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Press Releases

Witnesses Announced for Mid-Sept Criminal Justice Reform Hearing

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; August 26, 2014:

(NASHVILLE, TN) August 26, 2014 – Senator Brian Kelsey today released the names of the witnesses scheduled to testify regarding proposed criminal justice reforms in Tennessee. The hearing will occur before the Senate Judiciary Committee September 15 – 16.

“These experts will help us learn from other states how to best protect the public while saving taxpayer dollars. Our committee is privileged to partner with such talented witnesses in the effort to improve the criminal justice system in Tennessee,” explained Senator Kelsey.

The witnesses will provide testimony on the following three subjects: 1) Criminal Justice Reform: How we got where we are in Tennessee, 2) Criminal Justice Reform: What other states have done, and 3) Criminal Justice Reform: Suggested changes for Tennessee.

The scheduled witnesses for the hearings are as follows:

  • Sheriff Robert Arnold, Rutherford County
  • Beth Ashe, Executive Director, Tennessee Corrections Institute
  • Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper
  • District Attorney General D. Michael Dunavant, 25th Judicial District, Fayette, Hardeman, Lauderdale, McNairy, and Tipton Counties
  • Paige Edwards, Tennessee Public Defender’s Conference
  • Rebecca Silber and Nancy Fishman, VERA Institute of Justice
  • Tommy Francis, Tennessee State Employees Association
  • Mayor Terry Frank, Anderson County, Tennessee
  • Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Tennessee Department of Safety
  • Mark Gwyn, Director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Marc Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • Mayor Mark Luttrell, Shelby County, Tennessee
  • John G. Malcolm, Director, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies
  • Richard Montgomery, Chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Justin Owen, President/CEO, Beacon Center of Tennessee
  • Chief David Rausch, Knoxville Police Department
  • David Raybin, Esq., criminal defense attorney
  • Justyna Scalpone, Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender
  • Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • Chris Slobogin, Professor, Vanderbilt College of Law; member, Tennessee Consultation on Criminal Justice
  • District Attorney General Barry Staubus, 2nd Judicial District, Sullivan County, Tennessee
  • Thomas E. Tique, Chief Deputy Attorney, Tennessee General Assembly Office of Legal Services
  • Commissioner E. Douglas Varney, Tennessee Department of Mental Health
  • Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU of Tennessee
  • Charlie White, Director, Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents
  • Judge John Everett Williams, Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Kyle Seeks AG Opinion on Filling His Senate Vacancy

The Shelby County Democratic Party is preparing to select a nominee to fill the vacancy Memphis Sen. Jim Kyle’s departure from the state Legislature will create. But the outgoing upper-chamber minority leader has concerns about how that process will unfold.

On Friday, Kyle, who is retiring after 31 years in the Senate, requested that the state attorney general issue an opinion that sorts out the legal issues surrounding how to select a nominee to run as his replacement to the General Assembly.

Kyle’s request comes on the heels of Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron, a former state senator, telling local party officials that there was confusion about the local caucus process they’ve indicated they will employ to select the nominee. Herron has concerns about the timing of the caucus, who can vote at the caucus, whether the decision would be made by a majority or plurality of votes and whether it would be a public roll-call vote or by secret ballot, according to the Commercial Appeal.

Kyle won a Shelby County judgeship on Aug. 7. and will resign from the Legislature after he’s sworn-in on Aug. 29. However, state law doesn’t provide for a government-run open primary when the timing of a vacancy in the Senate occurs so close to voters going to the polls in November. Instead, officials from the county parties are authorized to choose nominees for the general election ballot.

Democrats such as Sara Kyle, Sen. Kyle’s wife, and former state Sen. Beverly Marrero, who Kyle defeated in the 2012 primary, have expressed interest in the seat. Additionally, current Shelby County Tennessee House members Antonio “2-Shay” Parkinson and G.A. Hardaway, may also be looking to move to the General Assembly’s upper chamber.

Following the GOP-led redistricting in 2011, Marrero and Kyle found themselves opponents in the 2012 Democratic primary. After her primary loss, Marrero told TNReport that she felt “betrayed” by Kyle’s request to Republicans that he be drawn into a race against her instead of State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Press Releases

TN Forum Criticizes AG for Silence on Federal Release of Immigrant Children

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; July 29, 2014:

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Forum today chastised Tennessee’s Supreme Court-appointed Attorney General Bob Cooper for failing to take any action against the federal government for releasing 760 illegal immigrants into the state of Tennessee.

