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      Legislative session is nearing the end in Nashville. With a few of the bills already out of play, we are focusing on rallying around the remaining items. 

      Ballot Access Reform

      As of late last week, our ballot access reform bill (HB0609/SB0651) died in the Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee. 

      As many of you know, we went into the subcommittee with 5 confirmed “aye” votes on the  8 person subcommittee. When the voice vote was called for, there were 4 ayes , and 3 nays, with one absent.  However, Chairman Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) called the vote or the nays. 

      We were able to confirm with all of our yes votes that they did indeed vote in favor of the legislation, both face to face on the hill, and through concerned constituent emails. 

      Read More: “Aye” Vote on Ballot Access Reform Rejected by Subcommittee Chair

      We presented this information to Chairman Rudd and he informed us that he called the vote as he thought he heard it. He reiterated his statement at the beginning of the legislature that while he would be a no vote, he would not work against the legislation in the subcommittee, and assured me he was not working against us and intentionally miscalling the vote. We asked him to support reconsideration of the bill but he declined noting that none of the committee members had brought any concerns to him about the vote. 

      This situation underlines a larger problem with how the legislative process is conducted in Nashville.

      Ironically, the day before HB609 was killed in subcommittee, Chairman Rudd presented a piece of legislation that had 64 cosponsors, over 2/3rds of the house. His bill suffered a similar fate to HB609. 

      Recently, Rep Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) caught the ire of Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) when he invoked “Rule 53” in an effort to get his bill (HB801) reconsidered. As a result of his effort to revive this bill, a bill he campaigned on that had wide support in his district and in the legislature, the Speaker removed Rep Griffey from all committees, going so far as to disable his key card’s electronic access to the Cordell Hull Building. 

      In response, Rep Griffey issued a statement on his Facebook page where he said that “The clear message being sent is that if you don’t ‘go along to get along,’ then you will undoubtedly be punished. Cameron Sexton clearly does not want legislators at the Capitol who think independently and are unwilling to be puppets to a larger puppet master. God forbid a legislator actually try to be a real voice for his constituents and actually try to do what he campaigned to do! If Tennesseans knew what really happens at the Capitol, they would be horrified.” 

      Civil Asset Forfeiture

      While we have hit a few speed bumps along the way, we believe we will get meaningful civil asset forfeiture reform through the legislature this year. 

      HB0059/SB260 (Bond Elimination)

      Rep Rusty Grills and Sen Frank Niceley’s bond bill (HB0059/SB0260) seems to have good traction and the house bill is ready for a floor vote, though it is “behind the budget.” This means that the projected “cost” of the bill (in the form of lost revenue) at $384K is unaccounted for in the current budget proposal. 

      All bills that are not accounted for will compete for approximately 18.5 million in loose funds that remain for bills not in the current budget proposal. In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee will hear this coming Tuesday, March 30th. 

      HB409/SB452 (Reporting)

      The crucially important reporting bill (HB0409/SB0452) being brought by Rep Justin Lafferty and Sen Mike Bell met some opposition last week in subcommittee. Rep Lafferty did a great job presenting the bill, but the committee was left uncertain of what to do after Department of Safety spokesperson Elizabeth Stroeker spoke against the bill. 

      Stroeker suggested that the DoS already collected most of the information the bill asked for, but cited three particular items that were impossible to collect. The three specific items that she said they could not collect were lines 23, 24 and 25 of the bill. Those lines require the DoS to report “the total number of cases resulting in a criminal conviction of the property owner of seized currency or property; the total amount of currency, including the mean and median amounts, forfeited in criminal conviction of property owner of currency or property; and the total value of property, including the mean and median values, forfeited in criminal conviction of property owner of currency or property.” 

      She claimed that the $33k fiscal note was inadequate and that it would cost well over $1M to pay for a new internet portal for the DoS to collect the new information. Rep Lafferty intimated that collecting this information could be as easy as putting a new box to check on an officer’s incident report, a sentiment echoed by prominent attorneys and judges that I have spoken with personally.  

