News release from state Department of Veterans Affairs:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder announced an innovative new online pre-registration form which will allow veterans and their families to be pre-approved for burial in the state veterans cemeteries.
Traditionally, funeral directors contact the nearest state veterans cemetery when they receive a request to bury the remains of a veteran or dependent who previously expressed interest in burial at one of the four locations. In many cases, family members are unable to locate the veteran’s discharge papers which must be used to determine eligibility. The process to request and receive the appropriate discharge papers as well as determine eligibility can take several days or weeks.
“Our goal is to do all we can to assist and support veterans and their families,” Haslam said. “This online resource is a proactive and efficient way to offer them assistance before they face a crisis situation when delays can add to the trauma of loss.”
The Senate has approved, 31-1, legislation that will require newspapers to post public notices on their websites as well as in their print editions with no extra charge starting in April, 2014.
The bill (SB461) faces a House floor vote next week after clearing committees without a dissenting vote. It is sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, and Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, and supported by the Tennessee Press Association.
In Senate floor debate, Yager noted there has been debate in the past about having public notices posted online on government websites rather than in newspapers with valid arguments on both sides. He said the legislation “tries to take the best of both and combine them into a bill that will preserve independence by allowing someone other than the government to disseminate notices.”
Besides requiring the notices be posted on newspaper websites, the measure also requires each newspaper provide a link to a website where such notices from newspapers statewide will be available. The Tennessee Press Association anticipates operating such a website.
The sole vote against the bill came from Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who said he views the measure as “excluding everyone else who is not a Tennessee newspaper” from publishing public notices.
Legislation filed by state Sen. Brian Kelsey would make keeping confidential the identity of those making comments on online news stories a matter of state law.
According to a news release from Kelsey, R-Germantown, the bill (SB106) was inspired by the Shelby County Commission’s efforts to subpoena the identities of all online commenters on the Commercial Appeal stories about moves by Memphis’ suburban cities setting up their own separate school districts. A federal judge rejected the subpoena request.
“This legislation will safeguard the free and open exchange of ideas,” said Kelsey. “Political discourse should be encouraged– not discouraged through fishing expeditions by over-zealous lawyers.”
“News organizations themselves should determine how much identifying information of online commenters to make public.”
The bill’s text says it would apply to “any information related to the identity of a person who participates in online services offered by the news media or press, including, but not limited to, name, phone number, postal address, e-mail address, or IP address.”
That language is added to a portion of state law listing “privileged communications” that cannot be used as evidence in court proceedings in most situations. Other examples include conversations between a husband and wife, private conversations with a member of the clergy, and communications between a psychiatrist and patient.
The bill’s summary on the Legislature’s website says it block demands to news media for such information from “a court, grand jury, general assembly or other administrative body.”
News release from secretary of state’s office:
Tennesseans who want to get a glimpse at the foundations of our state’s political and social history can do so with the help of a new resource from the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The Early Tennessee Legislative Records database is now online, providing an index to records from as early as 1793 through the 1840s. These papers chronicle the most important events in Tennessee history of that era, including the formation of county and boundary lines, the mustering troops for war and amendments to the state constitution.
Researchers of the Early Tennessee Legislative Records can see, for example, how the first legislative attempt to ban slavery in Tennessee was drafted and failed in 1819. Many of the documents indexed in the collection have not been seen since the original clerks folded them away at the end of the legislative sessions. Included in the records are acts, original bills, failed bills, resolutions, amendments, messages, petitions from citizens, and tally sheets showing how members voted on the issues.
During this period, the legislature dealt with matters now considered quite personal. Divorce petitions, disputes over land boundaries and requests to recognize illegitimate children all appear in the early legislative records. Genealogists and historians can learn a great deal about early Tennesseans and their lives from these files.