“Barack Obama has once again imposed what amounts to an unfunded mandate on the state of Tennessee and once again Bob Cooper has failed to act,” said Susan Kaestner, president of the Tennessee Forum. “This is just the most recent example of what happens when you have a liberal Supreme Court appointing a liberal attorney general.”

“An attorney general is supposed to look out for the legal interests of the people of Tennessee. When the federal government falls short or oversteps, we need to have an attorney general we can count on to stand up for our interests,” Kaestner explained.

“Connie Clark and Gary Wade did not call Cooper to the carpet for his refusal to stand up against Obamacare. Instead they defended his actions. Now he has gone and done it again,” Kaestner stated. “How much abuse must our state take from the Obama administration before our Supreme Court and its attorney general deem it appropriate to fight back?”

“It is time to vote replace and send this liberal Supreme Court home. Maybe then we can get an attorney general who actually stands up for the state and looks out for the interests of Tennesseans,” Kaestner concluded.

Bill Haslam wrote in a letter to President Obama last week that he had learned of the White House’s dumping of 760 illegal immigrants in Tennessee only after seeing a notification on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. He had previously asked the Obama administration to give him advance notice of any illegals who were on their way to his state.

As of this writing, the Attorney General Cooper has made no public statements on the matter and taken no legal action.

Attorney General Cooper previously failed to stand up for Tennessee by refusing to join any of the various multi-state suits against Obamacare. Supreme Court Judges Connie Clark and Gary Wade defended his refusal. Wade said it was the “right decision for taxpayers.” Clark argued that the refusal was justified because Obamacare was a “federal issue.”

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Press Releases

Bell: Tennesseans Want AG to Join Legal Fight Against Obamacare

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; July 23, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennesseans should be vigorously represented in the nation’s highest court as two new federal appeals court decisions delivered yesterday point to a final legal battle on Obamacare says Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville). Bell said State Attorney General Bob Cooper chose not to join other states in challenging the illegal action of the IRS and the Obama administration to put into place a federally-run insurance exchange program in Tennessee. The federal exchange program also triggers unauthorized taxes against individuals and employers in Tennessee.

“This was a huge decision,” said Bell. “The federal appeals court ruled in Halbig v. Burwell that the IRS and Obama administration are imposing taxes and spending funds through federal exchanges in the 36 states which rejected state exchanges, without statutory authority. Tennesseans want their voices heard in fighting against federal overreach of power. We, again, urge General Cooper to join in the efforts to defend the rights of Tennesseans as this case appears to be headed for a final decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Unlike other states, Tennessee’s attorney general is selected by the State Supreme Court. Three court justices who face election this August and have received increased criticism for liberal actions involving cases in the state’s highest court, voted to appoint Cooper to the Attorney General position.

“This inaction by our state’s highest legal officer to represent the overwhelming desire of Tennesseans just underscores our skepticism about the court and their decisions,” added Bell. “The legislature and the governor have chosen not to establish state exchanges and to reject Obamacare. We need our views represented at this critical juncture as this and other cases challenging the federal overreach of power move to a final decision in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Several other similar cases are progressing elsewhere in the judicial system, including one in which the court ruled in favor of the federal government’s actions on Tuesday afternoon.

“We continue to see one decision after another by the Obama administration that ignores the law,” added Bell. “It’s time that Tennessee steps up and defends our citizens’ rights.”

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Press Releases

TN Forum: ‘Predictable’ that TN is First State Sued Over Obamacare

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; July 23, 2014:

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Forum today reacted to the news that Tennessee is now the first state in the union to be sued over Obamacare calling it “predictable.”

“When 28 states around the country were banding together to resist the federal intrusion of Obamacare, Attorney General Bob Cooper was missing in action,” said Susan Kaestner. “Today, it looks like the Obamacare fight has come to him. This was the predictable result of a liberal Supreme Court choosing a liberal attorney general.”

Just last week, Chief Judge Gary Wade defended the attorney general’s refusal to fight Obamacare asserting that it was “the right decision for the taxpayer.” Connie Clark agreed saying it was the right decision because Obamacare is “a federal issue.”

“Obamacare certainly doesn’t look like a ‘federal issue’ today. And the taxpayer will continue to get a raw deal across the board,” Kaestner continued. “The Supreme Court’s decision to pick a partisan Democrat as attorney general looks worse and worse everyday. These judges are responsible and the voters need to hold them accountable by voting to replace Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.”

