Tag Archives: general

Ramsey Will ‘Probably’ Back Push for Change in ‘Guns in Parking Lots’

Tennessee employers, public and private, are declaring that the state’s “guns in parking lots” law, which took effect July 1, does nothing to change policies prohibiting their employees from bringing weapons onto their property, even if they have a handgun carry permit.
That has prompted Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a leading supporter of the new law, to declare that he will “probably” support an anticipated push to change the law next year to clarify that permit holders cannot be fired solely for having their gun in a locked car in their employers’ parking lots.
That runs counter to the declared wish of Gov. Bill Haslam that gun laws in Tennessee remain at the “status quo” in the 2014 session with no new gunfights.
“I hate that the attorney general has muddied the waters on this,” said Ramsey, who said he has been receiving complaints from employees of Eastman Chemical Co. this summer who were upset that the company’s prohibition on guns in parking lots is unchanged.
He referred a formal legal opinion from Attorney General Bob Cooper in May that says the new law — while forbidding any criminal prosecution of permit holders complying with its provisions — will have no impact on Tennessee law that otherwise generally allows a company to fire an employee “at will,” for any reason or no reason.

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If you’re curious about blue lights and funeral processions….

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.

AG says state can run vehicle testing program in Shelby County

An attorney general’s opinion says the state has authority to set up a vehicle emissions testing program in Shelby County and charge motorists a fee to pay for it, reports the Commercial Appeal.
But the opinion says the state probably could not impose a countywide fee to pay for vehicle testing only in the City of Memphis, as it suggests was being considered by state officials.
Atty. Gen. Robert E. Cooper’s advisory opinion comes after Memphis ended its vehicle inspection program Friday.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is “looking at all options” for a new inspection program in the Memphis area to keep the state in compliance with federal air pollution laws, TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said after the opinion’s public release Tuesday.
“But we are hopeful that the local air program will meet its obligation to have a vehicle inspection program as previously committed to both the state and to EPA that they would do.”
Memphis was the only one of Tennessee’s major urban areas with vehicle emissions testing where the inspections were limited only to residents of the central city. The testing programs are countywide in Davidson, Hamilton, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties.

Nashville’s L&C Tower Owner Says State Wrongfully Broke Lease, Owes $4 Million Plus

The owner of the downtown L&C Tower filed a claim with the state earlier this week in response to the state’s plans to sever its lease and move out of offices it has occupied in the tower since 2004, reports The Tennessean.
401 Church St., which owns the building, names the Department of General Services, the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Department of Finance and Administration as defendants in its complaint with the state Division of Claims Administration. The complaint seeks $4.15 million in potential lost rent and between $250,000 and $2 million in additional damages.
Because of the state’s new plan to condense and modernize its office space, General Services told the tower’s owners they were severing the lease agreement. But the L&C owners argue that the state needed to receive approval from the owner’s lender, CIBC, before it severed the lease agreement. No such approval was ever sought, according to the complaint.
In 2005, the state received a break on its rent in exchange for eliminating the lease provision that allowed the state to break the lease for essentially no reason. Under the most recent version of the lease, which went into effect in 2004, the state can sever the agreement provided it gives one of eight agreed-upon reasons.

