News

Task Force Moves Toward Recommending Fee Hike

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force reviewed and discussed its draft recommendation report Friday at the Nashville School of Law, coming to a consensus on recommending an increase in the compensation rate. The recommendation to be included in its final report calls for increasing the compensation rate in the range of $75-100 per hour, removing caps and removing the difference between in court and out of court billable hour rates. This would apply to criminal defense and juvenile indigent representation. Read the working draft report here.

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Harwell Begins Posting Legislative Pre-meetings

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has begun posting a list of legislative pre-meetings on the legislature’s website after receiving scrutiny for allowing lawmakers to hold the meetings without notifying the public. The Tennessean reports that the change occurred on Friday. Pre-meetings are usually held in legislative conference rooms and allow lawmakers to discuss a bill prior to its appearance in committee.
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Ethics Complaint Filed Against Nashville Democrat

An East Tennessee Republican filed an ethics complaint against House Minority Caucus Leader Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, claiming that Stewart used his questioning of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to benefit his law firm, the Tennessean reports. Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, filed the complaint yesterday. Stewart questioned TEMA with regards to the Gatlinburg wildfires during a committee hearing, and his firm, Branstetter, Stranch and Jennings, is currently representing someone affected by the fire.
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DA Appointed to Investigate Durham

A Bradley County district attorney confirmed yesterday that he has been assigned to investigate former State Rep. Jeremy Durham, WBIR reports. Stephen Crump has been given the case, after Williamson County District Attorney Kim Helper requested a special prosecutor due to conflicts of interest between Durham and her office. 
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Lawmakers Want $25 Million from Surplus for Fire Relief

East Tennessee lawmakers are pushing for Gov. Bill Haslam to include at least $25 million of the $1 billion in state surplus money to go to Gatlinburg wildfire relief, Knoxnews reports. Rep. Haslam said much of the surplus money is already targeted for other initiatives, but is looking at other options. A bill providing property tax relief to victims of the fires cleared a House committee today.
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TBA Opposes Bill Imposing Non-partisan Judicial Elections

Legislation to impose non-partisan elections for judges and clerks in Davidson and Shelby counties was deferred two weeks by its Senate sponsor today. The TBA opposes the bill, and has said "the TBA opposes the imposition of any election process on selective counties, whether by removal of the current local option or by establishing a new method different from that generally applicable to other counties. The TBA favors statewide uniformity as to the authority of local jurisdictions to prescribe the methods of filling state trial court judgeships, county judicial offices and judicial clerk offices." The Nashville Post today also cited opposition to the bill from the Nashville Bar Association.
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ABA Report Provides Updates on Legislation

The American Bar Association’s first Washington Letter chart for 2017 has been released and has updates on bills in Congress that the ABA has championed or opposed during the previous congressional session. Updates include information regarding the ABA’s support of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the ABA’s support of adequate funding for the Legal Services Corporation. Read the full chart here.
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Investigation Finds Lovell Violated Sexual Harassment Policy

Former state House Rep. Mark Lovell was found to have violated the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, the Tennessean reports. The specific details were not included in the investigation memo, but a special House subcommittee determined Lovell was in violation of the policy. Because he resigned on Tuesday, House Ethics Committee Chairman Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, said that they could not level any punishment.
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Lawmakers Fail to Complete Sexual Harassment Training

More than one-third of Tennessee House lawmakers failed to complete a mandatory 22-minute sexual harassment training video before the Jan. 31 deadline, the Tennessean reports. The video was made a requirement for lawmakers as a part of a new sexual harassment policy instituted last year following the Jeremy Durham scandal. Harassment at the legislature was put back in the headlines when Rep. Mark Lowell resigned this week after allegations of sexual misconduct.
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Lawmakers Call for 'Jeremy’s Law' Repeal

Tennessee Democratic legislators are calling for a repeal of what’s known as “Jeremy’s Law” in the wake of the resignation of Rep. Mark Lovell, Humphrey on the Hill reports. The law was unofficially named for former Rep. Jeremy Durham, and mandates that any victim of sexual harassment who sues the state and loses must then pay for the legal fees of the defense. Following allegations that Lovell engaged in sexual misconduct, Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, said that by passing the law the General Assembly “unwisely raised unprecedented barriers to harassment victims seeking justice.”
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State Rep. Lovell Resigns Amid Allegations

State Rep. Mark Lovell, R-Eads, resigned today following allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with a woman, the Tennessean reports. House Speaker Beth Harwell said that because he resigned, the legislature will not push for further investigation into the matter. Lovell said the accusations are false.
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Bills Head to TBA Sections and Committees for Review

In the Tennessee General Assembly the TBA is currently tracking 141 pieces of legislation of interest. Requests are currently going to sections and committees for review. Examples of these bills include SB1378/HB1394, a “Right to Die” bill in which adults suffering from a terminal disease may request medication for the purpose of ending life, and SB0944/HB0668, a tort liability and reform bill which would provide civil immunity for drivers who injure protestors blocking traffic.
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Lawmakers File 1,400 Bills by Deadline

Tennessee legislators introduced more than 1,400 bills in time for last week’s Thursday filing deadline, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Included are topics like eliminating sales tax on diapers and feminine products, a new rule requiring high school students to pass a civics test and a bill allowing law enforcement to impound the vehicles of people arrested for patronizing prostitutes. Gov. Haslam has not commented on any bills yet, with the exception of the so-called “bathroom bill,” in which he said he would prefer to let litigation play out before Tennessee considers the issue.
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House Republicans to Hold More Closed Door Meetings

