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.

Democrats Counter Anti-Decriminalization Bill

Legislation filed this week by state Democrats seeks to ease punishments for those found with small amounts of marijuana, the Nashville Scene reports. The bill would still classify possession of up to one-eighth of an ounce of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor, but offenders could only be punished by a fine up to $50. Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville, said that the bill aims to establish statewide consistency and eliminate jail time and massive fines for possession of a very small amount of the drug, but not to make it legal. The legislation comes after Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown filed a bill this week that would override local ordinances that partially decriminalize marijuana.
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Judiciary Committee Holds First Meetings

The Senate Judiciary Committee met for the first time this year, passing out of committee Senate Joint Resolution 9, which calls for a convention committee of the states to plan for an Article V convention to propose a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. The convention of the state committee is set for July 11 in Nashville, according to the resolution's sponsor, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. This passed out with a vote of 8 in favor and 1 against. Senator Lee Harris, D-Memphis, presented Senate Bill 18, clarifying that a person petitioning for a certificate of employability does not have to be in the process of restoring the person's rights of citizenship in order to get the certificate. This bill will be considered during next week’s committee meeting on Tuesday.
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Haslam Gives State of State; Deadline for Bills Next Week

The Tennessee General Assembly is officially underway with Monday night’s joint meeting of the Senate and House to hear Governor Bill Haslam’s State of the State address. The governor’s budget hearings are expected to kick off next week, with the filing deadline for legislation set for Feb. 9. Budget hearings will run through the week of March 17 and the expected budget amendment deadlines will be the third week in March. At this time, the legislature is expected to adjourn its business sine die near the end of April.

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Harwell Launches Opioid Taskforce

A new legislative task force will tackle Tennessee’s growing opioid and painkiller abuse crisis, the Tennessean reports. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, formed the task force to identify strategies to address addition, abuse and misuse of illegal and prescription drugs. The bi-partisan group will be chaired by Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville.
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Kelsey, Civil Lawyers Discuss Legislative Topics

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey today wrapped up his town hall-style meetings with a packed room of civil law practitioners. Issues raised by the Germantown Republican and by those lawyers present ranged from estate planning to family law. TBAImpact is a useful tool for legislative engagement and advocacy and will be updated with legislation in February. If you have questions about policy or the Tennessee General Assembly, reach out to TBA Public Policy Coordinator Brenda Gadd.

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Do Harwell Actions Point to Gubernatorial Run?

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has opened a new campaign finance account for her 2018 race, according to campaign finance reports filed yesterday and reported by the Nashville Post. Additionally, Gov. Bill Haslam’s office announced today that senior advisor Leslie Hafner would be resigning her post to serve as senior policy advisor to Harwell. Harwell has not formally declared her candidacy for governor, but the Post reports that these signs appear to indicate her interest.
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Sen. Kelsey Hosts Memphis Town Hall for Lawyers

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Kelsey today held a town hall-style meeting for criminal lawyers practicing in Shelby County. The Germantown Republican asked attending attorneys if bills passed last year -- such as legislation regarding “certificates of employability” and the 2016 Public Safety Act -- were working. Issues expected to come up this year, such as expanding expungement laws and changing procedures so that death penalty cases go directly to the Tennessee Supreme Court, also were discussed. Kelsey will hold a similar style meeting for civil lawyers on Friday at 1:30 p.m. CST in room 230 at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

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Armstrong Receives 3-Year Probation

Former State Rep. Joe Armstrong escaped prison time for his tax evasion conviction, with a federal judge calling the act an “isolated incident” in an otherwise “exemplary” life. Knoxnews reports that Armstrong will receive three years of probation instead. Armstrong was convicted of filing a false tax return after a deal he made with a tobacco wholesaler to buy cigarette tax stamps, and then resell them after 42-cent tax hike went into effect. 
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House Rep. to Push for Driver’s License for Ex-Prisoners

State Rep. Mark Lovell, R-Eads, will push for a bill in the legislature that will make it easier for former prisoners to obtain driver’s licenses, the Commercial Appeal reports. Lowell said that a driver’s license is vital for a person trying to re-enter society. However, it is often difficult for a former inmate to get one because of a law requiring the suspension of one’s license after one year of unpaid criminal court costs. 
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Lawmakers Seek to Change Professional Privilege Tax

Although the state legislature’s filing deadline is still two weeks away, five bills have already been filed to make changes to the state’s professional privilege tax, the Tennessean reports. Three of the five propose a complete phase out of the tax, while a bill by John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, proposes exemption of the tax for those in the first year of their profession, and bill filed by Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville, seeks to allow anyone over the age of 65 who makes less than $16,000 to receive a 75 percent rebate. “Reduction or repeal of the professional privilege tax would unburden Tennessee lawyers who seek to represent underserved communities,” said Tennessee Bar Association President Jason Long.
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