Category Archives: constitutional amendments

Constitutional amendment on education advances

A proposal to amend Tennessee’s Constitution to give the General Assembly sole discretion over spending on public schools moved through a House panel Tuesday after heated debate, reports the Times-Free Press.

Administration and Planning Committee members approved House Joint Resolution 493 on a 7-5 vote. It now goes to the Finance Committee for further consideration.

The sponsor, Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said the change is necessary to protect taxpayers from “activist judges” who might rule the state is not adequately funding education.

“This is to prevent judicial tyranny,” Dunn argued. “If a judge comes in and they raise taxes, it’s beyond criminal.”
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House votes 59-31 for considering U.S. Constitution change

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers on Thursday joined four other states in calling for a national convention on amending the U.S. Constitution to bring about limits to federal power — what one supporter touted as the “atomic bomb of politics.”

The resolution sponsored by Republican Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia passed on a 59-31 vote in the House. The Senate previously voted 23-5 in favor of the measure. The governor does not have veto power over resolutions passed by the Tennessee General Assembly.

Tennessee joins Alabama, Alaska, Florida and Georgia in approving the measure. A total of 34 states would need to pass the resolution for the convention to be called.

Republican Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, a supporter of the measure, said the resolution should serve as a signal to the federal government that state legislatures are serious about wanting a greater say.

“This is the atomic bomb of politics,” Matheny said. “The federal movement must know the states have mobilized, and we have put an atomic bomb on a plane and it is flying over the District of Columbia. And if they don’t listen, then we’re going to get done what needs to get done.”

Butt said the convention would be limited to focusing on putting additional fiscal and jurisdictional restraints on the federal government and to urge term limits for members of Congress. But opponents voiced concerns that a constitutional convention could quickly overstep those bounds and seek to changes to religious and gun rights.

“They’re going to do things contrary to what we believe in Tennessee,” said Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro. “You’ve got 50 other players in this game and they’re not going to be thinking like us in Tennessee. They’re not going to send legitimate delegates with legitimate qualifications to these conventions.

“We’re going to be outnumbered,” he said. “As far as I know, Colorado’s going to send folks that are going to be high.”

House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley questioned the rationale for trying to overhaul the Constitution.

“They put everything at risk here,” Fitzhugh said. “This thing doesn’t need to get legs. This is the fabric of our nation that would be fooling with.”

Note: Previous post HERE.

House poised to join Senate in call for constitutional convention

Over the objections of Democrats, a House committee has cleared the way for Tennessee to become the fifth state to call for a national convention on amending the U.S. Constitution to curb “abuses of power” by the federal government and to impose term limits for members of Congress.

The movement is led in Tennessee by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, who attended a 2013 gathering of representatives from more than 30 states arranged by Citizens for Self-Governance.

The group began a nationally organized push for passage last year and, according to its website, the legislatures in four states — Alabama, Alaska, Georgia and Florida — quickly adopted resolutions calling for a “convention of the states,” as allowed by Article 5 of the Constitution, to propose amendments. Approval of 34 states — two-thirds — would be needed to call such a convention

In Tennessee, Bell’s SJR67 was approved by the Senate 23-5 last year. Butt brought the measure before the House State Government Committee last week where, after lengthy debate, it was approved on a 5-3 party-line vote — all Republicans supporting, all Democrats opposed.
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Doctors want to amend TN Constitution on jury trials

Fearful that Tennessee courts could eventually strike down a 2011 law capping jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, doctors plan to press legislators to protect the statute with an amendment to the state’s constitution, reports the Times-Free Press.

The Tennessee Medical Association wants lawmakers to put before voters new constitutional language clarifying that the General Assembly has authority to set caps on noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering in cases involving medical malpractice liability.

The group’s would require persuading lawmakers in the current GOP-dominated 109th General Assembly to approve the proposed amendment in 2016 and then getting their successors in the 110th General Assembly to pass it by a two-thirds majority.

If it wins approval from lawmakers, it would go before voters on the 2018 ballot to decide.

“The General Assembly needs to act now to prevent us from going backwards on the issue of a noneconomic damages cap,” Dr. John Hale, president of the Tennessee Medical Association said in a recent statement. “The cap fosters growth in Tennessee’s health care industry by cutting back on frivolous lawsuits and the costs that come with them.

“I’m confident Tennessee voters will support it if given the chance to have their voices heard,” Hale added.

… Tennessee’s constitution includes a declaration that the right to trial by jury shall be inviolate and some contend the damage caps are unconstitutional infringement on jury rights. The proposed constitutional amendment comes with a push already underway to scrap court involvement in malpractice completely.

