Jurors are scheduled to take up deliberations Wednesday in the Washington County civil rights intimidation case involving a former East Tennessee State University student who wore a gorilla mask to a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

Lawyers for both the prosecution and the defendant, 21-year-old Tristan Rettke, finished up closing arguments Tuesday following a day of testimony from witnesses who as ETSU students in 2016 attended the BLM campus protest Rettke stands accused of illegally interrupting.

The students who testified for the prosecution all claimed they were shocked and deeply offended when Rettke arrived on the scene wearing the gorilla mask and dangling bananas from a piece of rope in an obvious attempt to mock them.

The students, all of them black and most of them involved in African American-focused activist groups, each said they took the rope to symbolize a noose, which left them fearing for their safety. One student said the rope brought to mind slavery and lynching. Another said she regarded the rope as “a weapon.”

The lead prosecutor for the case, Assistant District Attorney Erin McArdle, later argued that Rettke’s “sole purpose was to provoke the other students” by displaying “symbols of hate and oppression.”

Rettke is charged with two felony counts of civil rights intimidation and three lesser charges, including disorderly conduct and disrupting a meeting.

Jurors also heard from the Rettke himself for the first time, albeit indirectly.

Rettke didn’t take the stand Tuesday, but prosecutors played an audio recording of the then 18-year-old’s interview with a campus police officer after he was taken away from the scene of the BLM protest.

In it, Rettke offered a glimpse into his thinking prior to the event.

He described his conduct as “a practical joke of sorts.” Rettke said he was trying to get a reaction from the students for his personal amusement.

“To be honest, I didn’t have any specific thought process toward what the gorilla mask meant — it was more about what other people would think,” Rettke told the officer. He said later likened his behavior to “an experiment to see their reactions.”

Neither Rettke nor the officer made any mention of a “noose” during the interview. Rettke said he was using the bananas to “bait” the BLM protesters.

When pressed about the meaning of the gorilla mask, Rettke said, “With recent action of Black Lives Matter, it resembles ape-like behavior — rioting, looting, blocking traffic, destroying property.”

In a written statement to police, Rettke indicated confusion as to why he was in trouble given that he’d heard about or observed street preachers confronting homosexual students in the free speech zone with inflammatory religious rhetoric.

Rettke’s defense attorney, Johnson City lawyer Patrick Denton, later argued that Rettke’s statements to police and also an earlier post he’d made on an internet message board expressing criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement indicated a political message was part of his actions. For those reasons alone, Rettke’s behavior should be viewed as an admittedly offensive but nevertheless First Amendment-protected form of counter-protest, said Denton.

Denton noted in his closing argument that the jury instructions already established for the case declare that the defendant cannot be convicted “for the manner of expression or the actual content of his opinions.”

“What else is there? What else are they asking you to find him guilty based on?” Denton said to the jury. “He didn’t touch anybody. He didn’t threaten anybody. Those two things encompass it all, and that is why I have to say he’s not guilty of any of these crimes — it’s not even close.”

The jury is scheduled to receive final instructions from the judge and go into deliberations Wednesday morning.

Plenty more simian imbecility to go around this time too

A three-year running free-speech fiasco is approaching an apex in Washington County, and it befittingly coincides with the 94th anniversary of the legendary Tennessee Scopes Monkey Trial of July 1925.

A former East Tennessee State University student is scheduled July 15 to begin standing trial before a jury in Jonesborough on charges he violated fellow students’ civil rights by donning a gorilla mask and handing out bananas to Black Lives Matter protesters in the school’s free-speech zone.

In September 2016, an 18-year-old first-semester freshman named Tristan Rettke, who is white, was arrested and charged with a seldom used Tennessee statute designed to punish people who attempt to “unlawfully intimidate” others from exercising their constitutional rights

Subsequently released from custody on $10,000 bond, Rettke withdrew from the university shortly thereafter.

During the course of his interactions with the BLM demonstrators in an ETSU campus plaza area outside the university library, the ape-aping Rettke pranced about barefooted in a pair of overalls, dangling bananas from a length of rope, which some protesters said they believed symbolized a noose. Rettke also at times flourished a burlap bag emblazoned with a Confederate flag and a cannabis leaf — and at one point displayed a piece of paper bearing the handwritten words, “Lives Matter.”

