Monthly Archives: April 2020

Sethi ad attacks Hagerty for being ‘entitled, self-dealing’

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A new ad by U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi takes aim at rival Republican Bill Hagerty for obtaining a $2.5 million line of credit while small businesses were struggling to get loans amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“How did Hagerty prance right up to the front of the line, and get millions?” the narrator asks. “Well, you see, William Francis Hagerty IV is not a regular guy. He’s entitled, self-dealing. His friends in the ruling class aren’t like you and me.”

The ad was produced by Fred Davis, who is famous for some of his more vicious spots, like the 2011 “Demon Sheep” ad or the “King Rat” video of 2002.

Sethi has loaned his own campaign about $1.9 million. Hagerty disclosed last month that he had obtained the credit from Pinnacle Financial Partners.

The Tennessee Journal reported last week about the close ties between the candidate and the bank: Hagerty served on the board of directors there before he was appointed ambassador to Japan. And the Nashville-based bank’s co-founder and chairman, Rob McCabe, is the brother-in-law of former Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom Hagerty previously served as commissioner of Economic and Community Development.

Here’s a transcript of the ad:

Millions of American small business people have been praying for their small business loans to be funded, to save their companies, save jobs. But most banks just said ‘Big companies came first.’ By the time we got to you, the money was gone.

So, how, on March 27, did Bill Hagerty get a loan for two-and-a-half million dollars to fund his Senate campaign? How did Hagerty prance right up to the front of the line, and get millions?

Well, you see, William Francis Hagerty IV is not a regular guy. He’s entitled, self-dealing. His friends in the ruling class aren’t like you and me. So when Hagerty needed millions, they made sure he got it — ahead of you and me.

So, imagine Hagerty’s take if he was a Senator.

The Tennessee legislature in 1879: Secret meetings, prison outsourcing, political rivalries

Taking a page from sports broadcasters showing archived games to make up for the lack of live programming during the COVID-19 pandemic, the TNJ: On the Hill blog is engaging in our own throwback legislative coverage. Today’s offering, a report by the editor of the old Daily Memphis Avalanche, a precursor of today’s Commercial Appeal, about legislative happenings on Feb. 9, 1879.

The author touches on some familiar themes at the General Assembly: legislative secrecy, the need for the Shelby County delegation to stick together, efforts to reduce incarceration costs through outsourcing, rivalries between local officials, and “the doings of lobbyists.”

Here’s the dispatch:

Our Legislative Solons : A Good Word from Them by an Occasional Correspondent

Retrenchment and Reform – A Desire to Do Something

NASHVILLE, February 9, 1879 – Notwithstanding the terrible legislative abortions and the rip-pell-mell style of action of the present General Assembly, it may well be characterized as one of economy, retrenchment and reform. Men of observation concede the fact that more business has been consummated so far during the present session than in some entire sessions of General Assemblies.

The bills passed with special reference to Memphis seem to be necessities and will probably be followed with good results. It is said that additional legislation will be required in order to perfect, if possible, the changed conditions of affairs. The necessary legislation will be enacted without trouble, if the Shelby delegation remains united on the various propositions in the future as in the past.

Committees during recess are working earnestly and sedulously, and if credit and be accorded rumor their labors will produce desirable and satisfactory results. Two committees are at work investigation all the alleged frauds subsequent to the war – by the issuance of bonds, the funding scheme, the Torbett or new issue of the Bank of Tennessee, the leasing of the penitentiary, the doings of the lobbyists, the trading of offices; in fact, their investigation apparently has no limit. But as they sit with closed doors and their proceedings secret nothing will be known until they report.

The State debt will be thoroughly examined, so that holders of the State bonds are likely to learn what class of bonds the State will good and what fraudulent. If any are classed as fraudulent, the people will be warned. The funding scheme and the practice resorted to impair the created of the State, will receive attention. […]

Happily for the State Government there is enough money to in the treasury to pay the current expenses for nearly a year to come; therefore the frauds, if any, in leasing the penitentiary will be thoroughly sifted and the guilty, if any, exposed. Continue reading

Legislative office access to be by appointment only

The doors to the Cordell Hull Building are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Cordell Hull Building will reopen to staff and members on Monday, but the legislative office complex will remain largely closed to the public. There will be an exception for guests who have scheduled appointments with lawmakers.

About 23,000 executive branch employees who have been working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic will be doing so for another month. About 18,000 state employees, or 44% of the total full-time workforce, have still been required to come to work during COVID-19.

