News

Republicans Forecast Difficult Battle to Replace Casada

With a jumble of House Republicans taking aim at the House Speaker’s seat, Rep. Mark White, R-East Memphis, says “consensus” candidates are necessary before the vote goes to the floor, the Daily Memphian reports. Three have officially declared their candidacy for the House Speaker’s post being vacated by Glen Casada, but several more are being discussed for the position. Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, said that major changes are in order following Casada's brief tenure. Casada does not plan to step down until Aug. 2, leaving many weeks for Tennessee's legislators to debate who will succeed him.
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Clarksville Rep. Joins Race for House Speaker

Tennessee House Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, has confirmed that he will seek the House Speakership position following the planned resignation of Rep. Glen Casada from the role, the Leaf Chronicle reports. Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill, Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton, Rep. Mike Carter, Rep. Robin Smith and Rep. Ryan Williams are all also rumored to be gauging interest in the position. Johnson portrayed himself as a temperate lawmaker who had avoided scandal, and one who would help unify the Republican caucus.
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Casada to Resign Leadership Position on Aug. 2, Calls for Special Session

More than two weeks after announcing he would resign from his leadership position, House Speaker Glen Casada today said he would step down effective Aug. 2, the Tennessean reports. Following a meeting with House Republican leadership Tuesday afternoon, Casada said in addition to resigning from his role as speaker in two months, he will ask Gov. Bill Lee to call a special session. Holt Whitt, director of policy for the speaker's office, said Casada's delayed resignation date was part of an effort to provide enough time for members to decide who will be the chamber’s next leader.
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Surgeon Enters GOP Primary for Alexander's Senate Seat

Trauma surgeon Manny Sethi says he's running for the GOP nomination for Tennessee's open U.S. Senate seat, the Associated Press reports. Sethi made the announcement today, months after Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said he was not seeking reelection in 2020. In the announcement video, the 41-year-old Sethi described himself as a conservative outsider who supports President Donald Trump. Democratic Nashville attorney and former Army helicopter pilot James Mackler is also running for the seat.
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Tennessee Rep. Jim Coley Won't Seek Re-election Next Year

Tennessee House Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, announced today he would not seek re-election next year. He recently was diagnosed with the early stages of dementia, the Daily Memphian reports. Coley has served in the House for 13 years, during which he championed tougher human trafficking laws. “It has been an incredible honor to serve the men, women and families of our community during my time in the House chamber, and I am proud of the progress we have made protecting our children from exploitation and abuse,” Coley said in a statement.
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Governor Calls On Rep. Byrd to Address Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Gov. Bill Lee says Rep. David Byrd, the Waynesboro Republican accused by three women of sexually assaulting them, now needs to answer to the allegations made against him more than a year ago, the Tennessean reports. Lee for months avoided taking a position on whether action should be taken against Byrd, although he met with one of his accusers in March. After two high-ranking House Republicans weighed in this week saying they believed the women's allegations, Lee followed suit Thursday afternoon. “I met with Christi Rice and found her to be credible," Lee said in a statement. "While the House must determine if Rep. Byrd should continue service, I believe it is past time for him to address these allegations publicly.”
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2 Candidates Seeking House Speakership, Dunn to Serve as Temporary Replacement

State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, became the first lawmaker to publicly signal interest in running to succeed House Speaker Glen Casada, who announced on Tuesday he planned to step back from the leadership role, the Nashville Post reports. Joining in the competition today is Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, who has sent a letter to Republican colleagues declaring his bid for the speakership, TNJ on the Hill reports. Carter pledges not to change any committee chairmanships, though he calls for an overhaul of the chamber’s rules to promote integrity. Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, will take over on an interim basis upon Casada’s resignation, which is expected after he returns from a vacation on June  3.
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Casada to Resign as House Speaker

House Speaker Glen Casada recently announced he will resign his leadership position in the coming weeks, the Tennessean reports. The decision comes on the heels of a meeting of Republican leaders, which resulted in a vote of no confidence in Casada's leadership. "When I return to town on June 3rd, I will meet with caucus leadership to determine the best date for me to resign as speaker so that I can facilitate a smooth transition," Casada said in a statement. Casada has served as House Speaker for four months.
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McNally Calls for Casada to Step Down as Speaker