The Alpharetta, Ga.-based nonprofit advocacy group, Patients for Fair Compensation, is calling on lawmakers to yank malpractice suits out of the courts entirely and put them under a first-of-its-kind Patients’ Compensation System.

Patients for Fair Compensation says its proposal is similar to the workers’ compensation system for helping injured workers. It would create an independent panel, appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam as well as the Republican House and Senate speakers. The panel would retain physicians to serve on panels. They would affix specific costs on physician errors in treating patients.

Proponents say the result would slash billions of dollars now spent on lawsuits and “defensive medicine” practices by physicians seeking to protect themselves in court.

The group presented its plan Tuesday before a study panel of the Senate Commerce Committee where Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, is sponsor of the bill. It was introduced earlier this year… Johnson acknowledged he is already in discussions with state Attorney General Herbert Slatery over whether the bill meets constitutional muster.

Hargett spokesman: ‘There will be a retention election in 2016 for Justice Wade’s vacancy’

Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office, which oversees the state division of elections, appears now to have concluded that the successor to retiring Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade should first face a retention election next August, and not in 2022, as some have speculated, according to TNReport.

“Per Tenn. Const. Article VII Section 5 there will be a retention election in 2016 for Justice Wade’s vacancy,” Adam Ghassemi, director of communications for Secretary of State Tre Hargett, wrote in an email to TNReport Friday evening.

The provision of the state Constitution cited in Ghassemi’s statement declares in part that should an unscheduled judicial opening arise, “such vacancy shall be filled at the next biennial election recurring more than thirty days after the vacancy occurs.”

The “next biennial election” for Tennessee judges is next August.

Justice Wade, who won a new eight-year term to the Supreme Court last August, unexpectedly announced his retirement from the bench on July 24.

Wade’s departure, effective Sept. 8, will take effect approximately seven years ahead of schedule, and it will create the first vacancy on the five-member Supreme Court since voters endorsed new judicial-selection procedures in November.

…(T)he portion of the Tennessee Constitution cited by the secretary of state’s office on Friday, Article VII, was in fact not altered by Amendment 2.

Article VII addresses “State and County Officers.” Amendment 2 rewrote only Section 3 of Article VI, which is titled, “Judicial Department.”

Amendment 2 modified the Tennessee Constitution so that it now declares that the state’s most powerful judges “shall be appointed for a full term or to fill a vacancy by and at the discretion of the governor.”

In wake of Wade’s retirement announcement, Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration indicated confusion over whether their new Supreme Court appointee will stand for a retention vote in August 2016 — the next regularly scheduled judicial election — or in 2022, when Wade’s full term was scheduled to expire.

New state Capitol sculpture depicts those involved in TN women’s suffrage movement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A new sculpture planned for the state Capitol complex will celebrate Tennessee women’s role in passing the 19th Amendment.

In 1920, Tennessee became the 36th and final state needed to ratify the amendment that gave women the vote.

The Tennessean reports ( the sculpture being molded by Alan LeQuire depicts five women who played critical roles in that struggle. Anne Dallas Dudley and Frankie Pierce were from Nashville, Sue Shelton White was from Jackson, Abby Crawford Milton was from Chattanooga, and Carrie Chapman Catt was a national leader who came to Tennessee to rally support for ratification.

The sculpture will also feature a relief at its base with three more contemporary female political trailblazers, showing what the work of the earlier suffrage leaders made possible. Jane Eskind was the first woman to win a statewide election in Tennessee. Beth Harwell is the first woman to be Speaker of the House. Lois DeBerry was the longest-serving member of the state House of Representatives, the second African American woman to serve in the General Assembly and first woman to be speaker pro tempore of the House.

The Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument organization commissioned the work and is raising the $900,000 to complete it. The group’s website lists the various monuments around the state capitol that are dedicated to men but notes there is nothing that reflects women’s contributions to Tennessee history.

“We are seeking to rectify that with a monument to the Tennessee suffragists,” the site says.

Paula Casey, the group’s president, said, “Public art represents what people think is important. The fact that we don’t already have a statue like this shows people don’t know the story, and we want people to be grateful that this happened in Tennessee.”

The sculpture will be dedicated Oct. 27. It will stand in War Memorial Plaza outside the state capitol building.

Lawsuit challenging vote count on Amendment 1 survives first legal skirmish

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected the state of Tennessee’s request to summarily dismiss a lawsuit challenging the way votes were counted on Amendment 1 to the state constitution during last November’s election, according to The Tennessean.

Amendment 1 passed with 53 percent of the vote on Nov. 4. The measure, which gives lawmakers more power to restrict and regulate abortion, was one of the most hotly contested in Tennessee’s general election.

Vanderbilt law professor Tracey George, who also serves as board chair of Planned Parenthood of Middle & East Tennessee and was a coordinator of the Vote No on 1 campaign, filed suit along with seven other voters on Nov. 7, asserting that the state’s vote tabulation methods were unconstitutional.