Cooper Unruffled by Legislative Efforts to Change AG Appointment

State Attorney General Robert Cooper has emerged as a secret weapon for Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers seeking to douse some of the fiery legislation put out this year, according to Chas Sisk.
But his legal advice may have put his office in jeopardy. A string of high-profile opinions has shown the political clout the attorney general wields.
Though seldom a focus of public attention, the state’s top lawyer has influenced some of the year’s biggest debates, touching on topics from animal cruelty to Vanderbilt University’s nondiscrimination policy. This was not the first time the attorney general’s legal acumen carried weight. But with Republican clout on the rise, support appears to be growing for legislation that would strip the attorney general’s office of some of its duties or change how he is selected.
Cooper, a Democrat with a studious air and a lawyer’s conciseness, seems unruffled by the possibility….
“This is an issue that’s been discussed for decades,” he said. “I think it really comes down to what sort of an office do you want the attorney general’s office to be — nonpartisan or partisan?”
…Cooper refused, for instance, to add Tennessee to a legal challenge against the Affordable Care Act three years ago, even as polls showed that a large majority of Tennesseans opposed the health care reform law. Cooper argued — correctly, it turned out — that the law was constitutional.
That decision and others like it prompted lawmakers to file seven separate bills this year seeking to change the attorney general’s duties or who decides to fill the office. In April, the state Senate approved one resolution that would give the legislature the power to pick the attorney general.

…(P)olicy considerations do not come into play, Cooper said. His staff of 173 lawyers simply respond to the questions they are asked by turning to the letter of the law.
“The history and tradition of this office has been that we provide nonpartisan, nonpolitical advice,” Cooper said. “That’s how we run the office. That’s how we are perceived, and I think people value the advice they get from us because of that.”
……After nearly seven years in office, Cooper says he is uncertain whether he will seek reappointment next summer.
“One of the beauties of this not being an elected office is that I don’t have to worry about getting ready for an election campaign, don’t have to be out raising money, doing anything of that sort,” he said. “So, at this point, I’m focused on the job.”

AG: No, You Can’t Have a ‘De-Annexation’ Referendum

State Attorney General Robert E. Cooper says Cordova area residents have no legal authority to force a public referendum on de-annexing their subdivision from Memphis, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The opinion confirms a similar legal opinion by State Election Coordinator Mark Goins last month that halted efforts by a group of Cordova residents to call a de-annexation referendum in their area this summer.
Cooper’s opinion references neither Cordova nor Memphis by name. But State Rep. Steve McManus, who represents the Cordova area, requested the opinion on behalf of the residents.
McManus and de-annexation supporters met Thursday night at the Old Cordova Community Center and decided to continue their petition drive despite Cooper’s opinion.
Josh Fox, head of the Cordova’s Voices website and spokesman for the de-annexation effort, said the group hopes to get 40,000 to 45,000 signatures, then take those to the City Council and to the state legislature. “That way, we can stand up there and say, ‘This is what the people who put you in office want.'”

Further Critique of State’s Rental Car Contract

WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams and Tennessee Tax Revolt’s Ben Cunningham teamed up for a followup critique of the state car rental contract with Enterprise Rent-a-Car. (Previous post HERE)
Excerpts:
As our investigation first revealed, the Haslam administration outsourced state government’s motor pool to Enterprise and its WeCar car-sharing program. It did that without giving any other company a chance to compete for the job.
But while the state contract with Enterprise specifically calls for “hourly car-sharing services,” there are no hourly rates.
So when the Department of Education checked out a mid-size car and used it for just 51 minutes, Enterprise sent them a bill for $34 — the full daily rate.
When the Board of Probation and Parole reserved a minivan for exactly one hour, even though no one ever showed up to get it, the agency still got hit with a $48 charge.
…And even though state employees get locked out of a WeCar at the end of a trip, Enterprise still sends them a bill for the full reservation if they end a trip early — unless they take the time to go online and change the reservation.
Which is how the Department of Correction, after using a car for just two days, got a bill for four days. That’s because the original reservation was for three days — and 30 minutes.
“When something occurs like this, they should go back to the vendor and say, ‘Hey, this is a huge contract. You give us the benefit of the doubt. You give us the best rate,'” Cunningham said.
And while the state’s contract with Enterprise offers a cheaper weekly rate, it usually doesn’t show up on bills it sends to state agencies.
So when the Department of Education rented a minivan, it got the daily rate times seven. The weekly rate would be almost $50 cheaper.
…But Enterprise insisted that it doesn’t get one cent more than it should.
That’s because, when the Department of General Services negotiated the deal, it promised Enterprise a guaranteed amount each month. And after Enterprise bills all those state agencies, General Services always has to write a check to make up the difference.
…As NewsChannel 5 Investigates previously reported, in the last 12 months, General Services had to pay $289,000 to make up the difference.
In fact, Enterprise said that it generates the bills based on rules specifically set up by the state and that General Services approves every bill before it goes to the other departments — including those questionable charges uncovered in our investigation.