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally today called for House Speaker Glen Casada to step down from his leadership post, while Gov. Bill Lee said that if Casada worked for him, he'd ask him to resign, the Tennessean reports. “It has been my goal over the past few days to allow the House of Representatives to address the issues they are facing without distraction," McNally said. "I am very aware that any comments from the other chamber can be counterproductive to their ongoing process. Questions of resignation or removal remain up to Speaker Casada and the House alone. I would expect any removal process to include due process." Casada is currently embroiled in a scandal involving his former chief of staff's sexual misconduct, racist messages and possible attempt at framing an activist.
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TBA Video Wraps Up High Points of Legislative Session

With the Tennessee General Assembly wrapping up business last week, today's weekly video update will be the last one for the year. Government Affairs Director Berkley Schwarz and Communications Coordinator Katharine Heriges are joined by TBA lobbyist Brad Lampley to take one last look at the TBA's bills for this session, as well as briefly discuss the tumult surrounding the past two weeks. Watch the full video on Facebook and catch up on previous ones on the TBA YouTube channel.
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Some Republicans Ask Casada to Step Aside, Dems Call for Investigation

Some Republicans are calling for House Speaker Glen Casada to step down after scandal has rocked his office, while Democrats are calling for a federal investigation following reports that the speaker’s former chief of staff could eavesdrop on committee rooms and fears that recording devices might have been placed in legislators’ offices. The Tennessean reports that while many GOP legislators offered support for Casada, several others called for resignation, including Rep. Bill  Dunn, R-Knoxville, Rep. Rick Tillis, R-Lewisburg, and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby. Casada released an "action plan" late this afternoon, calling for an independent investigation and diversity training for legislators and staff.
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House Speaker Names New Chief of Staff After Cothren Resigns

House Speaker Glen Casada's Chief of Staff Cade Cothren, who was at the center of multiple scandals over the past week, resigned yesterday, prompting Casada to name former Chief of Staff to Beth Harwell, Scott Gilmer, to take over his old position. The Tennessean reports that Cothren stepped down after reports surfaced of his drug abuse and inappropriate sexual conduct at the Capitol. Previously he was accused of sending racist text messages and submitting incorrect information to authorities regarding the arrest of a black activist. Gilmer comes not without baggage of his own - in 2009 he pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge that he created a fake political website using the name of former state Rep. Nathan Vaughn.
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TBA Legislative Update - Until Next Time

The Tennessee General Assembly on Thursday completed the 2019 legislative session and one of its final acts was approval of a $38.5 billion budget that removed several professions from having to pay the professional privilege tax. Attorneys, lobbyists, stockbrokers, some doctors and other professions were not included on that list. The TBA will continue to educate lawmakers on the wide disparities in lawyers’ salaries across the state and help advocate on behalf of the profession on this issue. The budget did include $2.2 million in extra funding for indigent representation, on top of the $10 million already marked for this year. The additional $2.2 million will be recurring, meaning we'll see that money again in the coming years. To get the full lowdown on everything that went on in the 2019 session, make sure to register for the TBA Convention in Nashville, where the legislative affairs team will lead a detailed CLE update.
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House Speaker’s Staffer Harassed Interns, Admits to Racist Text Messages

House Speaker Glen Casada’s Chief of Staff, Cade Cothren, admitted today to sending racist messages and doing drugs in his legislative office, while reports uncovered messages Cothren had sent soliciting sex from interns and lobbiysts. The Tennessean reports that on some occasions, Casada participated in sexually charged messages objectifying women. Cothren was previously found to have sent messages calling black people “idiots” and the n-word, which today Cothren attributed to a drug problem that saw him using cocaine from his office.
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Nashville DA Assigns Special Prosecutor to Activist's Case

Nashville's district attorney has requested a special prosecutor take over an activist's criminal case after discrepancies were uncovered in evidence shared by House Speaker Glen Casada's chief of staff, the Tennessean reports. A recent news report asserted that that Cade Cothren, Casada's top staffer, may have tampered with evidence in an effort to frame activist Justin Jones for violating bond conditions. The evidence centers on an assault case against Jones, who was charged with throwing a cup of coffee into an elevator. Jones was told he could have no contact with Casada. Cothren sent prosecutors emails from Jones to Casada as proof of Jones violating bond, but the emails had two separate dates, one before Jones was arrested and one afterward. The discrepancy made it unclear if Jones had actually violated a court order.
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Federal Court Rules Ohio Congressional Map Unconstitutional

A federal court has ruled that Ohio's congressional map is an "unconstitutional partisan gerrymander" and must be redrawn by the 2020 election, NPR reports. In its ruling, a three-judge panel from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio argue that the map was intentionally drawn "to disadvantage Democratic voters and entrench Republican representatives in power." The court argues the map violates voters' constitutional right to choose their representatives and exceeds the state's powers under Article I of the Constitution. The decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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Legislature: Budget Deal Derails Professional Privilege Tax Cut

The TBA weekly video legislative update focuses on the final budget agreed upon by both the House and the Senate. The budget includes an elimination of the professional privilege tax entirely for several professions, but not for lawyers and some doctors. TBA Government Affairs Director Berkley Schwarz and Communications Coordinator Katharine Heriges talk about how this happened and what it means for the future. Watch the video on the TBA's Facebook page.
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House, Senate Differ in Response to Anti-LGBT Bill Backlash

After a number of prominent businesses and organizations, including the Tennessee Titans and Amazon, spoke out in opposition to a slate of bills targeting the LGBT community, House Speaker Glen Casada responded by saying he was unfazed by the financial implications and that “they should take care of their stockholders and not get so much involved in politics.” The Tennessean reports Lt. Gov. Randy McNally took a different angle, saying via a spokesperson that he “prefers to focus on legislation that advances economic growth rather than district from it.” Two of the bills were scheduled to be considered in both chambers today.
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House, Senate Close to Consensus on Budget

Both chambers in the Tennessee legislature appear to be reaching a consensus on a $38.5 billion budget, including fully funding a Medicaid waiver for disabled children, the Tennessean reports. While the Senate last week proposed funding only a portion of the Katie Beckett waiver program — citing concerns about the House's plan to use revenue from expanded online sales tax collection — a key Senate committee on Monday moved to fully fund the $27 million program through other revenue sources. The Senate has not changed its plans to reduce the professional privilege tax from $400 to $300.
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TBA Weekly Legislative Update: Budget Crunch

The Tennessee House of Representatives continued to set the legislative pace by passing a budget this week. That's typically one of the last major legislative hurdles before adjournment. Meanwhile the Senate saw its own version of the budget win approval yesterday in its revenue subcommittee, setting up the possibility of a budget battle between the two chambers. There is a real chance that the 2019 legislative session will wrap up next week, which would be in keeping with leadership’s goal of a May 1 adjournment. If past years are any indicator, the closing days of session are not lacking in drama, so things could get entertaining before the final gavel sounds.
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Senate Budget: Cut Professional Privilege Tax, Partially Fund Program for Disabled Children

After speculation over whether the state Senate would agree to fund a Medicaid waiver program to provide medical treatment for disabled children, the upper chamber has announced its plan: Pay for part of it, while using additional funds to reduce the state's professional privilege tax. The Tennessean reports that the Senate's budget allocates $15.6 million for the waiver program, funding that would cover roughly 300 of the state's 3,300 children who could benefit from it. The upper chamber is calling for $23.4 million in cuts to the state's professional privilege tax, reducing it from $400 to $300.
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Rep. Curcio Joins TBA Weekly Legislative Update

The TBA's video legislative update this week includes a special guest - Tennessee State House Rep. Michael Curcio, R-Dickson. Curcio sits down with TBA Public Policy and Government Affairs Director Berkley Schwarz and lobbyist Bradley Lampley. Watch the interview on the TBA Facebook page, and catch up on previous updates on the TBA YouTube channel.
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Powers Wins Special Senate Election with 53% of Vote

Republican Bill Powers has won the special election to fill Congressman Mark Green’s seat in the Tennessee Senate, the Leaf Chronicle reports. Powers, an automotive dealer, defeated Democrat Juanita Charles with 53% of the vote, compared to her 45%. Powers will represent District 22, which includes Montgomery, Houston and Stewart counties, for the remainder of Green’s term.
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State House Narrowly Approves Lee's School Voucher Plan

The Tennessee House passed Gov. Bill Lee’s signature school voucher legislation today in dramatic fashion, with a Knoxville lawmaker switching his vote to break a tie, the Tennessean reports. The bill, which would create education savings accounts for parents and requires verification of the recipient’s legal status, was deadlocked in a 49-49 tie this morning. Republican Rep. Jason Zachary cast the tie-breaking vote. 
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Senate Version of School Vouchers Bill Could Apply to Only Shelby, Davidson Counties

Gov. Bill Lee's signature education savings account proposal could be pared back to just Davidson and Shelby counties when it goes back before the Senate this week, The Tennessean reports. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said that the controversial measure — which would provide money for parents to take their children out of public schools and allow them to spend the funds on private school or other education-related expenses — could be headed to a conference committee. Lawmakers use conference committees to settle disagreements between the House and Senate. The same version of each bill must be approved by both chambers before a measure can head to Lee's desk. 
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