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.

Contested Election Bill Fails; Eventful Judicial Selection Day

Legislation to abolish the Tennessee Plan and replace it with contested, partisan elections for all appellate judges in 2014 failed in what is expected to be the last meeting of the House Judiciary Committee late today. The vote was 7-7 on HB 173 by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin.

First thing this morning, the Senate held the first reading on two resolutions that cleared the Senate Finance Committee as reported in TBAToday yesterday. Early voting on those resolutions though is not considered to be indicative of the final outcome. SJR 183 by Mark Norris, R-Memphis, permits the General Assembly to adopt a merit appointment system with retention elections. SJR 710 by Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, forbids merit selection and provides for gubernatorial appointment and legislative confirmation before retention elections.

At midday, the House Finance Subcommittee recommended to the full committee adoption of HJR 830 by Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, as amended. This bill is considered the analog to Norris' SJR 183. The amendment requires merit-based selection "with the concurrence of the legislature” followed by retention elections. The analog to SJR 710, which is also sponsored by Rep. Lundberg was put over for consideration in the subcommittee until next week.

What does it all mean? It is always hazardous to predict legislative matters, particularly in the fluid, chaotic state of affairs at the end of a legislative session. However it does appear that some of the options for advocates of changing our system are narrowing, as are the options for renewing the current plan. Stay tuned for further developments.

read more »

Campaign Seeks End to 'Stand Your Ground' Laws

At an event at the National Press Club today, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and leaders of African American organizations announced a national campaign against "stand your ground" self-defense laws. Bloomberg said the campaign would be a grassroots effort that would include outreach to lawmakers in all 50 states and creation of model legislation. New York Daily News has the story and a press release from the mayor's office.

read more »

Judicial Election Bills Rocket to Senate Floor

Resolutions to amend the state constitution regarding selection and election of appellate court judges rocketed out of the  Senate Finance Committee today and are set for consideration as the first and second items on Wednesday's Senate floor calendar. Tennessee Bar Association President Danny Van Horn said that removing merit selection and instituting legislative confirmation in Tennessee's judicial selection system, as SJR 710 by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, would do, is  “dangerous experimentation” with our Constitution and will increase the role that politics plays in the selection of our appellate judiciary and possibly their functioning. At present the Tennessee Constitution does not provide for any state office to be subject to legislative confirmation.

The other proposal, SJR 183, sponsored by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, would amend the Constitution to permit the legislature to enact a system of merit selection and retention elections like our current system. While the TBA would prefer that the Constitutional amendment, if there must be one, prescribe more clearly the system to be created, the Norris resolution at least clearly authorizes the current system, which the bar supports.
 
Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, and House Speaker Beth Harwell have previously affirmed unequivocally their support for the current system, saying that they favor extension of the present plan past the August 2014 judicial elections and adopting legislation to specify the outline of the present plan into the constitution. The TBA has been clear in its support for the present merit selection, performance evaluation and retention election system known at the Tennessee Plan, last amended in 2009, and continues to indicate that no amendment to the constitution is needed.

read more »

New System for Disciplining Judges Passes Legislature

Legislation that puts into place a new system for disciplining judges won House approval Monday night on an 88-5 vote without any debate. The Senate had earlier approved SB2671 unanimously, so the bill now goes to the governor. The bill abolishes the Court of the Judiciary and replaces it with a new 16-member Board of Judicial Conduct. Read more from the Knoxville New Sentinel.

Editorial: Governor Should Sign Diversion Bill

In an editorial, the Jackson Sun urges Gov. Bill Haslam to sign legislation on his desk that makes state public officials ineligible for pretrial diversion for criminal acts committed in their official capacity. "Gov. Haslam can raise the ethics bar and improve the image and the reputation of Tennessee public officials by signing this legislation into law," the paper says.

read more »

Editorial: Judicial Selection Process Works, Support It

The Knoxville News Sentinel is calling for legislators to support the proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam that would affirm by constitutional amendment the state's method of selecting justices for the Tennessee Supreme Court and appeals courts. In an editorial, the newspaper says  that some lawmakers who "can't resist trying to fix things that are not really broken" should listen to the proposal's top supporters: Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell. "There are good reasons the Founding Fathers of our nation and the writers of many state constitutions focused on separation of powers and checks and balances to make republican government work," the editorial says. "In making decisions from the bench, justices must consider the law before them, not the special interests that bankrolled their election."

read more »

Elizabethton Lawyer To Run for House

Thom Gray has formally announced his candidacy for State Representative from the Fourth District, representing Carter and Unicoi counties. The Elizabethton lawyer will seek the Republican nomination in the Aug. 2 primary election. The Elizabethton Star has more

Moore Won't Run for Re-election

State Rep. Gary Moore, D-Nashville, announced today he will not run for re-election this fall. Moore served eight years in the House and recently was elected president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council. He becomes the seventh Democratic member to retire this year. Metro Councilman Bo Mitchell, a Democrat, filed papers today to run for the seat. WPLN reports

read more »

Bill Allowing Governor to Appoint AG Gets Committee OK

The Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Tuesday that would allow the governor to appoint the state attorney general for a four-year term, subject to legislative confirmation. The measure also requires the attorney general be at least 30 years old, a licensed Tennessee attorney, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the state for at least seven years. The legislation, Senate Joint Resolution 693, is sponsored by committee chair Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, who argues a change is needed to bring more accountability to the position. The resolution requires a simple majority vote by the current General Assembly and a two-thirds vote by the next assembly. If approved, the question would then be put to voters in a November 2014 statewide referendum. Chattanoogan.com has the story

read more »

House Majority Leader to Seek Re-Election

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, majority leader of the Tennessee House of Representatives, announced today he will seek re-election to House District 26 this fall. After redistricting, the district is now the heart of Hamilton County, with new precincts in the Hixson, Riverview, Stuart Heights and North Chattanooga areas. McCormick was first elected in 2004, and was chosen by his colleagues to serve as the majority leader of the Tennessee House in 2010. Chattanoogan.com has more

read more »