Government Affairs Update

Follow the TBA's efforts to influence federal and state policy as it fulfills one of the core missions of the association – advocacy for the profession and for our system of justice.

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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