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.

Judicial Evaluation Bill Set for House Consideration

Legislation to significantly revamp the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission could be heard as early as tomorrow in a House Judiciary subcommittee. The bill (SB 1058/HB 1227), as amended last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, removes all of the present Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission members, reconstitutes the body without any judges as members, allows the commission to rewrite evaluation criteria, and provides that if an incumbent appellate level judge is evaluated as “for replacement,” that judge may not stand for retention election. The resulting judicial vacancy would then be filled by gubernatorial appointment after a nominating commission recommendation. TBA President Jackie Dixon said action on this bill right now amounts to “changing the rules, the referees and the scorekeeping after the two minute warning.” Retention elections are set for August 2014 for all current Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals judges.

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Collateral Source Bill Deferred for Study

Legislation set for consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee today to limit the effect of the collateral source rule in litigation (SB 1184/HB 978) will be studied over the off-legislative session instead. The Senate sponsor, Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, expressed his intention that the bill be first on the Senate Judiciary Committee calendar in 2014. The TBA has opposed the change in Tennessee tort law.

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No-Helmet Bill Passes Senate Panel

A proposal to do away with the state’s motorcycle helmet law was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee despite Gov. Bill Haslam’s opposition, the Memphis Daily News reports. The bill, sponsored my Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, would allow riding without a helmet but require the driver to have $25,000 in additional medical coverage, a minimum two-year motorcycle license, have taken a motorcycle riding course and be at least 25 years old.

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Three Vying to be Memphis Democratic Chair

Three contenders for chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party will gather supporters Saturday at the district caucuses to determine who will be delegates to the county party convention, where they will elect the new chair. The Memphis Daily News reports that Jennings Barnard, Bryan Carson and Terry Spicer are in the running to replace attorney Van Turner who has served as chair for four years.

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AG: Bill to Dismantle Vanderbilt Police Unconstitutional

A bill to strip Vanderbilt University of its police powers unless it drops a controversial nondiscrimination policy has been ruled unconstitutional by Attorney General Robert Cooper, the Tennessean reports. Senate Bill 1241, sponsored by state Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, proposes dismantling the university’s police department into an armed security guard service if the institution does not repeal a policy requiring officially recognized campus groups to allow any student to participate regardless of the student’s beliefs or status. The policy was instituted after a Christian fraternity tried to exclude gay members.

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Governor Signs Guns-in-Trunks Bill

Today Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law Senate Bill 142 allowing handgun permit holders to carry their guns anywhere in their cars, even to work, the Tennessean reports. The bill, which goes into effect July 1, removes criminal penalties for carrying a firearm in a car onto private property without the owner’s permission. It left open the legal question of whether an employer could fire someone for bringing a gun to work, however.

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Judge Bars State from Defunding Planned Parenthood STD Program

U.S. District Court Judge William J. Haynes Jr. barred the state from defunding Planned Parenthood of Tennessee in contracts totaling more than $170,000 last year. According to WATE News Channel 6,  Haynes blocked Republican leaders' efforts to keep Planned Parenthood from participating in a federally funded venereal disease prevention program aimed at reducing the infection rate of HIV and syphilis.

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Maryland Legislature Votes to Overturn Death Penalty

The Maryland House of Delegates today joined the Senate, voting to overturn the state's death penalty, putting it a step closer to becoming the 18th U.S. state to abolish executions, Reuters reports. By a vote of 82 to 56, the House agreed to replace capital punishment with a sentence of life without parole. Gov. Martin O'Malley -- who said the death penalty was expensive, did not work and cited a study that death penalty sentencing was racially biased -- has pledged to sign the bill into law.

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Voter ID Bill Moves to House

A bill forbidding use of Memphis Library photo identification cards for voting, but allowing student photo IDs won approval from the state Senate Thursday and now moves on to the House for consideration, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Judicial Selection Plan to Go Before Voters

With House passage this week, the proposed constitutional amendment that would change how appellate court judges are selected will now go before voters in 2014. The proposal (SJR 2) would replace Tennessee’s current plan of merit selection and retention elections with a system allowing for the governor to appoint appellate judges, subject to legislative confirmation, followed by retention elections. The House passed the proposal 78-14 on Monday, the City Paper reports, while the Senate had earlier given its OK on a 29-2 vote.

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