Rettke at another point said to the protestors, “I identify as a gorilla.” When asked the purpose of his actions, Rettke said, “I’m out here to support you guys.”

Prior to making contact with Rettke, one of the white ETSU campus police officers observing the scene commented, “He can’t be doing that bullshit.” Later, Rettke was led away by police — whereupon he was unmasked to the hoots, jeers and intimations of potential future reprisals by BLM protestors.

Six months later, a grand jury indicted Rettke on the civil rights charges, as well as two counts of disorderly conduct and disrupting a meeting or procession.

Prosecutors for Tennessee’s First Judicial District claim in their court filings that when asked by police if his intent was to equate black students to subhuman primates, Rettke reportedly stated, “I knew it would invoke that thought process,” and that he “knew they were getting mad.”

The district attorney general’s office argues that Rettke’s behavior during the affair “clearly falls into the areas of expression that are not afforded protection by the First Amendment, specifically, the ‘fighting words’ exception or the ‘incitement to violence’ exception.”

Free Speech Zone Coverage

As luck and justice would have it, much of the ruckus was captured on video, and can be viewed here.

The 9-minute video, shot by ETSU student Thomas Grant Madison, gives a reasonably thorough indication of what happened that day in a designated campus free-speech zone, where students are permitted to gather and express opinions after first obtaining authorization from school administrators.

Spoiler alert: The only person in any apparent imminent danger throughout the video was Rettke himself. Indeed, praise was later conferred upon the black students for demonstrating forbearance — namely, for not kicking Rettke’s monkey ass all over the free-speech zone.

Recourse to violence was in fact discussed among the BLM protestors, but it was expressly eschewed. “I’ma whup his muhfuckin’ ass,” and “I really just want to kill you,” were audible comments from the BLM protesters, followed by exhortations to maintain composure from other students, who reckoned that triggering a physical altercation was precisely Rettke’s objective.

Rettke’s comportment that day went “against the values of our university where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect,” ETSU President Brian Noland said in a statement later. “We are exceptionally proud of the students who were peacefully participating in the event and the manner in which they exercised restraint, thoughtfulness and strength in the face of inappropriate and offensive behavior.”

All the same, First Amendment advocates and legal specialists who’ve examined the case are left with the impression that the prosecutors in East Tennessee, as well as university administrators, are apparently unschooled in developments involving American free-speech jurisprudence over the past hundred years.

Hung Jury or Lynch Mob?

Rettke’s lawyer, Patrick Denton, maintains First Amendment case law is decidedly on his client’s side — although whether a Tennessee jury will agree remains to be seen.

Jury nullification may also come into play. That’s what happens when one or more members of the panel refuse on moral or ethical grounds to convict, despite sufficient evidence that the defendant is technically guilty of the violation charged — particularly when the law or charges at issue are perceived as constitutionally suspect or lacking righteous legitimacy. 

To Denton, a criminal defense attorney typically more at home arguing Fourth and Fifth Amendment issues than the intricacies of the First, one of the most vexing aspects of the case is that the events occurred in what’s purportedly a free-speech zone. From his own personal point of view, this case has brought Denton around to the informed conclusion that free-speech zones are a noxious, constitution-affronting concept.

“There shouldn’t be such a thing as a free-speech zone,” Denton said. “You know what the free-speech zone should be? Everywhere. Every public place. If there has to be a free-speech zone, does that mean that constitutional rights are selectively protected based on where people are?”

Denton said he expects the judge to allow him satisfactory latitude to “educate the jury on the First Amendment framework as best that I can.” If a conviction nonetheless results, Denton said an appeal will certainly ensue.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which — like the Tennessee ACLU, has opposed Rettke’s prosecution from the outset — notes that the “fighting words exception” cited in the DA office’s court filing represents an antiquated, obsolete legal doctrine that’s been “so deeply contradicted by a number of later Supreme Court cases that it is considered essentially dead.”