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Press Releases

Kelsey Again Urges TN AG to Join in Lawsuit Against Obamacare

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; July 22, 2014:

(NASHVILLE, TN) July 22, 2014 – In light of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision today in the case of Halbig v. Burwell, Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) renewed his call to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper to join in the lawsuit against ObamaCare. The decision prohibited the IRS from penalizing certain employers in states like Tennessee that did not set up a state-run health exchange. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals today created a split among the circuits by issuing an opposite decision.

“Since January of this year, I have been urging our attorney general to challenge the poorly drafted Obamacare law. Attorneys General in other states are successfully fighting back against federal government overreach while ours is remaining silent.”

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Education Featured NewsTracker

Critics of Huffman Want Decision from Haslam

Despite a recent opinion by Tennessee’s attorney general offering legal cover to the state Department of Education for its decision to delay release of student test scores, critics of the agency’s embattled commissioner aren’t letting up on their demand that he be cut loose.

And they want Gov. Bill Haslam to make a decision sooner this summer rather than later in the fall after the general election, as he’s indicated he intends to do.

“I haven’t sat down and had that conversation with [any of the commissioners] about the next four years, because it’s not appropriate,” Haslam said on July 8. “I’m in the middle of a campaign right now, and we will — this fall, if I’m re-elected, we’ll sit down with all 23, and see if they want to continue, and if that works for us.”

Kevin Huffman has been a lightning rod for criticism from both the left and the right. But by the same token he’s got staunch defenders among both Republicans and Democrats as well. Two of his biggest fans have been Tennessee’s GOP governor and the Obama administration’s education chief, Arne Duncan.

Haslam has been emphasizing improvements in test scores that have come about under Huffman, including Tennessee’s status as the fastest improving education system in the nation. The fundamental test of his administration’s education efforts ought to be student performance, the governor said, and in his estimation kids in Tennessee’s publicly funded classrooms are “learning more than they ever have before.”

However, opposition to Haslam on education — in particular, his embrace of both Common Core and student-testing as a means of evaluating the job teachers are doing — runs deep both among educators and conservative politicians who fear the state is giving up control of its education system to outside forces.

Citing a “complete lack of trust” in the commissioner, as well as alleging the manipulation of test scores, a letter sent to Haslam on June 19 demanded Huffman be replaced. Fifteen Republican members of the Tennessee General Assembly — 13 lawmakers in the House and two senators, endorsed the letter, which declared that mistrust of Huffman stems from his “actions and general attitude,” and that he’s demonstrated a “failure to uphold and follow the laws of the state of Tennessee in this latest TCAP debacle we are currently witnessing.”

The letter also questioned whether or not Huffman had the authority to waive the inclusion of TCAP scores, considering that a bill passed by the General Assembly in the 2014 session granted Huffman waiver abilities, but specifically excluded waiving requirements related to “assessments and accountability.”

But state Attorney General Bob Cooper recently released an opinion, requested by state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, that found Huffman in fact didn’t abuse his authority by waiving those requirements, that no state or federal law “would be violated by a delay in releasing TCAP test scores,” as long as the results were provided by June 30, which they were.

The attorney general’s opinion did little, though, to change the minds of Huffman’s detractors.

Sen. Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald, said he “wasn’t surprised” by the attorney general’s office opinion, and said it didn’t really carry any legal weight. And anyway, “there are a lot of different issues” on which Hensley said he’s had problems with Commissioner Huffman.

Hensley, a member of the Senate Education Committee, indicated he stands by the letter’s main thrust. Huffman should “go somewhere else,” he said. “I just feel like the commissioner doesn’t listen to the superintendents and the teachers and the principles, and he doesn’t listen too much to the Legislature, either.”

Julie West, the president of Parents for Truth in Education, said that she thinks that Cooper’s opinion is just splitting hairs.

“The irony is Commissioner Huffman pushed for this, because he’s all about the testing, and when he doesn’t get the results he wants all of a sudden he wants to do away with that being factored in,” West said. “And let me say, if the Governor and the Commissioner were really as proud of TCAP scores as they want us to believe, it certainly would not have been announced during the Fourth of July.”

West said that she was not just in favor of Huffman’s resignation, but that he should be fired. West also said that part of the problem, and what was “more disturbing,” was that Cooper “seems to have forgotten that he is supposed to be the attorney for the people of Tennessee, rather than a servant of the Governor.”

