Senator Mike Bell Talks Smart Bill Proposing Statewide Elected Judges for Each Grand Division and Budget in Tennessee

Senator Mike Bell Talks Smart Bill Proposing Statewide Elected Judges for Each Grand Division and Budget in Tennessee


Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed Tennessee State Senator Mike Bell in studio to outline more details of his bill that would allow for statewide elections of judges to a chancery court in West, Middle, and East Tennessee.

Leahy: Our guest in studio, State Senator Mike Bell, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee from McMinn County. Mike, I wanted to see the status of this really smart bill that you’ve introduced that would basically have any lawsuit brought against the state tried in three separate Chancery courts. The judges to be elected statewide, one representing East Tennessee, one representing Middle Tennessee, the other representing West Tennessee. The three grand divisions and the three stars that we see.

Bell: That’s right. And the status of it right now, it’s moved out of Judiciary in both the House and the Senate, and it’s in finance.

Leahy: It’s in both bodies in both Chambers.

Bell: In both Chambers. And it’s sitting there because it does have a fiscal cost. And we don’t know exactly what that cost would be yet, but to hire three new judges and staff those. Now, we wouldn’t have to create a courtroom for them. They would hear cases in the Supreme Court building in Knoxville, the Supreme Court building here in Nashville, and Supreme Court Building in Jackson.

Leahy: Let me just stop for a moment. I think I’ve learned something here. I did not know that we had more than one Supreme Court building.

Bell: We do. We’ve got one in each grand division. (Chuckles)

Leahy: I did not know that because I’ve been to the Supreme Court here in Nashville. But when I did that, I did not realize that there were other Supreme Court facilities in the state. How long have we been doing that?

Bell: I can’t answer that question.

Leahy: Almost from the beginning, I guess.

Bell: Well, it’s been a long time. We also have two different appellate courts. We’ve got the court of appeals, and we’ve got the criminal court of appeals, in which there are 12 judges from on each one of those courts of appeals and four from each grand division. And so they also hear cases in these other Supreme Court buildings.

Leahy: So the Tennessee Supreme Court will hear some cases in Nashville, but some in Knoxville.

Bell: That’s right.

Leahy: And some in Jackson. That makes a lot of sense. I tracked this, by the way, Nashville has not always been the capital of the state.

Bell: No, it has not.

Leahy: The first capital is Knoxville in the 1790s? Then I think in 1817 it moved to Murfreesboro for a while. And then back what in the 1830s is when it moved to Nashville?

Bell: And there’s a little historical piece of trivia for a short time. And it may have only been for a few days it was in Harriman in Roane County. There’s actually a historical marker. And I can’t remember the reason why. But there’s a historical marker when the capital was in Harriman and Roane County for a short time.

Leahy: Well, we’re going to have to check that out. Harriman, interesting.

Bell: Yes.

Leahy: So it’s likely then we’ve got a couple of weeks left in this session.

Bell: We do.

Leahy: Most committees, except for government operations and finance, have been closed because they’ve done their business.

Bell: Done their work.

Leahy: What’s the likelihood that your bills will make it out of a finance committee?

Bell: I think right now it’s pretty good. I’m going to say 75, 25, but it’s literally us coming up with the money. But because, as I mentioned, the Lieutenant Governor is very interested in this bill as well and a supporter of this bill, I think we’ve got a good chance of getting it funded. It needs to be done. Rationally why are these cases against the state being heard by left-wing, liberal judges when the state is overwhelmingly conservative?

Leahy: Yeah. It’s just a bit of legislative or judicial anachronism. If you want to call it that.

Bell: It is. As you mentioned, this started back when the state was pretty equal across the state in its political makeup. It’s not that way at all.

Leahy: At all. So if it makes it out of finance in both Chambers, then it would seem to me that the odds of it passing in both the House and the Senate are pretty good.

Bell: I would think they’re pretty good. And to quickly kind of tell you where we’re at. We’re looking at passing a budget, probably Thursday on the Senate floor.

Leahy: I’ll get back to the budget. If it passes in both Houses, have we heard from Governor Lee as to whether or not he would sign it?

Bell: I believe he would. In fact, I don’t know if the governor has vetoed a bill. It’s rare for a governor to veto a bill because in Tennessee, the bar to overturn the governor’s veto a majority vote is not a two-thirds vote like it is at the federal level.

Leahy: That is a good point to make. That’s a very good point to make. Most States are two-thirds.

Bell: Most States and the federal government is two-thirds but Tennessee has in their Constitution that it’s a simple majority. And I don’t think he would. I’ve not heard from him publicly but I can’t imagine he would veto a bill like that.

Leahy: Well, that’s good news to hear, I think, from a rule of law perspective.

Bell: Absolutely.

Leahy: Now, let’s talk about the budget for the state of Tennessee.