The Tennessee House Republican Caucus will hold more closed door “family discussion” meetings in the future, the Tennessean reports. The change was announced yesterday, and will begin as soon as this month. With the Republicans supermajority in the legislature, it's possible the caucus could determine a position that would pass or defeat pending legislation.
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Legislative Leaders: Not Our Job to Monitor Campaign Finance

In the wake of the audit of former Rep. Jeremy Durham, GOP leadership said that it’s up to the Registry of Election Finance to monitor potential violations, even in situations where the legislature’s money is involved, the Tennessean reports. Among Durham’s 500 potential violations of campaign finance laws, one includes the accusation that he received $7,700 from the legislature for personal expenses for which he’d already reimbursed himself. 
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State House Continues Practice of Pre-meetings

The Tennessee House of Representatives will continue to have "pre-meetings" with lobbyists and members of state agencies prior to formal committee hearings, the Tennessean reports. In 2015, House Republicans were criticized for the practice. Though lawmakers have since begun announcing the meetings, they still face scrutiny, as the meetings don’t have posted agendas, do not appear on public lists and are not broadcast and archived on the legislature’s website.
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Senator Drops Counseling Bill

A controversial counseling bill, which would have required the state to write a new code of ethics for licensed counselors and therapists, has been dropped by its sponsor, the Tennessean reports. Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said he would abandon plans to proceed with the legislation and instead sign on to another bill, SB 449, which would require changes made by any licensed professionals to their codes of ethics to be reviewed by the attorney general and approved by the state legislature. 
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Findings of Durham Audit Released

Former State House Rep. Jeremy Durham was found to have spent more than $10,000 in campaign funds on items prohibited by law, the Tennessean reports. Purchases included lawn care services for his home, suits, sunglasses, spa products, a handgun permit, University of Tennessee football tickets, and more. He also paid over $1,800 to a company to create a forensic copy of his phone to help defend himself against the Tennessee attorney general’s investigation.
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Report from The Hill: AOC Budget Moves Forward

A bill that would remove appellate review from death penalty cases, sending them straight to the Tennessee Supreme Court, passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee unanimously today without discussion and will move on to the full committee next week. After discussion in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, rolled the Senate version of bill and will re-calendar it. The Administrative Office of the Courts spoke on behalf of the Criminal Court of Appeals and replied that its court was split and did not want to take an official position. Senate and House judicial committees also heard the budget of the Administrative Office of the Courts and it was recommended for approval. Although the judicial branch is the third equal branch of government, the Tennessee courts budget represents less than one half of one percent of the entire state budget, with funding coming from the state's general fund. Read the AOC annual report here.

 

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Haslam Bill Package Filed

Gov. Bill Haslam's legislative agenda was filed this week, including his much-discussed transportation funding bill, the Nashville Post reports. The agenda also includes a bill to ban open containers of alcohol in vehicles, a bill to increase internet access in rural communities and a proposal to fund scholarships for non-high school students to attend community college, among others. All bills are sponsored by House Assistant Majority Leader David Hawk, R-Greeneville, with the exception of the transportation bill, called the IMPROVE Act, which is sponsored by Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Thompson Station.
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Report: Durham Gave Campaign Funds to Pro Gambler

Former State Rep. Jeremy Durham gave more than $20,000 in campaign funds to a professional gambler, the Tennessean reports. The recipient of the funds was David Whitis, a friend of Durham’s who Durham represented in a least two criminal proceedings. More information is expected to be revealed tomorrow, when findings from the state campaign finance and ethics investigation into Durham are expected to be released.
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Davidson, Shelby County Judicial Elections Targeted by New Legislation

A Republican lawmaker has filed a bill to create nonpartisan judicial elections, but only in Davidson and Shelby counties, according to the Nashville Post. The bill, filed by Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, would provide that counties with populations over 500,000 must have nonpartisan elections for all “state trial court judgeships, county judicial offices and judicial clerk offices.” Democrats are claiming the bill unfairly targets the two counties in the state that tend to elect Democrats. The TBA’s Committee on the Judiciary has been asked to recommend a policy and is currently reviewing the legislation.
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Neil Gorsuch Selected as SCOTUS Nominee

Judge Neil Gorsuch, from the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch, considered a reliable conservative, is a former Washington, D.C. lawyer educated at Harvard and Oxford. Gorsuch may face challenges to his confirmation, however, as Congressional Democrats consider seeking reprisal after Republicans blocked Obama nominee Merrick Garland last year, according to the New York Times. The American Bar Association issued a response to the pick, which can be read here.
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Democrats Counter Anti-Decriminalization Bill

Legislation filed this week by state Democrats seeks to ease punishments for those found with small amounts of marijuana, the Nashville Scene reports. The bill would still classify possession of up to one-eighth of an ounce of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor, but offenders could only be punished by a fine up to $50. Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville, said that the bill aims to establish statewide consistency and eliminate jail time and massive fines for possession of a very small amount of the drug, but not to make it legal. The legislation comes after Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown filed a bill this week that would override local ordinances that partially decriminalize marijuana.
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Judiciary Committee Holds First Meetings

The Senate Judiciary Committee met for the first time this year, passing out of committee Senate Joint Resolution 9, which calls for a convention committee of the states to plan for an Article V convention to propose a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. The convention of the state committee is set for July 11 in Nashville, according to the resolution's sponsor, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. This passed out with a vote of 8 in favor and 1 against. Senator Lee Harris, D-Memphis, presented Senate Bill 18, clarifying that a person petitioning for a certificate of employability does not have to be in the process of restoring the person's rights of citizenship in order to get the certificate. This bill will be considered during next week’s committee meeting on Tuesday.
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