“The provocative nature of Rettke’s conduct stems from the fact that it is nearly universally considered to be offensive,” wrote FIRE’s Adam Steinbaugh in wake of the incident. “Yet, the offensive nature of speech is not a basis for the state to punish the speaker, as the First Amendment protects offensive speech. In the same vein, laws that base their application on whether others are offended fail to provide adequate notice to speakers as to what conduct is or is not prohibited.”

Tennessee ACLU president Hedy Weinberg said Rettke’s taunting “through the use of such charged and painful racist symbols” was unequivocally repugnant.

Nevertheless, she believes Rettke actions constitute no crime.

“While the student in this instance clearly intended to mock and provoke people, from video of the incident he did not appear to be making a targeted threat or to be creating a real fear of bodily harm,” said Weinberg. “Particularly in a public forum space where First Amendment protections are at their height, even this kind of contemptible racist speech is protected by the First Amendment.”

1st Amdt: An Open Invitation to Disputes

One case precedent that seems naturally relevant here dates back eight decades, when SCOTUS asserted that public officials in America are constitutionally precluded from punishing people for provoking others to anger through the exercise of speech.

By its very nature, “a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute,” declared Justice William O. Douglas, writing for the majority in the Supreme Court’s 1949 Terminiello v. City of Chicago opinion.

That ruling overturned a priest’s conviction for “breach of the peace” resulting from a speech he gave that sparked a riot by protestors angered at his fulminations against Jews and President Franklin  Roosevelt, who, it’s worth noting in our current age of nakedly partisan judicial outcome-engineering, was responsible for nominating Douglas to the court of last resort in the first place.

Douglas, widely regarded as one of America’s staunchest 20th Century civil libertarian jurists, wrote that freedom of speech “may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”

“Speech is often provocative and challenging,” he wrote.

And oftentimes expressions of controversial or contentious notions “may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects,” Douglas wrote, adding that while perhaps not entirely absolute, the right to free speech in America is “nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest.”

“There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view,” Douglas concluded. “For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups.”

Given that the circumstances of the case Justice Douglas was writing about involved both the casting of collective ethnic aspersions and an actual resulting riot, it’s difficult to see how Rettke’s actions — which resulted in no violence, and were in fact laughed at by many — could be seen by a sober-minded Bill-of-Rights-supporting observer as not protected by the First Amendment and its relevant case law.

Protecting the Franchise

In fact, Rettke’s inconsiderate clowning arguably resulted, at least in the short run, in just the sort of “high purpose” that Justice Douglas said allowing free speech was designed to serve. It forced the other students to muster the integrity and wisdom to embrace a responsible and civilized course of action and refrain from lashing out in violence, even when provoked by an outrageously offensive exhibition of bigotry.

“It’s crazy that something negative brought so much positivity,” Madison, one of the students who video-recorded Rettke’s antics, said on a Facebook livestream later. “Tristan, if you are listening, I thank you for it. Because me and everybody who went through your despicable display — we’re better people because of it. We are stronger people because of it.”

The exalted and despised Baltimore humorist and quasi-misanthropic newspaper editor H.L. Mencken — whose daunting journalistic talents were put to pitiless literary effect during the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton nearly a century ago — wrote eloquent and relevant words about the nature of free speech that jurors in Jonesborough would do well to take under advisement.

As a lifelong chronicler of political fraud, public folly and societal stupidity, the Sage of Baltimore said he’d become “convinced that free speech is worth nothing unless it includes a full franchise to be foolish and even to be malicious.”

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels,” Mencken said. “For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

Press Release from the Office of Tennessee State Comptroller of the Treasury Justin P. Wilson, July 8, 2019:

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has created a new interactive web tool that provides important information about Tennessee’s Tax Relief program.

The Tax Relief program began in 1973 and provides property tax relief to qualifying low-income elderly and disabled homeowners, as well as disabled veteran homeowners or their surviving spouses. In tax year 2018, more than $41 million dollars was appropriated by the General Assembly to serve more than 140,000 homeowners across the state.

The new web portal combines important information with images and interactive maps. The portal displays key data, eligibility requirements, and local city and county contacts that will be helpful for anyone interested in learning more about the program.

