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.

Bill to Change Attorney General Selection Fails

A proposal to change the way the state attorney general is selected failed 16-15 in the Senate. Under the proposal, the governor would have appointed an attorney general and the legislature would have confirmed the selection. Currently, attorneys general are selected by state Supreme Court justices. Read the AP story

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Conservatorship Bill Passes House, Goes to Governor

The state House voted unanimously Monday for a bill designed to protect citizens targeted to have their lives placed under the control of conservators. In brief discussion before the 95-0 vote, Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, said the bill would require those petitioning to place someone in a conservatorship to disclose their relationship to the target of the petition and to disclose whether they had a criminal record. The bill already has passed the Senate and is expected to go to the governor later this week. Read more in the Tennessean

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Amendment Moving Forward Would End Merit Selection

In this final week of the 107th General Assembly, the legislature appears poised to pass a resolution to amend the state constitution to introduce a modified federal style of appointments to fill appellate and Supreme Court vacancies. SJR 710, by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, eliminates current language in the Constitution that contemplates elections, and replaces it with a process by which the governor will appoint a judge, subject to the confirmation by both houses of the General Assembly. Once in office, the judge would stand for a retention election. This change would end the current merit selection/retention election process in Tennessee

The resolution passed in the Senate on Monday and is set for consideration tomorrow in the House. If passed, the resolution would be before the 108th General Assembly, where it would require a two-thirds vote, in order to go on the ballot for public consideration in November 2014.

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Eligible to Run? Candidate's Property Straddles District Line

A woman who has filed to run to run as a Democrat for the new 89th District state House seat lives in a house that seems to be in Anderson County, although her driveway and mailbox are in Knox. The 89th District lies entirely in Knox County. On Monday, Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret asked Chancellor John Weaver for a declaratory judgment. State Election Coordinator Mark Goins has said it appears to him that Shelley Breeding is an Anderson County resident, but that the election commission should seek a court ruling. Breeding is registered to vote in Knox County, her vehicle has Knox County tags, and she was recently summoned for jury duty in Knox County. The News Sentinel has more

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Legislative Session May End This Week

Tennessee lawmakers say they hope to wrap up the 107th General Assembly this week, although there are about "60 to 70" unresolved issues. Among those are the budget, proposals on how to select Supreme Court justices and an effort to ban teaching about gay issues in schools. The News Sentinel has more

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Press Reports 'Robocalls' on Judicial Selection

The Tennessee Journal and other sources this afternoon reported that supporters of a constitutional amendment to end merit selection and institute legislative confirmation for Tennessee judges (SJR 710) are using an "artificial turf" campaign technique to try to generate the appearance of popular support for their viewpoint. The technique involves calls to voters who, if they agree with the position of the group making the calls, are then connected with their senator or representative's office to express their views. The campaign technique is referred to as artificial turf or Astroturf because it can give the appearance of real grassroots support.

TBA president Danny Van Horn said that personal calls from trusted Tennessee lawyers to lawmakers would go a long way to blunt the effect of these artificially generated calls. The latest scientific survey conducted by the TBA shows that 83 percent of Tennessee lawyers back the Tennessee Plan.

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TRA Reform Bill Moves Ahead

Despite a plea from the Republican chair of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and criticism from Democratic legislators, a Senate committee Thursday approved Gov. Bill Haslam's plans for transforming the agency. "Maybe it'll work. Maybe not," TRA Chair Kenneth Hill told the committee. "Why go there and inflict damage to the utilities of Tennessee and to the people of Tennessee … then have to come back and fix it?" he asked. Read more from Knoxnews.com

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Judicial Selection Deferred to Next Week

Legislative action this week on judicial selection issues ended in almost as big a muddle as it began.

Today, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, deferred action to Monday night on his constitutional amendment, SJR 710, which would remove merit panels from the process and replace it with Washington-style confirmation when selecting and retaining judges in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, the House seems set to pass only the House counterpart to the Kelsey plan and not move forward with the two resolution strategy that seemed to be emerging at the end of last week. The House counterpart to Sen. Mark Norris’s resolution (SJR 183), which was successful in the Senate on Monday night, will not see consideration in the House Finance Committee until Tuesday at the earliest.

Lost in all of the mêlée is any consideration of how the next election for all judges -- which the constitution requires to be held in August 2014 -- will be conducted. The TBA and allies in the business, civic and legal communities remain committed to stability and consistency, which the current process offers while the debate on the need for and the best outline of future changes takes place.

Contact with lawmakers -- and as importantly, feedback with the TBA on that contact -- are important ways each lawyer can contribute to the future of a fair and impartial court system.

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Bill Directs AOC to Study Special Vet Courts

Tennessee veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems stemming from military service could soon have their own special courts should they find themselves facing prosecution in the state’s criminal justice system. The state House unanimously passed a bill today, HB 3394/SB 3222, which directs the Administrative Office of the Courts to study whether it is feasible for the state to establish specialized courts for veterans. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on April 12. TN Report has more

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DUI Proposal Headed to Governor

A proposal that may increase the penalty for drunken driving when a child under 18 is a passenger in the vehicle is headed to the governor. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, was unanimously approved in the state House on Tuesday. The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate last month. Under current law, a person arrested for DUI with a minor in the vehicle is sentenced to a mandatory minimum incarceration of 30 days and a fine of $1,000. The new proposal requires the incarceration be served consecutively with any sentence for DUI, vehicular assault, vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide. The Memphis Daily News has more

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