“This is an exciting addition to TSLA online collections, because the Early Tennessee Legislative Records are such a rich source of information about the beginning of our state,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “In addition to these records beginning with our state’s infancy, when Tennessee was merely the ‘Territory South of the River Ohio,’ TSLA also houses all the subsequent records up through the most recent General Assembly. The Legislative Records are a veritable gold mine for historians and average citizens alike.”
While the majority of the records indexed date from before 1830, newer records will be added on an ongoing basis. This is a collection that is constantly growing. The Early Tennessee Legislative Records index can be found online at phttp://tennsos.org/TSLA/rg60/
A recent Tennessee Supreme Court rule change that will make oral arguments from all of the state’s appeals courts available online has delivered a shock to some appeals court judges and family law attorneys, reports The Tennessean. Under current rules, oral arguments from the Court of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court are available by request and for a nominal fee — usually about $20.
But in a little-noticed policy change in the name of “transparency and openness of the courts” expected to take effect this spring, digital recordings of all oral arguments in appeals courts will be available online at no cost.
The action has led some, including Appeals Court Judge Frank Clement, to voice concern that it could complicate the lives of children whose parents are going through messy divorces, not to mention “cast a dark cloud” over the parents themselves, according to a letter Clement recently wrote to the high court.
“I’m very concerned about Internet bullying, harassing and abuse,” Clement said in a telephone interview. “This is not about the courts keeping secrets. It’s about preventing children from being abused and bullied.”
Michele Wojciechowski, a Tennessee Supreme Court spokeswoman, said giving the public open access to the courts is important. That said, she noted that the court is now devising a way to “mitigate possible abuse.” The court will catalog complaints over the program’s one-year trial period.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that a Tennessee law passed last year that targets online sex ads violates free speech rights.
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/136AxGB) cited an opinion written by Judge John T. Nixon that says the law is written in a way that infringes on freedom of speech and interstate commerce laws. The purpose of the law is to protect children from sex trafficking.
The issue went to court when Backpage.com filed a lawsuit alleging the new regulation violated the First Amendment and other federal protections. Backpage.com publishes millions of ads each month, including those that sell adult services, and said it would be impossible to screen every ad posted to its site and the law hurt its business.
Nixon granted the company’s request for a temporary restraining order against the law.
Antoinette Welch, assistant district attorney in Nashville, said websites like Backpage are used in a majority of sex trafficking case prosecuted by the district attorney general’s office.
“The websites are helping to promote something illegal, and children and women are being sold on their sites,” Welch said. “They should be held responsible, fined at the very least.
News release from state comptroller’s office:
It will soon be possible to report suspected cases of fraud, waste and abuse of public funds in Tennessee over the Internet. Beginning today, you may electronically alert the state Comptroller’s office about suspected government misuse of public funds by visiting: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/shared/safwa.asp
The Comptroller’s office has provided a toll-free telephone hotline for reporting fraud, waste and abuse of government funds and property since 1983. During that time, the hotline has received more than 17,000 calls.
In the 2012 legislative session, the Tennessee General Assembly expanded the Advocacy for Honest and Appropriate Government Spending Act so government employees and citizens can report allegations of fraud, waste and abuse online as well.
“In this day and age, it makes sense to give people the option to send us fraud reports online,” Comptroller Wilson said. “This is another tool to help ensure that public money is being spent properly in Tennessee. I encourage people to take advantage of this new service if they have reason to suspect fraud, waste or abuse has occurred.”
Similar to the telephone hotline, the online reporting form will allow individuals to make reports anonymously if they wish. The information will be transmitted to the Comptroller’s office over a secure connection.
Individuals who make reports are asked to provide as much detail as possible about their allegations. They may also attach files with supporting documentation that may help those who review the allegations.
Information received over the Internet will be reviewed by the Comptroller’s staff and investigated or referred to the appropriate agencies or departments when warranted.
