published Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Attorney general bill advances in Tennessee state Senate; on state House calendar this week

The state House version of a bill that would give Tennessee's governor and the General Assembly power over the state attorney general is on a subcommittee calendar for debate Wednesday.

The state Senate version of the bill passed out of committee last week on a 5-3 vote and is set to be scheduled for a full Senate vote.

Supporters say the bill would make the state attorney general's office more accountable to Tennessee citizens. The attorney general now is appointed by Tennessee Supreme Court justices, who themselves are appointed by the governor.

Bill opponents, who include Gov. Bill Haslam, say the legislation is a power grab that could violate the state constitution and politicize the independent office.

Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, said Friday that he supports the concept of the bill and making the office more accountable but would need to further review it before deciding how he will vote.

Carter, a lawyer and former Hamilton County General Sessions Court judge, is a member of the Civil Justice Subcommittee that is scheduled to debate the bill Wednesday.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, pointed to a recent announcement that motivated him to push the legislation.

"I was very, very alarmed by the recent comments of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder telling the state attorneys general they didn't have to defend state law or state constitutions regarding the Defense of Marriage Act," Carr said.

Carr referenced the 2006 Tennessee Marriage Protection Amendment to the state constitution that defined legal marriage as being between one man and one woman. The public voted 81 percent in favor.

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, cited another national debate and recent lawsuit as one driving concern for his involvement with the current bill -- state Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr.'s decision not to join 25 other states in a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.

Carr, Kelsey and other supporters of the bill also support changing long-standing practices of appointing state appellate and Supreme Court judges as well as changing the selection process for the state attorney general.

Carter diverges from those supporters such as Carr, who also support elected appellate judges and a popularly elected attorney general.

"The worst thing we can do is have our appellate judges run for office," Carter said. "If we have popular elections we are going to see an enormous amount of money raised to put judges on the bench."

Carter said the same of the attorney general's office. He said states that elect their attorneys general end up with a "governor light," where the office becomes highly political and a steppingstone for someone seeking higher office.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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