“The General Assembly has prioritized property tax relief payments for Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens and disabled veterans,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “This new web portal allows us to use visual communication and interactive maps to share even more information about this program.”

If you are interested in applying for tax relief in 2019, you can apply with your county trustee after you receive your 2019 county and/or city property tax bill. If your property is within city limits, you may also contact your city collecting official to apply.

To view the Comptroller’s new Property Tax Relief portal, go to:
https://comptroller.tn.gov/office-functions/pa/property-taxes/property-tax-programs/tax-relief.html

If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse of public money in Tennessee, call the Comptroller’s toll-free hotline at 800.232.5454, or file a report online at: www.comptroller.tn.gov/hotline. Follow us on twitter: @TNCOT

Press release from the Offfice of Tennessee Attorney General Herb Slatery III, July 2, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/news/2019/7/2/pr19-24.html

TN AG Reaches $5.8 Million Multi-Jurisdiction Settlement with LexisNexis under State False Claims Act

The company resold auto crash reports without paying for them

Nashville- Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III and local law enforcement agencies within the State, today announced the execution of a Settlement Agreement with LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Inc., and several affiliates (“LexisNexis”). The Settlement Agreement – which also was executed by the State of Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, and the City of Baltimore – resolves claims that LexisNexis underpaid certain fees associated with the purchase and resale of automobile crash reports and related crash data, which are owed to state and local law enforcement agencies by contract.

“The contract between LexisNexis and Tennessee’s law enforcement agencies was clear: the company agreed to pay for the sale of every crash report, which it did not do,” said General Slatery. “This Office will continue to pursue companies that do not honor their agreements with State agencies.”

Specifically, the investigation – which was conducted jointly with the Attorneys General of Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, as well as the City Solicitor of Baltimore –revealed that LexisNexis maintained an active database of all crash reports and crash-related data purchased from state and local law enforcement agencies on behalf of Lexis customers. While LexisNexis would pay the necessary fees to law enforcement agencies for the first sale of a crash report to a customer, it would not pay any additional fees for subsequent sales of the same report to other customers. This practice resulted in an underreporting of crash report sales to state and local law enforcement agencies, and underpayment of the requisite fees based on those inaccurate sales figures. This underreporting of sales and underpayment of fees violated the False Claims Act of the State of Tennessee, and similar statutes in the other affected jurisdictions.

In accordance with this settlement, LexisNexis must pay $5,811,708 to the settling parties. Of this amount, Tennessee and local law enforcement agencies will recover $1,122,821.99.

The lawsuit was brought by a whistleblower under the Tennessee False Claims Act, which allows private citizens to file civil actions on behalf of the government and share in any recovery. The whistleblower, a former employee of LexisNexis, will receive about $1.1 million for bringing this misconduct to light.

Press Release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee, June 26, 2019:

Link: https://www.beacontn.org/

New Beacon Lawsuit Looks To Reverse Unconstitutional Law Limiting Free Speech

Today, the Beacon Center’s legal arm filed its latest lawsuit against a law passed in the 2019 Legislative Session by the General Assembly.

The law would force most online auctioneers to be licensed by the state of Tennessee while exempting big online auction sites like Ebay. This law is not just unfair but is also unconstitutional, as it clearly violates the First Amendment. Beacon is suing the Tennessee Auctioneer Commission before the law takes effect on July 1st.

Beacon Vice President of Legal Affairs Braden Boucek stated, “Online auctions have not required a license for over a decade. Tennessee shouldn’t impose one now.  Online auctions are a safe and reliable business innovation that has blossomed free from licensure while protecting consumers.

“The state has no business applying its outdated licensing regime just to accommodate auctioneers who wish to hamstring the ingenuity of online auctioneers.” Boucek continued, “This law is not just unconstitutional, but it is bad policy. Tennessee will be chasing good employers out of the state. Employers like ‘Everything but the House’ have already left the state over this archaic approach to licensing and this is another step in the wrong direction. We should not be trying to license the internet.”

Jacquie Denny cofounded the online auction service, “Everything But the House,” in 2008.

After growing to 15 locations nationally, a decision was made by the executive team to “reset” the business model to better serve its clients, which meant investing in the locations that had the most potential for growth.

With pending legislation for rulings that would not be in the best interest of producing the maximum monetary results for the families served by the business, the decision was made not to invest in further growth in Tennessee.

“We love Tennessee, but the regulations put on online auctions would not make our business investment worthwhile,” Jacquie noted. “We’d love to open our doors if it made sense for us, but right now in Tennessee, the harmful regulations are keeping our business out of the state.”
The Beacon Center is proud to stand with business owners like Jacquie to ensure that Tennessee’s laws don’t put unconstitutional limits on businesses.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee empowers Tennesseans to reclaim control of their lives, so that they can freely pursue their version of the American Dream. The Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing concerned citizens and public leaders with expert empirical research and timely free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee.

During the closing days of the recently adjourned 2019 legislative session, Tennessee lawmakers approved a measure allowing online-gaming providers to begin legally offering internet-based sports betting in the state.

The bill initially passed the House on a vote of 58-37 and cleared the Senate 19-12. The Senate’s version was later adopted by the House, 51-40.

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville and Memphis Rep. Rick Staples, a Democrat, the online-only gaming legislation garnered support across party lines.

Proponents of the initiative project that legally-sanctioned internet-based sports betting in Tennessee could, as a result of taxes and licensing fees, increase state and local revenues by more than $50 million annually.

Staples said at least ten gaming companies have already committed to doing business in Tennessee should the measure become law.

Opposition in both chambers came mostly from majority-party Republicans, but didn’t rise to the level necessary to kill the legislation. They argued that the predicted financial windfalls to the state are exaggerated, and that the drawbacks — in particular, more Tennesseans becoming gambling addicts and squandering family resources — would prove significant.

House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, voted in favor of legalizing online sports-betting, while Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, voted against it.

Most state lawmakers whose districts encompass the Upper Cumberland region voted against the measure, including GOP Senators Mark Pody of Lebanon, Paul Bailey of Sparta and Janice Bolwing of Tullahoma.

House Republicans Ryan Williams of Cookeville and Cameron Sexton of Crossville voted in favor of the bill.

Gov. Bill Lee has expressed personal opposition to gambling and said he won’t sign the bill — but he doesn’t plan to veto it either.

“The governor has said he does not believe that the expansion of gambling is best, but he recognizes that many in the legislature found this to be an issue they want to explore further,” a spokeswoman for Lee said. “He plans to let this become law without signature.”

In Tennessee, the General Assembly can override a gubernatorial veto with simple majorities in both chambers.

Other states seriously considering legislation to legalize sports betting this year include Iowa, Montana, Louisiana, Illinois and Indiana. Sports betting is already allowed in Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

The Tennessee legislation prohibits online betting across state lines or by people under 21.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law strictly limiting state-level gambling, thus paving the way for legislatures to approve gaming.

Press Release from the Tennessee Firearms Association, May 3, 2019:

Link: https://tennesseefirearms.com/2019/05/legislature-adjourns-after-passage-of-bad-legislation-and-refusal-to-consider-constitutional-carry/

Legislature Adjourns after ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Session: Creates Unnecessary 2nd Class of ‘Concealed Only’ Permit

General Assembly passed bad bills and refused to consider constitutional carry

By John Harris
TFA Executive Director

The Tennessee Legislature adjourned from the first half of its two year session on May 2, 2019. Did the Republican super majority of “2nd Amendment supporting” legislators do great things to remove the infringements on the 2nd Amendment in Tennessee this year? No.

To the contrary, it demonstrated an absolute unwillingness to even put the major issues like constitutional carry, civil immunity, criminal investigative requirements, school carry and others on the floors of the respective houses for even the slightest debate!

This is not the TFA’s annual report but it is a summary of the bills that were active this week. The annual report will come later after the dust settles and we know for sure which bills become law and which might be vetoed.

Increased focus week was on a bill (Senate Bill 705 House Bill 1264) that was sponsored in the Senate by noted “anti” 2nd Amendment Senator John Stevens. Sen. Stevens earned that reputation over the years by, for example, being perhaps the swing vote that killed Sen. Mark Green’s constitutional carry legislation in 2016. This bill proposed initially to create a second class of handgun permit that was concealed only and good for only five years. It would have been free to the applicant but would have cost the taxpayers about $1 million per year for the Department of Safety to process. It would not have all the same carry locations that the existing permit had. Also, it would require less training – such as the hunter safety course or any NRA course.