“I think that part of the issue is the people of Tennessee don’t have a voice in who the Commissioner of Education is, and don’t have a voice in who the Attorney General is,” West said. “And for that reason they don’t feel, or they seem to act in ways that don’t show a lot of concern for what we believe, and truthfully for what the law seems to be.”

West described her group as not of any particular political perspective, but just people who are not “tolerating” what’s happening to their kids under Common Core or Huffman’s education department.

And regardless of the attorney general’s view on the controversy over the TCAP scores, those on the left wing of Tennessee’s political spectrum still think Huffman needs to go, too. The Tennessee Democratic Party has regularly called for Huffman’s ouster, on the grounds that he is aloof and unresponsive to local teachers and education officials.

The governor owes it to the people of Tennessee to declare whether or not he plans to keep Huffman around, said Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron. That decision, Herron told TNReport, “is overdue, and should be both made and announced as soon as possible.”

“The commissioner has refused to listen to the teachers in public schools, and to the superintendents and schools boards who run those schools,” Herron said in a phone interview. “But the commissioner has united Tennesseans, from Tea Party Republicans to Tennessee Democrats, from 60 superintendents to thousands of teachers, who all agree it is past time for this commissioner to go back to Washington.”

Mary Mancini, a Democratic candidate for the Tennessee State Senate district being vacated by longtime state legislator, Sen. Douglas Henry, said that Haslam needs to either make his decision about Huffman, or “explain in non-political terms” why he has not made that decision yet, because she finds the education commissioner’s performance to be lacking.

“When looking at this job performance, it’s clear that [Huffman]’s just not working the way he should be; doing his job basically,” said Mancini. “He’s been difficult and unresponsive to legislators on both sides of the aisle. Somebody needs to hold him accountable, and both Republicans and Democrats have been trying to do that, and he’s been completely ignoring them, and unresponsive, and that’s not acceptable.”

And the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, believes that the TCAP delay is another in a line of issues with the state’s top education executive, said Jim Wrye, government relations manager for the TEA.

“The policies were placed in that it would be anywhere between 15 and 25 percent of a student’s grade, and that it wasn’t ready at the end of school just threw a huge wrench into what is one of the most important things — which are final grades — for students, and especially for teachers,” Wrye said.

Wrye, though admitting he’s not a lawyer, said that he found the AG’s opinion interesting  because “the idea that you could be exempted from student assessments was something that was prohibited in that flexibility bill. It was something we had discussed at length during the legislative session.”

In September 2013, 63 school superintendents from around the state signed a letter criticizing the education reform policies being implemented by the state’s top education office. And later in 2013, teachers’ unions across the Volunteer State cast votes of “no confidence” in Huffman.

However, Huffman has enjoyed some recent support, with a petition of support recently announced that, as of press time, features over 400 signatures from Tennesseans, including Kate Ezell, a consultant associated with the Tennessee Charter School Incubator as a funds-raiser from September 2011 to January 2013.

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Press Releases

TN AG Announces Settlement Proposal from Apple in E-books Price-fixing Case

Press release from Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper; July 16, 2014:

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper today announced a proposed settlement of claims for monetary relief against Apple Inc. related to its participation in a price-fixing conspiracy in the market for E-books. The settlement agreement, which remains subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, would resolve claims for consumer damages brought by Tennessee and 32 other states and territories.

Pursuant to the terms of the settlement, the amount to be received by consumers is contingent upon the resolution of Apple’s appeal of the District Court’s July 2013 finding that Apple violated the antitrust laws by orchestrating a conspiracy with five publishers to artificially raise prices for E-books between 2010 and 2012. That appeal is currently pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Consumers nationwide (including those represented by private counsel in a related class action) will receive $400 million if the court’s ruling is ultimately affirmed. If the appellate courts do not affirm the court’s ruling, the settlement provides for a smaller recovery, or no recovery if Apple is ultimately determined not to have violated the antitrust laws.

Attorney General Cooper said he is pleased with this settlement, which, combined with previous publisher settlements, will provide consumers with over twice their actual damages, assuming the liability finding is upheld on appeal. Tennessee consumers comprise approximately 1.7 % percent of E-book purchasers in the country.

E-book purchasers nationwide have already received compensation from $166 million in settlement funds paid by the five publishers involved in the conspiracy – Penguin Group (USA), Inc. (now part of Penguin Random House); Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC d/b/a Macmillan; Hachette Book Group Inc.; HarperCollins Publishers LLC; and Simon & Schuster Inc.

