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.

Task Force Finalizes Juvenile Justice Recommendations

As the legislature convenes in Nashville this week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, juvenile court officials, judges, district attorneys and academics are pushing for a major overhaul of state sentencing laws for juveniles who commit serious crimes. The Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force met Monday to finalize recommendations that members hope will set the agenda for the legislature in the coming year. The Tennessean looks at the proposals.

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Legislators, Staff Must Watch Sexual Harassment Video

All legislative staff, interns and lawmakers are being required to watch a 15-minute sexual harassment training video at the start of the new legislative session, the Tennessean reports. The video reportedly covers all aspects of the law along with examples of the types of circumstances that might create a hostile discriminatory practice. The move is part of the leadership’s effort to address cultural issues identified in last year’s report on the activities of then-representative Jeremy Durham.

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Day 2 of Sessions Hearing Offers Conflicting Views

For a second day, the issue of racism was at the center of the confirmation hearing for attorney general designate Jeff Sessions, UPI reports. After questioning Sessions for more than 10 hours yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee today turned its attention to testimony from others – including three black lawmakers who all recommended against his confirmation. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Cedric Richmond, D-La., questioned Sessions’ past views on race and whether he would aggressively pursue civil rights, equal rights and justice for all citizens. Representing a different perspective, Sessions’ former chief counsel, who also is black, told the committee, “I have not seen the slightest hint of racism because it does not exist.”

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California Bans State Travel to Tennessee

A law in California banning state-sponsored travel to Tennessee has gone into effect, the Times Free Press reports. California passed the ban last year, after Tennessee approved a law that allows counselors and therapists to reject clients whose goals are at odds with the professionals’ “sincerely held beliefs.” The law was considered by many to be an affront to the LGBT community. California has also approved travel bans on North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas for their actions on LGBT-related issues.

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Lawmakers Re-file Bill to Name Courthouse for Thompson

The Tennessee congressional delegation re-filed legislation Monday to name the new federal courthouse in Nashville after former Sen. Fred Thompson, Knoxnews reports. A similar bill was approved by the House of Representatives last year but the congressional term ended before the Senate considered it. The Tennessean had that story. The new $194 million structure would be known as the Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse under the proposed legislation. Thompson, who died in 2015 at age 73, represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2003.

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McNally, Harwell Take Gavel of Respective Chambers

The Tennessee General Assembly reconvened today for the 110th session. In the Senate, Randy McNally was elected the state’s next lieutenant governor. The move was largely ceremonial, with Senate Republicans selecting McNally as their nominee during a caucus meeting in November. McNally, 72, is the longest serving current member in the legislature. Handing off the gavel to McNally was Ron Ramsey, the East Tennessee Republican who helped the party obtain supermajorities in both chambers. Ramsey announced his retirement last year. In the House, Nashville Republican Rep. Beth Harwell was formally re-elected as speaker today. That move was also ceremonial as she survived a challenge from Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, last November for the post. The Tennessean has more on both stories.

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Economic Development Head Stepping Down

Randy Boyd, the state commissioner of economic development, will be exiting his position and returning to the private sector in February, Gov. Bill Haslam announced today. The move sets off speculation that Boyd is contemplating a run in the 2018 gubernatorial race, the Tennessean reports. Boyd joined Haslam’s administration in 2013 as a special adviser on higher education and helped create the Drive to 55 initiative, the governor's effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree. Boyd will return to Radio Systems Corp., the business he started in 1991.

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Issues, Legislators to Watch as New Session Starts

Tennessee lawmakers are set to return to Nashville tomorrow to officially convene the 110th General Assembly. According to analysts with the the Tennessean, there are several issues likely to dominate the session. They include: increasing the gas tax with a possible offsetting reduction in food tax; tackling criminal justice reform; allowing marijuana for medical conditions but cracking down on cities that try to reduce penalties for possession; pay raises for teachers; and expanded use of school vouchers. The USA Today network reporting also looks at legislators to watch in the new session.

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House Clerk McCord Steps Down

Tennessee House Chief Clerk Joe McCord is stepping down from the position to “pursue a new opportunity,” House Speaker Beth Harwell announced today. He will be succeed by Tammy Letzler, who has been serving as assistant House clerk. Harwell appointed McCord, a former Republican state representative, as chief clerk after she became speaker in 2011. Last year, McCord faced controversy when then-state Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, alleged he had used foul language and made an obscene gesture to a female staffer. Humphrey on the Hill has more on the news.

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No Probation for Drunk Drivers Who Kill

A new state law that took effect Jan. 1 mandates that drunk drivers who kill someone must get jail time, WRCB-TV reports. The law, championed by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, was supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which said it was important to take probation off the table as a possible sentence for a drunk driving vehicular homicide. Tom Kimball of the Tennessee District Attorney General Conference also praised the law, saying it is good news for victims’ families.

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