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Restrictions Loosened for Beer-Brewers, Retailers

Tennessee brewers can now join fellow suds-makers in surrounding states in producing higher gravity brews without the need for a specialty license under a law passed during the 2014 session.

However, due to pressure from liquor retailers — in part related to the political compromise that helped win passage of legalized wine-sales in grocery stores — non-spirits retailers and distributors won’t have the same allowances as brewers until 2017. That means consumers in search of higher quality, high gravity beers will need to continue to patronize spirits establishments.

The law, HB0047/SB0289, was sponsored by State Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, and Murfreesboro Republican Sen. Bill Ketron. It altered the definition of beer and high alcohol content beer, as well as revising some of the language dealing with high gravity beers. Prior to the law taking effect today, Tennessee had the most restrictive cap on the amount of alcohol beer could contain and still be sold without a liquor license — five percent by weight, or 6.25 percent by volume. Alabama’s beer cap, on the other hand, is at eight percent by weight. Beer with an alcohol content of eight percent by weight is equivalent to 10 percent by volume.

“This will raise the cap on beer from five to eight percent, it’s going to allow brewers to sell the beer at their brewery taprooms and for off premise consumption,” said Haynes said when the House approved the measure just three days before the legislative session came to a close. “It will clarify the law that allows liquor retailers to sell high gravity beer growlers. And this will also allow high gravity beer to be sold in grocery stores.”

The bill passed the House April 14 by a vote of 72 to 12, with eight members present but not voting. It passed the Senate 22 to seven on April 10. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill into law May 1.

The change in the state’s definition of brewed alcoholic beverages came about as a result of the “Fix the Beer Cap” campaign, spearheaded by Linus Hall of Yazoo Brewing Company in Nashville.

The campaign to redefine beer was an extension of the successful 2013 Fix the Beer Tax campaign to change the way the state taxed its beer — from taxing it by the cost of production to taxing it by volume like other states.

Hall recently told the Nashville Business Journal that, while his brewing company had a special high gravity brewers license, it wasn’t “economical” for them to brew higher gravity beers, because the market for those beers was “so restrictive.”

Now that the market is going to open up, Hall said he plans to brew up more styles of suds.

The discrepancy between Tennessee’s beer laws and those of the surrounding states even led Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, headquartered in California, to remove Tennessee from their list of possible locations for opening a satellite brewery. Sierra Nevada instead chose Asheville, N.C., for its expansion.

But while craft beer producers are now able to brew up higher alcohol-content craft beers with less regulation, non-spirits retailers and distributors have another two-and-a-half years before they can join the party. The portions of the law affecting them won’t be in effect until January 1, 2017.

Hall told the NBJ in his interview in late June that the reason for this was that although lawmakers were supportive of the change, they didn’t want to see those changes occur any sooner than the changes from Wine in Grocery Stores.

Wine in Grocery Stores goes into effect today, as well, but only the portions of the law allowing liquor stores to stock beer, food and accessories. Liquor stores will also be able to sell high gravity beer growlers.

However, the two-year wait for the convenience to be able to purchase wine in your local grocery store instead of searching for a wine and spirits retailer may prove too onerous for some Tennessee consumers, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has mentioned that lawmakers may revisit “Wine in Grocery Stores” next year.

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Press Releases

Legislation Requiring Drug Testing of Judges Proposed

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; November 15, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Representative Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville) said today they will introduce legislation which calls for drug testing all Tennessee judges. McNally made the announcement after meeting yesterday with Knox County Prosecutor Leland Price and the families of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. Christian and Newsom were raped, tortured and murdered by Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman seven years ago.

“For a family to have to go through one trial where it involves the torturous murder of their loved one is far too painful for anyone to endure,” said Senator McNally. “But, to have to go through two trials is inconceivable and inexcusable. This legislation addresses this so that no one will have to endure this kind of lengthy and excruciatingly painful court process again due to drug abuse by a judge.”

The families of Newsome and Christian had to endure two painful trials as a result of the misconduct of Judge Richard Baumgartner, who pleaded guilty to illegally taking narcotics during the first trial of the convicted murderers in which he presided. As a result of Baumgartner’s plea, the four defendants who had previously been found guilty, were retried and convicted again.

“I think it’s important that our citizens have confidence in our justice system,” said Representative Haynes. “It is pretty clear after what these two families have gone through that there are issues that need to be addressed.”

McNally said he also plans to introduce legislation which provides for harsher punishment for ethical misconduct by officers of the court that lie about crime victims in order to advance their case.

“Attorney are officers of the court and should not be allowed to lie in order to advance their case at the expense of the victim,” added McNally. “To do so amounts to a second crime against the victims and their families and should be treated as such.”

McNally said both pieces of legislation are still in the drafting stages.

“I am appalled at what these victims and their families endured during these trials,” added McNally. “We must make sure this never happens again.”

McNally is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and represents Senate District 5 in the Tennessee State Senate, which encompasses Anderson and Loudon Counties and portions of Knox County. Haynes is Chairman of the State Government Committee and represents portions of Knox County in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

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House GOP Votes to Explore ‘Bilateral Session’ with Federal Delegation

The Republican supermajority caucus of Tennessee’s House of Representatives wants state lawmakers to host a get-together with the state’s congressional delegation.

At least some do.

A majority of House Republicans who attended a caucus meeting at the Capitol on Wednesday voted 31-16 to form a steering committee tasked with organizing a joint “bilateral session” to be held in January or February.

As proposed, the meeting would be in the Tennessee House chambers, co-chaired by the speakers of the state House and Senate, Beth Harwell of Nashville and Ron Ramsey of Blountville.

The discussion would center around topics deemed relevant to Tennessee by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The subjects of discourse would be given to the federal legislative delegation in advance, said Tullahoma Rep. Judd Matheny, who last week announced the idea.

The chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, Matheny wants Tennessee’s nine U.S. Representatives and two Senators to publicly and formally meet with state lawmakers to discuss congressional issues that affect the people and government of Tennessee.

Only two of the state’s lawmakers in Washington are Democrats: Reps. Steve Cohen of Memphis and Jim Cooper of Nashville.

“We need to do something to reach out to our congressmen in Washington,” Matheny said Wednesday. “There’s no reason we can’t have a dadgum good meeting.”

Matheny said the aim of his proposal is to start a conversation that “will leave both levels of government with a clear understanding of each other’s needs and actions while rebuilding public confidence.”

Matheny’s long-range plan is to hold such conferences annually. A seven-member steering committee will be appointed by Speaker Harwell. The committee will have four state senate members, should the Senate Republican caucus choose to join.

House GOP caucus members who attended Wednesday’s meeting expressed a variety of reasons for wanting to hold the meeting. The gist is they want to “open the lines of communication” on a perceived disconnect between Tennessee and Washington. Supporters of the meeting want to discuss what a number of Republicans see as an undermining of state sovereignty by Congress and the federal government.

Not all caucus members were completely sold on the idea, though.

Ooltewah state Rep. Mike Carter worries about opening the Tennessee Legislature’s doors to congressional dysfunction. “If we bring the problems in Washington to Nashville, I will be disgraced,” he said.

Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, likes the idea of a developing a constructive forum for sharing ideas between Tennessee’s members of Congress and the General Assembly, but he suggested moving forward cautiously until all the details of the conference’s aims are hammered out. Haynes said he doesn’t see much point in organizing a meeting doomed to degenerate into an ideological war of words between Democrats and Republicans.

Matheny tried to assuage such concerns. He stressed that the purpose of his proposal isn’t to spark a “political witch hunt,” but rather facilitate a “political business-meeting about issues.”

Matheny said he’s not simply trying to give state lawmakers “an opportunity to vent” at Tennessee’s members of Congress.

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Press Releases

Legislation Seeks to End Statute of Limitations when DNA Evidence Available

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; April 4, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Under legislation already approved by the Tennessee Senate and scheduled for a floor vote in the House of Representatives, prosecutors will be able to continue their practice of proceeding with criminal charges against perpetrators even when they can’t be captured or even identified by name — as long as the individual’s unique DNA profile is known.

At a news conference attended by leading prosecutors and the Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Mark Green, M.D., (R-Clarksville) and Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-14th Dist.), said the measure lets prosecutors “stop the clock” on the statute of limitations, the time limit by which criminal actions must be commenced.

The measure received unanimous approval by the Senate on Monday, April 1, and is now scheduled for a vote next week in the House of Representatives.

“This bill sends lawbreakers a clear message that Tennessee will use every available technology to track you down and bring you to justice — no matter how long it takes,” said Dr. Green, an emergency room physician who routinely gathers DNA evidence. “It helps keep Tennessee’s laws up to date with advances in medicine and science.”

“This legislation is a major step forward in making sure those people who commit the most egregious of crimes are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” stated Rep. Haynes. “I am proud of this legislation and thank every single person and organization involved in this project for working towards a safer Tennessee.”

The legislation codifies the practice used by 20th District Attorney General Torry Johnson in the case of Robert Jason Burdick, the so-called “Wooded Rapist,” whose crimes spanned more than a decade. His case was kept alive because a piece of skin he left at the scene of one of his earliest crimes provided law enforcement DNA evidence linking him to the crime.

“Even though the defendant in this case wasn’t taken into custody until several years after the crime, we were able to preserve the case through the DNA that was collected” at the time, noted Johnson in a statement. “The use of DNA as a way of identifying defendants and preventing the statute of limitations from running will help bring people to justice.”

On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed that prosecutors can properly commence a criminal action, effectively tolling the Statute of Limitations, in cases where the suspect’s unique DNA profile is known.

Both Dr. Green and Rep. Haynes praised the work of Johnson and Assistant District Roger Moore, who prosecuted the case.

“The ‘Wooded Rapist’ case shows the real potential of DNA evidence,” said Dr. Green. “The painstaking work of police and medical personnel to retrieve and preserve the DNA samples were rewarded when, years later, the perpetrator was finally identified — but it took the persistence and creativity of skilled prosecutors to bring him to justice. We want all Tennessee prosecutors to have these tools at their disposal.”

“Receiving justice for victims should not have a deadline,” said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn, “especially when there’s DNA evidence available that could lead to solving a crime.”

“Laws need to be updated to keep up with technology and this legislation does just that,” Gwyn added. “There’s no reason a violent crime should go unsolved when you have DNA that could identify the perpetrator in the future.”

Senate sponsors of the bill, in addition to Green are: Senators Ketron, Finney, Bowling, Burks, Campfield, Haile, McNally, Norris, Stevens, and Tracy. House sponsors of the bill, in addition to Haynes are: Representatives Lamberth, Rogers, Weaver, Shipley, Hardaway, Rich, Watson, Parkinson, Faison, Lundberg, Travis, Fitzhugh, Camper, White M, Shepard, Eldridge and Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson.

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Featured Liberty and Justice News NewsTracker

Slow Deliberations on Judicial Reforms This Year

Legislators are grappling with a handful of bills that would reform how high-ranking judges are chosen to take the bench, who should police judges for ethics violations and how they should be punished.

“We feel like there are substantial changes that are taking place, as well as just paying more attention to the situation and being more attuned to it as well,” said Criminal Appeals Court Judge Jeff Bivins, who is now regularly on Capitol Hill talking with lawmakers about judicial ethics legislation. He also doubles as a member of the Court of the Judiciary, which polices unethical judges, and serves on the Tennessee Judicial Conference.

“It may well be that we’re back next year, asking the Legislature to fine-tune a few more areas that we find could be done better, and could instill more confidence in the system with the public,” he said.

Here’s a breakdown of the status of judicial reform bills:

Judges Judging Judges, SB2671/HB2935: After weeks of arguing and haggling over the makeup of a new board to replace the Court of the Judiciary, a watchdog for judicial ethics, the House has advanced a so-called compromise. It requires at least one non-judge and two other members to initially vet ethics complaints. But there’s pushback — the Senate Judiciary Committee shot down the last attempt at a compromise last month based on concern over of a lack of transparency of complaints against judges and what opponents call a high 10-6, judge to laypeople, ratio. The bill is up again in that committee Tuesday and in House Government Operations Wednesday.

Judicial Ethics Overhaul 1.0, SB1088/HB1198: Sen. Mae Beavers, the driving force behind injecting more accountability in the judicial ethics system, has a bill of her own to reconstitute the board policing judges. Her proposal made it to the Senate floor last year and never budged. Rep. Barrett Rich took the House version — assigning eight non-judges and four judges to the new board — off Judiciary Committee’s calendar last month and backed its competitor bill, HB2935 (above). But Beavers’ version is up on the Senate floor Thursday.

Public Official Punishments, SB2566/HB2763: Lawmakers want to ensure public officials found guilty of lower-level crimes committed in office are exempt from get-out-of-jail-free cards. The measure passed overwhelmingly in the Senate to bar officials with misdemeanor charges from being given judicial diversion, which clears the mishap from their record if they stay out of trouble. It’s much like a deal disgraced former Judge Richard Baumgartner struck last year for buying prescription pills from a parolee. The bill is stalled in the House, generally because bill sponsor, Rep. Ryan Haynes, has been wrapped up in other work, he says, but he adds he should be running the bill in the Judiciary subcommittee soon.