Bell: The only thing we are constitutionally required to do is going to be on the floor on Thursday. We should get it passed. And then we’ll come back next week and spend two or three days cleaning up. And that’s passing bills that are in place that are a procedural place called behind the budget. Bills that may have a small physical cost that we’ve got money to fund those. And we’ll take two or three days to pass those. And when we should be out of here for the year by hopefully Wednesday of next week.

Leahy: By Wednesday or Thursday, perhaps because Thursday typically your session will typically start Monday evening?

Bell: Monday evening and go to Thursday.

Leahy: So we only have, like, two more weeks to have state legislators in studio here.

Bell: Then we can be back at home where we should be. (Chuckles)

Leahy: You could be back building your house and pressure washing.

Bell: That’s right. And hunting when I can. I’ve killed one turkey this year for turkey season. But turkey season still got a couple of weeks left, and I hope to spend a little more time in the woods, too.

Leahy: So you’ve been a Hunter, as you say for some time?

Bell: Since I was a kid, I hunt and fish, and I’ve killed black bears, killed wild hogs. Been to Colorado elk hunting and hunt everything from rabbits to squirrels to ducks back here.

Leahy: Now, after this program, where do you go today? What’s your day look like?

Bell: I’ve got my first meeting, I think, at 7:45, which is our bill review prior to and then we go on the floor this morning at 8:30. I’ve got four bills on the floor this morning. One of them probably would be of interest to the people here in Nashville. It requires any member of a community oversight board to have to go through a Police Academy.

Leahy: Oh! We’re going to follow that one. Because, as you know, in Nashville, there was a member of the community oversight board who was a convicted felon. We discovered that they didn’t volunteer that information. He’s no longer a member of the board.

Bell: Well, this bill was carried by Representative Cass in the House, and I’m carrying it in the Senate.

Listen to the full first hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio







State Senator Mike Bell Talks Big Tech Pushback Legislation and His Current Bill Allowing for Elected Grand Division Justices Statewide

State Senator Mike Bell Talks Big Tech Pushback Legislation and His Current Bill Allowing for Elected Grand Division Justices Statewide


Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed Tennessee State Senator Mike Bell to the studio who discussed the status of a Big Tech pushback bill in the General Assembly and the bill he is carrying that would create three statewide Chancery courts.

Leahy: We are in studio with our good friend State Senator Mike Bell represents within County and a few of the counties down that neck of the woods. Mike, you were telling me something during the break. That a guy that you’re working with a stonemason building your house listens to this program.

Bell: He listens every morning and  I want to give a shout-out to Ben Lances. My wife and I are building a home right now, and I did the stonework for us, and tile work does a great job and he listens to you. In fact, he’s probably the only one I know of there in my area because I’m three hours away who knows about your program and listens every morning. Hello, Ben. Good morning.

Leahy: Ben, thank you for listening. You obviously have good political judgment.

Bell: He does. He’s a hardcore conservative guy.

Leahy: Good. We broadcast over Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC here and 1510 on the AM band big 500 watt Clear Channel station. And the FM station just covers mostly Middle Tennessee. You can listen to us on the iHeart app, which I think great. But if all goes well, sometimes this quarter we will be syndicated to radio stations around the state of Tennesse.

Bell: Good.

Leahy: So you can listen to us from all around the state. If all goes well. We are coming into the last few weeks of the session. And as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, you are involved in a very important bill. We’ll talk about that in a second. Our listers are interested in what’s happening with the Big Tech pushback bill. Several other state legislatures have addressed that. Florida, I think, has passed a bill that involves some pushback against the Big Tech censors, Facebook, Google, et cetera. Now I understand that you are the one carrying that bill.

Bell: I am myself and Rep. Johnny Garret are carrying that.

Leahy: Johnny Garrett. The Majority Whip.

Bell: He is.

Leahy: A great baseball guy.

Bell: Oh, good.

Leahy: Johnny is the President of a Little League. I think it’s the Goodlettsville Little League. And he and I have been talking with the guys at Music City Baseball and went down and had lunch with them. And we have some ideas to help spread baseball around Tennessee because I’m a big baseball fan, too. So Johnny he’s in the House and you are in the Senate.

Bell: That’s right. And we modeled it after the Florida legislation. So we essentially copied the Florida legislation modified at Tennessee. But we did it kind of late in the session and trying to the issue with this is how do you figure out where the state authority starts and where the federal authority stops. Because most of these institutions that we want to push back against as you mentioned, Facebook, Google.

Leahy: Twitter.

Bell: Twitter. Any of those are regulated at the federal level. And what can we do in Tennessee actually put teeth into law, not just pass something for show. We could have probably passed something for show. But we are going to actually put teeth into this law to push back against Big Tech censoring conservative views. This doesn’t go both ways. If you follow social media as I do, they’re not getting complaints from the liberal side.

Leahy: Because they are not censoring them.

Bell: That’s right. It’s coming from the conservative side.

Leahy: They are amplifying liberal messages.

