Category Archives: open government

Some legislators unhappy over leaked bathroom emails

From a Tennessean story following up on last week’s report of email exchanges between House Republican Caucus members on whether to hold a special legislative session in response a federal directive on transgender bathroom use in schools:

An ongoing discussion about leaked emails between House Republican lawmakers has led one member to say whoever provided them to the media has betrayed their own party, another to suggest a colleague should “grow up” and a third to raise the possibility of asking the attorney general to look into the matter.

On Monday, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, sent out an email to the House Republican Caucus asking “whoever released our email discussion of whether or not to hold a special session” to out themselves. Continue reading

Erasure of criminal charges without conviction to become easier

by Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee courts are going to make it easier for people who have been arrested but never convicted of a crime to have their criminal records wiped clean.

A bipartisan group of legislators, judges and criminal justice officials gathered Tuesday to announce a statewide court initiative in which judges will ask eligible people if they want their records expunged.

Many people don’t know they have that right or face barriers to clearing their names, like taking time off work and going back to a courthouse to fill out paperwork, supporters of the initiative say.

The records can hurt people when they try to find a job, get a loan, find housing or get a professional license. Some lawmakers and others say people who are not guilty of crimes shouldn’t have to face hurdles when it comes to getting their records cleared.

“They’ve been found innocent, but they still have an arrest record haunting them,” said Rep. Harold Love, a Democrat from Nashville.
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Committee carving knives at work on police shootings bill

A bill requiring that the TBI investigate all fatal shootings by law enforcement officers and public disclosure of the investigation results has been watered down substantially as it moved through legislative committees, reports Richard Locker.

Under current law, TBI investigates officer-involved shootings only when requested by district attorneys. And by law, all TBI investigative records — including those of officer-involved shootings — remain permanently confidential, even after the investigations are closed.

But the issue has spurred statewide interest as residents demand more transparency when people are critically injured or killed by law enforcement officers.

…The bill (HB2091) is moving along different paths in the House and Senate — but both have been amended in committees to remove the mandate for TBI probes of all officer-involved shootings statewide. Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, the House sponsor, said Tuesday that that provision may have been too ambitious of a goal to accomplish this year, with the Legislature headed to adjournment by the end of the month, and will have to be delayed until next year.

…The current Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, says that after TBI completes its investigation and turns its report over to prosecutors, the district attorney “may disclose the investigative records to the public upon agreement with the chief law enforcement officer of each agency involved in the shooting.”

The current version of the House bill has removed all references to the TBI and public disclosure, leaving only a provision that increases the death benefit paid by the state to the family of a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty from the current $25,000 to $100,000. (That provision is part of the Senate bill too.) Hardaway said that when the House Criminal Justice Committee considers the bill Wednesday, there likely will be efforts to reinsert a provision requiring public release of the results when the TBI does investigate an officer-involved shooting, with redaction of sensitive information to protect sources and other investigations.

That could be immediately after TBI turns over its report to the district attorney, or 30 days later, he said.


Haslam’s $30M secret project draws criticism

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A state senator on Tuesday questioned fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to earmark $30 million for an undisclosed economic development project in Tennessee.

Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro cited state money spent on problematic economic development deals, including a shuttered polysilicon plant in Clarksville, a West Tennessee solar farm that still isn’t operational, and a facility to study converting switchgrass to fuel that has been moved to Iowa.

“We continue year after year, and even going back to the prior administration, laying out large chunks of money for what we think might occur,” Ketron said. “And they don’t seem to materialize.”

State Finance Commissioner Larry Martin declined to elaborate on the development prospect other than to describe it as an “exciting project” during a Senate Finance Committee meeting.

Ketron said he was uncomfortable voting for the new project on the basis of state officials saying, “Trust me, it’s going to be good.”
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Casada moves to ban public release police body camera recordings

Legislation birthed and given quick initial approval by a state House panel last week would prohibit public disclosure of most body camera recordings made by Tennessee law enforcement officers for at least a year — and potentially keep video of police misconduct under wraps for even longer.

The move has drawn protests from open government advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union. The bill’s sponsor, House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin, said he is not happy with the measure himself and will go “back to the drawing board” to negotiate over revisions in coming days.

As approved by the House State Government Subcommittee, the measure, HB876, would declare a general one-year “moratorium” on public disclosure of any police body camera footage, starting on July 1.

The measure allows public release of recordings that involve an officer’s violation of a law enforcement agency’s administrative policy or “alleged use of unlawful or unnecessary force in violation of state law or the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States” — but only after completion of “any investigation” into the individual case as well as completion of any trial or disciplinary proceeding involving the recording — which would take months at minimum and more likely years.
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Approved bill requires open records policy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Legislature has passed a bill that will require nearly every government office across Tennessee to tell citizens how they can get public records.

