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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.

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Press Releases

TN AG Joins FTC Challenge to Sysco, US Foods Merger

Press release from the office of Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery; February 19, 2015:

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, along with ten other Attorneys Generals, joined the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today in seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent the proposed merger of Sysco and US Foods pending the FTC’s administrative proceeding.   The States and the FTC allege the merger would violate antitrust laws by significantly reducing competition nationwide and in 32 local markets for broadline foodservice distribution services, and that foodservice customers, including restaurants, hospitals, hotels, and schools, would likely face higher prices and diminished services.

“The proposed merger would result in one foodservice distributor controlling 81% of the distributor market in Memphis,” Attorney General Slatery said.  “This would have an obvious and adverse effect on businesses and consumers in the Memphis area so today Tennessee has joined the FTC and the other states to protect Tennessee’s interest in maintaining a competitive market in this industry segment.”

“This proposed merger would eliminate significant competition in the marketplace and create a dominant national broadline foodservice distributor,” said Debbie Feinstein, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition. “Consumers, and the businesses that serve them, across the country benefit from the healthy competition between Sysco and US Foods, whether they eat at a restaurant, hotel, or a hospital.”

Sysco and US Foods are by far the largest broadline foodservice distributors in the United States. Broadline distributors offer extensive product lines, including national-brand and private-label food products, and provide frequent and flexible delivery, high levels of customer service, and other value-added services such as order tracking, menu planning, and nutritional information.

According to the complaint filed by the FTC and Attorneys General, a combined Sysco/US Foods would account for 75% of the national market for broadline distribution services and high shares in a number of local markets.

As detailed in the complaint, the merger presents a significant risk of competitive harm for two sets of customers who rely on broadline foodservice distribution:

  • Local customers – Sysco and US Foods also compete aggressively for the broadline business of independent restaurants and other local customers that operate in a local area or region. The merger is likely to harm competition in 32 local markets, including Memphis which was listed as the #7 most impacted market according to the complaint.
  • National customers – Sysco and US Foods are the only broadline distributors with a truly national footprint, and compete vigorously with each other to meet the needs of customers with foodservice locations dispersed nationwide or across multiple regions of the country.  Many hotel chains, foodservice management companies, and group purchasing organizations, consider Sysco and US Foods to be each other’s closest competitor, and in some cases their only meaningful alternatives, for national broadline distribution services.

In addition to Tennessee, California, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia have joined the FTC’s complaint for a preliminary injunction.

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Press Releases

AG: TN Receiving $25M of $1.375B Settlement with Standard & Poor

Press release from the office of Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery; February 3, 2015:

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery announced today that Tennessee, the U.S. Department of Justice, 18 states and the District of Columbia have reached a settlement with Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC (S&P) resolving allegations that S&P misled investors when it rated structured finance securities in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis.

The settlement requires S&P to pay $1.375 billion to the states and the Department of Justice. Tennessee will receive $25 million for its role as a lead state in the enforcement actions against S&P.

The state and federal complaints against S&P alleged that, despite S&P’s repeated statements emphasizing its independence and objectivity, the credit rating agency allowed its analysis to be influenced by its desire to earn substantial fees from its investment banking clients. The enforcement actions further alleged that S&P knowingly assigned inflated credit ratings to toxic assets packaged and sold by the Wall Street investment banks. The alleged misconduct began as early as 2001 and became particularly acute between 2004 and 2007.

Structured finance securities backed by subprime mortgages were at the center of the 2008 financial crisis. These financial products, including residential mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations, derive their value from the monthly payments consumers make on their mortgages.

“Standard & Poor’s claimed that its ratings were objective, but as the states alleged, the company allowed its business interests to influence those ratings to the detriment of our national economy,” said Attorney General Slatery. “I appreciate the cooperative work of the states who joined Tennessee in bringing these actions, and the Department of Justice in reaching today’s settlement.”

In addition as part of the settlement, S&P agreed to comply with all applicable state laws and for five years will cooperate with any request for information from any state expressing concern over a possible violation of state law. S&P also agreed to a statement of facts acknowledging conduct related to its analysis of structured finance securities.

“This settlement is the product of good teamwork among all the parties involved and will ultimately benefit all Tennesseans,” said Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Deputy Commissioner Bill Giannini.

In August 2014, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission adopted new requirements for credit rating agencies like S&P that address conflicts of interest and procedures to protect the integrity and transparency of rating methodologies and that provide for certifications to accompany credit ratings attesting that the ratings were not influenced by other business activities.

The S&P settlement documents may be viewed by going online to www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral and clicking on “Filings of Interest.”

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Press Releases

Blackburn: Loretta Lynch Immigration Comments Show ‘a True Lack of Acceptance’ of Constitution, Law

Press release from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. 07; January 28, 2015:

Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) issued the following statement in response to comments made today by President Barack Obama’s nominee for United States Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

When asked by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) who she felt has more right to a job in this country — lawful immigrants and citizens or those who entered unlawfully, Lynch responded by saying she believes “that the right and obligation to work is one that’s shared by everyone in this country regardless of how they came here.”

“The comments of Loretta Lynch were disturbing and showed a true lack of acceptance of our constitution and the law. It is outrageous that President Obama’s nominee for Attorney General of the United States was unable to state with clarity that American citizens and legal immigrants have a greater right to work in this country than illegal aliens,” Blackburn said. “While Ms. Lynch may prefer that aliens unlawfully present in our country be willing to work, I prefer that we uphold the law. It is the responsibility of the Attorney General to administer justice in a manner that is fair and impartial. We should be prioritizing legal immigration and not incentivizing unlawful behavior.”

