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Today’s the day for Casada to sink or swim. Or is it?

The state House Republican Caucus meets Monday afternoon at a Nashville hotel to decided whether embattled Speaker Glen Casada still has their confidence to lead the chamber.

Casada has been furiously lobbying members not to cast him aside. One idea that’s been floated is for the caucus to vote on whether to censure the speaker rather than pass a no-confidence motion, with the former being considered less fatal to his prospects to remain speaker.

Another option is for the caucus to simply vote down the no-confidence motion.

Any outcome, however, is bound to leave the speaker in a severely weakened position.

One of Casada’s major challenges is that just about every rumor floated about him feels like it might have some credence — no matter how outlandish it sounds. That means the Franklin Republican is constantly on the defensive, trying to slap down the latest whispers.

The lastest rumor spreading around the Capitol is that Casada has allegedly promised to support a primary challenger of Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) after she declared the speaker should step aside (and also because she earlier voted against the school voucher bill). Casada aides and House Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville say they are unaware of any such arrangement.

Meanwhile, Republican State Executive Committee member Randy Ellis of Harriman issued a statement calling on Casada resign as speaker:

The continued drama involving Speaker Casada has quickly turned into a National embarrassment it’s time for the Speaker to step aside and allow for new leadership. This ordeal has overshadowed all the hard work and accomplishments our legislature has worked so hard for during the last session.

It is time to end this prolonged drama. For the sake of our great party and the state of Tennessee, I call for Speaker Casada to step down as Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

 

Public to be barred from GOP meeting on Casada’s future

Members of the House Republican Caucus vote on a motion during a meeting to elect their nominee for speaker in Nashville on Nov. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The public was invited to attend the House Republican Caucus meeting in November in which Rep. Glen Casada was elected as the nominee for speaker.

Not so for the meeting scheduled for Monday to decide whether members still have confidence in Casada’s leadership amid a scandal involving lewd and racist text messages.

House GOP spokesman Doug Kufner said the meeting will be limited to members of the caucus. That’s at the request of those who called for the gathering, he said. Reps. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) and Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) have been identified as gathering the 10 signatures needed to hold the caucus meeting.

Some members have been told they could be required to check their mobile phones at the door for fear of details being leaked to public.

Nashville, Memphis school districts threaten to sue over vouchers

The school districts covering Nashville and Memphis are threatening to sue the state if the General Assembly passes legislation to enact an expanded school voucher program affecting only their students. The so-called Education Savings Account bill passed both the House and Senate last week, but in competing forms.

Here’s the full release from Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools:

State’s 2 Largest School Districts Oppose Education Savings Account Legislation as Unconstitutional

The Education Savings Account (ESA) legislation violates Article XI, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution because it is arbitrarily limited to only a portion of the state when the Constitution requires any Act of the General Assembly to apply statewide unless approved by a local legislative body or through a local referendum.

The language, in both the House and Senate versions of the bill, reflects an arbitrary application to Shelby County Schools (SCS) and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MPNS), as there are school districts such as Madison and Fayette county with larger or nearly the same percentages of schools performing in the bottom 10 percent. The legislation also applies to only certain districts with priority schools from the state’s 2015 priority school list even though there is a more current list from 2018 that includes schools in Campbell, Fayette, Madison and Maury counties. These districts are arbitrarily left out of the legislation.

Should this legislation be signed into law, an immediate constitutional challenge is likely to ensure equal protection under the law. Shelby County is no stranger to asserting and prevailing on such constitutional challenges as reflected in the November 27, 2012 decision in the case of Board of Education of Shelby County Tennessee et al v. Memphis City Board of Education by federal Judge Hardy Mays which rendered a similar bill void that was local in effect.

“If the Governor and Legislature are determined to pass a general law that would apply arbitrarily only to us or a limited number of school systems, we will be sure to exhaust all of our legal options,” said SCS Superintendent, Dr. Joris M. Ray.