Bell: That’s right. In that short time, we couldn’t figure out how to pass a bill that actually put teeth into a way to, I guess, punish Big Tech for censoring. So we laid it over. We’re going to look at it this summer. In fact, I expect both the Speaker of the House and Speaker of the Senate, to name study committees that will take a serious look at what we can do to push back against Big Tech. And I expect them to name those before the session ends.

Leahy: So that may happen. The bill could be recommended over the summer study period.

Bell: That’s right.

Leahy: Then possibly reintroduce it at the beginning of the next session of the Tennessee General Assembly in January of 2022.

Bell: That’s correct. That’s what the plans are.

Leahy: And you are also our chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Bell: Yes. It is somewhat unusual being a non-attorney and being chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Leahy: How did you become chairman?

Bell: Well, I’ve been on the committee and I’m in my 11th year. And, of course, the chairman of any committee is named by the Speaker and the Speaker asked me if I’d like to do it. I think he appreciates the fact that as a non-attorney, how do I put this, sometimes attorneys may be a little hesitant to take on the judiciary because they work in that sphere. They work where they could receive retribution.

Leahy: From a judge.

Bell: I’ve got no fear of that.

Leahy: So tell us about the bill that you’re carrying, and why you think it’s important and where it stands.

Bell: Let’s take us back to last summer when we had our voting laws challenged here in the state of Tennessee. And they were heard before Chancery here in Davidson County because that’s what the state law says. Any time a state law is challenged, it’s always heard in Davidson County Chancery Court.

Leahy: Let’s just stop for a moment. How many Chancery courts are there in the state of Tennessee?

Bell: Oh, goodness. I think there are 31 judicial districts. And so there would be somewhere around that number of Chancery Courts.

Leahy: I can see where this is going. When the law was passed a long time ago, the politics in Nashville were probably not any different than the politics or the rest of the state.

Bell: Very, very similar. You got it. You know where this bill is going.

Leahy: So it didn’t make any difference 100 years ago where lawsuits against the state would be brought.

Bell: Absolutely.

Leahy: Now, common sense, since the state capital is in Nashville, you would say it would be brought into Davidson County. Except, the state of Tennessee has changed quite a bit. There are 95 counties and 92 of them are rock-rib conservative.

Bell: Absolutely.

Leahy: And two of them are far left. And Haywood County is kind of 50/50, 55/45 Democrat. Three counties, I think, went for Biden this time. And one was Shelby, which went overwhelmingly in the Memphis area. And then Davidson County went, and we’re about 65/35. But that’s it. So Davidson County is not at all representative of the state of Tennessee.

Bell: It doesn’t reflect the politics of the state of Tennessee at all. And that’s the reason for this bill. Why should a Chancery court that’s elected by the most liberal constituency in the state be deciding the cases? And I attacked when I presented this bill in committee, I attacked this argument head-on. I even mentioned Chief Justice John Roberts’s remark several months ago when he said there was any difference between an Obama judge, a Bush judge, a Clinton judge, or a Trump judge.

We all know that’s BS. That’s complete BS. (Leahy laughs) What’s the old line from Outlaw Josey Wales? Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining. Well, that’s what he was doing. And he was trying to tell us that there’s no difference between judges. Why is it a big deal every time we have a presidential election? Because we know who appoints that next Supreme Court judge and hopefully they’re going to reflect the philosophy of the party that elected the President.

And we know that at the national level. Don’t try to tell me that’s not going on here at the state level. I took it head-on that yes, I’m absolutely wanting to get cases out of a court that’s predominantly Democrat and follows a Democrat philosophy because that’s the type of people who are running for these positions. That’s the type of people who are electing these. And so why shouldn’t we…

Leahy: Far-left actually in my view.

Bell: And so what this bill does is create three statewide Chancery court positions that would be elected statewide.

Leahy: Three statewide. One for each division.

Bell: One for each division. Middle Tennessee, the East, Middle, and West. But they have to be elected statewide because of a provision in the Constitution that says they have to be elected by the people they represent. And so they would be from each grand division but they would actually run statewide. I would have preferred to have the East Tennesse judge be elected by East Tennessee people, Middle, and West.

But we can’t do that because of the language in the Constitution. So they would run statewide but then this panel of judges would hear any constitutional challenges against the state. They would hear any appeals of administrative law. But everything now that’s going to Davidson County Chancery Court would go to these three.

Leahy: Well, that’s a really great idea.

Bell: It’s a fantastic idea, and I don’t take complete credit for it. I’ve been working with our Lieutenant Governor, Speaker McNally. I’ve been working with him on this bill as well. And it’s something that came up before the decision on the voting law that I mentioned that came out of Chancellor Lyles court here in Davidson County.

Leahy: Chancellor Lyle. She has been very prominent in many decisions, few of which I agree with. (Chuckles)

Bell: Yeah, I would agree with that. But it’s modeled after our bill that passed goodness when I was still in the House 11 or 12 years ago, that allowed administrative law cases to get out of Davidson County Court and be heard in the county from where the defendant lived. And so we’re trying to move these cases out of liberal Davidson County.

Listen to the full first hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio