Tag Archives: legislature

Feds OK revised TN DUI law for juveniles

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The National Highway Traffic Administration has confirmed that Tennessee is back in compliance with federal zero-tolerance standards for drunken drivers under the legal drinking age.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam hastily called a special legislative session last week to repeal a new state law that threatened to cost the state 8 percent, or $60 million, in federal road money.

The repeal of the law means that the state no longer stands to lose the money starting on Oct. 1.

Sponsors of the original legislation said it aimed to give tougher penalties to all drivers over age 18. But the law also sought to set the maximum allowable blood alcohol content at 0.08 percent for those drivers. The federal standard for drivers under age 21 is 0.02 percent.

Rep. Sheila Butt seeks majority leader post

State Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia has become the first Republican to declare as a candidate to succeed Gerald McCormick as House majority leader, but The Tennessean reports that at least a couple others – Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin and Cameron Sexton of Crossville – are also interested.

Butt announced her candidacy in an email to colleagues, saying she wants to help the House Republican Caucus “move forward with wisdom, tenacity, civility and better communication.”

“I am confident that I can lead the Caucus in that direction,” Butt said, while saying that she realized during her time as Majority Floor Leader that House Republicans needed improvements in terms of communication.

Butt’s effort comes one day after McCormick, who has been Majority Leader since 2011, informed his colleagues that he was not seeking re-election to the chamber’s second most powerful position. McCormick, R-Chattanooga, is running for re-election in November.

…Sexton told The Tennessean Tuesday that he’s had “numerous members” call him and ask if he’d be interested.

“As members call and I talk to them over the next several weeks I’m going to see what they’re looking for,” said Sexton, who served as House Majority Whip before being defeated by former Rep. Jeremy Durham in 2014.

Sexton said it is “much too early” to be counting votes for the leadership spot and that the priority of the caucus needs to be focusing on making sure every House Republican running for re-election wins in the Nov. 8 general election. Continue reading

New coalition set up to push ‘criminal justice reform’

Press release from Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice
NASHVILLE – Leaders from advocacy, business and social service groups with constituents across the state came together today to launch the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice. The nonpartisan coalition is committed to advancing criminal justice reform. Founding organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the Tennessee Association of Goodwills, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“These diverse organizations from across the political spectrum came together because we all agree that criminal justice reform is both necessary and urgent,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Our current criminal justice system is functioning like a revolving door. We as a state can and must do better to ensure public safety, fair treatment and equality in the justice system. This coalition will be a powerful advocate for smart-on-crime policies at the legislature.”

The coalition will promote reforms that enhance public safety, promote rehabilitation and re-entry, and save taxpayer dollars in order to create a just and fair criminal justice system that offers every Tennessean the opportunity to become a productive member of society. Continue reading

McCormick to exit as House majority leader

After six years as state House Majority Leader, Gerald McCormick says he will not seek another term in the position for the next session of the General Assembly. His announcement Monday, first reported by Andy Sher, is likely to touch off a scramble among fellow Republicans who would like to succeed him.

Citing accomplishments he and Republicans have made since seizing a working House majority in January 2011, McCormick told fellow GOP caucus members in a letter that he is “incredibly proud of the work of the ‘People’s House,'” which he said has “confronted extremely difficult issues that were not taken lightly by any of us.”

McCormick, who is still running for re-election without opposition to his seat on Nov. 8, said in an interview he intends to continue serving in the 99-member House, where Republicans hold 73 of 99 seats.

The 56-year-old lawmaker’s announcement is expected to unleash pent-up ambition in the GOP Caucus and could conceivably trigger a major power struggle among Republicans’ sometimes-bitterly divided power factions.

“I am honored to serve the citizens of House District 26 as their Representative in the Tennessee General Assembly and I intend to maintain a strong and intensified commitment to the issues affecting us locally and statewide,” McCormick said in his letter to fellow Republican lawmakers.

“I will continue to serve my fellow Caucus members as you see fit, however, I announce today that I do not intend to continue as House Majority Leader in the upcoming session,” he said.

Memphis, Nashville could pay penalty for pot decriminalization

If the Nashville and Memphis city councils move ahead with plans for modified marijuana decriminalization, state Rep. William Lamberth says he may move to stop sending state highway funding to the cities.

From The Tennessean:

Lamberth, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, said his potential bill would seek to halt state highway funds from cities that do not enforce criminal penalties outlined in state law. Funding would continue again if a violating city overturns their policy. This past year, the state set aside $129.1 million in highway funds for Shelby County and $119.5 million for Davidson County.

“That’s not a bill that I would want to file, but it’s a bill that I’m certainly willing to file if Nashville and Memphis continue down this extraordinarily reckless and unjust path,” he said. Continue reading

On the prescription painkiller lobby’s influence

(Note: The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity have produced a package of stories published this weekend on the politics of those involved in making prescription painkillers. One of them, focused on lobbying efforts and political contributions at the state level, is below and includes a substantial reference to Tennessee. ‘

The Tennessean has done a sidebar reporting that Tennessee politicians received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions over the past decade from pharmaceutical companies and other members of the Pain Care Forum, a coalition that meets monthly to discuss opioid-related issues. That report is HERE.)

By Geoff Mulvihill, Liz Essley Whyte and Ben Wieder, Associated Press and Center for Public Integrity
The makers of prescription painkillers have adopted a 50-state strategy that includes hundreds of lobbyists and millions in campaign contributions to help kill or weaken measures aimed at stemming the tide of prescription opioids, the drugs at the heart of a crisis that has cost 165,000 Americans their lives and pushed countless more to crippling addiction.

The drugmakers vow they’re combating the addiction epidemic, but The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity found that they often employ a statehouse playbook of delay and defend that includes funding advocacy groups that use the veneer of independence to fight limits on the drugs, such as OxyContin, Vicodin and fentanyl, the narcotic linked to Prince’s death.

