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Family of senator who led effort to place Forrest bust in Capitol supports its removal

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

The State Capitol Commission voted 9-2 to recommend removing the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the statehouse, clearing the first major hurdle toward getting the monument relocated to the Tennessee State Museum.

Forrest gained notoriety for his exploits as a Confederate cavalry general during the Civil War, but his prior career as a slave trader and his later leadership role in the Ku Klux Klan have long raised protests about whether it was appropriate for his likeness to be so prominently displayed at the Capitol.

While the bust was placed in the Capitol in 1978 at the behest of what was a rural Democratic majority in the General Assembly, Republicans have largely taken up the mantle of resisting its removal since taking over control. In the Senate, personal factors have come into play. The late Sen. Douglas Henry (D-Nashville) was instrumental in getting the bust placed in the Capitol in the 1970s. Henry, the longtime chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is revered by Republicans who served with him for his conservative approach to fiscal and social issues.

But Henry’s children and adult grandchildren wrote to the State Capitol Commission this week to urge the panel to move Forrest bust out of the building:

My siblings and I have debated the following question recently: would our father see the continued presence of the bust of Forrest as a benefit to the state of Tennessee? My brother Bob wrote to me, in a manner reminiscent of our late father, that he believes that our father would “concede posthumously, to its dismissal from the Capitol Building.” We, the undersigned, agree.

Read the full letter below:

Dear Commissioner Eley,

Hello. My name is Kathryn Henry-Choisser, and I am one of the late Sen. Douglas Henry’s daughters. It has come to my attention that the State Capitol Commission will be meeting on July 9th, and that the fate of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest is likely to be decided at that meeting. I, along with most of my siblings and a majority of the grandchildren of voting age, politely request that the statue be removed.

As you know, 47 years ago, my father first proposed that a bust of Forrest be placed in the beautiful Tennessee State Capitol. Funds were raised, a sculpture was created, and a few years later the bust was placed in a niche on the second floor of the Capitol. I feel confident that the placement of the sculpture caused anger, disappointment, and shock to many Tennesseans in 1978. Over the decades however, we have all been made increasingly aware of the pain and anguish this statue continues to cause. I believe that this pain and anguish can no longer be ignored. I also believe, as did my father, that lawmakers are held to a higher moral standard than the average citizen, since the lawmakers’ beliefs and the laws they pass have long term legal and ethical implications for the voters they represent. So I must ask you why – in the sacred halls where laws affecting all Tennesseans are passed – is this statue allowed to remain? How can the laws be trusted, the lawmakers themselves be trusted- if the presence of a man such as Nathan Bedford Forrest is allowed?

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Lee announces review of law enforcement policies, training

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday announced a review of law enforcement policies and training standards in Tennessee.

“Tragic, preventable events across the nation have challenged us all to confront the difference between law enforcement and police brutality and also challenged us to examine troubling, inconsistent citizen experiences with law enforcement,” Lee said in a statement.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLETenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced a partnership with the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association and the Peace Officer Standards & Training Commission to enhance policies, improve information sharing and increase officer training.

“The intent of this partnership is the desire to ensure law enforcement are consistently reflecting the values of the communities they serve,” said Gov. Lee. “Tragic, preventable events across the nation have challenged us all to confront the difference between law enforcement and police brutality and also challenged us to examine troubling, inconsistent citizen experiences with law enforcement. I am proud of our law enforcement agencies for spearheading efforts to ensure Tennesseans’ rights, dignity and humanity be at the forefront of policing.”

Review of Use of Force and Duty to Intervene Policies

Law enforcement agencies across the state will review and update Use of Force and Duty to Intervene policies over the next 60 days.

  • Use of Force policies should be reviewed and updated to ensure choke holds are not used as a restraining technique. 
  • Duty to Intervene policies should be reviewed and updated to require officers to act to prevent or stop any act, even by officers, that violates law or policy.

“The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security looks forward to supporting local agencies in the review of policies,” said Commissioner Jeff Long. “The Tennessee Highway Patrol has recently conducted a thorough review of its Use of Force Policy in comparison with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, State and Provincial Academy Directors, and National Tactical Officers Association. The department’s policies go above and beyond the recommendations for established guidelines and we advocate for this approach across Tennessee.”

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Distressed no more: Four Tenn. counties come off list

Gov. Bill Lee welcomes delegates to a summit on economically distressed counties in Linden on Aug. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Fentress, Jackson, Morgan, and  McNairy counties are no longer officially designated as distressed by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is hailing the news as evidence of the effectiveness of its efforts to prioritize economic development in the poorest areas of the state.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that Tennessee has the fewest distressed counties statewide since 2007, down from 15 in 2019 to 11 counties according to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).

“McNairy, Jackson, Fentress and Morgan counties have shown tremendous improvement and we are proud to support continued efforts for greater stability and prosperity,” said Gov. Lee. “As these counties improve beyond distressed status this means more residents have access to quality jobs and economic security and we are committed to efforts that sustain this progress.”

Each year, ARC prepares an index of county economic status for every county in the United States. Economic status designations are identified through a composite measure of each county’s three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income, and poverty rate. Based on these indicators, each county is then categorized as distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive or attainment. More information is available here.

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Sethi denounces Nashville mayor as ‘cowardly’

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 denouncing Nashville Mayor John Cooper as “cowardly” for his approach to street violence following protests over the weekend.

“We saw this past weekend was political correctness run amok: cowardly Democrat Mayors, like John Cooper, are more concerned about political correctness and about what the liberal media thinks, than about protecting the people in our cities,” Sethi said in a statement.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Republican Senate candidate and conservative outsider Dr. Manny Sethi released the following statement on the violent riots in Nashville and across our country:

I am deeply saddened and angered by the death of George Floyd. America has justifiably already started a conversation about real criminal justice reform. President Trump had already signed a landmark bill. That was a good start, and we must continue this work so these types of incidents finally end. 

But what we saw in that video was not representative of most police officers. I have cared for police officers who have put their bodies in front of bullets to protect us. I have seen their courage and devotion up close.

Protests are inherently American. The right to petition for redress of grievances is a basic constitutional right. However, we cannot allow what these protests have morphed into to continue. We have moved far beyond peaceful protest into lawlessness. These ANTIFA-trained revolutionaries have no interest in a more perfect union. It’s not about solving problems in policing to them, or helping heal neighborhoods. They want to bring down this country. 

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Hill launches first TV ad of congressional bid

State Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) has launched his first TV ad of his bid for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe.

According to Hill’s campaign, the ad “touts Hill’s record of being a Christian conservative fighter with a pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Trump record, and highlights the fact that Hill was personally invited to the White House by President Trump earlier this year due to his strong support for the Trump agenda.

Sixteen candidates are seeking the GOP nomination in the heavily Republican district. Other candidates include former Kingsport Mayor John Clark, state Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City, former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, Kingsport pharmacist Diana Harshbarger, and state Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville.

Harshbarger has been running ads through her self-funded campaign and Clark recently got on the airwaves as well.

Carmack statue might have to return unless law is changed

The House returns into session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state may have no choice but to return the toppled statue of segregationist newspaper editor Edward Ward Carmack under a state law enacted to make it harder to replace historical markers and statues.

According to the Heritage Protection Act:

A public entity having responsibility for maintaining a memorial, or a nonprofit entity acting with permission of the public entity, shall have the authority to take proper and appropriate measures, and exercise proper and appropriate means, for the care, preservation, protection, repair, and restoration of the memorial.

State attorneys interpret that last part about the repair and restoration of the monument to mean that governments are required to fix any damage. That means the statue knocked over in last weekend’s protests could have to be brought back to its former place of prominence outside the southern entrance of the state Capitol. That’s unless lawmakers decide to seek a waiver or pass a law affecting that particular monument.

Senate throws down marker over which bills it wants to take up in resumed session

In the ongoing fight between the House and Senate over the scope of the return to session, the upper chamber has compiled a list of bills it plans to limit itself to when lawmakers return on June 1. The House is taking a more wide-open approach.

The Senate committee agendas don’t include bills already pending floor votes.

Here’s the list:

Senate Education

1. SB1974 by Gresham

Education – As introduced, clarifies that the powers and authority of the state building commission with respect to construction or demolition projects undertaken by foundations created for the benefit of the state universities originally governed by the board of regents still apply, after the restructuring of the board of regents, to foundations created for the benefit of state universities governed by local governing boards of trustees. – Amends TCA Title 4 and Title 49.

2. SB1247 by Gresham

Education, Dept. of – As introduced, requires the department to publish the list of art supplies that are certified nontoxic by the Arts and Creative Materials Institute on the department’s website. – Amends TCA Title 49.

3. SB2160 by Johnson, Gresham

Education – As introduced, establishes various requirements relating to literacy instruction provided to students in any of the grades kindergarten through two; establishes methods of evaluating the reading proficiency of students in any of the grades kindergarten through three; establishes requirements relating to literacy instruction provided to teaching candidates; establishes various studies and review processes relating to the state’s accountability model and the licensure process for teachers. – Amends TCA Title 49.

Senate Finance, Ways & Means

1. SB 2111 by Lundberg

Public Funds and Financing – As introduced, changes from January 31 to March 1, the date by which the commissioner of economic and community development must report to the general assembly on the administration of the program allocating the state’s bond authority among governmental units having authority to issue bonds. – Amends TCA Title 3; Title 4; Title 8; Title 9 and Title 12.

2. SB2312 by Gardenhire

Hospitals and Health Care Facilities – As introduced, makes various changes to the certificate of need process for healthcare facilities and services. – Amends TCA Title 68, Chapter 11, Part 16.

3. SB2097 by Gresham

Scholarships and Financial Aid – As introduced, enacts the “Financial Aid Simplification for Tennesseans (FAST) Act.” – Amends TCA Title 12, Chapter 3; Title 49, Chapter 1 and Title 49, Chapter 4.

4. SB2677 by Johnson

Taxes, Sales – As introduced, changes, from February 1 to February 15, the date by which the department of revenue must report findings and recommendations regarding sales taxes collected on electronic nicotine delivery devices to the speakers of the senate and the house of representatives and the chairs of the respective finance, ways and means committees. – Amends TCA Title 67.

5. SB1633 by Yager

Air Pollution – As introduced, requires the department of environment and conservation to develop a plan to implement the federal affordable clean energy rule and submit the plan to the EPA for approval by June 15, 2020. – Amends TCA Title 7; Title 65; Title 68 and Chapter 478 of the Public Acts of 2015.

6. Budget package

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Newspaper to local lawmaker: ‘Answer the question’ on no-bid contract

Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), standing,, confers with colleagues as they await Gov. Bill Lee arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Johnson City Press is taking state Rep. Micah Van Huss to task for refusing to answer its reporter’s questions about a no-bid facemask contract.

The state spent $8 million for North Carolina sock maker Renfro Corp. to produce the masks. The see-through material used for the masks has raised questions about their effectiveness in preventing the transmission of COVID-19.

The Jonesborough Republican instead cast Republican Bill Lee as the victim of negative news coverage. Van Huss said the Johnson City Press should spend its time “reporting on news that gives Tennesseans hope in our humanity instead of dividing them with a political hit on Governor Lee.”

Van Huss then boasted about his response on social media. According to the paper’s editorial:

If Van Huss actually read this newspaper, he would know that we have published numerous articles about “hope in our humanity” during this crisis. Our reporters repeatedly have written about relief projects, volunteers, creative coping efforts and inspiring people amid this pandemic.

State Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) said he supports granting the governor some latitude during times of emergency.

“During a pandemic, we have expectations that things will need to happen that won’t have that usual check and balance of bids, submissions, requests for comment, requests for quotes in that process,” Lundberg told the paper.

 

Lee: ‘Metrics’ will be available for lawmakers to plan budget cuts

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at an event in Nashville on April 2, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee says lawmakers will have the revenue data available to plan for further budget cuts when they return into session on June 1.

While the full set of tax collection information usually isn’t released until the middle of the month, the General Assembly won’t have to wait that long to make adjustments to the state’s annual spending plan, the governor told the Daily Memphian over the weekend.

“It’s a challenge to project, but there are metrics which you use to make projections,” Lee said.

The governor said several state economists are assembling data and the State Funding Board will meet again to make recommendations before the legislative session resumes.

Lee backs off of keeping voucher applications going after judge’s ruling

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 backing down from a pledge to keep encouraging parents to apply for the state’s school voucher program even after a judge declared the law unconstitutional and enjoined the state from implementing the Education Savings Account Act.

Lee told reporters on Tuesday that applications would still be processed while the state sought an appeal. Late Tuesday night, the attorney general’s office submitted a legal filing asking Nashville Chancellor Anne Martin to lift her order to allow the state to keep taking applications. A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday.

Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson issued the following statement on Wednesday afternoon:

While we disagree with the court’s ruling, we respect it and believe we are in full compliance. If there are differences of opinion regarding the specific terms of the court’s order, we expect further clarification, soon. In the meantime, the Department of Education has not and will not be taking any action to process, administer, review applications, or further implement the program until this matter is resolved in the courts.