The “concealed only” bill was amended in many ways. The length was changed from 5 to 8 years. The cost went from ZERO to the applicant to an application fee of $65 (contrasted with the $100 fee for the standard handgun permit that allows open or concealed carry). There are no discounts for certain categories of individuals. There are no lifetime permits. The applicant still has to submit two sets of fingerprints (which are outsourced to a third party) and be photographed. It is not available to 18-20 year old individuals who are in or retired military. It is not good on school grounds (existing permits are under limited circumstances). The training went from just a simple almost anything course to at least a 90 minute course which includes a written test and which also – in that 90 minutes – in the opinion of the Department of Safety “”conveys the basic knowledge and skills necessary for safe handling and storage of firearms and ammunition and includes firearm safety rules, handgun uses, features, basic skills and techniques, safe cleaning, transportation, and storage methods and … conveys the current state law on carrying handguns”. According to Senator Stevens statements on the Senate Floor on May 2, no such course presently exists.

The Senate debates on May 2 are worth watching and begin at approximately 1 hour into the session.

Here are some highlights.

  • Sen. Stevens claimed the existing permit is not changed (other than its name – its now the “enhanced” permit but with no new enhancements this year). He claimed this bill makes the new concealed only permit less expensive and easier to get because of reduced number of hours required for the training (8 hours versus 1.5 hours).
  • Sen. Jeff Yarbro asked “how is concealed defined” (it is not). Sen. Stevens said “it is not changed from current law” which does not have a definition.
  • Sen. Yarbro asked if the concealed permits have the same “rights” as the current permits. Sen. Stevens said not with respect to “higher education” (an incomplete answer since it omits school employees who can carry with the existing permit and it fails to deal with the exceptions under the wildlife resources acts).
  • Sen. Yarbro pointed out that he has on two occasions in the last two days taken online courses in less than 3 minutes that would generate the required certificates. Sen. Stevens said that an applicant who did that would be subject to felony perjury charges (but no explanation on how that would be determined or enforced).
  • Sen. Yarbro objected about all the confusion and risks that the second permitting system creates for citizens and reciprocity issues.
  • Sen. Stevens said that there is not a single course online that presently complies with the training requirements of the law (because of the training on existing Tennessee laws that is required)
  • Sen. Janice Bowling argued against the bill and asserted that the state should be adopting Constitutional Carry. She argued correctly if its the “cost” then we should reduce the cost of the existing permit. She argued that the potential confusion of a 2 permit system rather than constitutional carry is of no advantage. She also said she has talked to her constituents and they are objecting to the “concealed permit” which she attributed to an unnamed “organization” (it was not TFA). She argued it has no wisdom, benefit and that she would vote no.
  • Sen. Kerry Roberts (who voted for it in Judiciary) said he was bothered that that they were talking about a second permit rather than constitutional carry. He objected that they were passing a law to force citizens to “buy back their constitutional right”. He pointed out that 16 states already have constitutional carry and Kentucky just adopted it. He stated he was struggling to understand why Tennessee is not passing constitutional carry rather than a “convoluted” second permitting system.
  • Sen. Paul Bailey said he agreed with Sen. Roberts that Tennessee should be talking about constitutional carry (although he later voted for the bill).
  • Sen. Mike Bell said he agreed with constitutional carry and “it’s coming.” He then moved to cutoff off debate and, despite his statement, voted for the bill.

18 Senators ignored the calls for constitutional carry and moved forward to pass the unnecessary, confusing second “concealed only” permit. These Senators were Bailey, Bell, Crowe, Gardenhire, Gresham, Hensley, Johnson, Kelsey, Lundberg. Powers, Reeves, Rose, Southerland, Stevens, Swann, Watson, White and Yager. That is an odd mixture of individuals who frequently vote against 2nd Amendment bills (Stevens, Kelsey, Lundberg) and some who typically do.

