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Senate Judiciary Cmte Approves Resolution to Allow Voters to Pick TN AG

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; March 4, 2015:

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), March 4, 2015  — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a resolution on Wednesday that would allow Tennessee voters to decide if they want to popularly elect the state’s attorney general (AG).  Senate Joint Resolution 63, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), would begin the process of amending the State Constitution, which if approved, would go to voters in the 2018 general election.

“Tennessee is the only state in the nation in which the people have neither a direct nor indirect voice in the selection of their attorney general, and we are the only state that gives that power to our Supreme Court,” said Senator Beavers.

Beavers’ resolution calls for the AG to serve a six-year term, but would limit it to two consecutive terms.  The resolution requires approval by the 109th General Assembly currently in session, and the 110th which will take office in 2017, before going to voters in a statewide referendum.

Beavers said that when Tennessee’s Constitution was written, calling for nomination of the AG by the state’s Supreme Court justices, the court was popularly elected.  Forty-three states already select their attorney generals through popular election.  In six other states, the AG is selected by either the popularly elected governor or the popularly elected state legislature.

“Along with the overwhelming majority of Tennesseans and 96 percent of the rest of this nation, I feel that the citizens of this state ought to have a ‘say so’ in the highest legal office in Tennessee,” she concluded.

The bill now goes to the Senate floor where it will be heard on three readings before taking a final vote.  It will then travel to the House of Representatives for approval there.

NSA Data-Collection Targeted by State Legislation

The U.S. National Security Agency claims that the broad surveillance powers it has assumed are necessary to protect Americans against terrorist attacks. But some Tennessee lawmakers are backing legislation to prevent state-run service providers and facilities from in any way aiding in warrantless data-collection by the federal government.

The Tennessee Fourth Amendment Protection Act (HB0679/SB0782) — sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and Republican Jonesborough Reps. Micah van Huss and Matthew Hill — would prevent the state or any of its subdivisions from assisting or otherwise providing “material support or resources to enable or facilitate” the gathering of an individual’s data by the NSA without a judge’s approval.

The legislation was conceived by a privacy rights advocacy group called the Off Now Coalition, whose aim is to “shut down the surveillance state.” It is designed to help protect against the NSA’s domestic data-collection program revealed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Tennessee legislation represents part of a broader national strategy by activists to gain regional leverage against the NSA where political efforts in Washington, D.C. have largely come up short.

y-12 billboards 1940sThe proposed legislation in the Tennessee statehouse doesn’t include a definition for “material support.” However, OffNow.org argues that because “the spy agency needs resources like water and electricity” and “cannot operate its facilities without these essential resources,” state or municipally owned utilities fall into the category. Partnerships between NSA and state higher education institutions would be blocked, as would use of federal warrantless data by state agencies.

The Multiprogram Research Facility is a part of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is run by a collaboration between the University of Tennessee and the Battelle Memorial Institute.

The NSA is using the facility to produce a supercomputer capable of sifting “through enormous quantities of data – for example, all the phone numbers dialed in the United States every day,” according to James Bamford, an investigative journalist who covers national security and intelligence-gathering issues.

If passed, Tennessee’s Fourth Amendment Protection Act would also prevent law enforcement here from using any NSA-collected data in court.

Fourth Amendment Protection Acts have been introduced in 13 states. None have yet won approval.

A more narrowly written Electronic Data Privacy Act has become law in Utah and New Hampshire. The American Civil Liberties Union lauded Utah’s passage of the legislation last year.

A somewhat similarly worded Fourth Amendment Protection Act was also filed in Tennessee last session, sponsored by state Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden and former Knoxville Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield. However, it died in committees.

The aim of the 2014 legislation was to resist the NSA in its attempts to collect private, personal communications between Americans, Holt said. “It is disturbing to me to think that every conversation, whether that is a telephone call, a text message or an email, may potentially…be used against me at some point by the federal government, and I am not comfortable about that,” Holt said during a hearing on the measure last spring.

