NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A legal opinion issued by the state Attorney General Bob Cooper outlines exactly when it’s legal for blue flashing lights to be used as part of a funeral procession in Tennessee.
The opinion requested by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet says that only full-time law enforcement officers can use blue flashing lights while escorting funeral processions — as long as it’s part of their official duty to do so. That standard applies even if they are off-duty and being paid for private security.
The attorney general said non-law enforcement may not use blue or red flashing lights of any kind, though escort vehicles can be equipped with amber lights. Note: The full opinion, answering 10 questions, is HERE.
Legislation putting restrictions on law enforcement use of drones was revised by House-Senate conference committee on the final day of the 2013 legislative session, then approved by both chambers and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam.
Differing versions of the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act” (HB591) had been approved earlier by the House and Senate. The final version, approved late Friday, declares that drones can be used by law enforcement only when a search warrant has been obtained with four exceptions:
To “counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization” identified by the Department of Homeland Security.
When the law enforcement agency “possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life.”
To “provide continuous aerial coverage when law enforcement is searching for a fugitive or escapee or is monitoring a hostage situation.”
To “provide more expansive aerial coverage when deployed for the purpose
of searching for a missing person.”
The House version earlier had contained a provision allowing use of drones “to protect life and property during crowd monitoring situations,” which proponents at the time said would cover crowds during University of Tennessee football games. That was deleted in the final version.
The bill’s sponsors were Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet. They said the final product strikes a balance between allowing use of drones where needed for a legitimate purpose and avoiding governmental intrusion.
Tennessee currently has no statute dealing with drones, which are expected to become more widely used in the near future. The bill does not address use of drones by individuals or corporations, but the sponsors said they may propose legislation on that topic next year.
Sponsors say Tennessee will become the 18th state in the nation to require first-time drunken driving offenders to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle under legislation approved by both the House and Senate on Tuesday.
The bill first passed the House 95-0 under sponsorship of Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, then passed the Senate later in the day 31-0. It now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is expected to sign it.
Under current law, only repeat DUI offenders or first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher can be required to install an interlock device. The bill (HB353) lowers the threshold to .08 blood alcohol content, the same level required to create a legal presumption of driving under the influence.
The devices require a driver to take a breath test for alcohol before starting a vehicle, which will not start if any alcohol is detected.
While required to have an interlock device installed, DUI offenders do not have to go through a year’s suspension of their license as the case under present law. Beavers said the effect is to allow them to be “getting their lives back together” while at the same time protecting the public by preventing drunken driving.
“With this bill, we know we can reduce the number of deaths on our highways,” said Beavers on the Senate floor with Shipley at her side.
Other states that have mandated interlock devices for first offenders have seen a 30 percent decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, Beavers said, and a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that those required to have an interlock device are 67 percent less likely to become a repeat offender.
The House and Senate both unanimously approved Thursday a bill that sets rules Tennessee law enforcement agencies’ use of unmanned aerial surveillance aircraft, better known as drones.
As approved by the Senate, the bill (SB796) says that drones can only be used to search for a fugitive or a missing person, in monitoring a hostage situation or when a judge issues a search warrant authorizing them. Any information gathered otherwise by a drone cannot be used in court and must be destroyed within 24 hours, the bill says.
The House added an amendment saying they can also be used “to protect life and property during crowd monitoring situations.” In debate, crowds and traffic during University of Tennessee football games was cited as an example of where drone monitoring might be desirable.
The Senate will have to approve the House amendment before the bill goes to the governor for his signature.
Sponsors of the bill – Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, and Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough – said there is no law on the books in Tennessee dealing with drone surveillance, but one is needed with projections that thousands will be deployed in the years ahead.
Van Huss said he worked with drones while serving with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I know that drones are a very effective tool in fighting against the bad guys and I do not want them to be a very effective tool in infringing on the personal liberties of my constituents and Tennessee citizens,” he said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A bill calling for a comprehensive study of lawmaker allowances has been killed in a House committee after unanimously passing the Senate.
Republican state Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville made the motion in the House State Government Committee on Tuesday to delay consideration of the measure until after the Legislature adjourns next year.
The resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet calls for the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to study the daily allowances paid to lawmakers when they are conducting business at the Capitol. It passed the Senate on a 32-0 vote.
Todd called the study unnecessary because the information about costs is already available.
A separate bill would strip the $107 daily hotel allowance from lawmakers living within 50 miles of the Capitol.
Tennessee lawmakers on Tuesday revived an effort to pressure Vanderbilt University to drop its controversial nondiscrimination policy for student clubs, reports Chas Sisk — this time with an attack on the school’s police powers. A pair of Middle Tennessee lawmakers said they will press ahead with a bill that would strip the Vanderbilt University Police Department of state recognition unless the school abandons its “all-comers” policy. That policy requires university-sponsored clubs to follow its rules against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
The bill would defy the wishes of Gov. Bill Haslam, who vetoed a measure last year that attacked the all-comers rule from a different angle. Backers said the new measure would stand a better chance of holding up in the courts and protect students from arbitrary use of police power to break up protests against the policy.
“Who will hold Nicholas Zeppos accountable?” said David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, referring to Vanderbilt’s chancellor.
But university officials said the measure flies in the face of efforts to tighten security in the wake of mass shootings. Without state recognition, Vanderbilt’s police effectively would become security guards, they said.
“I just find it unbelievable,” said August Washington, chief of the Vanderbilt University Police Department.
Senate Bill 1241/House Bill 1150, sponsored by state Rep. Mark Pody and state Sen. Mae Beavers, would take police powers away from any university that has adopted policies that “discriminate” against religious student organizations. Seventeen universities in Tennessee have their own police departments.
But it is geared toward Vanderbilt, which has implemented a rule requiring recognized student groups to follow school policies that bar discrimination.
After an hour of impassioned debate over whether state legislatures can overrule federal statutes or U.S. Supreme Court decisions, legislation calling for Tennessee nullification of federal firearms laws failed on a 4-4 tie vote Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
State Attorney General Bob Cooper had issued a formal legal opinion declaring the bill (SB250) was unconstitutional because of the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. But sponsor Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, brought in witnesses to counter Cooper’s opinion.
Most notable was a woman calling herself “Publius Huldah,” who refused to give her real name. She operates a blog under that name that promotes nullification as a valid constitutional principle.
“When the federal government makes a clearly ursurpatious law, such as restricting firearms, it is the duty of the state” to nullify that law, she said.
The committee chairman, Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, said the bill is unconstitutional and could lead to Tennessee sheriffs and their deputies “going out and using deadly force, potentially to shoot and kill federal authorities, for enforcing the federal laws.”
The bill, as filed declares the federal agents trying to enforce a law deemed void by the Legislature would be subject to felony prosecution. An amendment added Wednesday at Beavers’ request dropped the crime rating to a misdemeanor, which she said would mean federal agents could be issued a citation rather than being arrested and taken into custody by state law enforcement officers.
A legislative liaison for Gov. Bill Haslam was asked the governor’s view on the bill. Samuel Arnold told the committee the administration has “significant concerns about the constitutionality” of the bill and there is “a good chance he (Haslam) is not going to sign it.” Without an actual veto, however, the bill would become law without the governor’s signature.
The final 4-4 vote came with one member of the panel, Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, absent. Those voting for the bill were Sens. Mike Bell, R-Riceville; Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville; Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga; and Mark Green, R-Clarksville. Voting no were Sens. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; Kelsey; Doug Overbey, R-Maryville; and John Stevens, R-Huntingdon.
A bill that declares Tennessee can declare federal firearms laws “null and void” within its borders and prosecute federal officers enforcing them is unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, according to another attorney general’s opinion released Monday.
The opinion on SB250 was requested by Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. His committee voted 5-4 to postpone a vote on the bill by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, to seek Cooper’s opinion. Beavers argued that the state, through the Legislature or other officials, can nullify federal laws that exceed the federal government’s authority.
The opinion quotes a U.S. Supreme Court case: “If the legislatures of the several states may, at will, annul the judgments of the courts of the United States, and destroy the rights acquired under those judgments, the constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery . . . .No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his undertaking to support it.”
— Note: Full opinion HERE. Previous post HERE.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, comparing himself at one point to Andrew Jackson in 1832, managed to delay Tuesday a vote on legislation that declares Tennessee has a right to nullify federal gun laws and charge federal agents enforcing them with committing a felony.
The committee voted 5-4 to grant Kelsey’s call to postpone a vote on the proposal (SB250) for one week while he seeks a legal opinion from state Attorney General Bob Cooper on whether it would violate the U.S. Constitution.
Sponsor Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, said the U.S. Constitution authorizes states – through their legislatures – to decide the validity of federal laws.
She understands that lawyers believe the Supreme Court is the “ultimate arbitrator” of constitutionality, Beavers said, and that has allowed justics “setting themselves up as a dictator” and “generation after generation we have just accepted that.”
But that is wrong, she said, and the 10th Amendment lets states decide what laws are constitution and which can be ignored or nullified.
Beavers’ view was reenforced by June Griffin of Dayton, who heads the Tennessee Commission on the Bill of Rights. Griffin said Tennessee’s own constitution cast upon legislators – and sheriffs around the state – a duty to resist federal intrusion by supporting the bill.
Sen. Mae Beavers, who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee for six years, tells TNReport she was not surprised when she was removed as chair of the influential committee earlier this month. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey replaced Beavers as chair with fellow Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey, an attorney from Germantown.
When asked about the move, Ramsey said Beavers had disappointed him “time or two,” and that she had not always been a “team player.”
“I ruffled some feathers taking a stand for my constituents, really everybody’s constituents, that had a complaint about judges,” the Mt. Juliet Republican said. “You know, you ruffle feathers, and sometimes that’s just what happens.”
Beavers told several media outlets that she believed it was due to her pushing for the direct elections of judges and speaking out for judicial ethics reform. Ramsey said those were not factors in making “one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make.
…Beavers said she was there was “a kind of a sense of relief” that she is no longer responsible for a committee that sees 700 bills every year. “Still, we’re getting complaints about judges, which will be forwarded to the new chairman of that committee,” she said. “We will continue to address those issues; file legislation when we feel it’s needed.”