 

Here are the guidelines put out by the office of legislative administration:

RETURN TO WORK: What to Know

In preparation for our return to operations at the Cordell Hull Building, your health continues to be of primary concerns to us.  Our Speakers receive regular updates from top health officials concerning conditions and will continue to provide you with relevant information.

All staff is scheduled to return to work on Monday, May 4, 2020, at your regular schedule.

The Cordell Hull Building will continue to be closed to the public until further notice with the exception of guests who have a scheduled appointment with a Member.   All guests should be directed to enter through the 5th Avenue Main Entrance and should remain in hallways or common areas until the time of their appointment.  Please notify me one day in advance of any guest scheduled to come into the building for an appointment so that security can be notified for approval to enter the facility.

Following the Centers for Disease Control recommendations, we ask that staff practice these suggestions while at work:

  • Maintain six (6) foot physical distancing.
  • Wear a cloth mask or facial covering while in common areas and around other people in the facility. A simple scarf or bandana to cover your nose and mouth is sufficient.  If you need a mask, please let me know and we will provide one.
  • While in your suite, keep your door shut. Guests should remain in hallways and common areas until the time of scheduled appointments.
  • Avoid gathering in groups.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze using a tissue if possible.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer often.
  • Avoid touching your face.

If you are at home or at work and become ill with symptoms including fever, cough or shortness of breath, remain at home or leave the facility immediately and remain at home until you are free of fever and other symptoms without using fever-reducing medicine for at least 24 hours.  Notify your Member/Supervisor as soon as possible.

FACILITY OPERATIONS: Cleaning and Disinfecting Regularly

The Facilities Management Office has implemented new procedures for cleaning and disinfecting the building.  The facility is cleaned thoroughly on an on-going basis following the guidelines and products recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.  This includes common areas and office suites and air processing systems.

The Facilities Office staff will deliver to your suite all mail that has been held during our remote work absence.  Mail will be in your suite when you return to work on Monday.

 

Governor’s office releases gym reopening guidelines

A workout area is taped off in Nashville due to the coronavirus pandemic on April 2, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s Economic Recovery Group has released its guidance for gyms to start opening around the state on Friday. Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Sullivan and Madison have the power to make their own decisions about reopening schedules locally, though most have been matching state policy.

Here’s the full release:

Nashville, Tenn. — Today, Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group announced guidance for gyms and exercise facilities on how to reopen safely. Gyms will be allowed to reopen in 89 of the state’s 95 counties beginning Friday, May 1. The counties excluded are those with locally-run health departments: Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Sullivan.

“Exercise is incredibly important for the physical and mental health of our population, and we want Tennesseans to have access to safe environments where they can exercise as appropriate,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. “These guidelines outline best practices in keeping with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and health experts for gyms to reopen in a way that will keep their employees and customers safe.”

In addition to strict adherence to CDC guidelines, the State recommends gyms, fitness/exercise facilities, or substantially similar facilities and activities put into place an assortment of measures to protect consumers and employees. The full guidelines are posted online here and include:

Business Process Adaptations

  • Restrict facility access to staffed hours only (i.e., any unmanned facilities must be manned) and limit facility occupancy to 50 percent of capacity as dictated by fire code (as such capacity is adjusted in consideration of closed areas of the facility pursuant to these guidelines);
  • Mitigate exposure in the workplace by implementing social distancing guidelines and modify scheduling;
  • Staff to conduct regular (i.e., every 2 hours) disinfecting of high-touch surfaces, equipment and common areas of the facility using disinfectant cleaning supplies according to CDC guidelines;
  • Close showers, locker rooms, and lockers until further notice. Ask customers to instead use small gym bags to store personal belongings; remind customers to appropriately monitor or secure such personal belongs or provide a secure area monitored by staff;
  • Close all swimming pools, hot tubs, saunas and other recreational water or spa facilities;
  • Close all basketball courts, racquetball courts, and other places where formal and informal group or team sports may occur;
  • Any youth or adult team leagues or sports should remain closed;
  • Only allow group fitness classes if classes can be completed in accordance with social distancing recommendations (including but not limited to: less than 50% capacity and with more than 6 feet of distance maintained between participants at all times; no shared equipment during the class; sufficiently adjusted class schedules to allow for deep cleaning between classes; martial arts and other contact activities should be completed without any person-to-person contact);
  • Encourage all employees and customers to wear PPE where applicable, and recommend that customers wear a face covering (not N-95 or medical masks, which should be reserved for healthcare workers);
  • Adjust equipment layout and close or restrict access to equipment to maintain at least six feet of distance between equipment;
  • Temporarily close water fountains, common areas, break rooms, check-in counters, where customers or employees may congregate. Encourage users to provide their own water;
  • No self-service options (coffee bars, smoothie stations and other forms of communal food in facilities). Food retail should follow restaurant guidelines;
  • Ensure that staffing of facilities is sufficient to enable enhanced sanitization and cleaning measures;

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Work from home extended for state employees

The doors of the state Capitol were closed to the public on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The about 23,000 state employees who have been working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic will be doing so for another month.

According to a memo from the state Department of Human Resources, the work from home arrangement has been extended until at least May 26. Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Lee this week began reopening segments of the economy like restaurants and retail stores.

About 18,000 state employees, or 44% of the total full-time workforce, have still been required to come to work during COVID-19. Changes are being made to account for the new workplace realities.

“Not only will this help the State of Tennessee reboot from the current crisis, it will also prepare our workforce for the future,” according to the memo.

Here’s the full memorandum:

Dear State Employees,

Thank you once again for your commitment to maintain services to  support the health, welfare, and safety of Tennesseans during the pandemic. As we strive to continue business in the safest, most responsible way possible, please review the following announcements regarding work from home, state facilities, workforce recalibration, and mission critical hiring.

Work From Home Extension
To support efforts to maintain social distancing, the directive for employees who are able to work from home is being extended to at least Tuesday, May 26. While work from home will continue where possible, the state is developing plans for a phased approach to return to state offices where needed. The plans will support site-critical employees in returning to their worksites safely. At the same time, work from home may continue for employees who are fully virtually enabled as a means to support social distancing.

State Facilities Update
Efforts are underway to ensure workspaces are ready to support safe employee return. The State of Tennessee will continue to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Department of Health (DOH) for the cleaning and disinfecting of state facilities and usage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

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AG: Governor’s emergency powers preempt locals

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The governor’s emergency powers trump the authority of local health departments to issue restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a rare legal opinion issued by state Attorney General Herbert Slatery.

The opinion was requested by Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville)

It’s just the seventh legal opinion issued by Slatery’s office this year. Here it is:

Question

Because of the COVID-19 health crisis, the Governor has exercised his authority to declare a state of emergency in Tennessee and to issue a series of executive orders governing the State’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Do these executive orders serve as the exclusive regulation of the State’s emergency management in response to the pandemic, and to what extent, if any, may local governmental entities take actions or issue orders that conflict with the Governor’s executive orders?

OPINION

The General Assembly has vested the Governor with exclusive responsibility and authority to assume control over all aspects of the State’s response to an emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Tenn. Code Ann. § 58-2-107(a)(1). Because the executive orders that the Governor issues pursuant to that authority have the force and effect of law, Tenn. Code Ann. § 58-2- 107(a)(2), the Governor’s directives in response to an emergency supersede and preempt any action taken by political subdivisions of the State.

Absent an express delegation of power by the Governor, local governmental entities may not take actions that are either more restrictive or less restrictive with respect to the subjects addressed in the Governor’s executive orders governing the State’s emergency response to COVID-19. Such action would be at cross purposes with the Governor’s orders, which are the law of the State, and would constitute an impermissible legal conflict.

Just as the Governor may exercise his authority under Tenn. Code Ann. § 58-2-107(a)(1) to delegate to a local governmental entity or to the local health department “such powers as the governor may deem prudent,” the Governor may exercise his emergency powers to expressly authorize, or recognize the authority of, county health departments to take action that may otherwise be inconsistent with his executive orders. Such a delegation of authority may be revoked or modified at any time, § 58-2-107(a)(2), and, absent an express delegation or authorization by the Governor, the local health department or other local governmental entity may not take any action inconsistent with the Governor’s executive orders.

ANALYSIS

Because of the COVID-19 health crisis, the Governor has exercised his authority to declare a state of emergency in Tennessee and to issue a series of executive orders governing the State’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.[1] The executive orders are all aimed at diminishing the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring that the State maintains the resources needed to protect the health and well-being of its citizens. Among other provisions, the orders currently require all persons in Tennessee to stay at home unless engaging in essential activity or essential services, and they place restrictions on social gatherings and business operations. Some local governmental entities have issued orders that are either more restrictive or less restrictive than the Governor’s executive orders.

The Governor’s power to issue these executive orders is grounded in the broad grant of authority—a responsibility and authority that the General Assembly has vested solely in the office of the governor—to assume control over all aspects of the State’s response to an emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic:

The governor is responsible for addressing the dangers presented to this state and its people by emergencies. In the event of an emergency beyond local control, the governor . . . may assume direct operational control over all or any part of the emergency management functions within this state The governor is authorized to delegate such powers as the governor may deem prudent.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 58-2-107(a)(1) (emphasis added). To exercise this exclusive authority “the governor may issue executive orders, proclamations, and rules and may amend or rescind them. Such executive orders, proclamations, and rules have the force and effect of law.Id. § 58-2- 107(a)(2)(emphasis added). See also Tenn. Code Ann. § 58-2-107(b)(1)(A) (authorizing issuance of executive orders to implement governor’s authority).

An “emergency” is defined expressly to include “disease outbreaks and epidemics.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 58-2-101(7). “Emergency management” is defined broadly to cover all stages of dealing with an emergency; it “means the preparation for, the mitigation of, the response to, and the recovery from emergencies and disasters.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 58-2-101(8).[2]

To effectuate emergency management, the General Assembly has given the Governor a broad range of powers. The Governor has the power, among others, to: suspend laws prescribing the conduct of state business; utilize all available resources of the state government and of each political subdivision; commandeer private property; direct and compel an evacuation; control ingress and egress to and from an emergency area; control the movement of persons; control the occupancy of premises; make provisions for temporary emergency housing; and take measures concerning the conduct of civilians. Tenn. Code Ann. § 58-2-107(e).

By giving the Governor “direct operational control over all or any part of the emergency management functions within this state,” the General Assembly has vested in the Governor the exclusive authority to wield these powers to control and limit the acts of political subdivisions in an emergency. Further, when the Governor invokes his emergency management powers, all the “officers and agencies of the State and political subdivisions . . . shall cooperate with and extend their services and facilities to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency,[3] as it may require.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 58-2-107(h) (emphasis added). In short, the General Assembly clearly intended the Governor’s emergency management powers to be exclusive and to override any action taken by political subdivisions of the State.

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Tennessee implements hiring freeze for state government

The state Capitol was closed to visitors on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

New Finance Commissioner Butch Eley has announced a state hiring freeze in a memo to department heads. Exceptions include “mission critical areas necessary for the public welfare.” Promotions, demotions, and transfers within agencies are not covered by the freeze unless they lead to an increase in the employee count. Departments are also instructed to put off equipment purchases not related to the COVID-19 response or work-from-home initiatives

Here’s the full memo sent out late last week:

To: All Agency Heads, Budget Officers, and Human Resources Officers
From: Butch Eley, Commissioner of Finance and Administration
Juan Williams, Commissioner of Human Resources
Date: April 23, 2020
Subject: Financial Management Policy

The economic effects of the worldwide public health crisis brought on by COVID-19 will ripple through the state’s economy and have a negative impact on the state budget. Prudent financial management therefore requires that each agency begin to restrain discretionary spending for the balance of fiscal year 2019-2020 and until further notice. Effective immediately, state agencies shall adhere to the following financial management policies.

  1. Hiring Freeze – A hiring freeze is imposed on vacant positions. Exceptions will be allowed in mission critical areas necessary for the public welfare and for the welfare of persons under care or custody of the state. Approval of a separate freeze exception justification letter by the Commissioner of Human Resources is required before filling any vacant position, unless blanket freeze approval is granted by the Commissioner of Human Resources for the two categories specified above. The hiring freeze does not apply to promotions, demotions, and transfers within an agency, provided that there is no increase in the employee count within the agency as a result of such transactions.
  2. Temporary Services Contractual Services – The hiring freeze also is imposed on hiring of temporary services workers through the statewide temporary services contract. The provisions of item 1 above shall apply as to exceptions and the process for approval.
  3. Equipment Purchases – A freeze is imposed on equipment purchases not necessary for the state’s COVID-19 response and working from home initiative. Agency heads should review equipment purchases in process and those planned for later in the current and next fiscal years to determine if they are required to address an emergency or otherwise essential circumstance. Justification of equipment purchase requests requiring approval of the Commissioner of Finance and Administration or the Budget Office should be limited to the circumstances stated in this paragraph and must be accompanied by a justification letter from the agency head. The justification letter should be addressed to the Commissioner of Finance and Administration and be submitted to the Budget Office at the time the requisition or purchase order is submitted.
  4. Other Program Requirements — Agencies must manage the expenditure of all other program funds as conservatively as possible. Agency heads should restrain any discretionary spending which will not disrupt mandatory program service delivery, and which will not circumvent the legislative intent in the appropriation of funds.

Thank you for your efforts during these difficult times.

Lee administration says counties hold sway over cities on reopening policies

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters on March 19, 2019, about his proposal to introduce an education savings account program in Tennessee. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s office clarified over the weekend that the six counties being given the leeway to chart their own course on economic reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic will be given the authority to make those decisions for cities located within their jurisdictions.