Senators voting no on the bill were Akbari, Bowling, Dickerson, Gilmore, Jackson, Kyle, Massey, Nicely, Pody, Robinson and Yarbro – again an odd mix but some of the 2nd Amendment most consistent supporters were in this group and we believe for the right reasons! Two senators were “present not voting” – Roberts and McNally. Two appear to have been agent Briggs and Haile.

TFA noted that it was a bad bill for many reasons. Most of those reasons were addressed by Senators Bowling, Roberts and Yarbro.

Now, some who identify as 2nd Amendment supporters have defended their “yes” votes by suggesting that this was a necessary “step” toward constitutional carry. Enacting a law that creates confusion, risks and delay is “necessary” or even a step in the right direction? That is not a credible excuse nor is it consistent with the campaign promises or constitutional oaths of office. What it evidences is in fact an unwillingness to actually run and pass constitutional carry, as 17 states including Kentucky have done, despite the fact that the Republican caucus is a super majority and it could do so even if every Democrat voted against it.

Comments on other bills this week…

The legislature passed a handful of other laws at the last minute which TFA has been tracking but none are truly significant toward removing infringements or establishing protections of our 2nd Amendment protected rights. For example, the legislature passed a technical fix to adopt the substantial equivalent of the federal “antique firearm” exception to the definition of a firearm under Tennessee for some purposes. It also removed an excise tax on ammunition which removed a projected $455,000 from the Wildlife Resources Fund annually (likely to be replaced with taxpayer revenue from the general fund).

The bill status report and the bill calendar can be accessed through the TFA’s website: https://tennesseefirearms.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TFA-BillReport-2019-05-03.pdf

Press Release from the Office of Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, May 2, 2019:

Gov. Bill Lee Lauds General Assembly in Working Together to Pass Conservative Reforms

$38.5 Billion Budget Passes Unanimously

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee marked the close of the 2019 legislative session, a session which included the unanimous passage of his budget as well as the passage of his full agenda as outlined during his State of the State address in March.

“In March, I presented our budget and a series of priorities which I believe will be foundational to making Tennessee a leader in the nation,” said Lee. “Working with the General Assembly leadership and members, we passed reforms that will continue to build on the momentum our state has seen in recent years.”

Gov. Lee’s slate of priorities included 16 legislative initiatives to work towards strengthening public education and school choice, enhancing workforce development, addressing criminal justice reform and public safety, promoting good government and developing solutions for rural Tennessee.

The passage of the fiscal year 2020 budget marked the first unanimous budget approval from the General Assembly since 2011. Notably, this budget includes a historic deposit to the state’s Rainy Day Fund that will elevate reserves to over $1.1 billion. Tax cuts included a full repeal of the Gym Tax, the elimination of sales and use tax on agricultural trailers and a reduction to the professional privilege tax.

“I commend the General Assembly for their work this session and I look forward to joining members in their districts in the coming months to highlight all that was accomplished this session” said Lee. “I am especially pleased with the outcome of the budget and our joint commitment to making sure Tennessee is well-managed and fiscally sound.”

Highlights from Gov. Lee’s legislative agenda include the following:

Strengthening Public Education and Expanding School Choice:

  • Creating the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) to expand access to vocational and technical training to students
  • Establishing an education savings account program to expand school choice for low-income students in Davidson and Shelby counties
  • Creating the Future Workforce Initiative to prepare students for the jobs of the future in science, technology, engineering and math
  • A $71 million investment in pay raises for teachers across Tennessee and investment in professional development programming
  • A three-year pilot program to provide support services for high school students in Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties
  • Establish the Governor’s Civics Instructional Seal to support and recognize schools that prioritize teaching our nation’s history and civic values
  • Investing an additional $175 million in new funding to support teachers and students in public schools
  • Establishing an independent statewide charter school authorizer and adding $6 million to the charter school facilities fund

Enhancing Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform

  • Investing $40 million in school safety enhancements
  • Increasing penalties for trafficking fentanyl
  • Increasing the training pay supplement for firefighters and police officers
  • Increasing salaries for corrections professionals
  • Expanding the Electronic Monitoring Indigency fund to reduce needs for pre-trial incarceration
  • Eliminating the state fee for the expungement of records for those who have paid their debt to society
  • $5 million to expand recovery courts and services for people in the justice system with drug abuse issues
  • $4 million investment in pre-release rehabilitation and education for incarcerated individuals

