Bill Lee

Sexton agenda as House speaker includes health care, sentencing, early childhood reading

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to the House Republican Caucus after winning their nomination for speaker on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

New Speaker Cameron Sexton gave a wide-ranging speech to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce last week, outlining his agenda as he takes the reins of the Tennessee House of Representatives. The Crossville Republican took aim at health insurance companies for acting like “big brother” by blocking information about taxpayer-funded services and for having “absolute control over the marketplace.” He also called for stronger truth-in-sentencing laws, better funding for early childhood reading programs, and a long-term approach to spending Temporary Assistance for Needy Families reserves.

Sexton speech was in contrast to his predecessor, Glen Casada, who often appeared more driven by political considerations than political ones. Sexton also placed several stakes in the ground that could end up being at odds with the plans of Republican Gov. Bill Lee as he heads into his second session.

Here is a transcript of Sexton’s speech:

It’s great to be here this morning and see so many familiar faces as we look forward to what next week may bring. One of the question and I usually I get all the time is ‘When do you think we’re going to get out?’ I get 50 variations of the question because I usually won’t answer it, and they say, ‘Well, you know I’m planning and trip and it’s looking like this date.’ And my question back to them is: ‘well, is it refundable?’ We make no promises, but we’re hoping to have a very good session, a very productive session, and we’re hoping to announce in the coming couple days or week some processes and changes we’re making to hopefully make it more efficient and flow a little bit better.

I’d like to start out the day by saying, isn’t Tennessee doing great? The Tennessee Vols won the Gator Bowl and the Tennessee Titans beat the Patriots. And oh yeah, we have a pretty good economy in the state of Tennessee as well. But one of the things I have learned is it doesn’t really matter what’s going on, if the Tennessee Titans and Tennessee Vols are doing well, Tennessee is happy, so everything looks pretty good in the state and as long as we keep that going, we’re going to do very good. So everything looks like it’s settling in right into place four months into my speakership. Tennessee’s happy, so I’m happy.

But it’s an honor to be here today, and I very much appreciate this opportunity to speak with you. Back in 1994 – I know some of you know this and some you may not – I worked on my first political campaign after graduating from the University of Tennessee. It was a state Senate race and I worked for a great candidate, although have we ever really met anyone who says they hadn’t worked for a candidate – everybody’s candidate is great. But I can tell you this candidate was really, really good. And if you fast forward 26 years to today, I have this opportunity to lead the House, and I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity, but I do beside that very same state Senator I worked for in 1994, Lt. Governor Randy McNally, as he is preparing to lead the Senate, and I look forward to the partnership with him as we continue to move Tennessee forward.

We have been very fortunate as a state to have had many great leaders who have laid a solid foundation for us, and each one has passed the torch to the next person and everyone has taken it and continued to move. And now it’s is in our hands and we have to fill the purpose and the destiny that they helped us get to. 

But I don’t want to just hold serve, I don’t want to take a knee, and I sure don’t want to run out the clock. I believe we are tasked to accept it and make it shine brighter for all Tennesseans. Because isn’t that what America’s greatest generation did for us many years ago when they sacrificed and made things better for us?

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Lee signs order granting 12-week paid family leave for state workers

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a groundbreaking event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that state workers will be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or an ill family member. That will make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer the full package of coverage under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, Lee said.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Gov. Bill Lee announced that Tennessee will provide paid family leave for state employees. The Governor signed an Executive Order today directing the Tennessee Department of Human Resources to issue the new policy effective March 1.  

“Strong families make for strong communities, and I am proud that Tennessee will lead the nation in supporting our employees,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “This is an impactful investment in the state workforce and will allow us to continue to attract and retain the best workforce possible.”

While 69% of full-time working Americans believe that receiving paid parental leave is important when looking for a job, only 17% of employees across the U.S. have access to it. One additional month of paid family leave is associated with a 13% drop in infant mortality.

“Paid family leave will improve quality of life for state employees both at work and at home. I am grateful to Governor Lee and Senator Dickerson for making this a priority,” said Lt. Governor Randy McNally.

“I appreciate Governor Lee’s desire to support our state employees through this initiative, and I support the idea of allowing new mothers and fathers opportunities to spend more quality time with their newly adopted or newborn children. I look forward to working with the Governor, the House and Senate, Rep. Helton and our Fiscal Review Committee to determine the best ways we can continue to strengthen our Tennessee families,” said Speaker Cameron Sexton.

“Paid family leave for state employees builds upon our recent efforts creating safe, nurturing environments for our children, while strengthening bonds between parents and their newly adopted or newborn sons and daughters. This important benefit levels the playing field for our state departments, agencies, and the General Assembly so we can attract and retain the best and brightest employees. I applaud Governor Lee for this pro-family initiative because it supports those who work tirelessly on behalf of this state to make it the best in the entire nation,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth.

