Sethi: ‘Human lives will always be more important than dollars’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi speaks at a campaign event in Clarksville on Feb. 4, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi is outlining his plan to for economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Sethi, a surgeon at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said while it’s important to get Americans back to worth, “human lives will always be more important than dollars.”

“Our economy will not bounce back if portions of the workforce are seriously ill or do not survive,” he said.

Here’s the full release from the Sethi campaign:

NASHVILLE, Tenn – Conservative outsider and Republican candidate for Senate, Dr. Manny Sethi released his plan to get America back to work today. Dr. Manny, founder of a public health advocacy nonprofit in Tennessee, believes our country can get people back to work and protect the health of Americans at the same time, but it must be done in a thoughtful and deliberate way.

We saw unemployment numbers reach record numbers this morning. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, much of the American economy has been shut down, hurting American workers, businesses, and families in a way we haven’t seen before.

This morning 3.28 million new claims were announced, which is already higher than any past economic crisis, including the 2008 market collapse and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Previously, the highest number of jobless claims was 695,000 in 1982.

While economic revitalization is imperative, human lives will always be more important than dollars. On Thursday, Dr. Manny released the following statement and plan:

“Tennessee is still dealing with this issue, but at some point America cannot sustain a long, drawn-out shutdown. We must start working immediately on ways to get our citizens back to work and our economy moving. Our economy will not bounce back if portions of the workforce are seriously ill or do not survive. In the operating room, when things are moving fast, I’ve learned we have to slow down and think through the best way forward, instead of overreacting.

“I would recommend tackling this region by region, state by state, community  by community. This is not a one-size-fits-all solution for the whole country. Some communities and states will recover from this virus breakout sooner than others. As the threat lessens, these areas need to start lifting restrictive mandates and get their economy back to work.”

Dr. Manny’s proposal to get America back-to-work entails:

  • Federal authorities should work with states to identify when it is safe for individual communities to start lifting mandates once the health threat decreases in their respective areas.
    U.S. health officials should also work with state governments to assess quarantine and containment strategies based on evolving evidence.
  • Companies should be encouraged to continue to utilize telecommuting as much as possible. This will slow the rate of return back to the public workplace. Tax credits and other incentives should be provided to incentivize companies to put the health and safety of employees first, without losing their business.
  • Utilize the Defense Production Act, if needed, to produce medical equipment such masks, gowns, and ventilators. Pass legislation that gives American companies incentives to produce such equipment in the United States.
  • Immediately begin to shift production of Chinese and foreign-made pharmaceuticals to the United States. This is a national security issue, and there is an immediate need for many important drugs to be produced here, and a need to immediately phase-in production of many others.
  • Continue to implement international travel bans and strongly caution Americans to avoid non-essential domestic travel until national health officials approve.

Hagerty event with Kudlow postponed

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty’s tele-town hall with Larry Kudlow has been postponed because of the national economic council director’s role in hammering out a compromise over the coronavirus relief package in Congress.

The event is expected to be rescheduled for a later date.

 

Timothy Hill running for Congress in 1st District

Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) confers with House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) March 29, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Timothy Hill of Blountville is running for the congressional seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City).

Hill joins a field of Republican candidates that includes former Kingsport Mayor John Clark, state Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City,  former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, and Kingsport pharmacist Diana Harshbarger.

Here’s the release from the Hill campaign:

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — State Representative Timothy Hill today announced that he will be a candidate for Congress in Tennessee’s 1st district. Hill released the following statement:

“This district is strongly Republican, but it is critical that our nominee also be a proven conservative who will be a stalwart ally of President Trump against radicals like Nancy Pelosi and AOC. When it comes to supporting our conservative values my record is second to none- I’ve been a leading voice in Tennessee for the unborn, for our second amendment rights, and against tax hikes. As your member of Congress I’ll continue the fight for those same values, put people first, and I’ll support President Trump’s agenda 100%, especially the fight to build the wall and recover quickly from the Chinese Coronavirus.”

Hill has represented Johnson County and parts of Carter and Sullivan County since 2012. He currently serves as chairman of the House Commerce Committee and previously served in leadership as House Majority Whip. Representative Hill has been recognized by a number of conservative organizations for his leadership including a ranking of 3rd Most Conservative Legislator out of 132 members by the Club for Growth and the highest recognition for Conservative Excellence by the American Conservative Union.

To guide his campaign, Hill has hired Mike Lukach who served as a state director for President Trump’s 2016 campaign and later served in his administration.

Timothy Hill is a small business owner and dedicated family man. Timothy is a 7th generation East Tennessean, and he reside in Blountville with his wife Charity their two sons and their bulldog Winston.

Lee extends school closure recommendation, corporate tax filing deadline

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is extending his recommended school closure period to April 24 amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican governor also announced Tuesday that the state’s deadline for filing corporate franchise and excise taxes will be extended from April to July 15.

State workers who have been working from home have been instructed to keep doing so until April 24. They had previously been scheduled to return to work at the end of the month. About 23,000 state employees have been working from home.

The governor mobilized the National Guard to assist with the state’s pandemic response. Lee said 250 guard members have been called up, including 150 who are medically trained. They will be assigned to assist with 35 remote assessment sights around the state as the virus spreads to more rural counties.

Hagerty to hold telephone town hall with Trump economic adviser Kudlow

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks at Nashville event on Dec. 3, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty is holding a telephone town hall on Wednesday with with Larry Kudlow, the national economic council director for President Donald Trump.