Even though the legislation failed in 2014, U.S. government spying on Americans appears to be a matter of concern that crosses party lines in the Legislature.

“The NSA’s attempt to collect data on American citizens is just a complete outrage,” Democratic Rep. Mike Stewart, a Nashville attorney and now chairman of the House minority-party caucus, said last year. “There is no reason in this country ever for people to be collecting information that is private without a warrant.”

ACLU: Proposed Beavers, Womick Abortion Legislation ‘Tries to Coerce, Shame Women’

Press release from the Tennessee Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; January 9, 2015:

NASHVILLE –This week state legislators introduced a second bill to regulate abortion in Tennessee.  SB 13, introduced by Senator Mae Beavers this week, mandates what physicians must tell patients who are considering an abortion.

HB 2, filed by Rick Womick in November, would mandate an ultrasound for a woman seeking an abortion, and require her to either view the ultrasound or listen to a verbal description of it, to listen to a fetal heartbeat, and to wait at least twenty-four hours after the ultrasound before having an abortion.

Legislators have indicated that they plan to file a number of other bills regulating abortion this session.

The following can be attributed to Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee:

“No matter what you call them, the abortion bills introduced so far are not about providing evenhanded information to patients so that they can make the best decisions for themselves possible.  These bills amount to nothing more than political interference intended to bias a woman’s personal health care decisions.  A woman needs to be informed about the risks involved with any medical procedure, but the information should not be provided in a way intended to coerce, shame or make her change her mind.  Doctors, not politicians, should decide what is said to a patient, based on a woman’s unique circumstances. ACLU is committed to protecting Tennessee women’s ability to make personal, private health care decisions without government interference.”

Information about the ACLU of Tennessee is available at: www.aclu-tn.org.

Womick Redoubles Haslam Criticisms

Rick Womick isn’t backing down from provocative comments he made in a letter sent to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration a week ago.

The Rockvale Republican state representative told the Associated Press this week he’s sticking by his letter. In fact, he’s upped the rhetorical heat a bit, calling the reelection-seeking governor a “traitor to the party.”

“You had the head of our party targeting individual members because we don’t agree with him 100 percent of the time, that’s treason,” the former Air Force fighter pilot told the AP.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press first reported that, according to campaign finance reports, Advance Tennessee PAC, with connections to supporters of Haslam and Republican Speaker of the Tennessee House, Beth Harwell, was launched in July and spent $137,725 in five primary races against incumbent legislators who’ve opposed the administration.

Successfully fending off attacks from moderate challengers in the GOP primary were state Reps. Courtney Rogers of Goodlettsville, Mike Sparks of Smyrna, and  Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough.  Kingsport Rep. Tony Shipley, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee chairman, and Stacey Campfield, the notoriously controversial state senator from Knoxville, were both unseated.

Haslam laughed-off Womick’s warlike words. And he defended efforts to purge hostile Republicans from the General Assembly.

“I don’t know why my supporters should be precluded from doing what everybody else is doing, in terms of being engaged and trying to make certain good people are elected,” Haslam told reporters. He added that there are plenty of groups, such as teachers unions, who want to “engage in primaries,” and he doesn’t see his supporters actions as being any different.

Womick was one of 15 state legislators to sign a letter in late June that called for the resignation of Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s embattled education commissioner, on the grounds that he allegedly manipulated the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results when the department delayed their release by four days.

After the release of that letter, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper issued an opinion — requested by state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet — that affirmed Huffman’s delay of the release of TCAP scores as acceptable under state and federal law.

Womick’s most recent letter to the administration accused the AG and Huffman of collusion on the opinion, and referred to it as “an orchestrated cover-up” and “Clintonesque.” Womick’s letter added that while many other legislators were unhappy with Haslam, to prevent further retaliation, he would not name them.

He also told the AP that in the future he expects a stronger legislative stance against Haslam, who is “making a lot of enemies very quickly.”

