News

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.
read more »

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.
read more »

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. 
read more »

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!
read more »

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. 
read more »

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.
read more »

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."
read more »

TBA Legislative Update: Committees Begin Closing Down

Legislative activity continued at an active pace last week as committees juggled executive branch budget hearings, bills, a flood of last-minute amendments — which were filed due to committee closures — and the announcement of final calendars for several key committees. By the end of the week, the House Property and Casualty Subcommittee, the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee and the House Cities and Counties Subcommittee all closed subject to the call of the chair, with many others expected to follow suit this week. Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, chair of the Finance Ways and Means Committee, also announced that the Senate is halfway through the budget hearing process, with an anticipated completion in two weeks. Leadership continues to target an early May adjournment, which means the bulk of legislation for 2019 will have its fate determined within the next month.
read more »

Haslam Meets with Pence to Discuss Possible U.S. Senate Bid

Former Gov. Bill Haslam met with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House this week as the Knoxville Republican continues eyeing a potential run for the U.S. Senate, Knoxnews reports. Haslam has been mulling a run for the upper chamber since U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced in December he would not seek re-election. He previously said he would announce his decision in the early months of 2019. Other Republicans weighing a Senate bid include U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, orthopedic trauma surgeon Manny Sethi and U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Clarksville. Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler is the only Democrat to enter the race so far. 
read more »

TBA ED Joycelyn Stevenson Today's Guest on Legislative Update

This week's video TBA Legislative Update is now available on Facebook. Joining Government Affairs Director Berkley Schwarz and Communications Coordinator Katharine Heriges for this edition is TBA Executive Director Joycelyn Stevenson, who talks about what role she has to play in the bar association's legislative agenda, as well as the ins-and-outs of what goes on behind the scenes at the TBA. Check out future installments by logging onto Facebook every Thursday afternoon, and catch up on previous updates on the TBA's YouTube channel.
read more »

Legislative Update - Pace Picks Up at General Assembly

Legislative activity continued to increase last week, with full committee calendars that included both bills and budget presentations of executive branch agencies. Additionally, some committees already have their projected end dates in sight as leadership continues to target an early May adjournment. The overall level of legislative activity will increase even more next week, as the bulk of legislation for 2019 will have its fate determined in the next four weeks. 
read more »

Rep. Towns Fined Another $10K for Campaign Finance Violations

State Rep. Joe Towns’ civil penalties reached $45,000 Wednesday after the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance fined him another $10,000 for failing to file campaign reports, The Daily Memphian reports. The Registry now has assessed four outstanding $10,000 civil penalties against Towns for failing to file reports and late filing and another $5,000 penalty for late filing of an appointment of treasurer. Wednesday’s penalty was for the third period in 2018. Towns said he has no intention of paying any of the fines but plans to run for re-election in 2020.
read more »

Rose Wins State Senate Special Election

Covington businessman Paul Rose is the new state senator from District 32, The Daily Memphian reports. Rose was the winner over Democratic nominee Eric Coleman in yesterday’s special general election for the seat, keeping it in the Republican column. Rose will fill the unfinished term of former Sen. Mark Norris, who was nominated and confirmed last year as a federal judge. Rose's term runs to the end of 2020.
read more »

CATALYST Students Visit Legislature for Day on the Hill

Students from the Chattanooga School of the Arts and Sciences visited the Tennessee legislature today as a part of the TBA Young Lawyers Division CATALYST program. The program solicited ideas for legislation from schools across the state, helped the students compose their own legislation, and then selected one bill to introduce at the General Assembly. The students who wrote the bill toured the Capitol today and met with Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, as well as lobbyists and other government leaders.
read more »

Sen. Kelsey Proposes Increasing Campaign Finance Limits for Senators

Legislation by state Sen. Brian Kelsey that could dramatically increase Senate candidate fundraising is scheduled to be heard in a committee this week, The Daily Memphian reports. Kelsey introduced his legislation recently with a handwritten amendment that rewrote the bill during a State and Local Government Committee meeting. He told committee members the amendment “was basically doubling” campaign contribution limits on the Senate side to mirror House campaign contribution limits.
read more »

TBA Legislative Update: State of the State

Before the House chamber, Gov. Bill Lee recently delivered his first State of the State address to a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly. He emphasized the importance of criminal justice reform and the need to move away from the “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality that he said has long prevailed in Tennessee. Lee also announced the creation of a task force, to be chaired by senior advisor and former judge Brandon Gibson, that will develop legislative and budgetary recommendations on various issues, including crime prevention, recidivism, victim support, mental health, and reforming the criminal code and sentencing guidelines. In the legislature next week, committee activity will continue to ramp up as leadership encourages members to put their bills on notice, with a target goal of May 1 for adjournment. See more legislative coverage via TBA's Legislative Updates on the TBA YouTube channel.
read more »

TBA Weekly Video Legislative Update - March 7

The TBA's weekly livestream video legislative update is now available on Facebook. This week's update discusses the TBA's lobbying process, from bill selection all the way through committee. Catch up on all of the TBA's legislative updates on YouTube. Watch future updates every Thursday afternoon on the TBA's Facebook page.
read more »

Party Registration Bill Advances

A new bill regarding party registration has passed the Tennessee House Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee, the Nashville Post reports. The bill would allow for party registration but not require it to vote in primary elections. Those who choose to register as a member of a party would be prevented from voting in another party’s primary. The legislation comes after a bill with a similar topic, which would have required party registration to vote in primaries, failed in a House committee.
read more »

Tennessee AG Urges U.S. Senate to Approve Anti-Robocall Legislation

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III urged the U.S. Senate to enact the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, legislation to curb illegal robocalls and spoofing. A coalition of 54 attorneys general sent a letter to the U. S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation supporting the TRACED Act, which is sponsored by Sens. John Thune and Ed Markey. The legislation will require voice service providers to participate in a call authentication framework to help block unwanted calls and creates an interagency working group to take additional actions to reduce robocalls and hold telemarketers and robocallers accountable.
read more »

Tennessee Legislature Considers Raising the Smoking Age to 21

There are at least three proposals at the Tennessee legislature that would increase the age to buy tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, from 18 to 21, WPLN reports. Altria — which owns Philip Morris USA — is backing one of the proposals to raise Tennessee's tobacco age, primarily to address underage vaping. The growth of e-cigarettes among teens has been so rapid that the Centers for Disease Control issued a special warning late last year. Sen. Shane Reeves, R-Murfreesboro, says the only resistance he's found is among a few convenience store owners worried about sales. Tennessee has one of the highest rates of smoking and deaths from related disease.

read more »

General Assembly Ramping Up for Busy March

It was a busy week at the legislature, as committees continued to ramp up to speed and more bills were placed on notice. Some lawmakers opted to run their bills early in session to avoid the inevitable rush that takes place in April, and other committees dedicated their entire calendars to bills addressing certain topics. Several house subcommittees also announced last calendars for the week of March 11, as leadership continues to press things along on a schedule to allow the legislature to adjourn sometime in early May. On Monday, Gov. Bill Lee will address a joint convention of the legislature to deliver his first State of the State address. Lee’s speech will highlight his key initiatives and priorities, and will likely include issues such as increased funding for school safety, greater resources for mental illness treatment, and an increased focus on having students ready for the workforce out of high school. 
read more »