Legitimizing How Judges Are Picked: The governor along with the House and Senate speakers want the state’s guiding document changed to require the governor to pick judges from a list, with the judges later facing popular elections — as is done now. The Constitution calls for judges to face elections, but some say that means popular elections like the ones lawmakers face. Language is still in the works and should surface for a committee vote, spokespeople say, but it has no bill number. Even if the measure passes this year, it needs a two-thirds vote in the Legislature before going to the voters in 2014.

Electing Judges, SB127/HB173: Strict readers of the constitution say the state should still subject judges to old-fashioned elections in the 2014 election, even if Legislative leaders ultimately decide to constitutionalize the current appointment-based practice. Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, says he thinks it has a 50/50 chance of passing: “I just feel like the members of the Judiciary Committee are warming up to the fact of adhering to the strict reading of the Constitution.” He’s agreed to take the measure up at the last committee meeting, likely in early April.

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Press Releases

Romney Revving Up TN Campaign — Haslam to Chair

Press Release from the Campaign of Mitt Romney for President, February 14, 2012:

Mitt Romney Announces Governor Bill Haslam as State Chairman and Full Slate of Tennessee Delegates

Boston, MA – Mitt Romney today announced that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will serve as State Chairman of Romney’s presidential campaign in Tennessee.

Romney also announced that his is the only presidential campaign to have assembled a full slate of delegate candidates to join him on the Tennessee ballot. Romney’s delegate team is led by former Tennessee Governor Winfield Dunn, a number of state legislators, and other top GOP leaders, state executive committee members and leading business, civic and political leaders from across the Volunteer State.

“I’m pleased to have so much support in Tennessee,” said Mitt Romney. “Voters in the Volunteer State have been hit hard by the Obama economy. I look forward to spreading my message of a ‘Simpler, Smaller, and Smarter’ federal government across the state in the months to come and the support of these leaders will be crucial.”

“This slate of delegates represents the strong support Mitt has from Memphis to Mountain City,” Haslam said. “He is committed to job growth across our state and nation, and his common-sense approach is resonating with Tennessee voters. He has the experience to lead, and this country needs a true leader.”

Romney’s Slate Of At-Large Delegate Candidates Includes:

Rob Ailey, Seymour

Steve Allbrooks, Franklin

Randal Boyd, Knoxville

Josh Brown, Franklin

Steve Buttry, Knoxville

Beth Campbell, Nashville

John Crisp, Brentwood

John Wayne Cropp, Hixson

Winfield Dunn, Nashville

Ruth B. Hagerty, Gallatin

Julia Hurley, Lenoir City

Jim Looney, Lawrenceburg

Wendell Moore, Brentwood

Justin Pitt, Franklin

Susan Richardson Williams, Knoxville

Mark White, Memphis

Romney’s Slate Of Congressional District Delegate Candidates Includes:

First District:

David Golden, Kingsport

Warren Jones, Johnson City

Alicia Mumpower, Bristol

Second District:

Russell Barber, Knoxville

Richard Barnes, Knoxville

Ryan Haynes, Knoxville

Third District:

Emily Beaty, Cleveland

Oscar Brock, Lookout Mountain

Jennifer Inman Little, Bean Station

Hobart L. Rice, Dandridge

Fourth District:

David French, Columbia

Nancy French, Columbia

Jason Whatley, Columbia

Fifth District:

Shiri Anderson, Antioch

Chrissy Hagerty, Nashville

John Patrick Shorter, Nashville

George B. Stadler, Nashville

Sixth District:

Debra K. Copass, Mount Juliet

Beth Cox, Hendersonville

Randy Stamps, Hendersonville

Chad White, Murfreesboro

Seventh District:

Mary Kate Brown, Franklin

Barrett Rich, Eads

Ammon Smartt, Brentwood

Eighth District:

Bob D. Anderson, Paris

Betty Anderson, Paris

Steve Maroney, Jackson

Oneida Wagoner, Mansfield

Ninth District:

Paul Boyd, Memphis

Frank Colvett, Jr., Memphis

Kelly Hankins, Memphis

Dennis Patrick Hawkins, Memphis