Legislature

Durham lawsuit contends his ouster was unconstitutional

Former state Rep. Jeremy Durham filed a federal lawsuit Monday contending his ouster from the state House was unconstitutional and the state should still provide him his pension and health insurance, reports The Tennessean.

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Councilman calls for special legislative session on Confederate monuments

In a Commercial Appeal op-ed piece, Memphis City Councilman Bill Morrison urges Gov. Bill Haslam to promptly call a special session of the General Assembly to repeal Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016.

That’s the law that requires two-thirds of the 29 members of the Tennessee Historical Commission to approve any changes in monuments to historical figures, no matter where they are or what they stand for. Five members live in Shelby County.

The law.. was co-sponsored by some of our own, including state Sen. Mark Norris, who is President Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship position in Tennessee. Another co-sponsor was state Sen. Mae Beavers, a Republican candidate for governor.

…The law is wrong and must be repealed. It doesn’t protect our heritage. It only serves to protect memories of white supremacy and shrines for modern-day followers.

Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, has introduced a bill that would exempt Shelby County from the law in question (SB1467) which, of course, will not be up for consideration – barring a special session – until the legislature returns to Nashville in January, 2018. (It is suggested that Haslam calling a special session on Confederate monuments is about as like as the U.S. House approving Rep. Steve Coehn’s proposed impeachment of Donald Trump.)

Note: The media generally is awash this weekend with opinion pieces on the fallout from Charlottesville, Va., troubles and efforts to remove Confederate memorials from public property display. Here are snippets from a couple of Tennesseans at opposite ends of the state:

From Memphis’ Otis Sanford: Above all, it is now time to completely ignore the sitting president of the United States.

From Knoxville’s Greg Johnson: Both fringes have lost their minds.

 

 

Legislative committee approves new UT student code of conduct (after some grumbling)

A revised University of Tennessee code of conduct for students got approval from the legislature’s Joint Government Operations Committee Wednesday, reports WPLN, but not without some contention and caveats.

The relationship between the legislature and the state’s flagship university has been difficult for a while, and this committee meeting was no exception. It took nearly two hours and included testimony from five critics of the new code.

They took issue with details like its elimination of a Greek Judicial Board. Right now, that board hears cases involving fraternities or sororities, and it’s made up of students involved with Greek life, which one of the critics says is necessary to understand those cases. The university, meanwhile, says all cases should be treated like any others.

Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, also had a long list of complaints about the new code, including that it was too long to be easily understandable.

In the end, lawmakers did pass the new code of conduct but are requiring UT officials to come back in the spring and report on the outcome.

Note: The Tennessean’s report, HERE, has more details.

Backlash develops over bills limiting liability of motorists hitting protesters (TN version scuttled)

Excerpt from an Associated Press story on the “intense backlash” that has developed over Republican-sponsored bills in state legislatures that limit the liability of motorists who hit protesters following last weekend’s Charlottesville, Va., episode:

The debate over Tennessee’s bill, which would have shielded drivers exercising “due care,” showed how the measures have been divisive.

During a March hearing, Democratic Rep. G.A. Hardaway said he worried the law would allow extremists to deliberately attack protesters and then claim it was accidental. He cited social media posts from Trump supporters that suggested the bill would make it legal to “run down protesters” when the president visited Tennessee.

“It was providing them the type of motivation, inspiration to get out there and be violent,” he said. “Those who seek to harm others, they think this gives them cover.”

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Museum retreats from new code of ethics in face of legislator attacks

The chairman of the Tennessee State Museum’s governing board pledged that the panel would reconsider its controversial “code of ethics” in the face of round of strong criticism from state legislators at a hearing Tuesday.

“Do you want to take the legislature on?” asked Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, addressing Thomas Smith, chairman of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission at the outset of a hearing.

An hour and a half later, Smith declared, “It is not our intent to take on the Legislature… Clearly we are going to go back and evaluate all of these items.”

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Repeal of TN ban on gun silencers confuses some would-be buyers

Since the Legislature repealed a state law banning firearm silencers earlier this year, some Tennesseans have been going into gun stores thinking they could now buy one, reports the Kingsport Times-News. But the state law change had no impact on federal law that requires approval from the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division and thus the “Tennessee Hearing Protection Act” had no real impact on the already-in-place procedure for getting a silencer, also known as a suppressor.

