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Posted by: John Rice on Mar 19, 2019
Most of us have probably, at some point in our lives, experienced School House Rock’s classic explanation of how a bill becomes a law (if not, consider spending 3 minutes and 20 seconds on YouTube to remedy this). This simple, but accurate, ditty provides a good overview of how the executive and legislative branches of our federal government—at least in theory—co-exist and make law. But, School House Rock doesn’t offer an entirely realistic portrayal of how a bill becomes a law—it doesn’t address constitutional requirements, drafting guidelines, rules of order, committee deliberations, lobbyists, financial notes, amendments or any of the other various aspects of our law-making process. 
The Tennessee legislative process is likewise structured and technical. Our legislative body—the General Assembly—is comprised of two chambers, the Tennessee House of Representatives and the Tennessee Senate, “both dependent on the people.” Like our federal system, each chamber makes use of committees and sub-committees and operates pursuant to certain rules of order. Similarly, lobbyists representation various organizations and ideas engage in efforts to educate and endorse legislative agendas to members of the General Assembly. 
One of the TBA’s core missions is to advocate for the profession and for our system of justice and regularly engages in efforts to include federal and state policy. This includes lobbying the General Assembly for policy issues that are of interest and concern to the legal profession. Each fall, TBA sections, committees, and divisions prepare public policy and legislative proposals for consideration by the TBA House of Delegates and Board of Governors. These proposals may be specific pieces of legislation or may be more general policy positions. If any proposal is approved by the Board of Governors, the TBA will lobby the General Assembly accordingly 
In this legislative session, the TBA is supporting six proposals: 
  • Subject Matter Jurisdiction in Trial Courts

HB 854 / SB 719: The TBA supports this proposal to allow a trial court to exercise domestic relations jurisdiction, regardless of the nature of the allegations, unless and until a pleading is filed or relief is otherwise sought in a juvenile court invoking its exclusive original jurisdiction. This bill is needed to clarify that circuit and chancery courts can continue to hear divorce cases, modification of parenting plans, and other domestic relations cases, even when the case involves an allegation of dependence or neglect. This legislation was drafted by the TBA in collaboration with other groups. 

This bill passed unanimously in the House and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

  • Changes to Adoption Law

HB 287 / SB 208: The TBA supports this proposal to clean up and make several technical corrections to existing adoption law in Tennessee. This legislation was drafted by the TBA. 

This bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate and has been transmitted to the Governor for action.

  • Contracts for Post-Adoption Contacts

HB 288 / SB 207: The TBA supports this proposal to allow enforcement of post-adoption contact agreements already agreed to by the parties. This bill gives both parties (biological parents and adopted parents) who have already both agreed to and signed a post-adoption contract allowing the biological parent to contact the adopted child a right to seek judicial enforcement of the agreement. This legislation was drafted by the TBA. 

This bill passed unanimously in the House and on a margin of 30-1 in the Senate and has been transmitted to the Governor for action. 

  • Service of Process 

HB 393 / SB 456: The TBA supports this proposal to clarify that service of process made by a constable or private process server is valid even without a return address if all of the process servers’ relevant contact information is made available to the parties by the parties’ attorneys. This bill is needed to reduce confusion over whether service of process is valid when lacking a return address. This legislation was drafted by the TBA.

This bill, as amended, passed unanimously in the Senate and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. 

  • Changes to Probate Law

HB 675 / SB 542: The TBA supports this proposal to make six necessary changes to probate law to make the law more consistent. Among other things, this bill would clarify the disposition of property under a revocable trust, protect the confidentiality of the interests of trust beneficiaries, and exempt certain transfers from recordation taxes. This legislation was drafted by the TBA. 

This bill is set to be referred to the House Judiciary Committee, Children & Families Subcommittee, and the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

  • Construction Law Lien Legislation 

HB 875 / SB 692: The TBA supports this proposal to limit the recovery of attorney’s fees, expenses, and actual and liquidate damages to situations where a party has proved, by clear and convincing evidence, that the person claiming a lien has acted with malice. This bill will allow court to penalize fraudulent lienors, while legitimate lienors will not be under the threat of being penalized for simply pursuing their legitimate lien rights. This bill was drafted by the TBA. 

This bill has been referred to the House Commerce Committee, Business Subcommittee, and the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee. 

To learn more about the TBA’s legislative advocacy or to stay apprised on the status of these initiatives, please spend a few moments reviewing the TBA Impact website: https://p2a.co/xFc8g5z. You can also contact your representatives through this website to voice your own thoughts about these policy initiatives. 

The TBA expects that these next four weeks will be particularly important for legislative proposals before the General Assembly. We encourage you to pay attention to these important developments in Nashville. 
As many of you may recall, the YLD adopted a bylaw amendment in 2016 to establish a mechanism to take positions on public policy issues and present policy and legislative proposal to the TBA Board of Governors. If you have a policy idea or a legislative proposal that you would like for the TBA to consider, I would be delighted to work with you to solidify your thoughts and navigate both the YLD and TBA’s policy-making mechanisms. Legislative deadlines will start to run in mid Fall, and so we need to take advantage of these summer months and the fall planning meeting. Please do not hesitate to contact John Rice to discuss your ideas and concerns!