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.

House Republicans to Hold More Closed Door Meetings

The Tennessee House Republican Caucus will hold more closed door “family discussion” meetings in the future, the Tennessean reports. The change was announced yesterday, and will begin as soon as this month. With the Republicans supermajority in the legislature, it's possible the caucus could determine a position that would pass or defeat pending legislation.
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Legislative Leaders: Not Our Job to Monitor Campaign Finance

In the wake of the audit of former Rep. Jeremy Durham, GOP leadership said that it’s up to the Registry of Election Finance to monitor potential violations, even in situations where the legislature’s money is involved, the Tennessean reports. Among Durham’s 500 potential violations of campaign finance laws, one includes the accusation that he received $7,700 from the legislature for personal expenses for which he’d already reimbursed himself. 
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State House Continues Practice of Pre-meetings

The Tennessee House of Representatives will continue to have "pre-meetings" with lobbyists and members of state agencies prior to formal committee hearings, the Tennessean reports. In 2015, House Republicans were criticized for the practice. Though lawmakers have since begun announcing the meetings, they still face scrutiny, as the meetings don’t have posted agendas, do not appear on public lists and are not broadcast and archived on the legislature’s website.
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Senator Drops Counseling Bill

A controversial counseling bill, which would have required the state to write a new code of ethics for licensed counselors and therapists, has been dropped by its sponsor, the Tennessean reports. Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said he would abandon plans to proceed with the legislation and instead sign on to another bill, SB 449, which would require changes made by any licensed professionals to their codes of ethics to be reviewed by the attorney general and approved by the state legislature. 
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Findings of Durham Audit Released

Former State House Rep. Jeremy Durham was found to have spent more than $10,000 in campaign funds on items prohibited by law, the Tennessean reports. Purchases included lawn care services for his home, suits, sunglasses, spa products, a handgun permit, University of Tennessee football tickets, and more. He also paid over $1,800 to a company to create a forensic copy of his phone to help defend himself against the Tennessee attorney general’s investigation.
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Report from The Hill: AOC Budget Moves Forward

A bill that would remove appellate review from death penalty cases, sending them straight to the Tennessee Supreme Court, passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee unanimously today without discussion and will move on to the full committee next week. After discussion in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, rolled the Senate version of bill and will re-calendar it. The Administrative Office of the Courts spoke on behalf of the Criminal Court of Appeals and replied that its court was split and did not want to take an official position. Senate and House judicial committees also heard the budget of the Administrative Office of the Courts and it was recommended for approval. Although the judicial branch is the third equal branch of government, the Tennessee courts budget represents less than one half of one percent of the entire state budget, with funding coming from the state's general fund. Read the AOC annual report here.

 

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Haslam Bill Package Filed

Gov. Bill Haslam's legislative agenda was filed this week, including his much-discussed transportation funding bill, the Nashville Post reports. The agenda also includes a bill to ban open containers of alcohol in vehicles, a bill to increase internet access in rural communities and a proposal to fund scholarships for non-high school students to attend community college, among others. All bills are sponsored by House Assistant Majority Leader David Hawk, R-Greeneville, with the exception of the transportation bill, called the IMPROVE Act, which is sponsored by Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Thompson Station.
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Report: Durham Gave Campaign Funds to Pro Gambler

Former State Rep. Jeremy Durham gave more than $20,000 in campaign funds to a professional gambler, the Tennessean reports. The recipient of the funds was David Whitis, a friend of Durham’s who Durham represented in a least two criminal proceedings. More information is expected to be revealed tomorrow, when findings from the state campaign finance and ethics investigation into Durham are expected to be released.
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Davidson, Shelby County Judicial Elections Targeted by New Legislation

A Republican lawmaker has filed a bill to create nonpartisan judicial elections, but only in Davidson and Shelby counties, according to the Nashville Post. The bill, filed by Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, would provide that counties with populations over 500,000 must have nonpartisan elections for all “state trial court judgeships, county judicial offices and judicial clerk offices.” Democrats are claiming the bill unfairly targets the two counties in the state that tend to elect Democrats. The TBA’s Committee on the Judiciary has been asked to recommend a policy and is currently reviewing the legislation.
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Neil Gorsuch Selected as SCOTUS Nominee

Judge Neil Gorsuch, from the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch, considered a reliable conservative, is a former Washington, D.C. lawyer educated at Harvard and Oxford. Gorsuch may face challenges to his confirmation, however, as Congressional Democrats consider seeking reprisal after Republicans blocked Obama nominee Merrick Garland last year, according to the New York Times. The American Bar Association issued a response to the pick, which can be read here.
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