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Lee to introduce sweeping bill to restrict abortions in Tennessee

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference about his plan to introduce sweeping legislation to restrict access to abortions in Tennessee. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is proposing a sweeping bill aimed at restricting access to abortions in Tennessee. The bill would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected and would require women to undergo an ultrasound before seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

The bill includes a “ladder” approach of severerability clauses to that would keep provisions of the law in place if certain components are thrown out in court. For example, if the heartbeat provision doesn’t pass muster, the state could enact a ban at eight weeks, ten weeks or 12 weeks, depending what stands up in court.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Gov. Bill Lee announced that he will submit comprehensive pro-life legislation to the Tennessee General Assembly this year, including the prohibition of an abortion where a fetal heartbeat exists. This legislation would make Tennessee one of the most pro-life states in the country.

“I believe that every human life is precious, and we have a responsibility to protect it,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “Today, Tennessee is taking a monumental step in celebrating, cherishing, and defending life at every stage. I’m grateful to be joined by so many leaders in our state who are boldly standing up for our most vulnerable.”

This legislation would build upon successes in other states while incorporating innovative approaches to enhance existing law, including provisions such as:

  • Prohibiting an abortion where a fetal heartbeat exists;
  • Requiring a mother to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion;
  • Prohibiting an abortion where the physician is aware that the decision to seek an abortion is motivated by the race, sex, or health or disability diagnosis of the unborn child. 

To protect against legal challenges, the new law would also include a creative “ladder” provision, modeled after Missouri law, of sequential abortion prohibitions at two-week gestational age intervals, along with severability clauses for each step of the ladder.

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Byrd confirms he won’t run for another term in House

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Republican Caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 14, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Embattled state Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) has confirmed to The Tennessean he won’t seek re-election this fall.

“At this point I’m still not running,” said Byrd, who pledged in a closed door caucus meeting in August he won’t run again.

Byrd has been under fire since former high school basketball players made sexual misconduct allegations against Byrd dating back to when he was their coach in the 1980s.

Byrd was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2018 despite the allegations. He has been the subject of regular protests. The lawmaker suggested that the demonstrators might get him to change his mind.

“If I get harassed and bullied, then I’ll definitely rethink my position about running.

Former Savannah City Manager Garry Welch announced earlier this month  he will seek the GOP nomination for the House District 71 seat currently held by Byrd. The district covers all of Hardin, Lewis, and Wayne counties and part of Lawrence.

Faison won’t seek vacated congressional seat

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) speaks to colleagues after being elected House Republican Caucus chair in Nashville on Aug. 22, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Jeremy Faison, the new chairman of the House Republican Caucus, has announced he won’t run for the congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City) this year. Faison will instead run for re-election to the House District 11 seat he has represented since 2010.

Faison won a four-way race for caucus chair after Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) was elected speaker. Faison is known for his outsized persona, his longtime support for legalizing medical marijuana, and his uncanny vote-counting ability.

The Tennessean reported last week that former Kingsport Mayor John Clark has announced he will run. Former state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, former House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower, and former Safety Commissioner David Purkey said they won’t make a bid.

Dunn doesn’t want Cordell Hull Building named after him

Former Gov. Winfield Dunn awaits the start of the of the inauguration of Gov. Bill Lee in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A proposal to rename the Cordell Hull Building after former Gov. Winfield Dunn sparked a round of self-congratulation among Republicans in the state House. But key members of the Senate were less enthralled by the idea. And now Dunn himself is asking the legislature not to go through with it.

The Daily Memphian’s Sam Stockard spoke to Dunn about the proposal on Monday.

“I was very surprised to learn what the representative had undertaken to do,” Dunn told the publication. “It seems so completely out of proportion to the historical context of our state. I personally consider Cordell Hull to be an unblemished representative of what Tennessee is. I expressed my reservations to the legislator.”

Dunn was governor from 1971 to 1975, serving at a time when incumbents weren’t allowed to run for re-election. Dunn took another swing at the governor’s office in 1986, but fell short to then-House Speaker Ned Ray McWherter (D-Dresden).

State Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville) last month announced plans to name the building Dunn. The facility has been named after Cordell Hull, the country’s longest-serving secretary of state, since it was first constructed in the 1950s.

Dunn is a Republican, while Nobel Peace Prize-winning Hull was a Democrat. Dunn became Tennessee’s first Republican governor in 48 years when he was elected in 1970.

So is Dunn’s demurral the end of the renaming effort? Not according to Gant.

“Anybody who thinks a building should be named after themselves probably isn’t worthy of such an honor,” he said in a statement. “Governor Dunn does not have an over-inflated sense of self worth like many politicians in this day and age. Former Gov. Dunn is a humble man and was a dedicated servant for our state. It is not surprising he is hesitant of this honor being bestowed upon him.”

Tennessee money cop Justin Wilson dons money suit

Comptroller Justin Wilson enters House budget hearings on Dec. 17, 2019 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)State Comptroller Justin Wilson drew less attention at House budget hearings on Tuesday for what he said than for what he wore. Wilson and his deputy, former Rep. Justin Mumpower, donned matching suits with $100 prints on them.

Mumpower wore a tie with the same pattern on it, but the self-proclaimed “beloved comptroller” resorted to his old reliable Grinch tie.

The Tennessee Journal: The perfect gift for that political junkie in your life

Looking for the perfect gift for that certain someone who just can’t get enough of the inner working Tennessee politics? Look no further than The Tennessee Journal, the weekly insiders’ newsletter on state government, politics since 1975.

For just $209 for the first year, you will receive 49 issues covering major happenings at the state Capitol and from the campaign trail. Download a sample copy here.

The upcoming year promises to be the latest chapter of upheaval in state politics. And The Tennessee Journal will be there to cover it all, including:

√ Another open U.S. Senate seat.

√ Tennessee’s presidential primary on Super Tuesday.

√ New Gov. Bill Lee ramping up for his second legislative session.

√ A new House speaker tries to bring calm to the chamber after his predecessor barely lasted half a year.

√ The state prepares to roll out a controversial school voucher program after the governor’s signature legislation passed under controversial circumstances.

√ All 99 state House seats and half of the 33 state Senate seats are up for election.

√ Freshmen members of the Tennessee congressional delegation (three in the House and one in the Senate) work to make their mark in Washington.

√  Revenue collections continue to overflow the state’s coffers, but for how long?

And, as always, The Tennessee Journal will closely monitor the progress of key bills, legislative maneuvering, and the state budget.

Subscribe here!

McNally says renaming Cordell Hull Building shouldn’t be done ‘without considerable forethought and study’

Former Gov. Winfield Dunn awaits the start of the of the inauguration of Gov. Bill Lee in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) doesn’t appear quite as eager to push through a new name for the legislative office complex as some of his House counterparts. Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville) announced last week he plans to introduce legislation to name the building after former Gov. Winfield Dunn. The facility constructed in the 1950s is named after Cordell Hull, the country’s longest-serving Secretary of State.

“This is not something that should be done without considerable forethought and study,” McNally told The Tennessean.

McNally got his start in politics working for Dunn’s 1970 campaign for governor, calling him “a great man (and an) outstanding governor. But he also praised Hull, who was a state representative before serving in the U.S. House and Senate.

Lee administration records show dozens of grant ‘commitments’

Gov. Bill Lee, second from left, holds a budget hearing with the Department of Economic and Community Development on Nov. 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig/Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has sought to chalk up disagreements about a local grant fund to a “misunderstanding” among lawmakers about the application process the money would be distributed. But emails The Tennessean obtained under state open records laws the show the Lee administration had committed to 60 projects around the state before the grant application process was formally established.

Critics have derided the $4 million grant pool as a “slush fund” and raised questions about whether the money was designed to reward lawmakers who voted for Lee’s controversial school voucher bill. Not so, said Lee, but the governor nevertheless halted distribution of the money until the next budget year.

The finger-pointing spree erupted when Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough), a top ally of former House Speaker Glen Casada, announced in September that a favored nonprofit in his district would be receiving an extra $75,000 grant. Nobody in the executive branch claimed to know anything about it.

But the Tennessean records request shows Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bobby Rolfe sent a July 26 email to Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter saying dozens of commitments had already been identified.

“This morning I met with our ECD Grant Team to develop a plan to administer the $4 million Rural and Community Development Grant Program that was approved by the General Assembly,” Rolfe said in the email.

“Assuming the individual grants will not be large amounts, it is quite conceivable that the total number of grants could exceed 100,” VanderMeer wrote.

Rolfe told the paper on Monday he had no knowledge of specific projects.

“We at ECD saw our role only as the grantor of the program,” he said. “Which means as this legislation was written, (the) commissioner of F&A would be making the decision and would be approving the grants, commitments, whatever you want to call them.”

“We at ECD — nobody’s ever seen a list,” he said. “We to this day don’t know that a list exists. We’ve just been told that there was a list somewhere.”

McWhorter declined to comment to the paper through a spokeswoman. But he denied having a role in devising the additional grant pool funds with state lawmakers at the end of last session.

“I’m not part of the legislative negations,” McWorter told reporters on Nov. 4. “That was their amendment, they added the money. You’ll have to ask them how it was added.

“We submitted a $3 million request as part of the admirative amendment. They added $1M additional and they unanimously approved the budget. So you’ll have to ask them how it occurred,” he said.

Lee said he hasn’t spoken to Hill about why he thought the $75,000 was funded for the project in his district. The governor said during budget hearings earlier this month that he doesn’t know why there’s so much confusion surrounding the grant program.

“You’ll have to ask those who don’t understand it and have said they don’t understand it,” Lee said. “We understood exactly what the process was. But there have been a number of lawmakers who have expressed uncertainty about how the funds would be distributed, what that process would be.

“Because of that lack of clarity and their lack of understanding about the process, we said let’s just hold up, we won’t spend it until we make sure everyone knows how it will be done,” Lee said.

Sethi names veterans coalition

Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi has named a veterans coalition supporting his bid for the Republican nomination in the U.S. Senate race.

“This group of distinguished Tennessee leaders represent generations of Tennesseans who have dedicated themselves in service to us and our great nation. I am so grateful to have these heroes on my team,” Sethi said in a statement.

The chairmen of the coation are retired Army Gen. Gary Harrell, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Carl Schneider, and retired Army Maj. Gen. Jackie Dan Wood.

Sethi’s military platform includes:

  1. Fixing our broken Veterans Affairs system, and ensure that veterans are able to obtain healthcare without fighting through bureaucracy.
  2. Improving rapid access to mental health treatment for our veterans.
  3. Protecting Millington Naval Base, Arnold Air Force Base, Fort Campbell, and other military facilities from cuts or closures.

The membership list of Sethi’s coalition follows:

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Map shows stark divisions in Knoxville mayor’s race

Check out this map of election results in Knoxville’s mayoral runoff. It illustrates the stark partisan divisions within the city, with Democrat Indya Kincannon taking most of the core of the city, and Republican Eddie Mannis capturing most in outlying areas.