Bill Lee

10 most read TNJ posts of the year (so far)

A breakdown of the attendees at a closed-door meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos was the most read post on the TNJ: On the Hill blog in the first half of 2019.

Inspired — as always — by our friends at the Nashville Post, here are the 10 most read posts on the the TNJ: On the Hill blog through the first half of the year:

What’s happening with the Medicaid block grants? Lee still ‘exploring’

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 is assembling a Health Care Modernization Task Force, but appears not to have decided whether to pursue a Medicaid block grant from the federal government, the Daily Memphian reports.

Lee told the publication that his office is putting together the task force made up of health care industry members, providers, and patients to come up with ways to cut costs and “increase access and affordability for everybody.”

The governor is still “exploring the idea” of block grants, he said at a recent event in Shelbyville.

“If we pursue [a block grant], we’ll be the first state in the country to do it,” Lee said. “And that is to take federal funding for our TennCare-Medicaid population and spend it in a way that allows us to do it more effectively in Tennessee than the way the federal government tells us we have to.”

 

House Minority Leader Karen Camper, who served on former Speaker Beth Harwell’s 3-Star Healthy Task Force, questioned the point of another group to study the issue.

“Now we are in a different General Assembly, with new leaders and a new governor. Not only have the players changed, but we are also working in the shadows of the Medicaid block grant waiver, which was passed by our General Assembly. We do not yet know the consequences of this legislation and how the federal government will respond to this waiver request,” she told the Daily Memphian.

 

Lee sets special session for Aug. 23

Gov. Bill Lee has scheduled the special session to replace House Speaker Glen Casada for Aug. 23.

The House Republican Caucus is scheduled to meet on July 24 to nominate the next speaker.

Carter Lawrence sworn in as interim Commerce & Insurance commissioner

Gov. Bill Lee has sworn in Carter Lawrence as the interim commissioner of Commerce & Insurance. He succeeds Julie Mix McPeak, who left to take take a job in the private sector.

Lawrence, of Williamson County, had served as deputy commissioner for the department’s administration and for regulatory boards. He has law and business degrees from the University of Tennessee.

McPeak was a holdover from Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.  Greenberg Traurig announced last week that she is founding the law firm’s new Nashville office — the company’s 41st location worldwide and 31st in the U.S.

McPeak was president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners last year.

Editor’s note: The Tennessee Journal is on summer break next week. Blog posting will be lighter than usual until July 1. 

Gov. Lee to call special session on Casada replacement in mid-August

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) presides over a floor session in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee plans to call a special session for a House vote to replace Speaker Glen Casada in mid-August.

The governor announced his decision to call the special session in a press conference before the state Republican Party’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner on Saturday.

Casada (R-Franklin) has said he plans to plan resign on Aug. 2 after losing a vote of confidence among members of the House Republican Caucus last month.

House Republicans expect Casada to keep to his original resignation date, meaning Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) would preside until a permanent replacement is elected during the special session.

A House Republican Caucus meeting to nominate the next speaker could be held in the latter half of next month.

Gov. Lee to head trade mission to Japan, South Korea

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

Gov. Bill Lee is headed to Asia on a trade mission later this month, his office announced Thursday. Lee will be joined on the five-day trip by Bobby Rolfe, the commissioner of economic and community development. It’s the first-year governor’s first international trip and it will include stops in South Korea and Japan.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe will travel to Asia June 17 through June 21 for an economic development trip designed to strengthen ties with Asian businesses and increase foreign direct investment (FDI) in Tennessee. This will be Gov. Lee’s first international economic development trip.

During the five-day trip, Lee and Rolfe will discuss Tennessee’s business advantages with a number of Asian businesses interested in establishing operations in the Southeast U.S. The trip will include stops in South Korea and Japan.

“I look forward to traveling to Asia next week on my first international recruitment trip and having the opportunity to meet with business leaders as we showcase the many advantages of doing business in Tennessee,” Lee said. “We are proud to be home to more than 1,000 foreign-owned companies and will continue to demonstrate our commitment to fostering a business-friendly environment that will help companies from around the globe grow and succeed in the Volunteer State.”

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Casada retains appointment power until resignation

Among the panels up for new appointments is the nine-member Lottery Corporation Sports Wagering Advisory Council, which was created under a law passed this session and allowed to go into force without Gov. Bill Lee’s signature. The governor and the House and Senate speakers each get three appointments to the panel.

Among the potential Republican candidate to succeed Casada, three voted for sports gambling bill (Reps. Curtis Johnson, Cameron Sexton, and Robin Smith), while four voted against (Reps. Mike Carter, Bill Dunn, Matthew Hill, and Jerry Sexton.)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally also voted against the sports gambling bill.