The state Senate’s Tax Subcommittee held hearings this week on a proposal to amend Tennessee’s hotel-motel tax law so that the companies take book reservations would be taxed on the fees they collect. A similar proposal failed last legislative session, but is returning under sponsorship of Sen. Doug Overbey and Rep. Art Swann, both Maryville Republicans who contend the measure basically closes a loophole and makes things fair. Critics say it’s a tax increase.
From the Nashville Business Journal report: Hospitality officials are seeking to amend a hotel tax law and require online travel companies to pay more in taxes, a measure that would add more than $1 million to annual tax revenue.
The Tennessee Hospitality Association argues that online travel companies (OTCs) have a competitive advantage because they pay taxes on a discounted room rate rather than the retail rate.
Following a dismissal of a class-action case in U.S. district court filed by Goodlettsville against Priceline.com in February, the association is seeking to, as they see it, level the playing field by changing the language in the state law.
“It’s extremely unfair,” Greg Adkins, CEO of the association, said Tuesday at Tennessee’s Tax Subcommittee of Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee.
“The OTCs get off 20 percent cheaper than do brick and mortar hotels who actual employ the folks in Tennessee. Marriot.com does the same service, has the same marketing costs.” Officials representing the online travel companies said amending the tax language would be adding a new tax to e-commerce businesses.
The Shelby County Commission has filed a subpoena in federal court asking for the identities of all online commenters in The Commercial Appeal’s stories about suburban plans to create their own school districts.
More from Sunday’s CA: Editor Chris Peck called the request a “fishing expedition” and an unwarranted invasion of readers’ privacy, and the newspaper’s attorney, Lucian Pera, said he will resist on grounds the subpoena infringes on the work of the newspaper and the rights of readers.
County Commission attorney Imad Abdullah said in the subpoena the county wants first and last names, postal addresses and telephone numbers of all account users who posted comments, including comments the newspaper’s digital media staff removed because they were racially charged or otherwise inappropriate.
Abdullah did not specify a reason for the request nor how the information would be used, and he did not return calls or e-mails asking about the county’s motives. But Lori Patterson, a spokeswoman for his law firm, sent an e-mail saying, “At this point, we would prefer not to comment on the purpose of the subpoena.”
The subpoena the attorneys filed this week specifies 45 newspaper stories dating from Nov. 19, 2010, to July 12, 2012. The earliest story was about the Memphis school board’s initial consideration of surrendering its charter, a move that ultimately led to the merger of city and county schools. The latest story was about U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel ‘Hardy’ Mays’ ruling allowing municipalities to hold referendums on whether to set up independent school districts with the caveat that the constitutionality of the referendums will have to be decided later.
On June 26, the County Commission attorneys filed a federal court motion to block the Aug. 2 referendums to start school districts in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington. They argued that the people who arranged the referendums are trying to discriminate against African-Americans by carving out majority white suburban districts from the new unified school district.
News release from Secretary of State’s office:
The 2011-2012 Tennessee Blue Book, considered the manual of state government and state history, is now available online.
The Blue Book can be accessed by visiting http://state.tn.us/sos/bluebook/index.htm.
“Making the Blue Book available online is another way we can provide better service to our customers, the citizens of Tennessee,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “The newest edition of the Blue Book has updated graphics, photos and other enhancements that have not been available in previous editions. The staff of our Publications Division has embraced my challenge to look for new ways to add value to the work that we do here.”
The Blue Book is published every two years by the Secretary of State’s office. It contains valuable information about the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state government – including biographical information about top elected and appointed officials. It also includes biographical information about the state’s representatives in Congress, a detailed history of the state, information about historical sites around Tennessee, statistics about cities and counties, election results, state symbols, and much more.
The online archived Blue Books date back to the 2005-2006 Tenenssee Blue Book. To view the archived books, please visit http://state.tn.us/sos/bluebook/index.htm and scroll down to “Archived Blue Books.”
The current edition of the Blue Book is dedicated to the Lt. Gov. Ronald L. Ramsey and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell for their service to the state of Tennessee.