Hearings on Court of Judiciary Underway

Almost a dozen witnesses both challenged and defended the integrity of the state’s processes for investigating ethical complaints against Tennessee judges during a legislative hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Questions surrounding the Court of the Judiciary’s effectiveness have centered on whether it perfunctorily dismisses too many complaints against judges — and whether the Court, made up primarily of judges appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court, is more concerned with protecting members of the judiciary than in rooting out and punishing judicial misconduct.

“I would think that (the Court of the Judiciary) would want to do something to remedy that perception by the pubic — that something is being swept under the carpet,” said Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, co-chair of the ad hoc committee examining the Court’s activities.

Several lawmakers on the joint House-Senate committee expressed their desire to make disciplinary complaint proceedings against judges more transparent to the public. Also discussed was the possibility of adding statutory teeth to requirements that judges acknowledge potential conflicts of interest that might compromise their impartiality. Broadening the make-up of the judicial-ethics investigation panel to include people who are not directly associated with or working in the legal profession was suggested as well.

The Court of the Judiciary’s presiding judge, Chris Craft, said he’s open to considering a range of possible reform recommendations for improving the public’s confidence in the Tennessee judiciary. But he cautioned against any radical departures from the established arrangements and existing processes without thorough exploration of potential ramifications.

Craft said he opposes removing judges entirely from the Court of the Judiciary and replacing them with “all laypersons, as some bill suggested last year.”

“But as far as who selects the judges, we don’t really care as long as we know that they’re ethical judges selected to do the work,” Craft said.

The hearing is scheduled to resume Wednesday at 1 p.m. No substantive action on legislation can occur until the General Assembly convenes for its regular session in January.

Press Releases

Haslam Signs Meth Bill

Press Release from Gov. Bill Haslam, June 6, 2011:

Announces Funding for Meth Lab Cleanup and Communication Campaign Against Meth Manufacture and Use

GREENEVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today signed into law a multi-faceted bill to help combat the increasing problem of methamphetamine manufacturing and use in Tennessee. Law enforcement officials seized 2,082 meth labs in Tennessee in 2010, a record number.

Law enforcement officials, legislators, representatives from the pharmaceutical industry, local officials and other key stakeholders from across the state joined Haslam on the steps of the Greene County Courthouse as he signed the bill into law.

“This bill helps us to confront Tennessee’s meth problem head on and is a comprehensive approach to addressing a serious problem in our state,” Haslam said. “I want to thank Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons for his leadership on this issue along with the sponsors of the legislation and all of the parties that came to the table and worked to make this legislation meaningful.”

The sponsors of the bill include Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) and Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville).

Many of the key provisions of the law take effect July 1, 2011. The legislation aims to tackle Tennessee’s meth problem in a variety of ways:

  • It increases the penalty for making meth in the presence of children;
  • tracks the sale of products containing pseudoephedrine, which is a key ingredient in making meth;
  • makes that sales information available promptly to law enforcement;
  • makes it easier to prosecute those who purchase pseudoephedrine products at different times and places for the purpose of exceeding the allowable amount, or through use of false identification;
  • and imposes minimum mandatory fines on those offenders.

During the event, Haslam also announced the availability of more than $1 million to assist in meth lab cleanup:

  • $750,000 in state appropriations to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI);
  • and $280,000 in federal Byrne JAG grant funds from the state of Criminal Justice Programs (OCJP) available to TBI.

Working with the TBI, the Tennessee Meth Task Force will purchase special storage containers and additional supplies for the disposal of meth waste. The containers will be placed at secure locations across the state.

The OCJP has also committed a $200,000 grant to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to fund a targeted communication campaign to educate and warn citizens of the consequences of violating the new law, specifically making meth in front of children and purchasing pseudoephedrine for non-medical or illegal purposes.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association will make a $25,000 donation to the Tennessee District Attorneys Association for the communication campaign.

The communication campaign will be a collaborative effort that includes the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security; Tennessee Meth Task Force; Tennessee Department of Children’s Services; Tennessee District Attorneys General Association; Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police; Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association; Consumer Healthcare Products Association; Tennessee Pharmacists Association; and Tennessee Alliance for Drug Endangered Children.

Press Releases

TN Right to Life: ‘The People Will Have Their Say’

Press Release from Tennessee Right to Life, May 24, 2011:

More than a decade after the Tennessee Supreme Court issued a wrong and radical ruling claiming a ‘fundamental’ right to abortion in the Tennessee Constitution, bi-partisan super majorities in the General Assembly have sent the matter for Tennesseans to decide in a public vote during the next governor’s election in 2014.

“At long last the people of Tennessee will have their say in this matter of life and death,” said Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life. “Should a handful of activist judges make Tennessee’s laws on abortion or should it be the people acting through their elected representatives in the state Legislature? We are confident that when it’s all said and done, the power for deciding such questions will be returned to the people,” Harris said.

As required for every proposed amendment to the state Constitution, SJR 127 passed for the first time in 2009 by votes of 77-21 in the state House and 23-9 in the state Senate. Requirement for super-majority during second passage was achieved in 2011 by votes of 76-18 in the state House and 24-8 in the state Senate. Click here to view video of the Tennessee House discussion and final vote.

SJR 127 by Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) and Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mount Juliet), the resolution calling for a public voters to approve inclusion of the following language in the Tennessee Constitution:

Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

As written the proposed amendment does not criminalize abortion but overturns the Court’s pro-abortion ruling, returns the Tennessee Constitution to a position of neutrality on abortion and allows the people of the state and their elected legislators to again enact meaningful protections for women and unborn children in our state.

While the Court’s 2000 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist makes it impossible to enforce protections that violate the state’s newly discovered ‘right to abortion,’ Tennessee Right to Life has encouraged passage of policies which do not directly challenge the Court’s holding. Several such pro-life protections were passed by overwhelming bi-partisan majorities in the final days of the legislative session including:

State Budget Amendment to Bar Funding for Planned Parenthood by Senators Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), and Lt. Gov. Ramsey (R-Blountville.) Further tightens 2009 effort by requiring that federal Title X family planning funds shall be used fully by local, county or municipal health departments and that no funds shall be disbursed to private non-profit organizations or agencies. Diverts $1.2 million tax dollars from Planned Parenthood affiliates in Nashville and Memphis. Passed unanimously as part of final budget approval.

Expansion of Tennessee’s Unborn Victims of Violence Act by Rep. Joshua Evans (R-Springfield) and Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet.) Extends current state law to include unborn children prior to viability as victims of assault or homicide. Previous statute was only enforceable following establishment of child’s viability. Passed House 80-0 and Senate 26-0.

Ban on Webcam Abortions in Tennessee by Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) and Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City.) Brought in response to Planned Parenthood’s aggressive plan for inducing RU 486 abortions through Internet connections without a physician present. In Iowa trials more than 2,000 such abortions have already been performed with plans for expanding the practice in “underserved” and rural areas throughout the country. Passed House 86-6 and Senate 29-1.

House Resolution Honoring the Work of Life Affirming Pregnancy Resource Centers by Rep. Jim Gotto (R-Hermitage) Passed unanimously and without debate by the full House 95-0.