NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Republican Party is setting up a special panel to hear an election challenge in a legislative primary race.
Shirley Curry, a member of the party’s executive committee, is challenging her four-vote loss to incumbent Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah in House District 71.
State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney on Monday appointed a subcommittee to hear the dispute this week. A full panel is scheduled to meet about Curry’s and any other potential challenges on Sept. 5.
Curry has recused herself from the hearings.
Dennis was first elected to the House in 2008. His district was significantly redrawn in this year’s redistricting process.
Seven Republican incumbents in the state House lost their primaries on Aug. 2.
A Capitol Hill lobbyist looking to unseat a rank-and-file House Republican has a DUI in his history — a fact some lawmakers want to highlight although one of their party peers faces trial on the same charges.
Excerpt from Andrea Zelinski’s TNReport: The two legislators are careful to say the run-in with the law shouldn’t disqualify Lee Harrell from being seriously considered in the race against Rep. Joshua Evans for the Robertson County House seat, but firmly add that it’s a fact voters should know.
“I think it’s probably important for voters to have that information and be able to use that in their consideration,” said Evans, a Republican from Greenbrier and small business owner.
Evans is beating back a challenge from Harrell, a lobbyist for the Tennessee School Boards Association, in the 66th District encompassing Robertson County. The August primary election race is one of 21 this year where House Republican incumbents are trying to fend off challengers.
Harrell was arrested Sept. 4, 2010, on drunken driving charges and refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test.
“It was certainly a mistake, but I learned from it. I’ve moved on. I’m a better person because of it,” Harrell told TNReport.
According to the arrest warrant, Harrell was driving 80 miles an hour in a 55 mile-per-hour zone on I-40 in Nashville on a Saturday night and was seen “meandering back and forth in his lane of travel, partly crossing into other lanes.” The report said he had watery, bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol and “lacked smooth pursuit” while performing field sobriety tests before refusing a blood-alcohol test.
His DUI charge was reduced to reckless driving. He pleaded guilty to the charge in January 2011, along with violating the implied consent law.
TNReport obtained documents about Harrell’s arrest from Rep. Vance Dennis, a Republican lawyer from Savannah who describes himself as a “good friend” of Evans, and provided the information for “personal” reasons.
Lawmakers have given final approval to legislation that would penalize people who file lawsuits that are later dismissed as baseless, reports The Tennessean. They would have to pay up to $10,000 to cover court costs and their opponent’s attorney fees. The legislation is the latest in a series of GOP efforts over the past year aimed at reducing a business’ exposure in civil lawsuits. Legislation approved last year capped non-economic damages at $750,000 and punitive damages at $500,000, with some exceptions.
Backers say the new legislation, HB 3124, will cut down on unfounded lawsuits and would apply only to a small number of cases.
“It is a very limited loser-pays bill,” said Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, the bill’s House sponsor. “It goes to purely frivolous lawsuits, lawsuits that don’t have any merit.”
But Democratic opponents argue the legislation will restrict access to the courts only to the state’s wealthiest residents.
Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said it would make the state’s legal system more like Europe’s, where in many countries the losers of lawsuits must pay costs. The bill would have a “huge chilling effect” on average residents seeking attorneys willing to take on their cases, he said.
“The plumber who got run over by a car. The student who was walking to school and got hit by a bus,” Stewart said during House debate Tuesday. “Those are who will be the people who will be kept out of court by this law.”
The legislation would require plaintiffs to pay up to $10,000 when the court dismisses a lawsuit because there is no basis in law for the claim.
It would not apply to actions against the state or other governmental agencies or plaintiffs representing themselves, except where the court determines the person acted unreasonably or refused to voluntarily withdraw a dismissed claim. The legislation also would not apply to lawsuits expressly aimed at changing existing law or legal precedent.
The House approved the bill 58-38 on Tuesday and rebuffed efforts by Stewart to amend the legislation to apply to a defendant who loses a motion to dismiss. The Senate gave its approval in a 17-12 vote. If signed by the governor, it would apply to lawsuits filed on or after July 1.
After more than two hours of debate, the House voted 58-38 Tuesday for a “loser pays” lawsuit system that Democrats contended will intimidate average citizens from going to court against big corporations.
Under HB3124, if a judge grants a defendant’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit as having “no basis in fact or law,” the plaintiff who brought the lawsuit would have to pay the defendant’s attorney fees of up to $10,000.
Sponsor Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, said the bill would help “small businessmen and farmers trying to defend against frivolous, bogus lawsuits” and who otherwise would have to pay their own lawyers “thousands of dollars.”
Critics such as Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said the real effect would be to make people of modest means fearful of going to court when there was any chance of losing. Stewart said the “chilling effect” of a $10,000 penalty on average citizens would, in contrast, be inconsequential to wealthy corporations and insurance companies.
Tennessee lawmakers are gearing up for what could be an intense debate about police tactics, reports WTVF, which has been doing stories what is labeled “policing for profit” — or how some Tennessee police agencies routinely target out-of-state drivers for traffic stops, looking for large sums of cash that their agencies can keep on the suspicion that it’s drug money. “The intent of the bill (HB2334) is to make sure that all of those funds stay within law enforcement, just not specifically with the specific drug task force that is out seizing those funds,” said Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah.
When Dennis comes to Nashville, he travels through the 50-mile stretch of I-40 highlighted in our NewsChannel 5 investigation.
At least three drug interdiction units work that area, but our investigation found nine out of 10 stops occurring in the westbound lanes — that’s what agents call “the money side.”
“If they are concentrating solely on cash going one way, then they are abandoning the search for illegal substances coming in — and those substances do a great deal of damage to the citizens and children of our state,” Dennis said.
Under legislation he filed, agents could still seize cash that they believe to be illegal drug money. But that cash would no longer go straight back to the agency that seized it. Instead, it would go into a general fund for law enforcement. The state would then hand out grants to police agencies based on their needs.
News release from House Republican CaucusL:
(November 9, 2011, NASHVILLE) – Several members of the Tennessee House of Representatives have partnered with the Tennessee Wildlife Federation (TWF) to promote their Hunters for the Hungry program by establishing the Hunters for the Hungry Legislative Challenge.
In this statewide contest, Members of the General Assembly will compete amongst themselves to ascertain which lawmaker can convince the most sportsmen in their district to contribute a Whitetail Deer to the Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s Hunters for the Hungry program. The challenge will commence on November 19, 2011 – opening day of the deer season in Tennessee.
ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam doesn’t intend to update the state’s new law limiting payouts in successful lawsuits against doctors and other businesses, despite calls from some members of his own party for changes to be made in the upcoming legislative session.
The Republican governor tells The Associated Press that he isn’t aware of any push to change the law that caps non-economic damages at $750,000.
Haslam said he’s met with more than 100 businesses since the law was enacted and that the response has been universally positive.
But Republican Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah has filed a bill seeking to lift the cap in cases where injuries were caused during a felony, while Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, also a Republican, has called for lowering the caps to less than $300,000.
(Note: Dennis’ felony amendment was part of the bill as passed by the House in the past session, but was not in the Senate version. In asking House members to go along with the Senate version this year — as they did — Dennis said he had been assured by Senate leadership that they would support the felon provision if presented in a seprate bill next year. )
A lawsuit claims that state officials, including state Rep. Vance Dennis, violated the Tennessee Disability Act in the firing of an administrative law judge who is disabled, according to WSMV-TV in Nashville. Now that same representative has filed a bill that would make it harder for other people with disabilities to win lawsuits against their employers.
William Reynolds was fired from his job with the state as an administrative law judge back in 2009. One reason given for his termination was Reynolds was too slow.
“My father lost his leg to cancer when he was 19 years old, and then continued on and completed college and law school and was serving as an administrative law judge for the state when he was terminated on a Thursday, which was his 49th birthday,” said William Reynolds’ son Justin.
Soon after, William Reynolds filed a lawsuit against secretary of state Tre Hargett claiming his firing violated the Tennessee Disability Act.
The state eventually settled with Reynolds.
But now fast forward to the current legislative session. Dennis, named in Reynolds’ lawsuit, is now sponsoring legislation that makes it harder for people like Reynolds to prove discrimination in the future.
“I think this is a clear example of self-serving politics where a legislator puts his own interests over those of his constituents,” said Justin Reynolds.
… Channel 4 reporter Caroline Moses then reminded Dennis of Reynolds’ lawsuit.
“I don’t think … ah, I think I know the case that you are referring to, but this bill wouldn’t have anything to do at all with that suit, at all,” said Dennis.
Dennis said he filed the employment bills based solely on a 2010 Supreme Court decision. Reynolds maintains this is a clear example of a politician making government his personal playground. So far, the bills have made it out of several House and Senate committees.
The House has voted to abolish the state’s pre-trial diversion program, which allows first-time offenders to avoid having a criminal conviction on their records in many cases.
Approval of HB694 came after sometimes contentious debate, much of it over an amendment proposed by Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, that he said would “fix this program and not just kill it outright… for the sake of a couple of D.As (district attorneys) who got their toes stepped on.”
The current law, enacted in 1975, excludes defendants charged with Class A and B felonies – mostly violent offenses — from getting pre-trial diversion, but allows it for some specified Class C felonies. Dennis’ amendment would have made all Class C defendants ineligible along with all those accused of sexual offenses. It would also have placed into law various new criteria to be used in determining eligibility.
Dennis’ amendment was killed on a 55-36 vote. The bill itself, sponsored by House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, was subsequently approved 74-23. It now is scheduled for a vote Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.