published Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Appeals court judge could be rejected under Tennessee bill

NASHVILLE — Tennessee voters will get to decide in 2014 whether to give the General Assembly the power to reject a governor’s appointee to appeals courts after final action was taken by the House on the proposed constitutional amendment Monday.

Members voted 78-14 in favor of the resolution. Senators approved it last month.

The resolution also settles once and for all lingering questions among some about the constitutionality of the state’s current process. It enshrines current law in which appellate judges are initially appointed by the governor and later run in yes/no retention elections instead of competitive contests.

Proponents say it protects the current process from being changed into multimillion-dollar campaigns, often bankrolled by special interests, for Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges.

Critics, including one-time U.S. Senate and gubernatorial candidate John Jay Hooker, argue the amendment proposal conflicts with other provisions of the state Constitution requiring judges be elected.

Currently, trial court judges are elected.

In other action Monday:

• With little debate, the House voted 84-10 to keep off limits to the public specific information about Tennessee handgun-carry permit holders unless they have government documents indicating the person is not eligible.

Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, said his bill, which originally banned all public access, provides sufficient “transparency” for the public regarding the state’s nearly 400,000 permit holders.

Lamberth later told reporters his bill is intended to prevent publication by newspapers or others of permit holders’ addresses and other information, data he said could be used by burglars.

His original measure would have closed off all records to the public. But an amendment allows any person or entity to seek information from the Department of Safety about permits if they present a judgment of conviction, “criminal history report,” order of protection or “other official government document or record that indicates the named person is not eligible to possess a handgun carry permit” under the law.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told Nashville public radio station WPLN that the current law is adequate. The Memphis Commercial Appeal several years ago disclosed how a number of permit holders had not had their licenses revoked despite criminal convictions. Last month, The Associated Press found more than 2,000 permit holders had had their licenses revoked or suspended for charges ranging from selling drugs to murder.

• The House voted 91-0 for a Hamilton County bill allowing local governments to use cremation when burying paupers whose families do not claim them. The county says the bill is necessary because its paupers’ cemetery is nearly full.

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, told the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, that he was concerned because families would have to decide in four days what to do. Carter said that is the result of current state law.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Senators, meanwhile, delayed acting on legislation that would control enrollment at virtual schools and another bill that prohibits universities from requiring students in social work or psychology to handle clients or patients whose “morals” they personally find objectionable on religious grounds.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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