“I am pleased to sponsor this bill so our state government can continue to retain the finest employees possible,” said Chairman Steve Dickerson.

“Tennessee is proud to be a pro-family state, and this initiative strengthens our commitment to families and is a step in the right direction. We have all experienced scenarios where we have had to choose between work and family. This initiative ensures our state employees will no longer have to make that difficult choice, and I am honored to serve as co-prime sponsor of this legislation in the House,” said Representative Esther Helton.

This new policy confirms Tennessee state government’s position as a pro-family employer while also improving its ability to effectively serve taxpayers by reducing turnover rates for high performing employees and reducing long-term state health care costs.

The expanded paid family leave will apply to all state executive branch employees subject to the TEAM Act and will not include a mandate on private business. Included in this policy is parental leave, making Tennessee the tenth state employer to offer benefits to parents in addition to the federal government. Qualifying events will be consistent with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The new policy will go into effect on March 1 to provide sufficient time for the Department of Human Resources to draft policy guidance, train managers, and ensure accurate tracking of time and leave.

Lee’s criminal justice task force releases recommendations

Gov. Bill Lee’s criminal justice task force has released its initial set of recommendations.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Gov. Bill Lee’s Criminal Justice Investment Task Force released a comprehensive package of data-driven policy recommendations for upcoming legislative sessions that seek to improve public safety, increase reentry support and reduce recidivism, address unmet behavioral health needs and make Tennessee communities safer. 

“My administration is committed to addressing public safety and reentry throughout Tennessee, and I’m grateful to have the support of the members of this Task Force,” said Gov. Lee. “Dedicated leaders from across our state have come together to address this important issue, and I look forward to reviewing their recommendations.”

The Task Force’s 23 recommendations are aimed at:

  • Strengthening responses to individuals with behavioral health needs;
  • Equalizing the treatment of those housed in local jails with those housed in state prisons;
  • Tailoring our response to different types of offenses;
  • Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of community supervision; and
  • Minimizing barriers to successful reentry.

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Mayor Jacobs says Knox County to remain in refugee program

Gov. Bill Lee, right, and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs meet at the state Capitol in Nashville on Feb. 4, 2019. (Photo: Gov. Bill Lee’s office)

Glenn Jacobs, the libertarian Knox County mayor best known for his role as WWE star Kane, is joining Republican Gov. Bill Lee in giving consent to the remain open to the federal refugee resettlement program.

“I have found, overwhelmingly, the people in this program come here to be contributors to society, to breathe the air of the greatest nation on the planet as free men and women,” Jacobs said in a statement.

Jacobs said 99 refugees were resettled in Knox County in 2018.

Here’s the full release from Jacobs’ office:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—Today Governor Bill Lee announced his consent to initial refugee resettlement in Tennessee in response to Executive Order 13888 issued by President Donald J. Trump in September. This Executive Order requires consent from both local and state governments to allow refugee resettlement.

Gov. Lee said, “The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, particularly those suffering religious persecution.” He also expressed his consent to working with President Trump and his administration to responsibly resettle refugees.

A refugee is a person who has fled their country of origin specifically because of past persecution or a fear of future persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. A refugee does not include a person who has left their home country solely to seek a more prosperous life here.

Knox County has been welcoming refugees through Bridge Refugee Services since 1982. Ninety-nine refugees were resettled in Knox County in fiscal year 2018.

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Lee announces Tennessee will keep accepting resettled refugees

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a groundbreaking event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

First-year Gov. Bill Lee says he won’t seek to opt-out of the federal government’s refugee resettlement program in Tennessee. President Trump in September issued an executive order giving state and local governments control over whether to continue to allow refugees to be resettled in their areas.

“The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, particularly those suffering religious persecution,” Lee said in a release. “My administration has worked extensively to determine the best outcome for Tennessee, and I will consent to working with President Trump and his administration to responsibly resettle refugees.”

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) issued a joint statement to say their preference would have been for Lee to reject further resettlement:

“Both our nation and the state of Tennessee have been extremely welcoming to immigrants throughout modern history. In 2016, the General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing the desire of our citizens to file a federal lawsuit to halt refugee resettlement in Tennessee. Our opinion has not changed on this issue since legal action was taken, and our personal preference would have been to exercise the option to hit the pause button on accepting additional refugees in our state. However, the federal order makes this the sole decision of the Governor, and he has made his call.”

State approves $69M in water infrastructure loans for Memphis, Johnson City, and Lebanon

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee and  Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers announced three cities will received $69 million loans for water improvements through the Tennessee Local Development Authority.