Another panel is the reconstituted 16-member Board of Judicial Conduct. Casada gets four appointments on the panel, one of whom must be an an attorney and three others who cannot be an attorney or a current or former judge.

“I find it just shocking that the disgraced House speaker gets to name anybody to a sports gambling commission and a judicial oversight panel,” said former Knoxville mayor Victor Ashe, a former Republican state senator and onetime U.S. ambassador to Poland.  “I would think the Republican majority would want to prevent that from happening.”

Scott Gilmer, who took over as chief of staff to the speaker following the resignation of Cade Cothren as Casada’s chief aide, told the paper the appointments need to made soon.

“Members of the gaming commission need to undergo a background check and that would take some work there,” he said.

Other boards, commissions, and councils with upcoming vacancies include the TennCare Pharmacy Advisory Committee, Advisory Council on State Procurement, the State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission, the Commission on Aging and Disability, and Energy Efficient Schools Council. The House speaker has the power to fill two positions on each panel.

“My guess is I don’t think the speaker will fill most of these,” Gilmer said. “Probably most of these we’ll leave to the next person. But if there’s some more pressing ones like the Board of Judicial Conduct and the gaming commission, I think he could appoint those. But we haven’t yet.”

Casada to step down as speaker Aug. 2, requests successor vote be held same day

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), right, meets with colleagues on the Senate floor on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Glen Casada plans to step down as House speaker on Aug 2. He is asking Gov. Bill Lee to call a  special session to elect a new leader of the chamber that same day.

Casada began holding talks about the timetable for his resignation following his return from a European vacation on Monday. The House Republican Caucus had voted 45-24 last month to approve a resolution declaring lost confidence in the speaker over a text message scandal and his heavy-handed leadership style.

Here’s the text of Casada’s letter to colleagues on Tuesday:

June 4th, 2019

House Members of the 111th General Assembly:

I resign from my position as Speaker of the House of Representatives, effective Friday, August 2nd at 8:00 am. I also request that Governor Bill Lee call the General Assembly into a special session for legislative business on that day. During the special session, the House may take up the procedural matter of electing a new Speaker to lead the chamber.

/signed/

Glen Casada

State Representative, District 63

State Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini criticized the delay in Casada’s planned resignation:

Every day that Glen Casada is in office is a slap in the face to to women, communities of color, and all Tennesseans who expect real work and not lines of coke to be done at the state capitol. Democrats have been sounding the alarm since Casada’s corruption began, and we’ll continue to fight to restore accountability and decency to the Tennessee legislature.

Devaney, Gehrke to head up Sethi’s campaign team

The timing of physician Manny Sethi’s announcement that he plans to run for the Republican nomination to succeed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) caught many political observers off guard because most had been waiting to hear what former Gov. Bill Haslam planned to do on the race.

But Sethi and his team apparently ran out of patience and decided to pull the trigger, using “outsider” themes echoing those made by similarly little-known Bill Lee when the latter was making surprise march toward the governor’s office last year.

So it may come as little surprise that a Lee consultant, Jordan Gehrke, is reprising that role for the Sethi campaign. Chris Devaney, a former state Republican Party chairman who served as Lee’s campaign manager, has agreed to run the day-to-day operations of the Sethi campaign. Devaney had been working as a senior adviser to the Lee administration.

Fred Davis, who produced Lee’s TV ads during the governor’s race, has been in talks with the Sethi camp, but is believed to be awaiting word about Haslam’s intentions before taking the plunge. Davis did the advertising for Haslam’s 2010 governor’s bid.

Gehrke and Blake Harris were the general consultants for Lee’s gubernatorial bid. Harris now serves as the governor’s chief of staff.

Sports betting bill becomes law without Lee signature

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at an economic development announcement in Nashville on March 20, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has allowed the online sports gambling bill to become law without his signature.

Here is his letter to House Speaker Glen Casada explaining his actions:

RE: House Bill 0001/Senate Bill 0016 Speaker Casada:

I am letting House Bill 0001 become law without my signature.

I do not believe the expansion of gambling through online sports betting is in the best interest of our state, but I appreciate the General Assembly’s efforts to remove brick and mortar establishments. This bill ultimately did not pursue casinos, themost harmful form of gambling, which I believe prey on poverty and encourage criminal activity.

Compromise is a central part of governing, but I remain philosophically opposed to gambling and will not be lending my signature to support this cause. We see this issue differently but let me be cle ar: any future efforts to expand gambling or introduce casinos in Tennessee will assure my veto.

Respectfully,

Bill Lee