But Haslam said he plans to continue business as usual.

“For any governor, the job is to propose an idea and then to get at least 50 members of the House and 17 members of the Senate to vote in favor of it,” Haslam said. “I don’t think that’s changed.”

AFP: Victories Won Against Common Core in Primary

Press release from Americans for Prosperity – Tennessee; August 13, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee (AFP-TN), a grassroots organization that advocates for economic freedom, is continuing its issue campaign on Common Core, which director Andrew Ogles said is a hot-button issue for many in the state.

(Click here to listen to the radio ad running across the state on Common Core.)

AFP- TN state director Andrew Ogles said the following:

“There’s no doubt our issue advocacy campaign to stop Common Core has made an impact. In the last six weeks we’ve spent approximately half a million dollars bringing the issues with Common Core to light, and this is just the beginning. Our support has helped bring together a broader coalition of parents, community leaders, and legislators. Together we can stop Obama’s radical education agenda and stop Common Core.”

The overall defeat of Common Core supporters this legislative cycle shows that the public is indeed opposed to this one-size-fits-all takeover of the education system. For example, the Williamson County school board saw four pro-Common Core school board candidates lose their election bid, three of them being incumbents. State Representative Glen Casada soundly defeated his pro-Common Core opponent. Meanwhile, officials who opposed Common Core remained in office.

“Moderates claimed Common Core would be a non-issue. That claim has been proven false across the state. Conservative legislators like Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Courtney Rogers were able to fend off moderates with Common Core ties,” said Ogles.

AFP-TN has been engaged in educating the public on the problems of Common Core for weeks, and plans to continue ramping up its issue advocacy efforts heading into the legislative session.

TFA: Gun Rights Advocates Have Successful 2014 Primary

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; August 9, 2014:

NASHVILLE, TN – The Tennessee Firearms Associa(on played both a successful offense and defense in the August 8th primary elections. The TFA supported several pro-gun incumbent legislators who held their seats by a wide margin while also successfully supporting challengers against two incumbents with a history of opposing firearms legislation.

“The big government wing of the Republican Party lost the election in the grand scheme of things” observes John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Legislators the TFA backed who staunchly support the right to keep and bear arms ended up retaining their seats while opponents of gun bills lost or nearly lost their seats. This success sends a strong reminder
that Tennesseans consider the right to keep and bear arms fundamental and gun issues cannot be ignored in legislative elections”

Two pro-gun legislators, Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Courtney Rogers, were challenged by candidates backed by the establishment. However the TFA support of Sen. Beavers and Rep. Rogers helped ensure they held their seats with wide margins.
TFA was also heavily involved in the challenge to 18-year incumbent Representative Charles Sargent by local entrepreneur Steve Gawrys. The race ended with Rep. Sargent almost losing his seat by a margin of 254 votes causing the election to likely face a recount. Political experts have noted that if Rep. Sargent ultimately ends up victorious in this race, he will probably not seek another term in 2016 after taking heavy damage to his credibility and electability this time.

Local high school teacher David Byrd in Waynesboro overthrew the embattled incumbent Representative Vance Dennis with the help of a TFA direct mail program. Representative Dennis worked behind the scenes at the Capitol to kill pro-gun bills.

Although TFA does not play in federal races, John Harris also commented that “The TN 4th Congressional race and the US Senate race both demonstrate the need for closed primaries and runoff elections in Tennessee”.

TFA Open Records Request Reveals Fiscal Note Process Manipulated on Open Carry

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; July 14, 2014:

Nashville, TN – After a series of ‘Open Records Requests’ the Tennessee Firearms Association has uncovered documented evidence of misleading statements and the falsifying of a contrived fiscal note. These questionable actions were carried out by members of the Haslam Administration during the 2014 legislative session in an attempt to kill a pro-gun bill.