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Press Releases

Gresham Requests AG Opinion on TN Teacher Employment Laws

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; June 30, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) said today she has requested an attorney general’s opinion on whether Tennessee’s teacher employment laws are constitutional. The request comes after a California Superior Court struck down various teacher tenure and seniority statutes under that state’s constitution and the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause in the Vergara v. California case. Teacher unions plan to appeal the ruling.

“This is a very important decision regarding teacher employment laws, which will reverberate to states across the nation, said Senator Gresham. “Tennessee, like California, has its own constitutional provision regarding student’s education rights in addition to the Equal Protection Clause afforded by the U.S. Constitution. We certainly need to make sure that we are on sound constitutional footing, and especially whether the reforms passed over the last several years will satisfy the constitutional tests as decided in this ruling.”

The California case was filed by nine public school students who charged that state laws forced districts to give tenure to teachers, regardless of whether they can do the job. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu found the California law was unconstitutional, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. That decision declared that state laws which established that separate schools for white and black children were unconstitutional. “In these days,” the court said, “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

Gresham asked Attorney General Robert Cooper whether the current statutes or state law in effect prior to July 1, 2011 governing permanent employment violate students’ rights to a free education under the equal protection provisions of the Tennessee or U.S. Constitution. The General Assembly passed teacher tenure reform legislation in 2011 which changes a teacher’s probationary period before becoming eligible for tenure from three to five years as well as linking tenure status to performance evaluations. Gresham also asked the Attorney General if Tennessee law or the statutes in effect prior to July 1, 2014, governing layoffs or the dismissal and suspension of teachers violate student’s rights to a free education under the federal and state constitutions.

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Press Releases

TN, 44 Other States Reach $105M Advair Settlement

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper; June 4, 2014:

Attorney General Bob Cooper today announced a settlement that signals a major change in the way pharmaceutical sales teams are motivated and paid for the ultimate benefit of consumers. The 45 Attorneys General led by a bipartisan leadership committee have reached a $105 million settlement with GlaxoSmithKline, LLC to resolve allegations that GlaxoSmithKline unlawfully promoted its asthma drug, Advair, and antidepressant drugs, Paxil and Wellbutrin. Tennessee will receive $3 million for the Attorney General’s work on the leadership committee of this multistate consumer protection investigation.

The complaint and agreed final judgment filed today in Davidson County Circuit Court alleges that GlaxoSmithKline violated state consumer protection laws by misrepresenting the uses and qualities of these drugs. In particular, the complaint alleges that GSK used false and misleading representations to promote Advair as a first line treatment for all asthma patients, including mild asthma patients who only occasionally needed a rescue inhaler. Furthermore, GSK allegedly provided financial incentives to GSK sales representatives to deceptively promote Advair for mild asthma patients.

“We appreciate the cooperative work of all the states participating in this consumer protection investigation,” Attorney General Cooper said. “My office remains vigilant in its efforts to stop deceptive marketing practices by some drug companies which may lead to unnecessary, expensive drugs and risk the health of Tennesseans.”

The agreed final judgment also requires GlaxoSmithKline to reform its marketing and promotional practices. Specifically, GSK shall not:

• Make, or cause to be made, any written or oral claim that is false, misleading, or deceptive about any GSK product;
• Make promotional claims, not approved or permitted by the FDA that a GSK product is better, more effective, safer, or has less serious side effects or contraindications than has been demonstrated by substantial evidence or substantial clinical experience;
• Present favorable information or conclusions from a study that is inadequate in design, scope or conduct to furnish significant support for such information or conclusions, when presenting information about a clinical study regarding GSK products in any promotional materials;
• Provide samples of GSK products to those health care professionals who are not expected to prescribe the sampled GSK products for an approved use, but who would be expected to prescribe the sampled products for an off-label use; or
• Disseminate information describing any off-label use of a GSK product, unless such information and materials are consistent with applicable FDA regulations and FDA Guidances for Industry.

The agreed final judgment also requires GSK to continue its Patient First Program at least through March 2019. The Patient First Program reduces financial incentives for sales representatives to engage in deceptive marketing. In addition, the judgment requires scientifically-trained personnel to be ultimately responsible for developing and approving responses to health care provider questions and for these responses to be unbiased and non-promotional.

The State’s Complaint and Agreed Final Judgment may be viewed by going online to www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral and clicking on “Filings of Interest.”