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2 Veterans Courts Receive Grants from TN Legal Education Commission

Press release from the Tennessee Courts System; April 8, 2013:

Two Tennessee veterans courts are the recipients of $40,000 in total grants from the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education & Specialization. The move is a result of an ongoing effort on several fronts to address the issues facing veterans and service members, particularly in light of the ongoing drawdown.

The Tennessee General Assembly recently passed a resolution urging the Tennessee Supreme Court to educate Tennessee’s judges regarding the importance of justice-involved veterans and service members and to take appropriate measures to support the creation of new veterans treatment courts and dockets in the state.

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge; Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville; and Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge all have been instrumental in supporting efforts to champion veterans treatment courts in Tennessee. These funds will further those efforts.

The CLE Commission has earmarked a total of $100,000 for use as an incentive for courts throughout the state to seek education, training, and administrative support for these specialized courts and dockets serving veterans.

“Our organization is privileged to have the opportunity to support local courts and communities in providing these much-needed services to local veterans,” said Judy Bond-McKissack, Executive Director of the CLE Commission.

Veterans courts are specialized problem-solving courts that go beyond traditional judicial methods. They are long-term, judicially supervised, multi-phase courts designed to assist persons who have served (or are currently serving) in the military, who have been charged with a criminal offense, who are at high risk for reoffending absent intensive intervention, and who have significant mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Essentially, a veterans treatment court is a veteran-specific hybrid of a drug treatment court and a mental health treatment court.

In 2012, at the request of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Administrative Office of the Courts conducted an extensive study regarding the feasibility of creating a statewide system of veterans treatment courts.

The AOC found that allowing individual courts flexibility in handling the needs of the community was key to the success of the courts. The study went on to say that the most effective and cost-efficient method of assisting the largest number of men and women who have served this country is to permit each judicial district to incorporate the veteran-specific services into the court system’s existing framework, including the existing drug and mental health treatment courts.

“The Judiciary of the State of Tennessee is especially committed to seeking solutions for those within the criminal justice system who have given a portion of their lives to the service of their country,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary R. Wade.

The Supreme Court, with the encouragement of the General Assembly, recently launched a task force charged with creating a veterans court model for future use in trial and general sessions courts throughout the state. Many of the members of the task force are judges who are active members of the National Guard.

Montgomery and Shelby counties are the only two Tennessee counties that have a freestanding veterans treatment court, and each will receive $20,000 from the CLE Commission to support training, operating and administrative costs.

“The CLE Commission believes this funding provides the support that is much needed to further the efforts of these very important segments of our judiciary,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia A. Clark, who serves as the Supreme Court’s liaison to the commission.

The Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education & Specialization monitors CLE requirements and administers the specialization program for attorneys in the state of Tennessee. The funds are from administrative and non-compliance fees the commission has collected over several years. Members of the commission are appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Haslam Proclaims March 29 ‘Vietnam Veterans Day’

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs; March 25, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder formally recognized and remembered Vietnam Veterans leading into the 40th anniversary of the withdrawal of troops.

On March 30, 1973, President Richard Nixon began withdrawing combat troops from Vietnam. Between 1961 and 1975, more than 49,000 Tennesseans served in Southeast Asia. Approximately 6,000 Tennessee troops were wounded in the Vietnam War and 1,289 Tennessee service members were killed.

Haslam publicly signed a Vietnam Veterans Day Proclamation which proclaims March 29 as a day of remembrance and recognition for veterans who served in the military during the Vietnam War. Haslam presented the proclamation to Vietnam Veterans of America Tennessee State Council President Barry Rice on behalf of all Vietnam Veterans. In 2008, Tennessee became the first state to proclaim a Vietnam Veterans Day.

“The State of Tennessee pauses to remember lives lost and publicly recognize those who came home to a lifetime of challenges after the Vietnam War,” Haslam said. “As the 40th anniversary approaches it is important to thank Tennessee’s Vietnam Veterans for their service and sacrifice.”