“This was apparently a deliberate ploy to kill legislation that the Haslam Administration opposed by misrepresenting the effect of the bill to the legislators,” noted John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Underhanded tactics such as this are unacceptable and Governor Haslam owes the citizens of Tennessee an explanation.”

The fiscal note fiasco started earlier this year when Sen. Mae Beavers and Rep. Micah Van Huss sponsored legislation to allow the open carry of handguns without a permit. The bill passed the Senate 25-2 (SB2424), despite behind the scenes opposition from the Haslam Administration. As the open carry bill moved through the House after passing in the Senate, it was delayed and then voted down in a Finance Sub-Committee after having a false fiscal note attached. The full House of Representative never considered the bill because of the shenanigans involving the false fiscal note in House Finance.

The fiscal note, added by the Administration, claimed that the open carry bill would cost the state government $100,000 by requiring that the word “concealed” be added to every valid handgun permit in Tennessee. However, the bill itself contained no such requirement. When pressed, the Department of Safety responded that departmental policy required adding the word “concealed” to the permits. However, when a request was made for the specific policy, the Department of Safety admitted that no such policy actually existed.

Almost 3,000 pages of state documents obtained by the Tennessee Firearms Association through the Open Records Requests reveal that a Haslam administration official, Bill Hedge, citing the non-existent “departmental policy” on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Safety, estimated that it would cost the State $100,000 to add the word “concealed” when handgun permits are printed. The administration’s estimate caused a “fiscal note” to be placed on the legislation and forced it to be rerouted to the House Finance Committee which is under the control of Rep. Charles Sargent.

After a legislative amendment (HA1127) was introduced to prohibit the Administration’s proposal to add the word “concealed” on each permit, Mr. Hedge defiantly declared in an April 8, 2014, e-mail that:

“Even though the amendment removed the requirement, the department by policy will in fact continue the designation of ‘Concealed’ on the Handgun Carry Permit….I am certifying that the department will in fact incur the (costs) to reflect the ‘concealed’ provision….”

Further, when pressed concerning which department policy required such a change, the Department of Safety admitted that it had misrepresented that there was an existing departmental policy as reflecting in an e-mail from Bill Hedge dated April 14, 2014:

“Currently, a written policy concerning information contained on the permit, including the ‘title’ of the document, does not exist.”

More significantly, the Open Records Requests revealed that the Department of Safety is under a multi-million dollar contract with a third party, L-1 Credentialing, Inc., to design and print the handgun permits along with other similar official state documents. That contract requires the third party to make changes in the design and format of the permits at no additional charge to state government. Department of Safety documents do not reference this contract in discussing the $100,000 estimate by Hedge nor do they detail why it would cost $100,000 to print the word “concealed” on the handgun permits even after the proposed legislation it was made clear by the sponsors that the legislation did not alter the handgun permits or convert them into concealed carry permits. The documents also reveal that the Haslam Administration was actively fighting the bill, that Department of Safety officials were working to stop the bill by creating estimates of printing costs, and that certain legislators were involved to create a fiscal note ensuring that the bill was rerouted to the House Finance Committee.

After the false Administration estimate was attached to the bill as a fiscal note, House rules required that the bill be considered by Charles Sargent’s Finance Committee because it had a (falsely) estimated cost to state government. Bill Gibbons, Commissioner of the Department of Safety, testified under oath that the legislation would add a concealment requirement to Tennessee’s handgun permits and that it would cost approximately $100,000 to start printing the word “concealed” on the handgun permits. The documents obtained in response to the Open Records Requests suggest that Commissioner Gibbons’ sworn testimony to the House Finance subcommittee was false in both respects. Mr. Gibbons’ testimony can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_jeeCqS-VU

Legislative records indicate that the House Finance subcommittee knew that Gibbons’ testimony was false or misleading because the chairman announced just prior to the committee vote that they would assume a zero fiscal impact to the state for purposes of their votes on the legislation. Then, 10 members of the House Finance committee refused to allow the legislation to be moved forward thus prohibiting it from consideration by all members of the House of Representatives.

A complete and detailed write up, including source documents, will be available on the TFA web site soon: http://www.tennesseefirearms.org/news/item/10-fiscal-note-fiasco

The Tennessee Firearms Association was founded in 1995 and formed to defend the right to keep and bear arms in Tennessee. The TFA is Tennessee’s only no-compromise gun group.

Law Requiring Proper Judicial Oversight for Cell Phone Search, Seizure in Effect July 1

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; June 27, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Legislation sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) and Representative Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) which prohibits law enforcement officers from searching or seizing a person’s cellular telephone data without first obtaining a warrant is set to take effect on July 1. The new law, Public Chapter 785, prohibits the search and seizure of a cellular phone during a routine traffic stop, and states that no cellular telephone data that is obtained in violation of the legislation is admissible as evidence in any court of law.

Supporters of Tennessee’s new law were further bolstered by this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding cellular phone privacy. In Riley v. California, Chief Justice John Roberts authored a unanimous decision stating that the Fourth Amendment requires police to obtain a search warrant prior to the search of a cellular phone – using arguments similar to those put forth by Senator Beavers this past legislative session.

“Searching or seizing a person’s cellphone or smartphone data without any judicial oversight is a major invasion of the privacy of our citizens,” said Senator Beavers. “I am thrilled that the U.S. Supreme Court further emphasized the importance of protecting against increased government encroachment into our everyday lives. As Justice Roberts stated, a search of someone’s phone can be more intrusive than a search of their home. Therefore, we must continue to be vigilant to ensure that our constitutional freedoms are protected, even in light of the technological advances in our society.”

In his concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito also acknowledged the roles of state legislatures in debating privacy laws, stating that “Legislatures, elected by the people, are in a better position than we are to assess and respond to the changes that have already occurred and those that almost certainly will take place in the future.”

Amendment for Popular Election of State Attorney General Falls Short in Senate

The Tennessee Senate failed Wednesday to approve a proposal to let voters pick who serves as the state’s most powerful lawyer.

The measure, Senate Joint Resolution 123, is a constitutional amendment sponsored by Mt. Juliet Republican Mae Beavers. It calls for contested statewide elections for attorney general beginning in 2020.

The upper chamber’s vote on SJR123 was 15 in favor and 14 opposed. One senator, Republican Randy McNally of Oak Ridge, abstained. The resolution needed 17 votes to win passage. Three senators didn’t vote: Republicans Janice Bowling and Todd Gardenhire, of Tullahoma and Chattanooga, respectively, and Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis.

According to the Senate clerk, because SJR123 wasn’t defeated outright with at least 17 senators voting “no,” it is technically still alive and could be brought up for a floor vote again this session if Beavers requests it. In the event that happens and it is approved, SJR123 would have to pass by a two-thirds majority in the next legislative session and then win in a statewide referendum.

Another measure that proposes altering the attorney general selection process passed last year in the Senate, 22-9. It awaits action in the House. That proposal, SJR196 by Clarksville Republican Mark Green, would rewrite the state’s constitution to allow for the Legislature to appoint the attorney general.

SJR196 states, “Beginning January 2019, and every four year thereafter, an attorney general and reporter for the state shall be appointed by joint vote of both houses of the General Assembly and shall hold office for a term of four years and until a successor is appointed.”

If it is approved in the House, that measure, too, must win passage next session by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate and subsequently go before the voters.

Presently under the state constitution, the Tennessee Supreme Court appoints the attorney general to terms of eight years. The term of Robert Cooper, who currently holds the office, expires this year.

According to the National Association of Attorneys General, Tennessee is the only state in which the holder of the office is appointed by the state Supreme Court. Forty-three states elect their attorneys general. In fives state the post is assigned by the governor and in Maine the attorney general is selected by secret ballot of the state’s legislature.

TFA: Beavers Files Amendments to Address “Problems” With Safe Commute Law

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; February 3, 2013:

Nashville, TN – Gun rights bulwark Senator Mae Beavers has filed amendments to be addressed on the Senate Floor to address problems in the current law regarding a law passed in 2013 regarding handgun permit holders who commute to work and their right to store legally owned firearms in personal vehicles.

The amendments, which have been filed on Senate Bills 1700 and 1701, will allow workers in Tennessee to safely commute to work with a firearm in their vehicle without fear of either criminal prosecution or termination of employment. While Senator Mark Green’s bills (SB1700 and SB1701) are a step in the right direction, they do not adequately address the legal confusion surrounding the 2013 law. In addition, SB1700 and SB1701 do not prevent employers from firing employees who store personal items in personal vehicles.

Senator Beavers’ amendments would fix all the problems with the 2013 law, which was pushed through by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey even with notice of serious flaws. Senator Beavers’ amendments are intended to ensure that law abiding Tennessee firearms owners are protected while transporting firearms in their vehicles to and from work.

Senator Beavers’ amendments would provide that a citizen can store any item that he or she legally possesses, including a firearm, in any vehicle (other than an employer provided vehicle) that the citizen legally possesses. It is a simple clarification of Tennessee’s “castle doctrine” which equates the personal vehicle with the personal residence.

This type of change is necessary because current law does not fully protect employees from criminal prosecution nor does it provide any protection from losing their jobs if their vehicle contains an item they lawfully possess, especially a firearm. The Tennessee Attorney General issued an opinion (13-41) noting that the 2013 “parking lot” law did not actually protect lawful possession of a firearm from criminal prosecution or termination of employment.

Recently, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey’s office directed legislative staff lawyers to manufacture a legal opinion that stated exactly the opposite. The Tennessee Firearms Association understands the opinion from the Lieutenant Governor’s staff lawyers is faulty because testimony of the House bill sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Faison, disagrees with their conclusion regarding legislative intent. During testimony last year, Representative Jeremy Faison stated that the bill does not protect employees from termination or criminal prosecution, and that it was not the intent of the bill sponsor to do so. See statements of Rep. Faison in committee regarding HB118 on Feb 20, 2013.

In addition, approximately ten amendments were offered in 2013 on the House Floor by Representatives Mark Pody and John Mark Windle to address the serious and obvious flaws in the 2013 legislation before it was enacted. House leadership prohibited any of those amendments from being addressed on the merits. The defeat of these 2013 House floor amendments are evidence that the legislature knew of these flaws in the Ramsey legislation but did not take corrective action.

Even though the Tennessee Firearms Association discounts the opinion issued by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey’s lawyers, the fact that two divergent legal opinions exist on the 2013 law shows that significant confusion in the law must be addressed. Indeed, the confusion may be so significant that the 2013 law could be unconstitutionally vague.

This issue is not just about firearms however, as the rights of law abiding citizens to store items that they are lawfully allowed to possess in their vehicles while at work have also come into question. In 2012, a representative from Federal Express testified in the Senate Judiciary hearings on the same topic that they were able to fire employees for the mere possession of a Bible in their vehicle while parked on Federal Express property.

The Tennessee Firearms Association would have preferred that the problems with the 2013 law had been fully considered and discussed in the Senate Judiciary before these issues were sent to the Senate Floor. However, Senator Beavers’ bill (SB1733) and potentially other bills on this topic were not even considered or discussed by the Senate Judiciary when it took up this issue.

“Any vote against Senator Beavers’ amendment must be considered carefully as a vote against the Second Amendment, fundamental constitutional principles and the life safety of citizens, even if it is only a procedural vote,” said John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Former Representative Debra Maggart was ousted from office by a huge margin due in part to her continual partisan efforts to block good Second Amendment legislation and impairing the rights of citizens to protect their families and lives. It is important to address these core constitutional and life safety issues carefully when they are raised.”