Legislature

Legislative study committee to take a look back at TN lynchings

Tennessee is taking a tentative step toward acknowledging its legacy of lynching and other civil rights crimes, reports WPLN, citing a bill approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

In all, 238 Tennesseans are documented to have been lynched. The crimes include hangings, beatings and drownings.

State Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, pushed a bill through the legislature this year that creates a study committee of three state representatives and three senators. (Note: It’s HB1306, sponsored in the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris). The group will hash out details — or even if the commission is something Tennessee desires.

Turner has no doubts.

“There are a lot of cases out there — unsolved, civil rights murders,” she says. “It is extremely urgent that we do something now before it becomes too late.”

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Study criticizes TN law on school district secession, cites Shelby, Hamilton County examples

A new study on school district secession around the nation says Tennessee law makes it easier than most any other state for wealthy, predominantly-white small cities to set up separate school systems from predominantly-black poor areas.

It cites the formation of six new school systems in Shelby County under a 2011 law as a leading example and also uses as an example plans in the works for Signal Mountain to set up a school system separate from Hamilton County.

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Addiction medication company reported pushing product through legislation, donating to TN legislators

Alkermes, a company that makes an addiction treatment medication called Vivitrol, has been pushing legislation at the state level that would give its product a preference over others, according to a National Public Radio report. At the same time, affliliate WPLN reports that the Alkermes donated more than $20,000 to Tennessee legislators last year.

State records show Alkermes registered four lobbyists for this year’s Tennessee legislative session. The company’s PAC registered to make state-level donations late in 2015, beginning actual donations in January of 2016.

There were several bills filed this year dealing with addiction treatment – including some that appear to be placeholder “caption bills” designed to be amended later. But a quick skim of legislative records indicates none advanced out of committee.

The NPR report – bearing the headline “A Drugmaker Tries To Cash In On The Opioid Epidemic, One State Law At A Time” — focuses on Indiana, where a registered Alkermes lobbyist, who also heads a mental health advocacy group, drafted a bill that was approved after what some thought was a misleading promotional effort. Excerpt:

He said the legislation would move the state “toward evidence-based treatment.”

But the bill wouldn’t do that. Instead, it would cement rules making it harder to access certain addiction medications — medications that many patients rely on. The goal was to steer doctors toward a specific brand-name drug: Vivitrol.

… His efforts have helped turn Indiana into what Alkermes describes in investor documents as an “up-and-coming” state, where the drug’s sales are poised to jump dramatically.

McCaffrey’s work promoting Vivitrol via legislation in Indiana is part of a larger pattern. An investigation by NPR and Side Effects Public Media has found that in statehouses across the country, and in Congress, Alkermes is pushing Vivitrol while contributing to misconceptions and stigma about other medications used to treat opioid addiction.

From WPLN:

In Tennessee, Alkermes has made 30 contributions to Democratic and Republican lawmakers and to political action committees. All of those were between January of last year and the November election. The company has also hired lobbyists.

It’s not clear, though, this early-stage political push has been persuasive. Marie Williams, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, says Vivitrol can be an effective treatment for some opioid abusers, but Tennessee doesn’t prefer it to other therapies.

“What we want is for people to get avenues of treatment, and we are for any avenue that will help you get into recovery and stay in recovery,” she says.

But, state officials add, drug courts are using Vivitrol more often. And that’s where many decisions about treatment are made.

Note: House Speaker Beth Harwell, who recently urged Attorney General Herbert Slatery to file a lawsuit against manufacturers of opioid drugs, was one of the bigger beneficiaries of Alkermes donations — $1,000 to her reelection campaign and $500 to her leadership PAC.

The Alkermes PAC on June 6 filed an amended version of its 4th quarter 2016 disclosure with the Registry of Election Finance that appears to duplicate most of the donations listed in a previous disclosure. (The duplication’s are not included in reaching the count of more than $20,000 to 30 legislators and PACs.)  Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance,  says via email that the Registry has sent a letter asking for clarification of the filing.