That decision has policy implications primarily in Knox and Hamilton counties, where Republican county officials have clashed with Democratic city leaders over the extent of lockdowns.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports the city’s mayor, Andy Berke, disagrees with efforts to resume in-person dining at restaurants.

“Yesterday I learned that, despite public and private assurances otherwise, the city of Chattanooga would not be making its own decisions for the reopening of restaurants,” Berke said. “This has understandably caused a lot of confusion for a lot of people in our city,” Berke wrote Sunday, saying that he will abide by the governor’s decision. “Chattanooga will obey the law, and I will do everything possible to ensure its success. I want every restaurant to make payroll, and I want to protect as many Chattanoogans as possible from contracting the coronavirus.”

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, who has decided to follow the governor’s plan for reopening the 89 of 95 counties, said it will be left up to local businesses to decide whether to resume business.

“No one is being forced to reopen, and no one is being forced to go to a restaurant if they do not think it’s safe,” Coppinger told the Times Free Press. “As we’ve said all along, this is the first small step to try to bring our economy back while maintaining safety protocols. All this does is allows restaurants the opportunity to choose to open.”

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon announced their joint plan on Monday.

Lee didn’t appear certain when asked last week whether workers would still qualify for unemployment benefits if they feel unsafe returning to their reopened place of employment.

In Shelby County, Democrats run both county government and the city of Memphis, though Republicans run most of the other municipalities. Nashville and Davidson County form a combined government.

The other two counties left to decide their own direction are Madison and Sullivan.

Lee unveils ‘Tennessee Pledge’ for reopening state economy

Gov. Bill Lee on Friday outlined his plan for rebooting the state’s economy, starting with restaurants and retail stores. Under his “Tennessee Pledge” guidelines, both will be allowed to begin operating next week at 50% capacity.

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office:

Nashville, Tenn. – Today, Gov. Bill Lee issued the first steps from the “Tennessee Pledge,” the state’s rollout of guidance and best practices for Tennessee businesses in 89 of the state’s 95 counties to keep employees and customers safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The first industries to receive guidance through the plan include the restaurant and retail industries.

“Tennesseans pulled together to flatten the curve, and it is time for people to begin to get back to work and back to their businesses,” Lee said. “We are pursuing a careful, measured approach to reopening our economy that does not depend on heavy-handed mandates but instead provides practical tools for businesses of all sizes.”

Lee underscored the Tennessee Pledge plan for safe economic recovery is supported by data showing Tennessee’s curve of novel coronavirus infections hitting a plateau. Lee also pointed to the unsettling economic reality COVID-19 has created in our state. 

Tennessee has seen the average daily growth rate remain stable for 14 days, in addition to a steady downward trajectory in positive tests as a percentage of total tests since April 1. The state has also had a massive ramp up in testing, included open testing available to all Tennesseans across 33 sites over last weekend, 18 this weekend, and more the next.

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Not big on social graces: Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood film ‘stay apart’ video

A release from Gov. Bill Lee’s office:

Nashville, Tenn. — Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks are the latest talent joining forces with the State of Tennessee “Do your part, stay apart” public service announcement campaign urging Tennesseans to continue safe habits as Tennessee communities gradually reopen.

Commending Tennesseans for “stepping up” in their role to stay home, limit the transmission of COVID-19 and save lives, as Tennessee slowly reopens community life they encourage citizens to “keep it going, to be smart, and to be careful and be diligent.. . . stay smart, stay strong, stay Tennessee strong.”

The video can be viewed here.

Over the past month, the State of Tennessee “Do your part, stay apart” public service announcement campaign involving influential Tennesseans in sports and entertainment reached millions of Tennesseans with the urgent message to adopt preventive health measures and slow the spread of COVID-19.

The campaign registered nearly 20 million impressions across social media, digital and outdoor advertising, broadcast television, radio and newsprint platforms. Public outreach was strategic to the state’s efforts to impact Tennesseans’ attention to the seriousness of coronavirus and to encourage stay-at-home and social distancing behaviors to limit the spread of COVID-19 and help move Tennessee toward a gradual reopening.

“From the moment Tennessee declared a state of emergency it has been our priority to get the attention of all Tennesseans to take this threat seriously so that together we can slow the spread of coronavirus and keep our state healthy,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. “Our talented community of artists, athletes, leaders and organizations stepped up to get the word out about staying safe during this pandemic. Maria and I thank them all and are grateful for their willingness to lend a hand.”

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