The measure (SB2033) first directs the open records counsel in the state comptroller’s office to come up with a model public records policy that local government agencies could adapt. The legislation would then require government offices to have a written public records policy by July 17, 2017. The policy can’t be less open than state law allows, and it should explain to citizens how to make a request to either inspect or copy public records and any fees charged for obtaining copies.

The primary sponsors of the bill were Sen. Richard Briggs and Rep. Bill Dunn, both Republicans from Knoxville.

Duncan pushes regulation of political intelligence industry

A Tennessee Republican and a New York Democrat have teamed up on a proposal to regulate the little-known political intelligence industry, which mines Capitol Hill for financial information that can be sold to Wall Street investors.

Further from The Tennessean:

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., say political intelligence gathering should be subject to the same public disclosure rules that apply to lobbyists.

“There is this whole other group in the shadows profiting off of information not available to everybody else,” Slaughter said Thursday.

This is the third time Slaughter has introduced legislation to require political intelligence firms to register with Congress, a process that also would require them to identify their clients and the issues they’re interested in. She said congressional staffers and federal agency employees may not always know when they’re talking to someone who intends to extract information to benefit a hedge fund, for example.

Slaughter said the political intelligence industry is generating huge profits with no accountability.

“If it’s worth $400 million a year, it needs some oversight,” she said.

Duncan called the legislation “a common-sense proposal to finally end the ability of political intelligence operatives to work behind closed doors and profit from information that’s available only to the well connected in Washington.”

The STOCK ACT, passed by Congress in 2012, requires members of Congress to disclose their personal investment decisions more frequently and bars them from engaging in insider trading. But a provision regulating the political intelligence industry was stripped out before the final vote, and subsequent efforts to resurrect the idea have stalled.

Rep. Daniel defends ISIS free speech comments

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Republican lawmaker on Thursday defended his comments that free speech rights on Tennessee college campuses should apply to everyone — even recruiters for the Islamic State group.

State Rep. Martin Daniel of Knoxville said on the floor of the state House that he supports First Amendment rights for people and groups regardless of whether he agrees with their aims.

“I will never apologize for defending the First Amendment,” he said. “I will always cloak myself in it, and defend others’ right to speak.”

Daniel had been challenged about the impact of his proposed “Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act” in a committee hearing a day earlier. Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis had asked whether it would go so far as to allow people to stand in the middle of campus and “recruit for ISIS.”

Daniel responded that it would.
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Legislator urges free campus speech, even for ISIS

Speaking on behalf of a bill centered around free speech, a Knoxville-based lawmaker on Wednesday said a terrorist organization should be allowed to recruit on college campuses, according to The Tennessean.

While presenting a billed dubbed the “Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act,” Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, fielded a question from Rep. John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis, about whether he believed ISIS should be able to stand in the middle of university campuses and “recruit for ISIS.”

“Yes,” Daniel replied. “So long as it doesn’t disrupt the proceedings on that campus. Yes sir. They can recruit people for any other organization or any other cause. I think it’s just part of being exposed to differing viewpoints.”

The remarks came after a debate about the bill, which Daniel said “would direct schools to observe freedom of speech on campus.”

While introducing the legislation, Daniel said students’ free speech on Tennessee college campuses has been diminished in recent years because of unfair policies.

…Immediately after Daniel argued that ISIS should be allowed to recruit on college campuses, House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee Chairman Mark White, R-Germantown, recommended the bill (HB2063) be taken off notice.

It was. The Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, has been sent to “general sub,” typically meaning no vote will be sought on the legislation.

Note: Previous post (Rep. Daniel’s initial press release) HERE.

Museum board opens meeting on ‘succession planning’

In a change of plans, the board overseeing the Tennessee State Museum will hold an open meeting for discussion of procedures in selection of a new museum executive director rather closing the session to the public.

Tom Smith of Nashville, who chairs a museum board committee on “succession planning,” initially announced the March 28 “workshop” would last eight hours and would be held behind closed doors.

That brought a protest last month from former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, a member of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission as well as the board of directors for the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government, and Smith recently notified members that the plan had been changed.

“We are retooling the session to take out the items related to all museum personnel and instead just have a session related to strengths we envision in a new executive director,” Smith wrote in an email. “Since we won’t be working on all of the museum’s personnel analysis we can and will make this an ‘open meeting’ and all who care to can attend.”

Ashe, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland, lauded the change.
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