AG: Handgun Permit Holders Can Still Be Fired for Guns in Cars

(Note: This updates, expands and replaces earlier post)
State attorney general Bob Cooper says a new state law protecting handgun permit holders from criminal prosecution for keeping their guns in locked cars still leaves them vulnerable to being fired by employers who prohibit weapons on their premises.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the opinion, made public Wednesday, “ignores the clear legislative intent of the law.” (Note: full text of opinion HERE)
John Harris, president of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said Cooper’s analysis is correct and echoes points that Second Amendment advocates raised during legislative debate, only to be ignored by Republican legislative leadership.
The attorney general’s opinion, requested by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, also addresses four legal questions raised about the so-called “guns in parking lots” law enacted earlier this year.
Two of them were the subject of considerable debate, including amendments offered on the House floor by Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, who had Harris’ help in drafting them.

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Some TN E-Book Buyers May Get a Refund Under Price-Fixing Deal

News release from Attorney General’s Office:
Tennesseans who bought electronic books (E-books) from Penguin Group (USA) Inc. in the past two years may be eligible for a refund as part of a multistate price-fixing agreement, Attorney General Bob Cooper announced today. Consumers in Tennessee along with 33 other states and territories will receive a total of $75 million in restitution.
Today’s agreement is the latest in a widespread investigation into allegations some of the largest publishers agreed with one another and some distributors to artificially set the prices of E-books sold in the United States.
The agreement with Penguin must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. When finalized, the agreement with Penguin will grant E-book outlets greater freedom to reduce the prices of their E-book titles.
Tennessee has previously settled with four other publishers–Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers L.L.C., Simon & Schuster Inc., and Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC d/b/a Macmillan–for allegations relating to the same conduct.
An antitrust action based on the same allegations against Apple Inc., meanwhile, remains pending with a trial scheduled for June 3.
Specifically, the complaint states, the publishers agreed to increase retail E-book prices for all consumers and to eliminate E-book retail price competition between E-book outlets regardless of where the consumers bought their E-books.
“We hope this agreement will help stop anyone who attempts to gouge consumers in the future by artificially inflating prices for good and services,” Attorney General Cooper said. “As a result of this activity, consumers paid millions more than they should have in a naturally competitive marketplace.”
The lawsuit and today’s settlement stem from a two-year antitrust investigation conducted by the states and U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. That investigation developed evidence that the conspired to end E-Book retailers’ freedom to compete on price by taking control of pricing from E-Book retailers and substantially increasing the prices that consumers paid for E-Books. The States contend that the publishers prevented retail price competition resulting in consumers paying millions of dollars more for their e-books. Under the proposed settlement agreement, the publishers will compensate consumers who purchased E-books from any of the publishers cited during the period between April 1, 2010 through May 21, 2012.

TN Gets Piece of $500 Million Generic Drug Settlement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee will receive a portion of a $500 million settlement with generic drug manufacturer Ranbaxy.
Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper announced Thursday that Tennessee will receive more than $5.5 million. The settlement resolved claims that Ranbaxy sold inferior drugs and made false statements about how they were made.
The claim sprang from a whistleblower complaint that alleged the company manufactured, distributed and sold generic pharmaceuticals that failed to meet Food and Drug Administration standards for strength, purity and quality.
The 26 products in question were made at two plants in India between 2003 and 2010.
A team from the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units conducted the settlement negotiations with Ranbaxy on behalf of the states.

Note: The attorney general news release is below.

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