      As a result, Rep Lafferty has amended the bill to remove the lines opposed by the Department of Safety. While this does water down the bill’s strength, it still has requirements to report other useful information including how funds obtained through civil forfeitures are spent and increases the likelihood of passage.

      HB1254/SB1361 (Attorneys Fees)

      Rep Jerry Sexton and Sen Janice Bowling’s bill to remove the cap on reimbursement for attorney’s fees (HB1254/SB1361) is beginning to move with the house version set to be heard on March 30th. This bill has been amended to raise the cap to $10k. These recent changes  makes passage significantly more likely. 

      Please call or email our sponsor’s offices and let them know that you appreciate their efforts.

      When you finish, consider calling the members of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee and the Senate Judiciary Committee (noted above) and encourage House members to support HB409 (reporting) and HB1254 (attorneys fees). Refer members of the Senate to support SB0452 (reporting), SB1361(attorneys fees), and SB0260 (bond elimination). 

      Civil Justice Subcommittee

      Senate Judiciary Committee

      Protecting Small Business

      Rep Bud Hulsey and Sen Mark Pody have filed HB0700/SB0850.

      This is a very strong bill that would prevent law enforcement from being used to force a business to shut down, prevent free movement, or prevent free assembly. We are happy to report that the bill has passed the House subcommittee and is set to be heard in the State Government Committee on Tuesday March 30th. This bill will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the same day. 

      Rep Brandon Ogles and Sen Paul Bailey have moved HB0037/SB1573 through subcommittee, a bill which would prevent the government from labeling businesses as essential and nonessential. The House faced opposition from the Governor’s office until it was amended on March 17th.. The amendment removed the portion of the bill that restricted the Governor from labelling businesses as nonessential, meaning if passed, it would only apply to city and county executives.    

      Both the House and Senate versions will also be heard on March 30th  in the House State Government and Senate Judiciary Committee. 

      House State Government

      Senate State and Local Government Committee

      Warrantless Surveillance

      HB 43 sponsored by Caucus Chairman Rep Jeremy Faison would prevent use of surveillance equipment on private property without a warrant. This bill is expected to get through house Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday March 30th. 

      Conscientious Acquittal

      We have had a lot of positive conversations on our jury nullification bill. Sen Frank Niceley has filed SB833 and we are waiting on our house sponsor to file the companion legislation.

      The conversation around jurors’ rights needs to happen here in Tennessee, where we expect our legislators to understand the value of empowering juries to operate as designed. 

      Please thank Sen Niceley for being willing to introduce this legislation, knowing it will absolutely be attacked by state prosecutors and other legal officials.

      Eminent Domain

      We regret to report that HB0793 by Rep Dale Carr (R-Sevierville) has been taken off notice. Blighted properties are often condemned and taken through eminent domain. Current law allows well kept properties in the area of a property that has been designated as blighted to also be taken through eminent domain. The proposed bill will restrict this type of eminent domain seizure to only properties that have been designated as blighted.

      It appears HB0793 didn’t have the votes in the House Civil Justice Committee to advance the bill. This comes as a real surprise considering the bill got to the Senate floor last year only to be held up by COVID-19 and the fact that this clearly only seeks to protect property owners from the worst kind of violation. 

      No Knock Raids

      At this time, neither of the bills we are tracking, HB1406 by Rep Michael Curcio (R-Dickson)/ SB1380 Sen Mike Bell (R-Riceville), or HB0863 by Rep Jesse Chism (D-Memphis)/ SB1485 by Sen Raumesh Akbari, has been put on the calendar. 

      More details to come this week on these bills. 

      We need your help to continue our fight in Nashville 

      If you want to help out, feel free to simply respond to this email to let us know how you would like to help. Members of our action team will be invited to help us lobby on the Hill.

      Become a member by donating as little as $5/month. Not only will this give you a voice in our legislative agenda and multiply our efforts at the hill, it will help cover our operating expenses, and help us fund educational campaigns and lobbying efforts around the issues you find important. 

      Put us to work for you.

      Justin Cornett

      Chairman of the Board