“No matter what you call them, vouchers are a bad idea. They are not what we need for public schools. We owe it to this generation of students — and to all of those who follow them – to fight for a system that is fairly funded,” said Dr. Adrienne Battle, the MNPS Interim Director.

If the ESA bill becomes law, Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools stand prepared to evaluate and pursue all legal remedies that ensure that the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law remain intact for the children and families of our districts and state.

 

Carr cleans up: Perennial candidate lands $135K job with Lee adminstration

Former state Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) announces his U.S. Senate bid in January 2013.

Former state Rep. Joe Carr — the failed candidate for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House (twice), state Senate, and state Republican party chairman — has landed a job with Gov. Bill Lee’s administration. The Tennessean reports the job will pay $135,000 per year.

Carr’s new position will be assistant commissioner of the state Department of Environment and Conservation, the Nashville Post first reported.

Carr decided against running for re-election to the state House in 2014 to instead mount a challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Sout Pittsburg). But he abandoned that bid to instead challenge U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville). He did better than expected in that campaign, but still lost by 9 percentage points.

He then mounted a failed challenge to GOP Chairman Chris Devaney (top Lee adviser during the governor’s race and in the current administration). Then came a challenge to U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin) in 2016. He lost that one by a 2-to-1 margin.

And last year Carr ran for the Republican nomination to succeed Republican state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville. Carr lost to Shane Reeves 65% to 35%.

Carr made an early endorsement of Lee during the Republican gubernatorial primary as the businessman was still finding his feet in the campaign and staving off claims by rivals that he wasn’t sufficiently conservative.

Carr’s hiring was announced to TDEC employees in a recent email touting his business experience.

“[Carr] most recently served as chief operating officer for Superior Walls, a concrete construction company, where he was accountable for the safety and management of more than 50 employees,” according to the email.

Who was at the closed-door DeVos meeting?

While reporters headed out to set up for a photo-op and gaggle at a Nashville charter school, Gov. Bill Lee and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hosted a closed-door roundtable in a conference room in the state Capitol. The specifics of what was discussed were not divulged, but attendees helpfully took photos to give hints about who was there.

Besides the usual suspects of Senate and House leadership, the Beacon Center appears to have been heavily represented with Vice Chairman Joe Scarlett (the retired head of Tractor Supply Co.), board member Fred Decosimo (Lee’s campaign treasurer), and President Justin Owen. Others included Lee Barfield (a former lobbyist and longtime voucher advocate), Victor Evans (of TennesseeCAN), Hugh Morrow (president of Ruby Falls), Bradley Jackson (head of the state Camber), and Mark Gill (president of Rodgers Capital Group). Not pictured is Scarlett’s daughter, Tara.

Seemingly not in attendance? State Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. (We hear she was out of town on TNReady business)

Recognize anyone else?

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Here are Gov. Lee’s proposed raises for state employees

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here’s a look at the $157 million in state employee raises Republican Gov. Bill Lee is proposing for the upcoming budget year:

1. State Employees Salary Pool:

a. 2% Salary Pool – Pay for performance – TEAM Act agencies: $28.8 million (effective 1/1/2020).
b. 2% Salary Pool – Across the board – Non-TEAM Act agencies: $6.7 million (effective 7/1/2019).
c. Market rate adjustment: $18.5 million. 

2. Higher Education Included in Funding Formula:

a. 2% Salary Pool – Formula Units: $22 million. 
b. 2% Salary Pool – Non-Formula Units: $8.5 million

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Lee to keep State of the State party going in Knoxville, Memphis

Bill Lee is inaugurated as Tennessee’s 50th governor on Jan. 19, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is scheduled to give his first State of the State address in Nashville on Monday. But he’s not stopping there. The new governor has announced plans to hold similar regional addresses in Knoxville and Memphis later in the week.

The addresses are dubbed the State of East Tennessee and the State of West Tennessee, respectively. What, no State of Middle Tennessee?

