TBA Law Blog

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Posted by: Kate Prince on Sep 15, 2020

Lieutenant Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, yesterday said they believe there is an additional step that must be taken before the controversial Nathan Bedford Forrest bust can be removed from the State Capitol, the Tennessean reports. The State Capitol Commission in July voted in favor of removing the bust and the matter was set to be heard by the Tennessee Historical Commission for a final vote in October. But, in a letter to state architect Ann McGauran, McNally and Sexton wrote that the Historical Commission cannot vote on the removal of the bust until it is also approved by the State Building Commission. The lawmakers point to a section of state law that says actions of the Capitol Commission “shall be subject to the concurrence of the state building commission." McNally and Sexton are both members of the Building Commission. Gov. Bill Lee’s office maintains that proper protocol has been followed, but is reviewing the letter from the speakers.

Posted by: Stacey Shrader Joslin on Sep 2, 2020

As schools navigate reopening during a pandemic, some state lawmakers will return to Nashville this month to hear updates and demand answers, the Tennessean reports. The House Education Committee is set to meet Sept. 22 and 23. Topping the agenda is the approach Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn is taking to re-openings as well as a failed rollout of a student wellness check program. The Professional Educators of Tennessee, a nonpartisan teacher association, suggested lawmakers might even seek a "no confidence" vote on the commissioner. The group does not support such a move but has its own list of complaints.

Posted by: Kate Prince on Aug 27, 2020

Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, today announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and believes he caught the virus during the three-day special session earlier this month, the Tennessean reports. Beck began experiencing symptoms on Monday and tested positive on Tuesday — 11 days after the conclusion of the special session. In a statement Beck wrote that, while he wore a mask during the special session, not all legislators did. He criticized legislative leadership for holding the session, referring to it as “unnecessary and highly risky.” Beck’s statement comes one day after Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, was released from the hospital after spending more than a week in intensive care with the virus.

Posted by: Stacey Shrader Joslin on Aug 26, 2020

Gov. Bill Lee drew criticism last week when he said he had not responded to a meeting request from the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators because “we meet with those folks that are willing to work together to move forward.” Members of the Black caucus registered their anger at a press conference today, calling the answer personally offensive. Now, Lee's staff is “working to get one on the books,” a spokesperson said of a future meeting, according to the Nashville Post. The caucus has been seeking a meeting with Lee to discuss recent protests and legislation Lee signed into law making it a felony to camp out overnight on the Capitol grounds. The lawmakers also used today’s event to call on Lt. Gov. Randy McNally to apologize for a meme posted to his Facebook page that warned Black Lives Matters supporters “there’s nobody protecting you from us” if police are defunded. When it was pointed out that the meme could be interpreted as an implicit threat, it was taken down.

Posted by: Stacey Shrader Joslin on Aug 24, 2020

Gov. Bill Lee has signed into a law a bill that makes it a felony to camp on state property, Nashville Public Radio reports. The anti-protest bill went into effect last Thursday. It means people who hold overnight sit-ins on public property, like the state Capitol, face up to six years in prison and loss of their voting rights. It also creates mandatory minimum sentences for assaulting a first responder. Read more about the legislation.

Posted by: Kate Prince on Aug 20, 2020

Belmont University College of Law Dean Alberto Gonzales and Nashville School of Law Dean William Koch today answered questions from an ad hoc legislative committee on whether Gov. Bill Lee acted outside his legal authority during the pandemic, the Tennessean reports. Gonzales, a former U.S. attorney general, and Koch, a former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice, reported to the committee that Gov. Lee has acted appropriately, but that the legislature has the ability to reign in his executive authority ahead of the next emergency. Regarding Lee, Koch told the committee, “His executive orders are entirely consistent with the inherent power in his office and with the power you granted him” in Tennessee’s Emergency Powers Act. Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, is co-chairing the ad hoc committee with Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin. Zachary told the committee at the beginning of today’s meeting that their purpose was to consider what authority the governor should have moving forward. The committee plans to provide recommendations to the 112th General Assembly, which will convene in January.

Posted by: Kate Prince on Aug 20, 2020

House Minority Leader Karen Camper, D-Memphis, and Rep. Gary Hicks, R-Rogersville, have recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the Daily Memphian reports. Camper began to feel sick last week when she arrived in Nashville for the General Assembly’s special session and immediately went for testing. Despite testing negative, Camper chose to quarantine and it was later determined she had contracted the virus. The Tennessee Journal today reported that Hicks had tested positive for the virus this week and was present at last week’s special session. A total of four lawmakers have now tested positive for COVID-19, including Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, who is recovering after being hospitalized earlier this week. Former Republican Representative and mayor of Cleveland, Kevin Brooks, also tested positive.

Posted by: Stacey Shrader Joslin on Aug 17, 2020

The Sons of Confederate Veterans has sued the state and the Tennessee Capitol Commission over a July vote to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the Capitol’s second floor, the Daily Memphian reports. Doug Jones, a Nashville attorney representing the group, confirmed today that a suit was filed in Davidson County Chancery Court. The group’s main legal argument is that the commission does not have authority over the second floor of the State Capitol and, therefore, cannot vote to remove the bust. Instead, they argue, the legislature must make the decision since it passed a resolution in 1973 to place the bust in the Capitol. The commission voted 9-2 in early July to relocate the bust to the State Museum after Gov. Bill Lee requested it be moved.

Posted by: Stacey Shrader Joslin on Aug 17, 2020

State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, has been hospitalized with COVID-19, according to an email sent to Republican House members by Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison. “Our friend and colleague Mike Carter is in ICU at Erlanger with Covid,” Faison wrote to colleagues. “He is asking for prayers. Let’s lift him up y’all.” Lawmakers were in Nashville last week for a special legislative session, but Carter did not attend, the Tennessee Journal reports. Following the conclusion of the regular session in June, Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, and Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, tested positive for the virus.

Posted by: Stacey Shrader Joslin on Aug 13, 2020

The final version of the COVID-19 liability bill approved by the state Senate and House this week extends liability protection to health care providers, businesses, schools and non-profits retroactive to Aug. 3 — the date Gov. Bill Lee called the special session. An earlier version of the bill supported by the Senate would have made protections retroactive to early March when the pandemic broke out. House members opposed that provision during the regular session, arguing it was unconstitutional. Some lawmakers continued to oppose the Aug. 3 date, arguing that the state constitution prohibits any “retrospective law, or law impairing the obligations of contracts. ...” Republican Sen. Mike Bell, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued that the courts would side with the legislature since the proposal is in the public’s interest. The Herald Courier has this story from the Associated Press. Another priority for the special session was easily approved this week. Nearly every lawmaker supported a bill to establish a framework for telehealth services, the Nashville Post reports.

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