The mother of Cameron Weiss was no match for the industry’s high-powered lobbyists when she plunged into the corridors of New Mexico’s Legislature, crusading for a measure she fervently believed would have saved her son’s life.

It was a heroin overdose that eventually killed Cameron, not long before he would have turned 19. But his slippery descent to death started a few years earlier, when a hospital sent him home with a bottle of Percocet after he broke his collarbone in wrestling practice.

Jennifer Weiss-Burke pushed for a bill limiting initial prescriptions of opioid painkillers for acute pain to seven days. The bill exempted people with chronic pain, but opponents still fought back, with lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry quietly mobilizing in increased numbers to quash the measure.

They didn’t speak up in legislative hearings. “They were going individually talking to senators and representatives one-on-one,” Weiss-Burke said.

Unknowingly, she had taken on a political powerhouse that spent more than $880 million nationwide on lobbying and campaign contributions from 2006 through 2015 — more than 200 times what those advocating for stricter policies spent and more than eight times what the formidable gun lobby recorded for similar activities during that same period.

The pharmaceutical companies and allied groups have a number of legislative interests in addition to opioids that account for a portion of their political activity, but their steady presence in state capitals means they’re poised to jump in quickly on any debate that affects them.

Collectively, the AP and the Center for Public Integrity found, the drugmakers and allied advocacy groups employed an annual average of 1,350 lobbyists in legislative hubs from 2006 through 2015, when opioids’ addictive nature came under increasing scrutiny.

“The opioid lobby has been doing everything it can to preserve the status quo of aggressive prescribing,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing and an outspoken advocate for opioid reform. “They are reaping enormous profits from aggressive prescribing.” Continue reading

Sunday column: On the legal validity of dumping Durham

Last week’s extraordinary session of the Tennessee Legislature had some ordinary aspects — predictable partisan and bipartisan bickering, for example — but the Jeremy Durham debacle was really something special.

After the 70-2 vote Tuesday to expel the Franklin Republican from his House seat, Durham made the rounds at Nashville television stations declaring that he’s likely to file a lawsuit, contending that his removal from office violated the state constitution.

This was somewhat anticipated during the House floor debate. Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, suggested that a lawsuit would cost taxpayers more than paying Durham’s pension, which he will lose as result of being booted prior to completion of his term in November. That, and concerns about constitutionality, were among the reasons cited by Holt in boldly pushing the blue light on House voting machines, which means he was present but not voting. Three others did the same, including one bold Democrat, Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis. Continue reading

Four legislators explain dodging Durham vote

Three northeast Tennessee state House members have explained to the Johnson City Press why they refused to vote one way or the other on the motion to expel Rep. Jeremy Durham during a special legislative session.

In the 70-2 vote to oust Durham, accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with 22 women, Reps. Micah Van Huss, Matthew Hill and Timothy Hill all refused to cast votes, along with nine other seated members.

“I do not believe that my constituents sent me to Nashville to be judge, jury and executioner on a person who has been denied their 6th Amendment rights,” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, said Friday. Continue reading

For Reps. Brooks, Carr: surgery instead of session

Medical problems resulted in two area legislators missing the special legislative session in Nashville called to bring the state’s law on federal zero tolerance for DUI into compliance, reports Georgiana Vines.

State Rep. Harry Brooks, a Knox County Republican who represents the 19th District, said Friday his absence was due to having a heart stent procedure Tuesday at the former St. Mary’s Medical Center.

Rep. Dale Carr, a Republican representing Sevier County, said he had a gall bladder attack and finally had the organ removed Thursday.

Brooks said Friday he is recovering but the doctor has told him he has to “kind of cool it.”

…Brooks said if he had attended the sessions, he would have voted to expel Rep. Jeremy Durham, accused of sexual misconduct toward at least 22 women and under investigation by state and federal officials.

“It would have not been difficult to vote,” Brooks said.
Carr said he would have voted yes as well.

Both men said they approved rescinding the state law that was not in compliance with the federal law.

Carr said he had been having problems with his gall bladder most of the year.

“I would have loved to have been (there). I didn’t want to take any chances,” Carr said.

Haslam happy with foul-up fix

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today applauded members of the 109th General Assembly for preventing the loss of $60 million in federal highway funds.

The governor thanked the General Assembly for an efficient special session to pass legislation that modifies a state drunk driving statute after the U.S. Department of Transportation deemed the state out of compliance with a federal “zero tolerance” law.

“I am grateful to the General Assembly for quickly convening and passing legislation that clarifies our drunk driving law to remove any question of compliance with federal requirements. Although we disagreed with the interpretation that Tennessee was out of compliance, this special session was necessary to avoid any negative impact to the state,” Haslam said.

The legislation passed Wednesday, sponsored by Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Rep. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown), modifies Pub. Ch. 1030, which the legislature passed overwhelmingly during the 2016 legislative session and the governor signed into law. While the law actually strengthened penalties for DUI offenders aged 18 to 20, last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notified the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) that the law put the state out of compliance with a federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute. NHTSA indicated Tennessee would permanently lose $60 million if it remained out of compliance as of October 1. The bill passed today includes minor alterations that more directly track the wording of federal law.

“I especially want to thank Sen. McNally and Rep. Lamberth for their leadership and dedication to making Tennessee safer. The intent of their original legislation was to save lives, and I appreciate their willingness to help clarify that law and prevent the state from losing federal highway funds,” Haslam added.

Prior to the special session, both TDOT Commissioner John Schroer and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery agreed that Tennessee continues to meet the requirements of federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute.

All 11 members of the bipartisan Tennessee congressional delegation urged U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to work with Haslam and state officials to find a solution to avoid a special session.