“The people in Nashville signed the paperwork, and people think you can now come in and buy your silencer by just doing a gun check,” (Sally) Simpson (owner of The Gun Rack in Kingsport) said. “But silencers are regulated by the federal government, so they overrule the state government.” (She said a dozen people per day either visit her store or call wanting to buy a silencer.)

…If you wish to purchase a silencer, you must go to a licensed firearm dealer, fill out an application and send $200 to the ATF, which then does a background check on the buyer, Simpson said, noting that some folks are waiting up to a year to hear back from the federal agency.

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Four school bus drivers face 30 days in jail for using electronic devices under new TN law

Four now-former Knox County school bus drivers who allegedly used electronic devices while behind the wheel face mandatory 30-day jail terms if convicted under a tough new law, reports the News Sentinel.

They are charged via recently unsealed grand jury presentments under a state law passed following the death of two Sunnyview Primary School students and a teacher’s aide in Knox County in December 2014 caused by a driver who was texting while driving.

The quartet of drivers are accused in separate incidents of using electronic devices — the exact nature of which hasn’t been revealed yet — during Knox County Schools’ spring semester.

The cases are Knox County’s first legal test of that law, and the second in the state. A Hamilton County grand jury in March leveled the charge — along with vehicular homicide — in a fatal school bus crash in Chattanooga in December 2016 that killed six children.

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Legislature could leave JLL when it vacates the Legislative Plaza this fall

It’s at least possible that Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, “Gov. Bill Haslam’s favorite real estate management-services provider, “ won’t get the contract for janitorial and maintenance services at a renovated Cordell Hull State Office Building when the General Assembly move there this fall, reports Andy Sher.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Beth Harwell confirmed to the Times Free Press that JLL has no automatic lock on a contract for services at the 1950s-era Cordell Hull building when a $116 million renovation is complete.

“We have decided to put it out for bid, and of course, they can bid and other companies might bid,” McNally said. “But we’re looking, you know, for the best deal we can get.”

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Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging ‘natural and ordinary’ law; rules it had no impact on same-sex marriage rights

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle on Friday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the “natural and ordinary” bill enacted by the legislature earlier this year, but a lawyer for the lesbian couples who filed the legal challenge tells The Tennessean that the ruling is nonetheless a victory.

Basically, the judge ruled the new law didn’t accomplish anything to change rights of same-sex couples, who have the same rights as heterosexual couples when they are parents. Thus, since the law doesn’t discriminate, she dismissed the lawsuit attacking it.

The four same-sex couples are expectant parents of children conceived through artificial insemination. The legislation, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in early May, says that courts should give words their “natural and ordinary” meaning in legal interpretations.

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Bell, Faison question validity of new state museum code of conduct

Chairmen of General Assembly’s Joint Government Operations Rule Review Committee are questioning the legality of the new operating policies adopted by the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission last week (including a controversial new ‘code of conduct,’ reports the Nashville Post.

State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), the chairs of the committee, sent a letter to DHSMC chair Tom Smith and museum executive director Ashley Howell on Tuesday stating that the changes in the operating policies — including the controversial new code of conduct that prevents board members from disparaging the museum — should have been adopted in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, as it is spelled out in state law.

… “In light of the statutory authority, and in accordance with the past practices of the Joint Government Operations Rule Review Committee, we strongly believe that the attached operating policies clearly meet the definition of a rule, and that those policies must be promulgates in accordance with the UAPA.”

(Note: Museum officials contend the new policy is an operating procedure and thus not a “rule,” which is subject to requirements of the UAPA, including advance notice, a public hearing, etc.)

In an interview, Bell said that he thinks the language of the enacting clause creating the DHSMC requires anything relating to the governance of the agency should fall under the UAPA.

“I have issues with the substance of the policies as well, and I know other legislators have been commenting about that,” Bell said. “But I’m very concerned with the process here, which I do not think was followed correctly.”

The new code of conduct seems designed to silence board member Victor Ashe, a former legislator and Knoxville mayor who has been a recent critic of several missteps of the board. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally criticized it last week, expressing “serious concerns.” However, DHSMC members and legislators House Speaker Beth Harwell, now a gubernatorial candidate, Rep. Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads) and Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) all voted in support of the policy changes.

“[Commissioners] are free to talk to anyone they want to talk to and say anything they want to say. That’s still the case,” said Harwell after the meeting.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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