News

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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Durham Admits 'Handful' of Interactions, Suspends Campaign

Rep. Jeremy Durham, R- Franklin, today suspended his campaign, the Tennessean reports. In a late afternoon press conference, Durham denied most of the allegations against him but said “a handful of interactions’ were true. Yesterday, Durham responded to a special committee’s investigation into his conduct through his attorney. A statement from lawyer Bill Harbison questioned why no one involved had ever filed a sexual harassment complaint and dismissed allegations “from witnesses whose identity is completely anonymous.” GOP leaders continued today to call for him to step down. “Representative Durham’s denials are insulting to the brave women whose testimony was detailed in the report," House Speaker Beth Harwell said. "Representative Durham needs to make absolutely clear he is not seeking re-election."

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Reaction to Durham Report Continues

State Republicans and Democrats weighed in late yesterday and today with reactions to Rep. Jeremy Durham’s conduct and an investigative committee’s decision not to recommend expulsion of the Franklin Republican. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, called Durham’s acts “repulsive and unacceptable,” while Lt. Gov. and Senate leader Ron Ramsey called Durham “despicable” and said he would push for a special session to expel him if he wins reelection this fall. Fellow Franklin-area legislators also expressed dismay. GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said Durham “lied to me" and Republican Sen. Jack Johnson called Durham’s actions “abhorrent” and “completely unacceptable.” Democrats began calling last night for a special session to consider Durham’s expulsion, with Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini saying Durham is a “serial sexual harasser.” The Tennessean and Humphrey on the Hill have more.

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Durham Committee Leaves Lawmaker’s Fate to Voters

A special legislative committee today found that state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, engaged in “disorderly behavior” that warranted expulsion, but decided to leave it up to voters to determine whether he should continue serving, the Tennessean reports. Before making its decision, the committee heard the results of Attorney General Hebert Slatery’s inquiry, which found that Durham had engaged sexually with 22 women, including current and former female legislative staff, interns, lobbyists and others between 2012 and 2016. Read the committee's report or follow how the news unfolded today on this timeline of Twitter posts.

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Overbey to Chair Regional Policy Committee

State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, has been elected chair of the Southern Legislative Conference’s (SLC) Human Services and Public Safety Committee. The election was held during the group’s annual meeting, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said Overbey’s “tremendous knowledge and experience in mental health and human services … will be of great benefit to his fellow legislators and this organization." Overbey has served on both the House and Senate Health committees. He currently is chair of the Senate Ethics Committee and a vice chair of the Judiciary and Finance committees.

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Judge Denies Effort to Block Durham Report

Chancellor Russell Perkins today denied state Rep. Jeremy Durham’s request for a preliminary injunction to block release of a report looking into Durham's conduct. Perkins said the Republican lawmaker from Franklin had “not met his burden of showing a likelihood of success” in his effort to block the report. Attorney General Herbert Slatery had argued in a filing late Monday that there was no good reason to block the report his office had prepared for a special House committee. Dismissing Durham’s claim that release of the report would cause him irreparable harm, Slatery countered that Durham’s attempt to thwart publication could do harm to the state and the public interest. The filing also revealed that, according to the AG’s office, Durham “refused” to be interviewed and did not allow investigators direct access to his cell phone. The Tennessean has more on both stories.

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Cohen: Independent Prosecutors Should Investigate Shootings

In light of the recent violence both against and by the police, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, is calling for legislation that would require states to appoint independent prosecutors to examine law enforcement shootings. Cohen argues that because state prosecutors have to work closely with law enforcement to do their jobs, they should not be responsible for investigating and prosecuting instances of deadly force. WPLN has the story.

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Durham Sues AG, House Speaker Over Investigation

Tennessee state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, filed suit Friday against House Speaker Beth Harwell and Attorney General Herbert Slatery to block release of an investigative report into his conduct. The AG's ad hoc committee created to investigate Durham is scheduled to meet Wednesday. A hearing on Durham’s motion will take place Tuesday afternoon. Slatery’s office is expected to respond to the motion today. Durham’s political opponent has called on him to drop the suit, saying he should not delay the release of the report. The Tennessean has more on both stories.

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Trump Taps Blackburn for RNC Convention Speech

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., will take the stage to speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this month, reports the Tennessean. Blackburn was selected by presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, and has referred to herself as a "very unlikely candidate" for Trump's vice president pick. Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker, considered a VP candidate himself prior to removing himself from contention earlier this week, will also attend the convention.

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Brennan Report Highlights 'Gray' Political Funding

A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice highlights the rise of "dark money" spending in local political elections, and how it relates to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision of 2010. One issue of concern is the phenomenon of “gray money," described as Super PACs that claim to disclose their donors receiving money from other PACs, thereby further complicating the identification of the source of funding. The Brennan Center’s findings include the analysis that only 29 percent of outside spending in 2014 was fully transparent in the states examined in the study, which is down from 76 percent in 2006.
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Slatery: Traffic Camera Review by Private Companies Violates State Law

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued an opinion Wednesday, agreeing with Rep. Andy Holt’s claims that traffic light photo-enforcement companies violate state law. Holt, R-Dresden, has claimed that when out-of-state, private traffic camera companies review the footage and send their findings along to law enforcement, it is illegal. The opinion states that "it doesn’t matter whether or not the camera company employees are viewing the footage for a preliminary, or final determination as to whether or not someone violated the law, but by them simply viewing the footage, they are in violation of state law." Slatery wrote that private employees that are not POST-certified or state-commissioned law enforcement officers are not permitted to determine whether there has been a traffic violation. Humphrey on the Hill has more.

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Durham Investigation Expected to Wrap Up Soon

Tennessee state Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, who chairs the ad hoc committee investigating alleged misconduct by Franklin Republican Jeremy Durham, says he expects Attorney General Herbert Slatery to have a report to the panel “in the near future,” the Tennessean reports. The conclusion of Slatery’s investigation is expected to factor into whether the House of Representatives moves forward with possible expulsion proceedings over allegations of misconduct and disorderly and inappropriate behavior.

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Corker Withdraws As Potential Trump VP

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, told the Washington Post today that he has withdrawn from consideration as a potential running mate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Corker said he informed Trump of his decision while campaigning with him yesterday. “There are people far more suited for being a candidate for vice president, and I think I’m far more suited for other types of things,” Corker told the paper. But he praised Trump during the interview and said he remains eager to serve as an informal adviser to the candidate. According to WKRN, a tweet from Corker’s office today clarified that the senator would still be open to a cabinet position.

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