Mark Norris

TN Senate majority leader vetted for appointment as federal judge

State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris is being vetted for potential appointment as a federal judge, reports the Times Free Press, citing two “Republican sources” at the state capitol who were contacted by the FBI as part of the customary background check that proceeds such by appointments. Besides that, two “law enforcement chiefs” who know Norris  have apparently been contacted by agents as well.

There’s previously been talk that Norris might be nominated by President Donald Trump for one of two current vacancies on the U.S. District Court bench in West Tennessee – those vacated by Judge Hardy Mays in 2015 and by Judge Daniel  Green earlier this year. They retired – or “took senior status,” as the judicial saying goes.

Norris has for months been saying he’s interested joining the field of candidates running for the 2018 Republican gubernatorial nomination. But he’s made no announcement – and the TFP says he did not return phone calls asking about his vetting for a federal judgeship.

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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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Lawsuit may follow latest get-tough-on-illegal-immigrants legislation

A bill passed late in the legislative session authorizes Tennessee judges to give illegal immigrants longer sentences than citizens when they are convicted of felonies. The Tennessean reports the measure may lead to a lawsuit and courts have struck down similar measures in other states.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Rep. Ron Gant, R-Rossville, SB1260 passed the House 66-17 and the Senate by a 28-3 margin. Final approval came on May 10, last day of the session, with the House signing off on a Senate amendment (67-13).

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‘Open container’ bill dies despite Haslam’s support

Legislation prohibiting open containers of an alcoholic beverage in moving vehicles is dead again this year even though Gov. Bill Haslam made it part of his official legislative package for 2017.

Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who has pushed the idea for years, had hoped Haslam’s backing would make a difference, reports WJHL-TV, and is disappointed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (sponsoring SB1219 for the administration) pulled the bill without a vote.

Norris said there’s not enough support among legislators for passage and debating the matter would be “a distraction” from the push for passage of the governor’s priority bill of the year — a package of tax legislation including increases in gas and diesel fuel taxes.

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On early twists and turns in the 2018 GOP race for governor

Excerpt from a review of recent developments in the 2018 gubernatorial campaign by the AP’s Eric Schelzig:

The repeal of former President Barack Obama’s health care law was supposed to provide a springboard for U.S. Rep. Diane Black’s entry into the Tennessee governor’s race.

State Sen. Mark Green was supposed to capture to the core of President Donald Trump’s supporters.

And term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam’s gas tax proposal was supposed to fall flat, avoiding political difficulties for House Speaker Beth Harwell.

But none of that has happened as expected, leaving an unsettled Republican field for the 2018 gubernatorial nomination.

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TN attorney general backs Trump travel ban in court filing

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has made Tennessee the 15th state to join in filing a legal brief that supports President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban during  court challenge, reports The Tennessean.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who last year led efforts to have a private law firm file a lawsuit against federal refugee policies after Slatery declined to do so, made the announcement to reporters on Thursday.

The president’s revised order, which was issued in March, restricts travel from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. A federal judge in Hawaii halted Trump’s travel ban, which was his second. The federal judge’s ruling is being appealed in 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

…Last month, attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia, as well as Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, filed the amicus brief with the 9th Circuit. The states argue that Trump’s travel ban is legal. North Dakota also joined the coalition of states that filed the amicus brief this week.

The coalition of states conclude that the appeals court should ultimately reverse the halt of the travel ban.

Senate eyes recess while House tussels with taxes

State Senate leaders are considering a week’s recess in late April to let the House catch up in acting on legislation – most notably Gov. Bill Haslam’s tax package and the interrelated state budget for the next fiscal year.

And there’s more senatorial criticism of House Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to seek an alternative to the Haslam plan that does not include a gas tax increase.

The budget cannot be approved until the fate of Haslam’s tax plans is decided. Senators expect to approve their latest version, including gas and diesel fuel tax hikes, in Finance Committee next week, clearing it for a floor vote. Harwell, on the other hand, says she wants to instead propose an alternative to the Haslam plan next week.

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Senate panel goes for revised gas tax bill

The Senate Transportation Committee approved Monday a revised version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s transportation funding legislation. Instead of a July 1 increase of seven cents a gallon on gasoline, the new version –  changed with the governor’s approval – calls for a six-cents-per-gallon increase phased in over three years. The diesel fuel tax would also be phased in, rising over three years by 10 cents per gallon rather than an  July 1 increase of 13 cents as originally proposed.

Excerpt from The Tennessean’s account:

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said after conversations with Haslam in recent days, they had reached an agreement on the various changes to his bill.

… Among the changes included in Norris’ amendment were a portion that would provide tax relief to the elderly and disabled veterans, reduce the sales tax on groceries to 4 percent, and a tax hike on gas and diesel fuel of 6 cents and 10 cents per gallon, respectively. (Note: The deal cuts the grocery tax by 1 percent – it’s currently 5 percent – instead of half a percentage point as Haslam proposed.)

The gas and diesel tax increases would be phased in over three years. For the upcoming 2017-2018 fiscal year, the gas tax would be increased by 4 cents. In each subsequent fiscal year it would increase by 1 cent.

The diesel tax would be increased by 4 cents in the upcoming fiscal year and would be hiked in the following fiscal years before maxing out at 27 cents in fiscal year 2019-2020.

Unlike the phased-in approach on the gas and diesel taxes, the decrease in the state’s sales tax would be immediate. The cuts to the tax on groceries would result in a $120 million reduction in revenue for the state.

… Other significant changes included in Norris’ amendment is a portion that would would increase the amount of tax relief a service-connected disabled veteran could receive. Right now, eligible veterans can receive tax relief based only on the value of the first $100,000 of their home. The latest proposal would increase the amount to $135,100.

Norris seeks meeting with Trump administration on refugees, lawsuit

State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says he is putting on hold plans for filing a lawsuit against refugee resettlement in Tennessee while seeking a meeting with officials of President Trump’s administration, reports The Tennessean.

Norris, R-Collierville, said Thursday he has talked with U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Memphis attorney John Ryder about the refugee situation. Trump arranging a meeting with the Trump administration to discuss state lawmakers’ concerns over the federal refugee program. Trump recently issued a controversial executive order on refugees.

Ryder, who has served as general counsel for the Republican National Committee since 2013, has an established relationship with Reince Priebus, who is Trump’s chief of staff.

“(Blackburn) agrees that this is an opportunity and encouraged me to pursue it so she may be helping us to settle it as well,” Norris said.

…Trump’s order, which caused widespread confusion and generated protests immediately after it was announced on Jan. 27, called for a travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days while also suspending all refugee admissions for 120 days.

… Norris pointed to a section of Trump’s executive order which leads him to believe the new administration might be open to suggestions from states like Tennessee.

“To that end, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall examine existing law to determine the extent to which, consistent with applicable law, state and jurisdictions may have greater involvement in the process of determining the placement or resettlement of refugees in their jurisdictions and shall devise a proposal to lawfully promote such involvement,” the order states.

In the event that he is able to secure a meeting, Norris said he would go to Washington, D.C. with someone from the Thomas More Law Center, the Michigan-based legal group that the legislature hired to represent it in a potential lawsuit.

“It’s well-timed, it’s a good opportunity for us to air our grievances short of filing suit, although we are still prepared to proceed with the suit, once the 120-day period expires,” Norris said, adding that the lawsuit could go forward depending on what the Trump administration decides to do in the future.

Norris for governor? ‘I’m making plans and moving in that direction’

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says he’s “preparing” to run for governor though his current position is the priority for now, reports The Tennessean.

“I have a caucus to lead and legislation to get filed and I sort of feel like doing my job first,” he said inside legislative plaza in Nashville at an annual event he has held to combat hunger in Tennessee.

He said his top priority remains balancing the state’s budget, which is a constitutional requirement.

“I’m really absorbed in that but I don’t shy away from answering the question (about the governor’s race),” he said. “I’m planning – making plans and moving in that direction.”

When pressed, Norris, R-Collierville, said that means having the right team, support and atmosphere to determine if Tennesseans want a leader who can get things done and who has accomplished a lot, referring to himself.

Norris said he could form an exploratory committee before the legislative session ends. Typically, the legislature adjourns in April.