William Lamberth

GOP bill would give Tennessee AG power to prosecute criminal cases

A man scrubs graffiti off of a building following protests in downtown Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)\

Among the bills proposed for next week’s special legislative session is a measure to for the first time give the state attorney general the power to prosecute criminal cases. The bill sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) is aimed at giving the AG jurisdiction over cases related to protests.

Under longtime practice in Tennessee, popularly elected district attorneys general have authority over all criminal prosecutions, while the state attorney general, who is appointed by the state Supreme Court, can file civil lawsuits and is responsible for defending the state in criminal appeals.

Under new legislation, if the AG decides to bring criminal charges related to protests, the office would have “the authority to exercise all of the powers and perform all of the duties before any court or grand jury with respect to such prosecution that the appropriate district attorney general would otherwise be authorized or required by law to exercise or perform.”

The bill also seeks to require local prosecutors to “fully cooperate” with the AG in any from requested.

The bill would take effect on Oct. 1.

UPDATE 1: To say not everyone is impressed would be an understatement.

UPDATE 2: Word emanating from the corridors of power is that this is a caption bill — in other words one containing placeholder language until the final version can be put together. Whether that was the original intent or in response to criticism is not immediately clear.

 

War of words erupts over failure to pass bill to ban COVID-19 lawsuits

Everyone thought the deal was done. But then it wasn’t. The General Assembly adjourned in the predawn hours of Friday without passing either a bill to provide businesses immunity from most COVID-19 lawsuits or another measure to set insurance reimbursement standards for telemedicine appointments.

That’s when a war of words began to erupt between the Republican leaders of both chambers. Senate Speaker Randy McNally blamed House Majority Leader William Lamberth and House Judiciary Chairman Michael Curcio for torpedoing the lawsuit bill.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, normally a McNally ally, shot back that “finger pointing on social media … is not a productive way to arrive at an effective solution.”

Talk immediately turned to whether Gov. Bill Lee might call a special session to try to fix the damage. But first, the two chambers would have to come together on an agreement — something that has proven elusive so far.

The sticking point over the lawsuit liability has been over whether it be backdated to the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate has argued it should, while the House has pointed out that retroactive legislation is banned by the state constitution. Business interests appeared to have been willing to back off the retroactive language in the interest of getting at least something passed this session, but those discussions evaporated after the word was put out the two chambers had agreed to pass the original forms of both the liability and telemedicine bills.

It turned out rank-and-file members of the House weren’t on board with such an arrangement. The vote to adopt the Senate version including the retroactive language was 46-36. It takes 50 votes for bills to be approved in the House.

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House GOP leaders: ‘Trust us’ on secret budget discussions

The state Capitol was closed to visitors on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

After the House Republican supermajority holed up behind closed doors for 75 minutes to discuss the massive overhaul of the state’s budget in response to the coronavirus crisis, Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) and Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) spoke to reporters about their justifications for the secret meeting.

Here’s a partial transcript of what was said:

Lamberth: We’re doing everything we can to make sure it’s a transparent process. That includes, from time to time having a caucus meeting that is a closed caucus meeting so they can merely have the information, but no decisions were made.

Q: Just to clarify, a closed caucus meeting is transparent?

Lamberth: Absolutely. It will be prepare us to be able to discuss this later. And everything that was said in that room will be said again on the record. We emphasized that to the members. No decisions were made, no votes were taken whatsoever, and none will be taken in there. What was done was to lay out a schedule for what will happen for the rest of the day, and to lay out the information they have that will be provided to anyone else who wants it.

Q: How will the public know what that schedule is?

Lamberth: What we’re asking is for you to trust us right now. We will continue to get that information out there every single day.

[….]

Q: The Senate rules dictate that when the caucus meets, because they have a majority of the chamber, they must be open. Why have you guys not followed suit, and why should the House supermajority be able to talk behind closed doors?

Faison: Obviously, we don’t follow what the Senate does. We do what we believe is right for our people and our members.

Q: And it’s right to meet behind closed doors when you have a supermajority?

Faison: If we were making a decision, or taking a vote, or whipping a vote or anything like that, I would be vehemently against closing our doors.

[…]

Q: What about the funding for the Education Savings Account law. Was that discussed?

Faison: We discussed what is currently in the budget that deals with ESAs, and the lack of it dealing with ESAs. There’s appropriation in this budget that a lot of people erroneously thought had something to do with implementing ESAs or making ESAs happen. In fact, the money that’s appropriated in this current budget is money that will go to the public schools in Nashville and Memphis.

Q: But that’s for the implementation of the ESA program.

Faison: It does not have anything to do with the implementation of the program. What it has to do with is if a student and their guardian chooses to come out of a public school, the money that follows them goes to the new school they’re going to and we have created a whole separate pot of money that holds that public school harmless. …. We’re in a place right now that we’re not going to get into the politics of what we did with the bills we passed last year.

[…]

Q:  Surely the money could be used to go toward the raises for teachers whose raises are going to be cut?

Faison: We do have a 2% raise for teachers. We’ve dialed back on a lot of stuff.

Q: Why not use the $37 million for the ESA program for teacher raises? If the program isn’t funded, it can’t go forward.

Lamberth: That is absolutely not true. And as my friend, you know that is not true. You are well aware what this money is for. Whatever talking point you got from the Democratic caucus is not accurate. This money in this budget goes to public schools. You know it and I would appreciate it you get that information out there.

Q: As a reminder, 20 Republicans voted against this legislation, so it’s not just Democrats.

Lamberth: That is a Democratic talking point, and you know it. This money goes to public schools. The ESA program can go forward without this money. It is our preference is to backfill any of that money to a public school.. That’s what this money goes to. Period.

Lamberth: Bill to block ‘harassing’ requests is part of transparency push

Lawmakers gather in Nashville for the first day of the 111th General Assembly. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Majority Leader William Lamberth’s bill seeking to block people deemed to be “harassing” records custodians from obtaining public records is part of what he is calling push for greater transparency in state government.

The Portland Republican’s bill would allow custodians to seek judicial intervention if a member of the public makes three or more annual requests “in a manner that would cause a reasonable person” to feel abused, intimidated, threatened, or harassed.  The same would go for people making multiple requests that are “not made in good faith or for any legitimate purpose.”

A release from Lamberth’s office on Friday makes no mention of the specifics of his proposed legislation other than to say it will “protect record custodians.” But he said an amendment is coming to expand government openness by streamlining requests and increasing online access to records.

Here’s the full release from Lamberth’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) today is calling for greater government transparency that will further serve to protect all records custodians, while expanding public availability of open records through increased online access.

“I am calling on both state departments and local governments to evaluate all records that may be placed online and to explore ways to increase availability,” said Leader Lamberth.

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Photo gallery of House action as Casada elected speaker

Here’s a look at some of the action surrounding the election of Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) as House speaker on Tuesday.

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) gestures toward former Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) after his election as speaker in Nashville on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) attends a Republican caucus meeting on the first day of the 111th General Assembly on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) attends a caucus meeting on the first day of the 111th General Assembly on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

New House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) takes over the gavel from former Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) attends a rules meeting in Nashville on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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