Blackburn recently penned an op-ed for Breitbart News entitled What About The American Worker? In the piece Blackburn discusses the impact of President Obama’s executive amnesty on the American worker and how lawful Americans are being betrayed by President Obama’s outsourcing of jobs to illegal aliens.

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Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

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.”

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Press Releases

AFP-TN Praise TN Supreme Court’s Selection of Slatery as Next AG

Press release from Americans for Prosperity – TN; September 15, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Americans for Prosperity – Tennessee (AFP-TN) commends the TN Supreme Court for listening to Tennesseans on their selection of a new attorney general. Herbert Slatery III was selected to serve the eight-year term as Tennessee’s attorney general.

Three of the Supreme Court Justices recently won their retention election campaigns. Unlike most past retention elections they actually had to campaign for their seats. Due to the efforts of Americans for Prosperity and Lt Governor Ron Ramsey, the Justices were besieged partially based upon decisions made by our previous attorney general. A record number of Tennesseans showed up to the polls to hold them accountable.

Twenty-eight other states joined the lawsuit to stop ObamaCare. Tennessee sat idly on the sidelines instead of leading the fight; the attorney general made the decision. Tennessee previously expanded the Medicaid system. Skyrocketing costs that would have ultimately bankrupted the state led to harsh TennCare cuts.

“We sought to shine a light on the entire process. With record turn-out and our Supreme Court selecting a new Attorney General we certainly exceeded our goal,” said Andrew Ogles, AFP-TN State Director. “Our justices are to be commended for putting partisan politics aside and selecting someone who will best represent the interests of Tennesseans. We held their feet to the fire and they heard us.”

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Press Releases

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.

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Press Releases

Required Workplace Compliance Posters Available Free from State

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development; Sept. 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development and Secretary of State Tre Hargett want employers to know that required workplace posters are available at no charge from the State of Tennessee at www.tn.gov/labor-wfd.

Employers may have received misleading notices in the mail advising them to update employment posters that are required by law to post. These notices frequently have “labor law compliance alert” or “final notice for compliance” or a similar heading, and then offer to sell the required set of posters. We have recently become aware of an entity called “US Compliance Service” that has circulated a potentially misleading solicitation related to employment posters.

“It’s unfortunate that employers intending to do the right thing by posting laws and regulations in the workplace are taken advantage of,” said Labor Commissioner Burns Phillips. “Once a sale has been made, inevitably there are frequent updates to follow at a significant price. We hope to educate the public that these required postings are always free from state government.”

Secretary Hargett agreed, stating that “the overwhelming majority of people who run businesses in our state want to do the right thing and follow the law. But they need to be aware that there are people out there who might try to take advantage of them.”

Several years ago, the Tennessee Attorney General’s office reached an agreement with a company that was deceptively selling labor law posters in Tennessee. Mandatory Poster Agency, Inc., was headquartered in Michigan, but did business in Tennessee as the Tennessee Labor Law Poster Service and the Tennessee Mandatory Poster Agency. The Attorney General’s office alleged that solicitations by the company were deceptive because they appeared to be from a governmental agency and appeared to be from a business located in Tennessee with “an official looking” seal. Businesses that purchased posters from this company were eligible for restitution if they filed a complaint.

All required posters are available free from the following Internet address: http://www.tn.gov/labor-wfd. Directly below the state poster listings is a link to the required federal (U.S. Department of Labor) posters, which can also be downloaded free.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development has also developed an all-in-one poster containing all of the state requirements. That poster is also free and can be received by sending a request to ron.hammontree@tn.gov.

If you hear that a company is pressuring employers to buy posters, please obtain as much identifying information as possible and e-mail Melinda.williams@tn.gov or call (615) 253-6674.

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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

AG Issues Opinion on Kyle Senate Seat Vacancy

Tennessee’s top lawyer has waded into the issue of how to pick nominees for November’s general election to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Kyle.

Unless the executive committee members are selected at large, the candidates for Senate are to be “nominated by the members of the party’s county executive committee who represent the precincts composing Senate District 30,” according to Attorney General Bob Cooper’s opinion. The Shelby County Democratic Party’s website says that county executive committee members are “elected from each state House District in Shelby County.”

The executive committee for the county’s Republican Party has members elected both at-large and by district, according to the Shelby County GOP.

The AG released the opinion Thursday morning in response to a request from Kyle, who won a Shelby County Chancery Court judgeship on August 7, and is leaving the General Assembly after 31 years in the Senate. Kyle has said he’ll resign by the end of August.

Kyle was joined in making the inquiry to Cooper’s office by Memphis Democratic Reps. Antonio Parkinson and G.A. Hardaway, who, along with Kyle’s wife, Sara, and former state Sen. Beverly Marrero, have shown interest in filling Kyle’s chair.

On the Republican side, former U.S. Senate candidate and Memphis millionaire radio station owner Dr. George Flinn has indicated he’s considering a run. Barring a significant upset, though, the seat is expected to stay in Democratic hands.

According to the attorney general’s opinion, any House member currently running for reelection who has won their primary, but also wishes to run for the Senate vacancy, must withdraw from the House race before the party’s executive committee meets to make their selection. However, Cooper also wrote that if the candidate withdraws from that race, the party won’t be allowed to nominate another candidate.

The opinion was sought amidst some confusion about whether or not the caucus process the county party officials wanted to use would meet statutory requirements.

While he had not yet read the opinion Thursday afternoon, the spokesman for the Tennessee Department of State, Blake Fontenay, said the Division of Elections would “defer” to the the decision of the state’s attorney, and “would act consistently with their ruling.”

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Education NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

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.”