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.

AG Issues Opinion on Constitutionality of ‘Senior Business Judge’ Bill

Tennessee Attorney General Hebert Slatery has issued an opinion on the constitutionality of a proposed bill in the Tennessee legislature that would authorize the Tennessee Supreme Court to designate certain judges with at least one year of judicial service to serve as senior judges to hear complex commercial disputes. One provision of the bill that Slatery found raised “significant constitutional concerns” would allow the court to appoint a senior judge even if that judge had sought reelection or retention and was defeated. “The proposed legislation would undermine the election requirement to an extent not provided in existing law,” Slatery wrote.
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First in Adoption Act Passes Civil Justice Subcommittee

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee today voted to recommend the Tennessee: First in Adoption Act, HB1856, for passage. The completely rewritten legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, and Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, makes significant changes to Tennessee adoption laws. Drafted by members of the newly created Adoption Law Section of the TBA, the comprehensive bill addresses many important issues, such as simplifying and adding to the Tennessee Code the parental surrender form, clarifying parental termination grounds, and affording greater protections to biological fathers attempting to assert their parental rights. The legislation will next be considered by the full Civil Justice Committee. The Senate version will go to its Judiciary Committee.
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Ethics Complaints Against Diane Black Dropped, Harwell’s Delayed

Two campaign finance ethics complaints against gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Diane Black were dropped today, The Tennessean reports. The Registry of Election Finance voted unanimously to dismiss the complaints, as well as to delay taking up three complaints against House Speaker Beth Harwell and her campaign for governor.
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Black Has Most Missed Votes of Tennessee Congressional Delegation

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Sumner County Republican and current candidate for governor of Tennessee, has been absent for 29 of 101 votes at the U.S. House of Representatives this year, making her the least-present member of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation. The Tennessean reports that since launching her campaign, Black has missed more than 50 votes, including a recent vote on a bill to fight sex trafficking, an issue she claims to support. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who has been absent the second most times and is also campaigning for a statewide seat, missed 11 votes this year.
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GOP Stalls Child Marriage Bill, Citing Connection to Gay Marriage Case

House Republicans effectively killed a bill Wednesday that would prohibit child marriages in Tennessee, citing an obscure legal theory that passing the bill could deter a conservative lawyer's case against gay marriage. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory, calls for the state to outlaw marriages where one of the parties is under 18 years of age. The Times Free Press reports that House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, cited an email he received from attorney and former state Sen. David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, arguing that passing Jernigan's bill could interfere with a lawsuit he is mounting to counter the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage.

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Candidate Leaves Leadership Group After Endorsement

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee has resigned from the board of the Nashville Business Coalition after the group publicly urged Democrat David Briley to seek election as Nashville mayor and called on other prospective candidates to stay out of the race, the Tennessee Star reports. Lee said he didn't think leadership groups should discourage others from entering the political process.

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Attorney Carfi Will Again Seek District 17 Senate Seat

Mary Alice Carfi, the Wilson County attorney who narrowly lost a special election for the Senate District 17 seat last year, has announced she will try again for the position this year, the Lebanon Democrat reports. The district, which is currently represented by Republican Sen. Mark Pody, includes Cannon, Clay, DeKalb, Macon, Smith and Wilson counties. Carfi, a Democrat, came within 2.6 percent of the vote from defeating Pody in a solidly Republican district in December’s special election.
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TBA Opposes Bill Moving Judgeships from Shelby, Davidson Counties

A proposal at the legislature would transfer one judgeship from Davidson County and one judgeship from Shelby County into other districts, the Nashville Post reports. The Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) is opposed to the measure. Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Thompson’s Station, are sponsoring the bill, which would transfer the positions into districts that include Rutherford and Williamson counties. The TBA notes a Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury report that shows courts in Davidson and Shelby counties are understaffed. “There’s no surplus in Nashville and Memphis to transfer to those districts,” said Executive Director Emeritus Allan Ramsaur. “We'd be more for a more comprehensive look at the allocation of resources.”
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Legislation Would Make Autopsy Reports Secret

Two Republican lawmakers have presented a bill in the General Assembly that would make autopsy reports conducted by state and county medical examiners secret, The Tennessean reports. Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, say that public forensic findings can be difficult for the families of the dead, but critics of the bill say those records are vital to those in the criminal justice system. "It's important autopsy reports remain open in cases when there are questions about the death," said Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. "This bill closes everything. Things that can be used for accountability." 
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Bill Codifying Common Law Creation of Joint Tenancy Passes Subcommittee

Today TBA member Jim Romer testified before the House Civil Justice Subcommittee in support of HB1924, a bill he drafted and was sponsored by Rep. Kelly Keisling. The bill codifies common law creation of joint tenancy with right of survivorship through express language in a conveying instrument and prevents unilaterally severing a joint tenancy with right of survivorship. It amends TCA 66-1-107. The bill passed the subcommittee by a voice vote and will now be considered by the House Civil Justice full Committee. The Senate version, SB2001 sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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