News

Tennessee Lawmaker Hoping to Repeal Recess Requirement in Schools

Tennessee House Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, is proposing a bill in the General Assembly that would repeal a law requiring students to have periods of recess at school, the Tennessean reports. Dunn said that the requirement is too restrictive, and is a "scheduling nightmare” for schools and teachers. Once the law is repealed, Dunn added “someone can come along behind that to deal with physical activity."
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Senate Judiciary Chair Kelsey to Meet with Lawyers

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, is hosting a pair of town hall meeting for lawyers next week in Memphis. Sen. Kelsey will host criminal law practitioners on Jan. 26 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. CST, and civil law practitioners on Jan. 27 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. CST. Please contact TBA Public Policy Coordinator Brenda Gadd if you are interested in attending. She will provide location information once it is determined.

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McNally Names New Senate Chief of Staff

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, appointed Rick Nicholson as Senate Chief of Staff on Friday. A 26-year veteran of the General Assembly, Nicholson started in the chief clerk’s office, later being appointed assistant chief clerk. In 2001, he went to work for McNally as a committee research analyst and in 2012, he was appointed Senate budget director by then Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. Nicholson replaces Lance Frizzell, whose appointment expired in January. Humphrey on the Hill has the news from McNally’s office.

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Holder to Lead Effort to Redraw District Lines

Former Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday formally announced a new effort aimed at redrawing state districting maps. After the 2008 election, Republicans poured money into state legislative races, gaining control of redistricting that took place after the 2010 census. During Obama's presidency, Democrats lost more than 1,030 seats in statehouses, governor's mansions and Congress. The new organization, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, will devote legal and political resources to reapportionment, which will happen after the 2020 census. WRCB-TV has more from the Associated Press.

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House Creates Sexual Harassment Panel

The Tennessee House has created a committtee to focus on complaints of sexual harassment. The Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Subcommittee will have authority to conduct investigations and “subpoena and compel the attendance of witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony and require and compel the production of any documents or other items of evidence relative to any matter under investigation.” Any recommendations for corrective action will be reported to the speaker. Unlike the full Ethics Committee, the work of the subcommittee will be private. Knoxnews has more from USA Today

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Bill Would Allow Open Carry without Permit

Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, has introduced legislation to eliminate the requirement that gun owners obtain a permit to openly carry handguns in Tennessee. Those wanting to carry a handgun in a concealed manner would still be required to obtain a permit, according to the legislation. Van Huss has introduced similar bills in the past but his colleagues have rejected those efforts, the Tennessean reports. Van Huss argues that 29 states, including Missouri, West Virginia and Louisiana, have some form of permitless carry.

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Lawyer Legislators to Head Key Panels, Return in 2 Weeks

The Tennessee General Assembly adjourned its biannual organizational session today after speakers appointed committee chairs and members in their respective chambers. For the first time in 10 years, all three key committees dealing with legal issues will be chaired by lawyers. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, returns as Senate Judiciary Committee chair. House Criminal Justice Committee Chair William Lambreth, R-Cottontown, will continue to head that panel. And Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, will take the helm of the House Civil Justice Committee. Humphrey on the Hill has more.

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Task Force Finalizes Juvenile Justice Recommendations

As the legislature convenes in Nashville this week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, juvenile court officials, judges, district attorneys and academics are pushing for a major overhaul of state sentencing laws for juveniles who commit serious crimes. The Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force met Monday to finalize recommendations that members hope will set the agenda for the legislature in the coming year. The Tennessean looks at the proposals.

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Legislators, Staff Must Watch Sexual Harassment Video

All legislative staff, interns and lawmakers are being required to watch a 15-minute sexual harassment training video at the start of the new legislative session, the Tennessean reports. The video reportedly covers all aspects of the law along with examples of the types of circumstances that might create a hostile discriminatory practice. The move is part of the leadership’s effort to address cultural issues identified in last year’s report on the activities of then-representative Jeremy Durham.

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Day 2 of Sessions Hearing Offers Conflicting Views

For a second day, the issue of racism was at the center of the confirmation hearing for attorney general designate Jeff Sessions, UPI reports. After questioning Sessions for more than 10 hours yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee today turned its attention to testimony from others – including three black lawmakers who all recommended against his confirmation. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Cedric Richmond, D-La., questioned Sessions’ past views on race and whether he would aggressively pursue civil rights, equal rights and justice for all citizens. Representing a different perspective, Sessions’ former chief counsel, who also is black, told the committee, “I have not seen the slightest hint of racism because it does not exist.”

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California Bans State Travel to Tennessee

A law in California banning state-sponsored travel to Tennessee has gone into effect, the Times Free Press reports. California passed the ban last year, after Tennessee approved a law that allows counselors and therapists to reject clients whose goals are at odds with the professionals’ “sincerely held beliefs.” The law was considered by many to be an affront to the LGBT community. California has also approved travel bans on North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas for their actions on LGBT-related issues.

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Lawmakers Re-file Bill to Name Courthouse for Thompson

The Tennessee congressional delegation re-filed legislation Monday to name the new federal courthouse in Nashville after former Sen. Fred Thompson, Knoxnews reports. A similar bill was approved by the House of Representatives last year but the congressional term ended before the Senate considered it. The Tennessean had that story. The new $194 million structure would be known as the Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse under the proposed legislation. Thompson, who died in 2015 at age 73, represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2003.

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McNally, Harwell Take Gavel of Respective Chambers

The Tennessee General Assembly reconvened today for the 110th session. In the Senate, Randy McNally was elected the state’s next lieutenant governor. The move was largely ceremonial, with Senate Republicans selecting McNally as their nominee during a caucus meeting in November. McNally, 72, is the longest serving current member in the legislature. Handing off the gavel to McNally was Ron Ramsey, the East Tennessee Republican who helped the party obtain supermajorities in both chambers. Ramsey announced his retirement last year. In the House, Nashville Republican Rep. Beth Harwell was formally re-elected as speaker today. That move was also ceremonial as she survived a challenge from Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, last November for the post. The Tennessean has more on both stories.