“The wounds of the Vietnam War are still fresh for many of our veterans,” Grinder said. “We hope remembrance and recognition from ceremonies such as this one will lead to continued healing for veterans scarred by combat and rejection.”

“We are honored to receive the public support of Governor Haslam and to feel the support of the State of Tennessee,” Rice said. “Support and encouragement is the greatest gift of gratitude Vietnam Veterans can receive to continue the healing process.”

Vietnam Veterans Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) and Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) co-sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 0183 to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day and the 40th anniversary of the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam.

Retiring, Defeated Lawmakers on Taxpayer-Funded Getaway

Updated Aug. 7, 2012: Sen. Roy Herron called and said he had planned to attend the conference but decided against it due to a family emergency.

Six Tennessee legislators leaving the General Assembly this year are expected in Chicago this week on what could amount to a taxpayer-funded junket.

Four retiring legislators and two state reps who lost their bids for re-election in last week’s primary have given the state notice they plan to get reimbursed for attending the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in the Windy City that began Monday, a trip that could cost as much as than $2,500 in registration, airfare, hotel stay, per diem and cab rides.

They are Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, who lost their primaries, and retiring lawmakers Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.

One of the General Assembly’s highest-ranking Republicans says he trusts that the departing lawmakers have good reasons behind their decisions to make the trip.

“I know it will be beneficial to the others who attend to get the benefit of their wisdom and their years of service,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville. “I think discretion is the better part of valor with these things, and obviously they’ve exercised their discretion and think it’s fine to go. I’m not passing judgment on it.”

Legislators are permitted to let taxpayers foot the bill for out-of-state legislative trips, complete with a per diem, travel and lodging expenses. Even outgoing lawmakers are entitled, said Connie Ridley, director of Tennessee’s office of Legislative Affairs.

“Members of the General Assembly serve as a legislator until the general election in November,” Ridley said in an email. “They are no longer eligible for compensation of any form the evening before the November general election.”

Richardson says she may have lost her primary election, but she still has legislative responsibilities to handle at the conference.

“I signed up because I am one of the representatives, there’s just a couple of us, who represent Tennessee on the Health Committee,” she said. “These are working committees where we share what we’ve done, and find out what other states have done and make policy recommendations for states. So, because I represent Tennessee on the health committee, I still need to come to the meeting.”

Attempts to reach Montgomery for comment were unsuccessful.

A handful of retiring lawmakers are also on the trip, including Naifeh and Faulk, according to their offices. Herron and Harmon’s offices did not respond to requests for comment.

Legislators can collect a $173 per diem each of the four days of the conference, for $692 total. Registration to the NCSL event ranges from $549 to $690, depending on when lawmakers registered for the conference online. Guests were encouraged to reserve rooms in downtown Chicago with rates ranging from $199 to $227 a night if locked in prior to Aug. 1. Lawmakers can also be reimbursed for airfare, which runs about $300 roundtrip, and cab rides, which average between $25 to $42 from the airport to the convention site.

If lawmakers decide against splitting hotels and cab fare, the cost to taxpayers could approach almost $2,500 for the four-day, three-night trip.

But no money has left the taxpayers’ pocket yet, Ridley said. Lawmakers will have to submit receipts to have their travel expenses paid for once they return, although the conference’s registration will be billed directly to the state.

While the practice is legal and learning how other state legislatures are tackling difficult policy issues is valuable, sending outgoing lawmakers on an out-of-town trip is still “questionable,” said Dick Williams, chairman of Tennessee Common Cause, a government accountability advocacy group.

“I have mixed feelings about the appropriateness of those going who will not be coming back, whether by the election or their own choice,” he said. “If they’re going to continue to do something in public life, they could make good public use of that.”

Here are the other 22 lawmakers slated to attend, according to the office of Legislative Administration:

House of Representatives

Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge

Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis

Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis

Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley

Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville

Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge

Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville

House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar

Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna

Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville

Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis

Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory

Senate

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville

Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis

Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis

Sen. Steve Sutherland, R-Morristown

Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson