine Bill Advances in Senate

A proposal to allow cities and counties to hold referendums on expanded wine sales scored its first legislative victory today when the Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 5-4 to advance SB 0837. The measure still must be approved by the Senate Finance Committee before heading to the floor, the Memphis Daily News reports. The House began its hearings on the issue today, but has not yet scheduled a vote.

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