Haslam signed everything the legislature sent him this year (524 bills and resolutions)

Gov. Bill Haslam signed everything the General Assembly sent to his desk this year, leaving his list of vetoes since 2011 to stand at four.

From an AP brief:

The Republican governor signed all the 524 measures sent his way this session, declining all calls for vetoing bills like a new law requiring the use of the “natural and ordinary meaning” of words in state law that gay rights groups have contended is a sneaky way to deny same-sex couples the legal rights and protections granted to a “husband,” a “wife,” a “father” or “mother.”

Others had unsuccessfully lobbied Haslam to veto a bill that allows people with handgun carry permits to be armed on all local government properties unless city and counties use metal detectors, hire security guards and check people’s bags.

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AG in court filing: ‘Natural and ordinary’ law does ‘nothing new at all’

Start of an Associated Press report:

NASHVILLE (AP) — A new law that’s been criticized as discriminatory against same-sex couples actually does “nothing new at all,” Tennessee’s attorney general contends in a legal filing.

Attorney General Herbert Slatery made that argument last week in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by four married lesbian couples expecting children through artificial insemination.

The law requires using the “natural and ordinary meaning” of words in state law. Gay rights groups have contended that the requirement offers a sneaky way to deny same-sex couples the legal rights and protections granted to a “husband,” a “wife,” a “father” or “mother.”

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House Democrats list their top ten good bills passed, top ten bad bills killed in 2017

The House Democratic Caucus has come up with two “top ten” listings for the 2017 session – one for “dangerous” bills that were killed with Democratic assistance and one for bills “that improve the quality of life for people all across the state” that were approved with Democratic sponsors.

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Haslam approves bill authorizing longer criminal sentences for illegal immigrants; Democratic leader ‘disappointed’

Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law Friday a bill authorizing judges to give illegal immigrants longer sentences that U.S. citizens when they are convicted of felonies. The bill (SB1260) got final approval on the last day of the legislative session (May 10) and has inspired some criticism – including talk of lawsuits to challenge it.

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New ‘blue ribbon task force’ on juvenile justice system set up by speakers (Haslam gets a seat)

News release from House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office

NASHVILLE – Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) this week announced the formation of the Joint Ad Hoc Tennessee Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice. The task force will be co-chaired by Speaker Harwell and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).

The task force will study, evaluate, analyze, and undertake a comprehensive review of the state’s juvenile justice system, using a data-driven approach. The members are charged with developing evidence-based policy recommendations that will lead to potential legislative action that will protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and contain costs while improving outcomes for youth and families in Tennessee.  Continue reading

A clash of polling perspectives on in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants

The results of a Tennessee Star poll on support for granting in-state tuition rates to children of illegal immigrants living in Tennessee are strikingly different from results from a similar Vanderbilt University poll on the subject.

Tennessee Star’s results, reported Thursday, are that 84 percent of the “likely Republican primary voters” surveyed are opposed while only 13 percent support the notion. The Vanderbilt poll, reported May 30, found 66 percent of registered voters favor the idea while just 30 percent oppose.

One difference, of course, is the Star only asked  declared Republicans while Vanderbilt covered all registered voters. But the Vandy poll found support for the proposal, which has failed on close votes in the General Assembly for the past two year, widespread despite party alignment. Among those identifying themselves as Republicans, Vanderbilt reported 55 percent support (Democrats 87 percent; independents 66 percent).

Which leads to the thought that the responses may have had something to do with the way the question was phrased.

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ACLU, refugee support groups seek to intervene in legislature-launched lawsuit

News release from American Civil Liberties Union

JACKSON, Tenn. — Groups serving Tennessee refugees are taking legal action against the state legislature’s efforts to block refugee resettlement.

State lawmakers who oppose refugee resettlement sued the federal government in March, contending that the federal refugee resettlement program improperly impinges on state sovereignty. The Tennessee attorney general previously declined to file the suit, concluding it would likely lose in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Tennessee represent the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Bridge Refugee Services Inc., and the Nashville International Center for Empowerment, which are seeking to intervene in the case to defend refugee resettlement in Tennessee. The groups also filed legal arguments explaining why the General Assembly’s lawsuit should be thrown out.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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