Attorneys for the state asked U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp to either dismiss the lawsuit or turn it over to the state Supreme Court to consider, a motion he denied Wednesday.

At issue is language in the Tennessee Constitution describing how votes for amendments must be counted.

For an amendment to succeed, it must be ratified “by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor,” the Constitution states.

State election officials interpreted this to mean that passage of an amendment depends on comparing the number of votes cast for governor with the number of votes cast for an amendment. To succeed an amendment must have garnered a majority of the number of votes cast for governor.

Those challenging the tabulation process say the constitutional language means that the state must count only the votes of those who cast ballots in both the governor’s race and on the amendment to determine whether a majority of those casting votes in the governor’s race also cast votes on the abortion amendment.

They are asking the vote be recounted or, if the state is unable to determine who cast votes both in the governor’s race and on the amendment, that the vote be invalidated.

Abortions declined 19 percent since 2000 in TN; 12 percent nationally

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — In Tennessee, the number of abortions has been on the decline for years, dropping from 17,479 in 2000 to 16,373 in 2010 to 14,216 in 2013, the last year for which the state Health Department has statistics available.

That’s a 19 percent decline since 2000. (Note: Nationwide, the decline was 12 percent in that period, according to a national AP review).

The state’s abortion laws have changed very little over that time. That’s because the state Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Tennessee Constitution provided strict protections for abortion. The ruling struck down laws requiring a two-day waiting period and mandatory physician-only counseling and preventing second-trimester abortions from taking place anywhere but a hospital.

The ruling also made it difficult for lawmakers to pass any new restrictions. But one law that passed in 2012 forced two of the state’s nine abortion clinics to close, according to Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee President and CEO Jeff Teague.
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Judge dismisses lawsuit based on TN ‘right to hunt and fish’

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit contending that commercial fishermen’s rights under a 2010 amendment to the Tennessee constitution were violated by restrictions imposed on catching paddlefish in state lakes and streams.

The May 14 ruling by Davidson County Chancellor Russell T. Perkins is apparently the first judicial opinion interpreting Article XI, Section 13, of the state constitution, which declares Tennesseans have a “personal right to hunt and fish.”

The Tennessee Commercial Fishermen’s Association and the Tennessee Roe Fishermen’s Association had also challenged on other grounds paddlefish restrictions — including a complete ban in some areas — that were adopted in 2008 by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission, now known as the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission.

Perkins ruled for the commission and against the associations on each of the other claims as well. They included assertions that the Legislature had wrongfully delegated its authority to the commission, that the regulations were adopted contrary to requirements of the state’s Open Meetings Act and that one commission member had a conflict of interest.

Paddlefish, native to Tennessee, are commercially valuable both for their flesh and their eggs, which are processed as caviar. State fishery biologists say populations have been substantially reduced by overfishing in some areas.
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Registry dismisses complaint against Yes on 2 committee

The state Registry of Election Finance has dismissed a complaint contending the Yes on 2 committee wrongfully dodged campaign finance disclosure laws in funding for last year’s successful effort toward passage of a state constitutional amendment on judicial selection.

The complaint was filed by John Avery Emison, who led the opposing No on 2 campaign committee. Yes on 2 got most of its campaign funding, more than $1.2 million, from the Tennessee Business Partnership, a nonprofit group set up last year — with the same business address and attorney — as Yes on 2.

As a 501(c)4 organization, the partnership does not have disclose its donors. Yes on 2, on its disclosure, simply listed the money as coming from the partnership.

“I don’t like it either,” registry board member Patricia Heim told Emison during the hearing, saying she would prefer the public know more about where money comes from. But under current laws and court rulings, she said the procedure is “perfectly legal” and there’s nothing the registry can do about the situation.

Brant Phillips, a Nashville attorney representing Yes on 2 and the Business Partnership, responded the two groups were legally set up as separate entities and functioned as such in full compliance with all relevant laws.

To counter an Emison contention that the partnership was set up merely as a “conduit” for providing money to Yes on 2, Phillips said in a document filed with the registry that the $1.2 million was only about half the group’s 2014 budget. Other spending included $250,000 to Tennesseans for Student Success and $222,400 to Businesses for Tennessee Prosperity, both “actively engaged in education reform,” he said.

The vote to dismiss the complaint was unanimous.

Emison said afterwards he was disappointed in the decision that means the “governors’ committee” — Yes on 2 was co-chaired by Gov. Bill Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen — can keep its funding secret from the public.

“There’s not a politician drawing a breath who doesn’t know where a million dollars for his campaign comes from… The insiders know where it came from. But the public doesn’t know,” he said.