Memphis will receive $48 million under the program, $15 million goes to Johnson City, and $5.7 million heads to Lebanon.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan will address wastewater treatment plant improvements in Memphis and rehabilitation of sewer interceptors in Johnson City and Lebanon.

The state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan Program has awarded more than $2 billion in low-interest loans since 1987.

‘Wildcat’ budget hearings hit 2nd week in House

House budget hearings head into their second week in Nashville on Dec. 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state House is holding its second round of pre-session budget hearings starting on Monday. The hearings are unusual because Gov. Bill Lee has yet to present his annual spending proposal to lawmakers. But the meetings give lawmakers a chance to rake in a couple of weeks worth of per-diems before Christmas and to bask in the spotlight of media coverage in what could otherwise be a slow pre-Christmas news week. Some statehouse wags have taken to calling them the “wildcat” budget hearings (a reference, perhaps, to wildcat strikes, or to the wildcat formation in football).

Everything should be live streamed on the General Assembly’s website. Here’s the schedule:

Monday, House Hearing Room I

  • 9:30 AM – 10:00 AM General Services
  • 10:00 AM – 10:30 AM Military
  • 10:30 AM – 11:00 AM Veterans Services
  • 11:00 AM – 11:30 AM Alcoholic Beverage Commission
  • 1:00 PM – 1:30 PM Human Resources
  • 1:30 PM – 2:00 PM TACIR
  • 2:00 PM – 2:30 PM TN Human Rights Commission
  • 2:30 PM – 3:00 PM TN State Museum

Tuesday, House Hearing Room I

  • 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM Correction
  • 10:00 AM – 10:30 AM Board of Parole
  • 10:30 AM – 11:00 AM TRICOR
  • 11:00 AM – 11:30 AM Comptroller of the Treasury
  • 11:30 AM – 12:00 PM Treasury
  • 1:30 PM – 2:00 PM Secretary of State
  • 2:00 PM – 2:30 PM Finance and Administration
  • 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services

Wednesday, House Hearing Room III

  • 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • 10:00 AM – 10:30 AM Administrative Office of the Courts
  • 10:30 AM – 11:00 AM Attorney General and Reporter
  • 11:00 AM – 11:30 AM District Attorneys General Conference
  • 11:30 AM – 12:00 PM District Public Defenders Conference
  • 1:30 PM – 2:00 PM Office of Post-Conviction Defender
  • 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM Children’s Services
  • 3:00 PM – 3:30 PM Public Utility Commission

Thursday, House Hearing Room III

  • 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM Transportation
  • 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM Human Services
  • 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Safety and Homeland Security
  • 12:00 PM – 12:30 PM TN Arts Commission
  • 12:30 PM – 1:00 PM TN Housing Development Agency
  • 1:00 PM – 1:30 PM Tennessee Corrections Institute

 

Lee signs order moving disability services for young children out of Education Department

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

Gov. Bill Lee has signed an executive order to move development services for young children with disabilities out of the state Education Department. They will now be housed within the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Here’s the release from the Lee administration:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued an executive order transferring the Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS) from the Tennessee Department of Education to the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to better align services for children with disabilities.

TEIS is a voluntary educational program for infants and toddlers with disabilities that supports families through child development resources. The program encourages optimal development through community and family activities.

“This program is vital to the growth and development of children with disabilities,” said Gov. Lee. “We look forward to better serving TEIS families and ensuring Tennessee is a place where people of all abilities thrive.”

Since taking office in January, this is the 10th executive order signed by Gov. Lee.

Lee signs proclamation declaring Rosa Parks Day in Tennessee

Gov. Bill Lee sits in a bus at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis after signing a proclamation declaring Rosa Parks Day in Tennessee on Dec. 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee traveled to Memphis on Sunday to sign a proclamation declaring Rosa Parks Day in Tennessee. The bill to honor Parks on the anniversary of her 1955 arrest for refusing to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala., was sponsored by Sen. Raumesh Akbari and Rep. Karen Camper (both D-Memphis).

Lee called Parks “an inspiring human being, who did so much for so many, so [I’m] proud to be working with the legislature today to honor her.”

Lee got into hot water last summer over signing a proclamation honoring slave trader and Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, as required by a state law dating back to 1969. Lee has said he hopes to change that law next legislative session.

Parks is a better example of historical figures the state’s should be honoring with proclamations, Lee told reporters Sunday.

“It’s important that we recognize folks who have made major contributions for civil rights in this country and to change the trajectory for civil rights,” Lee said.

“Whenever we can make proclamations about inspiring individuals who are to be celebrated — and that’s someone who is celebrated by everyone  — that’s the  kind of thing we need to be doing in this state.”

 

Happy Thanksgiving from assorted Tennessee politicos

Happy Thanksgiving from The Tennessee Journal. And, as Twitter reminds us, from an assortment of public officials and those aspiring to join their ranks: