News

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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TBA Legislative Update: Flow Motion

Last week the pace of the legislative session accelerated to lightning speed after the House initiated the much anticipated, and equally dreaded, “flow motion” on the floor, a move that suspends the parliamentary rules that the legislature typically observes during session. Bills are moving from committee to the floor on the same day. Now that the vast majority of committees are closed, the legislature will transition into passing the annual budget and tying up loose ends on major policy initiatives with hefty price tags. Only the Senate Judiciary Committee and Finance, Ways and Means Committees remain open. House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland announced plans for the House to take up the state’s $38 billion budget next week, with the goal of tying up all loose ends the following week.
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Legislature Advances Bill to Raise Contribution Limits for State Senators

The House and Senate will vote on a bill on Thursday that would double the campaign contribution limits for members of the upper chamber, The Tennessean reports. The legislation seeks to align members of the Senate, who serve four-year terms, to the contribution limits for House lawmakers, who face election every two years. under the bill, for each primary and general election senators could receive a maximum of: $2,200 from a single person, $24,600 from an individual political action committee and an aggregate total of $245,800 from all political action committees.
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Compromise Bill on Oversight Boards Heads to Governor's Desk

A bill placing restrictions on civilian police oversight boards around the state has passed both legislative chambers and is now headed to the governor's desk, The Tennessean reports. The rewritten legislation, recently crafted via a compromise in committee, now permits a community oversight board to seek a subpoena during an investigation into alleged police misconduct by doing so through the local city council, which has the authority under state law to issue subpoenas. It requires that a municipality's local legislative body approve the subpoena request by a majority vote, and that the request detail the specific documents and individuals being compelled. A council is not permitted to give "blanket authorization" for subpoenas, according to the bill.
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TBA Video Update: 2 TBA Bills Signed by Governor

This week's TBA Video Legislative Update finds Public Policy Director Berkley Schwarz and Communications Coordinator Katharine Heriges back in the studio with big news - two TBA-backed bills were signed by Gov. Bill Lee today, and one more is waiting on the governor's desk for his signature. Hear more about TBA's legislation, as well as what's in store for the legislative panel CLE at the TBA Convention — all in this week's Facebook live video. Catch up on previous videos from this session on the TBA Facebook page and the TBA's YouTube channel.
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House Passes Controversial Voter Registration Bill

House lawmakers have passed a bill that places new restrictions on voter registration efforts, though its passage was not without controversy, the Tennessean reports. The measure, backed by Secretary of State Tre Hargett, would require groups leading voter registration efforts to undergo training and potentially face fines for submitting too many incomplete forms. Critics of the bill say it would criminalize voter registration drives, and claim the bill was motivated in response to the surge of African-American voter registration efforts prior to the 2018 midterm elections.
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Get the Lowdown on the Legislature at the TBA Convention

After following the Tennessee General Assembly all year through the TBA’s Legislative Updates, are you ready to get an in-person deep dive into this session’s highs and lows? You can at this year’s Legislative Panel at the TBA Convention in Nashville, June 12-15. You’ll hear from the lawmakers themselves, as well as TBA lobbyists on what’s happened and what’s to come next year. Register before April 30 for the Early Bird discount.
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TBA Legislative Update - Race to the Finish

Both the House and the Senate wrapped up budget hearings this week as the race to the finish begins. Leadership maintains session will wrap-up by the first week of May, but hotly contested bills like Gov. Bill Lee’s Educational Savings Account bill and the bipartisan sports betting bill pose a threat to that promise. Bills we have been tracking that are officially dead for the year include SB399/HB236: Increasing of homestead exemption; SB1404/HB1426: Presumption of joint custody;  SB1424/HB1411: Establishing requirements for providers operating websites offering consumer access to interactive software that generates legal documents based on consumer answers; SB1408/HB1257: Requiring General Assembly confirmation of vacancy appointments of judicial officers; SB54/HB122: Grandparent visitation; SB990/HB1183: Nonpartisan elections for judicial offices in Shelby and Davidson counties;  SB867/HB896: Requirement for educational training on conservatorships; and HB409/SB1275: addressing civil immunity for a person who uses or threatens force in self-defense.
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State House Passes TennCare Block Grant Plan

The Tennessee House of Representatives has voted in favor a controversial plan to radically restructure the financing of the state's TennCare program, the Tennessean reports. The bill, HB 1280/SB 1428, could make Tennessee the first and only state to fund its Medicaid program through an annual lump sum payment instead of funding that is tied to enrollment and state spending. Currently the state receives more than $7.5 billion annually from the federal government for the program. Gov. Bill Lee has signaled support for the measure, but in the Senate the bill's fate in unclear.
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TBA Legislative Update from Washington D.C.

This week's TBA Video Legislative Update was recorded on location in Washington, D.C., during the American Bar Association's Day on the Hill. TBA President Jason Pannu, lobbyist Brad Lampley and Kirsten Jacobson from the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services filmed the remote segment in between meetings with Tennessee's congressional delegation. Watch it here on the TBA Facebook page and see previous updates on the TBA YouTube page.
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Staples Steps Down from Democratic Leadership Role Following Ethics Subcommittee Investigation

Rep. Rick Staples, the Knoxville Democrat who violated the state legislature's sexual harassment policy, is stepping down from his leadership position in the House Democratic Caucus, the Tennessean reports. Staples, who has served as assistant minority leader, made the decision after the House Ethics Subcommittee, following an internal investigation, found Staples violated the General Assembly's sexual harassment policy. He previously apologized if his actions were "misinterpreted" by a woman who said Staples inappropriately grabbed her waist and made comments about her appearance, though he called the situation a "political character assassination."
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TBA Goes to Washington for ABA Day on the Hill

A delegation of eight lawyers from Tennessee are representing the state during this year’s ABA Day on the Hill events. Today’s visits included meetings with U.S. Reps. David Kustoff, Scott DesJarlais, Steve Cohen and Tim Burchett, as well as Sen. Lamar Alexander. The delegation will meet with Sen. Marsha Blackburn on Thursday. The main topics for discussion are increased funding for the Legal Services Corporation and maintaining the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Today’s agenda also included a presentation by Kirsten Jacobson on her own connection to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the important work of the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services. 
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State Government Honors Former State Rep. Ben West Jr.

Flags over the state capitol flew at half-staff on Saturday in memory of former State Rep. Ben West Jr., who died last week at 78. The longtime Nashville-area legislator served 26 years before stepping down in 2010, the Tennessee Journal reports. West's father was former Nashville mayor Ben West. His brother was the late Jay West, a former Metro council member and vice mayor.

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Budget, Major Legislation Still Moving Through General Assembly

A majority of House subcommittees are now closed and with full committees in both houses either on their final calendars or closed for business, the end of the session is in site. Leaders continue to aim for a May 1 adjournment, with the target date for a completed budget April 25. There are, of course, unanticipated delays that can arise from major pieces of legislation whose fate has yet to be determined. This year that includes bills on school choice and education savings accounts, sports gaming and medical marijuana. Floor activity will also increase for the remainder of April, as the bulk of legislation that survived the committee process now advances for floor votes. Lengthy floor meetings in the House and Senate chambers will become a regular occurrence.

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Lt. Gov. Forecasts Tough Road in Senate for Adoption Bill

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally says he thinks a House-passed bill that is seen as an effort to stop same-sex couples from adopting children, will face a difficult path in the Senate, the Daily Memphian reports. The bill, HB836, would prevent the state from penalizing private adoption agencies that refuse to grant adoption services to couples based on religious and moral beliefs.