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, in an effort to reach new audiences outside the state capital, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced plans to deliver regional addresses following the State of the State speech next week.

“I look forward to delivering my first State of the State address on Monday during a joint session of the legislature in Nashville, however, I am excited to have these special events in Knoxville and Memphis,” said Lee. “As we present our budget and outline priorities for the next year, we want to engage with as many Tennesseans as we can.”

Gov. Lee will deliver his State of the State address to the General Assembly and members of the public on Monday, March 4 at 6 p.m. CT in the House Chamber of the Tennessee General Assembly in Nashville. The joint session will air statewide.

State of the State occurring in Nashville, and the addition of these two events, he will deliver an address in each Grand Division.

Details for the State of East Tennessee address and the State of West Tennessee address are listed below. The events are free and open to the public with tickets available at https://www.tn.gov/governor/sots. Tickets are needed for entry.

State of East Tennessee
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
6:00 p.m. ET
University of Tennessee – Knoxville
Clarence Brown Theatre
1714 Andy Holt Ave.
Knoxville, TN 37996

State of West Tennessee
Thursday, March 7, 2019
5:30 p.m. CT
University of Memphis
University Center Ballroom
499 University St.
Memphis, TN 38152

Gov. Lee announces $15M mental health initiative

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business in Nashville on Feb. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday announced a $15 million initiative to address mental illness in Tennessee.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced three priorities to increase access to mental health treatment and expand suicide prevention efforts across the state.

“The mental health of our citizens is foundational to all other goals we seek to accomplish in education, job growth and public safety,” said Lee. “By prioritizing our mental health safety net and suicide prevention, we are caring for more Tennesseans and building healthier communities.”

Gov. Lee is proposing $11.2 million in new funding to expand access to services for Tennesseans living with serious mental illness. This investment seeks to cover an additional 7,000 uninsured Tennessee adults through the state’s Behavioral Health Safety Net program, which provides several essential mental health services.  Additionally, the investment addresses increasing costs at the state’s four regional mental health institutes and ensures that those facilities will continue to provide high quality care to Tennesseans with the most significant psychiatric needs.

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Lee unveils ‘Future Workforce Initiative’

Gov.-elect Bill Lee speaks to a Chamber of Commerce event in Memphis on Dec. 6, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s office unveiled a Future Workforce Initiative to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) education training in K-12 schools.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the Future Workforce Initiative to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training in K-12 schools as part of his first-year legislative agenda for education.

“Our agenda advocates for increased access to career and technical education for K-12 students and a key part of this includes prioritizing STEM training,” said Lee. “The Future Workforce Initiative is a direct response to the emerging technology industry and making sure our students are first in line to be qualified for technology jobs.”

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Full text of Gov. Bill Lee’s inaugural address

Bill Lee takes the oath of office as Tennessee’s 50th governor on Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s inaugural speech, as prepared for delivery:

“In 1796, a man and his young family began their homestead just up the way on the banks of the Cumberland River. That was the same year the great state of Tennessee was formed. 223 years and 50 governors later, we stand here on the banks of the Cumberland, celebrating our history and anticipating our future.

I am honored to stand before you today.

Thank you for that warm introduction Governor McNally. Thanks to you, to Speaker Casada and all the Members of the General Assembly. I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

To the former governors, thank you for being here as well. It’s an honor to have you.

I would also like to thank our Constitutional Officers, the Justices of the Supreme Court, Members of Tennessee’s Congressional Delegation and all of my fellow Tennesseans who have joined us here in War Memorial Auditorium, and those watching at home. Thank you for sharing in this special moment.

I would not be here today without God’s gift to me, my wife Maria.

Throughout the past two years of campaigning, Maria has been constantly at my side. She has been steadfastly committed to me and in this process has become committed to the people of Tennessee. She will make a remarkable First Lady. Maria, thank you.

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