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.

Lawmakers May Consider Civics Test for Graduation

Beginning in 2017, Tennessee’s public high school students will have to pass a civics test using questions administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to those seeking citizenship, the Johnson City Press reports. The General Assembly passed legislation this year requiring students to answer correctly at least 70 percent of between 25 to 50 questions from the 100 within the test. At this point, passing the test is not a requirement for graduation, but some lawmakers have expressed an interest in making that the case. Only eight other states require statewide testing in civics and only two of those – Ohio and Virginia – require students to pass the test to graduate.

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Groups Join Forces to Preserve Rhea Courthouse

A number of private groups, as well as county government offices, are joining forces to find funds to refurbish the Rhea County Courthouse, the Rhea Herald News reports. The county commission is moving ahead with plans to apply for a Historic Preservation Fund Grant, while the county Historical and Genealogical Society has earmarked $6,700 for courthouse repairs. State Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, is pushing for the state to allocate nearly $200,000 in next year’s budget for roof repair. The courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. A forum on Jan. 15 will allow public debate on future uses of the courthouse as the county’s long term plans call for a new justice center in another location.

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Services Friday for Publisher M. Lee Smith

M. Lee Smith, an influential player in Tennessee Republican politics and longtime publisher and attorney, died yesterday (Dec. 20) from a blood condition. He was 74. A graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School, Smith worked as a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge William E. Miller but soon set his sights on politics and public policy. He joined the staff of Sen. Howard Baker as a legislative assistant in the late 1960s and then became a top aide to Gov. Winfield Dunn in the early 1970s. In 1975, he left government service and founded M. Lee Smith Publishers. Smith is perhaps best known for the Tennessee Journal, a weekly guide to Tennessee government, politics and business that he started. Smith sold the company in 2005, but it remains active today with online and print publications covering law and politics. The Tennessean has more on his life.

Services will be held Friday with visitation at noon and a memorial service at 2 p.m. at Marshall Donnelly Combs Funeral Home in Nashville.

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Vanderbilt to Study Impact of LGBT Policies

Researchers at Vanderbilt University will examine how public policy impacts the health and economics of LGBT people, Nashville Public Radio reports. Funding for the study will come from a $400,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. According to the university’s proposal, researchers will compare data across states to study issues such as how North Carolina’s transgender bathroom bill has impacted economic livelihood, or how non-discrimination policies impact diversity in the workforce. They also will look at the impact of legalizing same-sex marriage and passing laws designed to protect religious freedom. 

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Tennessee Reports Higest Voter Fraud Claims: 40

Though a New York Times investigation found no support for claims that millions of votes were cast illegally on Election Day or that there was widespread fraud, it did find a relatively high number of fraud claims in Tennessee. The Times polled each state and the District of Columbia, compiling data from every jurisdiction except for Kansas. Based on that review, Tennessee had 40 credible allegations of fraud, more than any other state. Mark Goins, the state director of elections, says he believes the high number was due to vigilance by the state. The Nashville Business Journal has more.

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Court Rejects Attempt to Force Action on Garland

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday denied an attempt to get the court to force the Senate to consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, WRCB-TV reports. Roberts rejected the emergency appeal without comment. The lawyer bringing the case, Steven Michel of New Mexico, had argued that Senate obstruction of the nomination violated his rights as a voter under the Constitution. For his part, Garland is preparing to return to the bench of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., where he serves as chief judge. He is set to start hearing arguments on Jan. 18 according to that court.

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Report: Trump Could ‘Immediately’ Reshape TVA Board

President-elect Donald Trump will get an immediate opportunity to reshape the panel that governs Tennessee’s power utility, Nashville Public Radio suggests in a piece today. That is due mostly to the fact that Congress adjourned for the year without confirming President Barack Obama’s three nominees: Joe Ritch of Huntsville; former gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter; and Peter Mahurin of Bowling Green. Despite being the largest public utility in the country, TVA’s board has rarely been a priority for any administration, NPR says.

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Internet Sales Tax Survives 1st Legislative Test

Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed rule requiring out-of-state Internet retailers to collect sales tax from Tennessee customers passed its first legislative test yesterday, the Times Free Press reports. Opponents, who had sought to add a “negative recommendation” to the bill, failed in that effort during the Joint Government Operations Committee session. The rule now becomes part of an omnibus bill covering proposed rules across state government. The next step will be the individual House and Senate Government Operations Committees, where opponents could try to strip the rule from the bill.

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Report: 2 Testify in Possible Durham Bribery Case

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed witnesses to testify before a grand jury considering criminal charges against former state lawmaker Jeremy Durham, the Tennessean reports. One witness told the Tennessean that questions focused on Durham’s use of campaign funds. A copy of one subpoena obtained by the paper indicates the grand jury is investigating “federal criminal laws involving, but not necessarily limited to, bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud.”

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Immigration Activists Call for Unified Resistance

Immigration reformers must coordinate their efforts to combat threatening policies from the incoming administration, Democratic federal lawmakers told attendees at the National Immigrant Integration Conference in Nashville. Among those making the case was Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Pramila Jayapal, the first Indian-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Nashville’s Rep. Jim Cooper also made an appearance, during which he called Tennessee a “special state” because both of its senators voted in favor of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. That measure, which would have offered a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, was never taken up for a vote on the floor of the House. Read more from the Tennessean.

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