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Legislative Update: TBA Bills Win Senate Approval

Public Policy Director Berkley Schwarz hosts this week’s Facebook livestream video legislative update, joined by TBA lobbyist Brad Lampley. The two update progress on TBA bills they’re helping move through the Senate and House of Representatives. You can view all the TBA’s legislative updates on YouTube and make sure to catch future updates every Thursday afternoon on the TBA’s Facebook page.

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House Rep. Rick Staples Faces Allegations of Sexual Misconduct

Knoxville Democratic Rep. Rick Staples is facing disciplinary action after an internal investigation determined he violated the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, the Tennessean reports. Staples is expected to be removed from the House Ethics Committee, to which Speaker Glen Casada appointed him in January. The woman who's complaint launched the investigation is involved in Democratic politics in the state and said Staples had made inappropriate remarks to her on previous occasions, and she decided to move forward with a complaint now since she said this time Staples touched her inappropriately.
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Bill Would Place Restrictions on Voter Registration Efforts, Impose Penalties for Deficient Forms

Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office is behind a new bill that would require groups leading voter registration efforts to undergo training and potentially face fines for submitting too many incomplete forms, the Tennessean reports. The proposal also would assess a civil penalty against groups that turn in more than 100 deficient voter registration applications. This week, HB 1079 and SB 971 are set to be heard in legislative committees in their respective chambers. The measure is being met with criticism from groups who organize voter registration drives. They say that it discourages groups from being involved in the registration process.
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Action Heats Up as General Assembly Moves Toward Final Weeks

Legislative leadership continues to target an early May adjournment as more House and Senate committees announced final calendars this week and with several committees preparing to take up final calendars the week of April 8. Additionally, senators started filing appropriation amendments, a step that represents the beginning of the end of the annual budget process, where lawmakers file amendments to fund a bill or project that is not currently in the budget. Thus in one to two weeks, a majority of the legislation filed for the 2019 session will have had its fate determined. Unsurprisingly, there will be an increase in activity over the next couple of weeks as members rush to put bills on notice before committees shut down. Rest assured, the TBA Government Affairs team will continue to track and monitor all bills affecting the practice of law. 
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Video Update: Legislature Heading Toward Session's End

As the General Assembly prepares for what it hopes will be the final month of this year's session, the TBA's weekly livestream video Legislative Update is now available for viewing on the TBA Facebook page. This week's edition focuses on the status of the TBA's remaining bills, other key pieces of legislation the TBA is watching, as well as a recent bill the TBA came out in opposition against. Tune in next week for a special guest!
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Byrd Out as Education Subcommittee Chair

Citing bipartisan concerns over the controversy surrounding Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesville, House Speaker Glen Casada has removed him from his chairmanship of an education subcommittee, The Tennessean reports. Byrd faces allegations from women who accused him of sexual misconduct during his time as a high school basketball coach. Casada said his decision was not about the allegations but because the situation had become a distraction. Byrd said Thursday he had no intention of resigning. 
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Governor's School Voucher Proposal Passes House Committee

Gov. Bill Lee's school voucher proposal passed a key hurdle today when it gained approval from the House Education Committee, The Tennessean reports. In an unusual move and a signal of how important the legislation is, House Speaker Glen Casada made an appearance at the meeting to cast a rare vote, moving the educational savings account program forward by a 14-9 margin. Lawmakers amended the proposal, but did not detail those changes before the vote. The amendment includes changes to remove home schooling, cap the program and require the state's education department to verify the legal status of students.
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TBA, Governor Opposes Bill Requiring Legislative Confirmation for Judicial Appointments

A bill currently making its way through the Tennessee General Assembly would require legislative confirmation for the governor’s picks for vacant lower-court judgeships and other local judicial positions, The Nashville Post reports. The TBA opposes the bill, with Executive Director Joycelyn Stevenson saying  it "adds an unnecessary delay and political layer to the process." Gov. Bill Lee spokesperson Laine Arnold said the administration also opposes the bill because "our current process already provides a high level of accountability as these positions are often up for election within a short time from the governor’s appointment."
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