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Economic Development Head Stepping Down

Randy Boyd, the state commissioner of economic development, will be exiting his position and returning to the private sector in February, Gov. Bill Haslam announced today. The move sets off speculation that Boyd is contemplating a run in the 2018 gubernatorial race, the Tennessean reports. Boyd joined Haslam’s administration in 2013 as a special adviser on higher education and helped create the Drive to 55 initiative, the governor's effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree. Boyd will return to Radio Systems Corp., the business he started in 1991.

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Issues, Legislators to Watch as New Session Starts

Tennessee lawmakers are set to return to Nashville tomorrow to officially convene the 110th General Assembly. According to analysts with the the Tennessean, there are several issues likely to dominate the session. They include: increasing the gas tax with a possible offsetting reduction in food tax; tackling criminal justice reform; allowing marijuana for medical conditions but cracking down on cities that try to reduce penalties for possession; pay raises for teachers; and expanded use of school vouchers. The USA Today network reporting also looks at legislators to watch in the new session.

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House Clerk McCord Steps Down

Tennessee House Chief Clerk Joe McCord is stepping down from the position to “pursue a new opportunity,” House Speaker Beth Harwell announced today. He will be succeed by Tammy Letzler, who has been serving as assistant House clerk. Harwell appointed McCord, a former Republican state representative, as chief clerk after she became speaker in 2011. Last year, McCord faced controversy when then-state Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, alleged he had used foul language and made an obscene gesture to a female staffer. Humphrey on the Hill has more on the news.

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No Probation for Drunk Drivers Who Kill

A new state law that took effect Jan. 1 mandates that drunk drivers who kill someone must get jail time, WRCB-TV reports. The law, championed by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, was supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which said it was important to take probation off the table as a possible sentence for a drunk driving vehicular homicide. Tom Kimball of the Tennessee District Attorney General Conference also praised the law, saying it is good news for victims’ families.

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Sen. Green Launches Bid for Governor

Tennessee Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, has filed paperwork indicating he will seek the governor’s office in 2018. He is the first to formally file for the state’s highest office, though other Republicans are expected to join the race, the Tennessean reports. Green is the CEO of AlignMD, an emergency room management company. Yesterday, he filed 10 bills for consideration in the new legislative session, including one that would eliminate the state privilege tax paid by doctors and other professionals.

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Chambers of Commerce Lobby for Internet Tax

The state’s four largest chambers of commerce have joined forces to push the legislature to impose a tax on Internet sales, the Tennessean reports. A joint legislative agenda from the Chattanooga, Knoxville Memphis and Nashville chambers lists the tax among their top priorities for the 2017 legislative session. Tennessee currently charges a sales tax, but lacks enforcement for out-of-state retailers that do not pay it according to the paper.

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Schumer, Democrats Prepared to Block Trump Court Pick

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer says he is prepared to block President-elect Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee if he or she is not in the “mainstream.” In an interview yesterday, Schumer said it is “hard for me to imagine a nominee that Donald Trump would choose that would get Republican support that we could support.” Asked if he would do his best to hold the seat open, Schumer responded, “Absolutely.” Schumer also said Democrats will push for a mainstream nominee, according to Roll Call.

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Black Named Interim House Budget Chair

U.S. Rep. Diane Black was named interim chair of the powerful House Budget Committee yesterday, placing her at the crux of the fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Tennessean reports. The interim title reportedly is necessary until Rep. Tom Price, the outgoing chair, is confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Black has represented Tennessee’s Sixth Congressional District since 2010. She is the first woman to serve as chair of the committee.

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Groups Target Medical Malpractice System

Several medical groups want Tennessee lawmakers to replace the state’s malpractice system with one similar to that being used to settle workers’ compensation claims, Nashville Public Radio reports. One of these groups, the North Carolina-based organization Medical Justice, says it would like to make Tennessee the first state to do away with its medical malpractice system. On the other side of the issue, Andy Spears with Tennessee Citizen Action says the current system works fine and the threat of lawsuits forces doctors to take extra precautions.

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Opposition to AG Nominee Sessions Ramps Up

A number of liberal groups are calling for a delay of confirmation hearings for Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to lead the U.S. Department of Justice. Three groups – the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, People for the American Way and Alliance for Justice – say the Jan. 10 hearing should be postponed citing gaps in Sessions’ record that were not addressed in the questionnaire he sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. WCYB has more from CNN. Meanwhile, the NAACP is staging a sit-in at Sessions’ office in Mobile and planning protests at other district offices across the state. Local Memphis and Roll Call report on those developments.

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Report: Rep. Black Top Contender for Budget Chair

U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin is the leading candidate to take the gavel of the powerful House Budget Committee, the Tennessean reports. If selected, the move would make her the fourth Tennessee lawmaker to chair a congressional committee and put her on the front lines of the battle to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Black’s name surfaced earlier this week in reports by Politico that she could move ahead of several federal lawmakers with more seniority.

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New Computer System to Detect Uninsured Motorists

The Tennessee Department of Revenue has installed a new online verification system that will detect motorists who drive without insurance on their cars and trucks. The system, which will be in place next month, will be available to law enforcement officers and county court clerks who register vehicles and issue license plates. It is a follow-through on a 2015 law enacted by the legislature with the declared intent of reducing uninsured drivers, Knoxnews reports. Under the new system, all insurance carriers registered to write personal automobile liability policies in the state must register with the department and provide policy information. The state will then check the reported policies against all registered vehicle information numbers.

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