Here’s the release from the Hagerty campaign:

Nashville, TN — As our nation’s leaders continue to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, Bill Hagerty, candidate for U.S. Senate, announced today he will be hosting a telephone town hall with President Trump’s National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow to talk about the Wuhan coronavirus and our nation’s economy. The telephone town hall will be held on Wednesday, March 25th at 11:30 am EST/10:30 am CST.

“I am honored National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow will be able to answer questions from Tennesseans on how the administration is working to stabilize our economy and help small businesses, employees, and families in the weeks ahead,” said Bill Hagerty. “Director Kudlow is well-known for his commitment to cutting taxes and repealing burdensome regulations. In the Senate, I will work with Director Kudlow and President Trump to ensure our Tennessee businesses have the resources they need to expand and create jobs once this foreign virus is eradicated.”

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow continued, “Under President Trump’s leadership, our economy reached new highs and unemployment set record lows which has put the administration in a strong position to provide assistance and help to alleviate financial stress for small businesses and families as we all work to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus. The Administration is working hard to help Tennesseans recover from deadly storms, prevent the spread of the coronavirus and alleviate financial stress for your small businesses and families. I look forward to answering your questions with my friend Bill Hagerty who has the complete and total endorsement of President Trump. We need him in the Senate.”

Hagerty earned President Trump’s “complete and total” endorsement to be Tennessee’s next United States Senator while serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan. To learn more about Bill Hagerty, visit  www.teamhagerty.com.

Lee names McWhorter to head ‘unified command’ on Tennessee coronavirus response

Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter presents budget cuts to the Senate Finance Committee on March 18, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has named Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter to head a new “unified command” on the state’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

McWhorter,who will step aside from his role as head of the Department of Finance and Administration to take on the new role, named retired Army Brig. Gen. Scott Bower as his chief of staff. Bower is a former acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell.

Here’s the full release from Gov. Bill Lee’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee established the COVID-19 Unified Command, a joint effort to be led by Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, to streamline coordination across the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Department of Military.

“The COVID-19 pandemic challenges every aspect of traditional government response in a crisis,” said Gov. Lee. “I have appointed the Unified Command to effectively change the way we attack COVID-19 in Tennessee as we work to simultaneously address health, economic and supply crises.”

Commissioner Stuart McWhorter currently heads the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration and will leave this post to head the COVID-19 Unified Command. McWhorter appointed retired Brig. Gen. Scott Brower to serve as chief of staff for the operation.

“Gen. Brower’s special forces background and previous service as the Acting Senior Commander for the 101st Airborne Division has enabled him to pull leaders together and troubleshoot quickly in a crisis,” said McWhorter. “Gov. Lee has urged our team to challenge every barrier and assembling this team is the first step.”

Brower resides in Clarksville and most recently served as the military advisor in residence to the president of Austin Peay State University. The COVID-19 Unified Command also includes:

  • Patrick Sheehan, TEMA Director
  • Dr. Lisa Piercey, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health
  • Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes, Adjutant General, Tennessee Department of Military

Lee orders statewide ban on gatherings of more than 10 and on dine-in restaurants, bars

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has issued a statewide ban on gatherings of more than 10 people and  ordered all restaurants be limited only to drive-thru or takeout service.

Restaurants that serve alcohol will be allowed to sell alcohol for off-premise consumption under the oder.  Gyms and fitness centers will also be ordered closed.

The executive order runs from Monday through April 6.

Meanwhile, Nashville Mayor John Cooper has issued a “Safer at Home” policy for the city that requires all non-essential businesses to close their doors. As of Sunday morning, Nashville had 179 residents who had contracted COVID-19, with those between ages 18 and 49 making up nearly 70% of the cases.

Under guidance issued by the Metro Nashville Department of Public Health:

YOU CAN … 

  • Go to the grocery, convenience or warehouse store
  • Go to the pharmacy to pick up medications and other healthcare necessities
  • Go to medical appointments (check with your doctor or provider first)
  • Go to a restaurant for take-out, delivery or drive-thru
  • Care for or support a friend or family member
  • Take a walk, ride your bike, hike, jog and be in nature for exercise — just keep at least six feet between you and others.
  • Walk your pets and take them to the veterinarian if necessary
  • Help someone to get necessary supplies
  • Receive deliveries from any business which delivers

YOU SHOULD NOT … 

  • Go to work unless you are providing essential services as defined by this Order
  • Visit friends and family if there is no urgent need
  • Maintain less than 6 feet of distance from others when you go out
  • Visit loved ones in the hospital, nursing home, skilled nursing facility or other residential care facility, except for limited exceptions as provided on the facility websites.

Is this Order mandatory? What happens if I don’t comply?

Yes. This is a legally enforceable order.

The governor’s full release is after the jump.

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House, Senate pass barebones budget

The state Capitol has been closed to visitors since March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly have passed a barebones budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The spending plan projects no economic growth and required the deep reductions from Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s original proposal.

Democratic efforts to eliminate about $40 million to start up the governor’s school voucher program failed.

Lee was on hand to watch the the budget debate in the House and Senate.

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.

Vouchers vs. teacher pay? Lawmakers gear up for budget battle

Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter presents budget cuts to the Senate Finance Committee on March 18, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee lawmakers are gearing up for a long day Thursday in which they hope to come to an agreement over deep budget cuts before going into recess until the coronavirus crisis subsides.

One of the biggest sticking points is Gov. Bill Lee’s plan to keep funding in the budget to launch his school voucher program this fall while cutting a planned 4% teacher pay raise in half.

The word around the largely deserted hallways of the Cordell Hull Building is that the House will go first on trying to pass the budget, with the Senate to follow suit later.