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TN Senate Dems Criticize Haslam, Lawmakers for Opposition to FCC Municipal Broadband Ruling

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; March 3, 2015:

Consumers want choices, not government obstruction to limit Internet options

NASHVILLE – Tennessee lawmakers should embrace competition when it comes to broadband services, not work to limit consumer choice, Democratic leaders said.

“Anyone who has spent hours on the phone with a service provider to dispute a bill or get proper services knows consumers need more choices when it comes to Internet service,” Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said. “It is disturbing to see lawmakers act so quickly to limit consumer choice when Tennesseans are demanding more.”

Last week the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Chattanooga’s EPB could provide lightning-speed Internet outside the municipal power distributor’s service area. The move would mean new options for consumers in the Chattanooga area and increased broadband speeds, which are a critical tool for economic development outside of major cities.

However, the governor, the attorney general and other lawmakers have stood in opposition to consumer choice, even considering a lawsuit against the federal government at great cost to the taxpayer.

“Communities like mine in rural West Tennessee don’t care so much about these technicalities,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “They care less about service areas and more about having access to fast, reliable Internet. If a provider wants to bring that to my constituents, I don’t think I want the state to get in the way.”

The decision whether to sue the FCC on this issue will be a true test of the attorney general’s independence.

“With the FCC ruling, consumers consider this matter settled,” Sen. Harris said. “No one wants to see our attorney general give in to demands from lawmakers who want to play politics rather than do what’s best for consumers and our economy.”

TFA Criticizes AG Opinion on the Possession of TANNERITE

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; February 11, 2015:

In the last week, the Tennessee Attorney General has issued an opinion (AG Opinion 15-12) that concludes that the civilian possession and use of even commercially available exploding target systems, specifically naming TANNERITE may constitute a criminal act in Tennessee relative to the civilian possession or manufacture of an explosive weapon.

The opinion states, in part:

You have asked about the applicability of Tennessee’s prohibitions against explosives to commercially available binary explosives such as Tannerite. Binary explosives are “pre-packaged products consisting of two separate components, usually an oxidizer like ammonium nitrate and a fuel such as aluminum or another metal.” Tannerite is an example of a commercially available binary explosive used to create exploding targets. It is sold in an unmixed condition and is designed to be mixed in a container and detonated by a rifle shot.

It is a criminal offense intentionally or knowingly to possess, manufacture, transport, repair, or sell an explosive or an explosive weapon in Tennessee. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1302(a)(1). The term “explosive weapon” is defined to include “[a]ny sealed device containing dry ice or other chemically reactive substances for the purposes of causing an explosion by a chemical reaction.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1301(4)(B)(ii). The term “explosive” is not defined in Title 39 of the Code, but the Tennessee Supreme Court has defined it generally as “a chemical-type substance such as dynamite, nitroglycerin, or gunpowder” and as “a substance or combination of substances which, upon rapid decomposition or combustion, cause [sic] an explosion.” State v. McGouey, 229 S.W.3d 668, 673 n.1 (Tenn. 2007) (citing and quoting The Random House Dictionary of the English Language 681, 682 (2d ed. 1987); 31A AM. JUR. 2d Explosions and Explosives § 2 (2002)).

Unlike federal regulations and some other states’ provisions, Tennessee’s prohibition against the possession or manufacture of explosives does not contain an exception for personal recreational use. Cf. In re Joseph S., 698 N.W.2d 212, 226-27 (Neb. App. 2005) (noting that the possessor’s intent is irrelevant under Tennessee’s definition of explosive weapon). The statute does contain specific defenses for military or law-enforcement use, for use related to a lawful industrial or commercial enterprise, for dramatic performances and scientific research, and for display at museums. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1302(b). None of these defenses applies to an individual’s personal or recreational use of an explosive.

Products such as Tannerite have been commercially available and have been known to be inexpensively available for recreational entertainment of shooters at many gun shows and sporting goods dealers.

If you think that this is wrong or should be addressed, you should contact your legislators immediately to question this opinion and ask that they introduce legislation to allow the recreational use, possession and manufacture of explosive targets by civilians. Act quickly because the bill cutoff date if Thursday, February 12!!!

Slatery Joins Challenge to Obama Immigration Executive Order

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, appointed to the position in September, took a step this week that is sure to win him popularity points with the Republican supermajority-controlled General Assembly.

Slatery announced Monday that the Volunteer State would be joining with 24 other states to sue President Obama over his recent executive order on immigration. “However frustrating and painstakingly long the federal legislative process may be, making law is the prerogative of Congress, not the executive branch,” Slatery said in a press release. He added that while Congress could “resolve” all of the issues raised by the executive directive by “timely enacting legislation,” the state shouldn’t “sit on the sidelines of this case.”

While the executive action was about immigration, Slatery said the lawsuit is “more about the rule of law and the limitations that prevent the executive branch from taking over a role constitutionally reserved for Congress.”

The executive order conflicts with existing federal law and replaces “presecutorial discretion” with a policy of “unilateral nonenforcement,” he said.

“Asking a court to review this issue is the prudent choice, especially when state resources will be taxed under the directives to provide benefits like unemployment compensation and health care,” Slatery’ statement said.

The executive order would affect about 4 million undocumented immigrants by halting the deportation of undocumented parents of citizens or permanent residents who have been here more than five years, as well as allowing immigrants over the age of 30 who were brought to the U.S. as children to qualify for deportation deferrals. Additionally, the action beefs up border security, allows for more visas for foreign investors and STEM degree holders and changes federal immigrant detention procedures.

In November, following the president’s announcement, state Rep. Andy Holt and state Sen. Mae Beavers filed a joint resolution to call on Gov. Bill Haslam to sue the president over his immigration action. However, at the time Slatery was hesitant to commit to joining other states in seeking legal action against the president, but said he would consider it.

Tennessee Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey praised the decision to challenge “the president’s unconstitutional action on immigration” made by Slatery, who was Haslam’s chief legal counsel prior to his appointment by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

“Barack Obama tossed aside not just  public opinion but key tenets of our constitutional democracy when he bypassed Congress to grant illegal immigrants defacto amnesty,” Ramsey said, and added he was “proud” Tennessee was joining the lawsuit.

Likewise, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick agreed Slatery was correct in his decision to join the lawsuit on “the constitutional question of whether the president should have acted without congressional authority.”

When Obama visited Music City earlier this month to promote the new policy, he explained that he picked the Tennessee capital in part because the city has “one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country.”

Speaking at the Casa Azafrán community center in Nashville, the president said the action he took was “a middle-ground approach” that “will make our immigration system smarter and fairer.” According to Obama, his action “isn’t amnesty or legalization or even a path to citizenship,” and only applies to a specific group of undocumented immigrants.

“What we are saying is that until Congress fixes this problem legislatively — and you have deep ties to this country and you are willing to get right by the law, and do what you have to do, then you shouldn’t have to worry about being deported or separated from your kids,” Obama said. He invited Congress to be involved in the process, as long as they “pass a bill that addresses the various components of immigration reform in a common-sense way.”

The GOP members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation have released statements sharply critical of both the president’s visit to Nashville earlier this month and his executive action, while the state’s federal Democratic representatives were more supportive.

One criticism many Republicans had for Slatery’s predecessor, Robert Cooper — legal counsel to former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen prior to his appointment in 2006, was that he had declined to join a multi-state lawsuit against the federal government over the legality of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, one reason members of the GOP wanted to see the three Democratically-appointed state Supreme Court justices unseated this August was to hold them accountable for Cooper’s decision not to join the Obamacare lawsuit.

However, while McCormick acknowledged to TNReport that Slatery likely had more conservative inclinations than his predecessor, he took his decision to join the lawsuit as “more of a constitutional question” than a sign of a difference in politics.

While the ACA actually passed Congress, McCormick said the president’s directive was different in that it “was just an executive action taken right after election day without the consent of the the people or the elected representatives of the people.”

TN Supremes Pick Haslam’s Chief Counsel as Next AG

Press release from Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts; September 15, 2014:

Herbert H. Slatery, III will be the next Attorney General and Reporter of Tennessee, the Supreme Court announced this morning in Nashville.

Slatery, of Nashville, has served as Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief counsel since 2011. Prior to that, he was an attorney at a Knoxville law firm for 30 years.

“He is an excellent lawyer with proven leadership ability and sound judgment,” said Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee, who stood with the other justices to make the announcement about their unanimous choice in the courtroom at the Supreme Court building in downtown Nashville.

“It’s an incredible honor,” said Slatery in remarks after the announcement was made. “I am profoundly grateful for this opportunity.” He thanked his wife, Gov. Bill Haslam, and Attorney General Robert Cooper, Jr.

“He has played an important role in drafting major legislation during the current term and has worked closely with all branches of government. The people of the state of Tennessee can be proud to have someone of his caliber and experience representing them,” she said of Slatery.

Speaking for the Court, Chief Justice Lee thanked all of the applicants for their efforts and their commitment to public service.

“It was a challenging process because of the quality of the applicants. In the end we selected the person who we thought would be the very best lawyer to serve all Tennesseans,” she said.

The Court also praised the work of the outgoing attorney general.

“The Court extends a special thank you to Attorney General Robert Cooper, Jr. for his eight years of dedicated service to the people of Tennessee, as he has led that office with the highest level of skill and intellect,” Chief Justice Lee said.

Chief Justice Lee spoke to this year’s open process for selecting the state’s attorney general, describing how the Court accepted applications from any licensed attorney in the state. The completed and detailed applications were then made available to the public on the Court’s website. The Court also held a public hearing where the applicants and their speakers made their case for appointment and members of the public expressed their opinions about the applicants. Finally, the members of the Court asked questions of the eight applicants during public interviews.

Slatery is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of Tennessee College of Law. He has served as counsel to Governor Bill Haslam since 2011. Before serving in the Governor’s office, he practiced law for 30 years with Egerton, McAfee, Armistead and Davis in Knoxville. Slatery and his wife, Cary, have two children who both live in Knoxville.

TCPR: Tort Reform Means ‘More Jobs, Fewer Lawsuits’

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, March 24, 2011:

Balance, Predictability Recurring Themes of Lawsuit Abuse Reform Hearing

NASHVILLE, TN – A prevailing theme of predictability and balance seemed to repeat itself during the first public hearing on Governor Haslam’s lawsuit abuse reform package held on Wednesday by the House Judiciary Subcommittee.

While no vote was taken, a packed room that spilled into the hallways of Legislative Plaza indicated strong interest for and against reform in Tennessee’s civil justice system. A significant majority of those in attendance were sporting “More Jobs, Fewer Lawsuits” stickers in favor of reform. From lawyers to business professionals to actors, at least a dozen spoke on the topic.

“The reality is that government is unable to create jobs,” said Herbert Slatery, legal counsel to the Governor, in his opening statement. “However, we can foster an environment to attract new businesses to Tennessee. We know that decision makers for locations, expansions and investments consider factors like taxes, site suitability and risk of litigation.”

Among the highlights of Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 were:

  • Dozens of counties in Tennessee suffer from high unemployment rates from 15 to 23%.
  • Tennessee has steadily fallen down the list of “good” states in which to do business – from 10 to 22.
  • Compensatory damages are designed to make the plaintiff whole. There are no proposed caps for economic damages; there is a proposed $750,000 per injury for non-economic damages, which are competitive with neighboring states.
  • Punitive damages are to punish and deter; the legislation also proposes a cap on these damages.

Several businesses owners testified at the hearing, including service providers and a construction official whose industry is currently experiencing 22% unemployment rates. All agreed that the purpose of lawsuit abuse reform is to provide greater predictability in the civil justice system and quantification of risk, which will in turn lead to job growth throughout the state.

Former State Sen. Charlie Ross of Mississippi gave a before-and-after look of lawsuit abuse reform in his state, which he argued was the “salvation of the medical community” and led to more job and economic growth, while still preserving citizens’ access to the civil justice system.

Before lawsuit abuse reform:

  • Medical malpractice rates were increasing 25% a year.
  • Businesses were crossing state lines to relocate.
  • No large employers were considering Mississippi as a place to do business.

After lawsuit abuse reform:

  • Medical malpractice rates were 60% less than the exorbitant rates of 2004.
  • Property/casualty rates decreased.
  • Physicians started relocating to the state.
  • Toyota was among several giant employers that considered the state for manufacturing locations.

Sen. Ross concluded by urging Tennessee lawmakers to enact reform before Tennessee becomes a judicial hellhole like his state, saying that “Mississippi waited until the house was burning before calling the fire department.”

“We were very pleased with this first hearing. As we’ve said from the beginning, our goal is to educate Tennesseans about the need for and benefits of lawsuit abuse reform, and nearly everyone agreed that a balanced and fair system would be best for our state,” said Justin Owen, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee is expected to vote on the governor’s legislation next Wednesday, March 30.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research is an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan think tank committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee. Through research and advocacy, the Center promotes policy solutions grounded in the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government. For more information, visit www.tennesseepolicy.org .

Recap of Haslam Appointments Thus Far

Statement from Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s Governor-Elect, Dec. 10, 2010:

“The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy, yet very exciting as we continue building our team and preparing to take office in the New Year. Since the election we’ve had a great response from citizens all across the state offering suggestions for better government and with interest in helping our administration.

“I’m encouraged by the quality and depth of the leadership team (listed below) we’ve recruited to date and look forward to announcing more appointments soon. To read more about our appointments, please go to our transition website at www.billhaslam.org.”

“And with the Inaugural approaching and a goal to have the most inclusive celebration possible, things are really starting to come together for the weekend of January 15th. The festivities will kick-off Friday night with a celebration event downtown. The Inaugural Ceremony will take place mid-morning Saturday at Legislative Plaza and the evening celebrations will be held at the newly renovated Opryland Hotel. We are also honored to invite Tennesseans to the Executive Residence on Sunday for an Open House. Details are still being finalized with many of the events free and open to the public. A separate website with all of this information and more is in the works. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Inaugural Team at 615.690.8668.”