Investing in Health Care and Good Government Initiatives

  • Establishing the Office of Faith Based Initiatives to support partnerships with the non-profit community
  • Expanding the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit with an additional 24 positions dedicated to identifying fraud and waste
  • Investing an additional $11 million to support mental health services through the behavioral health safety net and regional mental institutes.
  • Increasing funding for graduate medical education at Tennessee’s medical schools and critical incentive programs that provide financial support to resident physicians who commit to living and working in our rural communities
  • Investing an additional $2 million recurring for the primary care safety net for federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs) and community- and faith-based clinics, providing primary care services to low-income, uninsured adults
  • A $3 million recurring increase to support medical students who agree to work in an underserved area after graduation. These state dollars would draw down an additional $5.7 million in federal funds
  • $11.9 million investment to maintain pay increases funded in last year’s budget for providers delivering services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Press Release from United States Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, May 1, 2019:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) questioned Attorney General William Barr on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

On the Politicization of Law Enforcement Agencies

BLACKBURN: What seems to have happened at the FBI is that there is a seedy, cynical, political culture within a group that developed, and these individuals, collectively, seemed to think that they could work within the power of their jobs and their roles with the federal government. There was an elitism and an arrogance there and it speaks to a very unhealthy work culture.
Watch this clip HERE.

On the Special Counsel Team’s Investigation and Findings

BLACKBURN: Are they meticulous investigators who will hunt down every witness and every piece of evidence?
BARR: I think they are tenacious investigators.
BLACKBURN: Are they devoted to finding the truth?
BARR: Yes.
BLACKBURN: Are they masters at taking down hardened criminals foreign and domestic?
BARR: Yes.
BLACKBURN: If there were evidence to warrant a recommendation for collusion charges against the president do you believe the Special Counsel team would have found it?
BARR: Yes.
BLACKBURN: And if there were evidence to warrant a recommendation for obstruction of justice charges against the president, do you believe the Mueller team would have found it?
BARR: I think that they canvassed the evidence exhaustively and they didn’t reach a decision on that.
Watch this clip HERE.

On Americans’ Trust in Government Agencies

BLACKBURN: People want to see government held accountable. They want to see agencies act with accountability to the American people, and they don’t want to ever see this happen again. It doesn’t matter if a candidate is a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent. They never want to see this happen again.
Watch this clip HERE.

Press Release from the Office of Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, April 11, 2019:

McGee appointed to serve in the Western Section of the Court of Appeals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee appointed Carma Dennis McGee to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section. She will replace Judge Brandon O. Gibson who was appointed as a Senior Advisor in the Office of Governor earlier this year.

McGee, 48, has served as the Chancellor of the 24th Judicial District since 2014. Prior to becoming Chancellor, she practiced law as partner in the firm of McGee & Dennis. She also served as a Rule 31 Listed Family Mediator for ten years.

“Chancellor McGee’s experience and knowledge will make her an excellent judge on the Court of Appeals,” said Lee. “Tennessee is fortunate to have her in the Western Section, and I am grateful she has accepted this high honor.”

McGee earned a Bachelor of Arts from Union University and a Juris Doctor from the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis. McGee and her husband, Todd McGee, who is a teacher and coach with the Hardin County School System, have two teenage children, Sarah Beth and Caleb.

“I am proud to serve the people of West Tennessee, and I am honored that Gov. Lee has entrusted me with this opportunity,” said McGee. “Judge Brandon Gibson served in this role extraordinarily well, and I look forward to continuing the exceptional work being done in West Tennessee.”

Under an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution passed in 2014, the Governor’s appointments to appellate courts must be confirmed by the General Assembly. After she is confirmed by the General Assembly, Judge McGee will be subject to regular retention elections.

Once confirmed by the General Assembly, McGee will be one of 12 judges on the state Court of Appeals, which hears appeals in civil cases from state trial courts. Appeals from the Court of Appeals go to the Tennessee Supreme Court.