House

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.

‘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

 

Former lawmaker, lobbyist Rufus Jones dies at 79

Rufus Jones, a former chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee, has died. He was 79.

Jones, a Memphis Democrat, was elected to the state House in 1981 and served in the chamber until 1996. He then embarked on a lobbying career until beginning treatment for lymphoma in 2006.

Jones’ lobbying clients included Tennessee Bankers Association, Memphis Light, Gas & Water, and Memphis Basketball Partners, a group pushing for funding for a new arena when the Vancouver Grizzlies were first mulling their move to Tennessee.

Jones challenged Riley Darnell for the secretary of state position in 2004, but lost a House Democratic Caucus nomination vote to the incumbent. Democrats at the time held a narrow 69-63 advantage over Republicans in the joint convention to elect constitutional officers and Darnell went on to win his fourth and final term.

Jones was succeeded in the House by Rep. Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis).

“Rep. Jones was a tireless public servant who always gave back and worked hard to open doors for the people of South Memphis,” she said in a statement. “He was a kind, easy-going person who loved his constituents and his community.”

Here are Sexton’s House committee assignments

Rep. Cameron Sexton presides over his first session as House speaker on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here are the committee assignments made by new House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) upon his election to lead the chamber last week. Additions are in italics (full committees only).

Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee
Chair – Halford
Vice Chair – Todd
Carter
Cepicky
Chism
Holsclaw
Holt
Hulsey
Keisling
Marsh
Moody
Shaw
Stewart

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Rep. Jim Coley won’t run again in 2020

Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) says he won’t run for another two-year term in the Tennessee House next year, the Daily Memphian reports.

Coley suffered from serious health problems two years ago, but returned to finish his term and win re-election last year. He  decided not to seek another term after being diagnosed with early stages of dementia.

“It has been an incredible honor to serve the men, women and families of our community during my time in the House chamber, and I am proud of the progress we have made protecting our children from exploitation and abuse,” Coley said in a statement.

Coley was first elected to the House in 2006. He won the House District 97 race over Democrat Allan Creasy on a 55%-45% vote last year.

“Jim Coley has been a fierce advocate for our children and their families during his time in our General Assembly. I appreciate his service to his constituents and to our state, and I know he will be greatly missed by our members,” said House Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville.

“The passion with which he performs his duties is unrivaled. We all wish him well on his retirement following the 2020 legislative session,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland).

Read Rep. Mike Carter’s letter seeking the speakership

Rep. Mike Carter takes the oath of office in Nashville on Jan 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) has sent a letter to Republican colleagues to declare his bid for the speakership. He pledges not to change any committee chairmanships, though he calls for an overhaul of the chamber’s rules to promote integrity. Carter says he would return most political functions to the House Republican Caucus chairman.

Carter is the second member to declare his candidacy after Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough).

Read the full letter below.

Members,

Today I am writing to request your support to serve as your Speaker. I am not asking you to serve me. I am asking for the high honor to serve you and the state of Tennessee.

I state this now, no Chairmanship, no Vice-Chairmanship, nor any other title or position currently held shall be removed. To allow that would give our opponents an opportunity to claim that any removal of a title is reflective of some conduct unbecoming of that representative. Considering what we have been through and realizing that conservative leadership is essential to the progress of Tennessee, we must balance every appearance against the effect on the reelection of our members.

I will form a PAC for the benefit of the members and work diligently to restore confidence with our contributors. I will assist the Caucus Chairman whenever he feels the office of Speakership is helpful for raising money.

We must reestablish the past tradition of the Caucus Chairman being the primary political figure. In my view the Speaker shall promote a culture to restore the trust of the citizens of Tennessee while encouraging great legislation we can be proud of and run on.

A Speaker’s leadership advisory team shall be established consisting of those who do not hold Chairman or Vice-Chairmanship positions of leadership so that the opinions of all shall direct the House. With the atmosphere we’re facing we must not only live in a glass bubble we must, with the consent of the Caucus, develop new rules and procedures to prove that integrity and trust has returned to the House of Representatives. Tennessee: First in integrity.

We must undertake a complete review of all policies, procedures and rules for committees and officers.

We will continue to lead as an equal branch of government cooperating with all but cowering to none. The House controls the purse, a duty and responsibility which we will take seriously and devote appropriate assets to lead the budget process.

You will be able to walk the halls and talk in your office without fear of eavesdropping.

Members will not be intimidated, and under no circumstance shall a member be threatened with a primary opponent because of any vote taken. They should at all times vote their conscience and district.

The bylaws of the House of Representatives Republican Caucus state, ”the speaker shall conduct his or herself with the highest ethical and moral standards representing the citizens of Tennessee and the Republican Caucus.” If we are to restore public trust, a clean break is imperative. The people of Tennessee both demand and deserve it.

Respectfully submitted,

/Mike Carter/

Mike Carter

State Representative

District 29

 

Casada says support among GOP caucus remains ‘overwhelming’

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

House Speaker Glen Casada says he still has “overwhelming” support among fellow Republicans in the chamber despite the resignation of of chief of staff amid allegations of racist text, drug use in his office, and soliciting sex acts with an intern and lobbyist.

“If you look at the results of what we’ve done in the House of Representatives, I think no one can dispute things have run smoother than they have in a generation, and we have had bold conservative leadership,” Casada told told WTN-FM’s Brian Wilson.

“Based on my conversations with them, they are proud to have someone in charge that’s leading them in a direction of making Tennessee the most conservative state,” he said.

The text message exchange included Cothren boasting to Casada about having sex with a woman in a Nashville restaurant they had attended together.

“I participated in locker room talk with two adult men that was not intended to go to anyone else and I was wrong,” the Franklin Republican said “In the last several years, that kind of talk has not entered or left my mouth.”

“I got caught up in the moment at that time, and participated in that text messaging the two adult men,” he said. “And that is not me today.”

Casada said the text messages were released by a “disgruntled employee” who vowed to take down Cothren and Casada after being fired.

“Cade did an excellent job. Three years ago, he came to me and said he had a problem. He said he was struggling. And he didn’t say what it was, but I knew what it was, and that he wanted a second chance to turn his life around. I gave him that and his did turn his life around,” Casada said.

“Why he is resigning is things that he did before he turned his life around,” he said. Casada denied prior knowledge of Cothren’s drug use or soliciting sex acts from other women at the Capitol complex.

Casada backs aide with history of drug use in legislative office

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’s top aide used cocaine in the legislative suite he once shared with the future leader of the chamber, according a report by WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams.

Cade Cothren managed Casada’s campaign form the vacant speakership position last year and was rewarded with the nearly $200,000-per-year position of chief of staff once the Franklin Republican was formally elected in January. Cothren previously earned $68,400 as a staffer.

UPDATE:

Within minutes of the report, Casada and Cothren issued a joint statement to the media.

“Nearly three years ago, Mr. Cothren approached me & confided in me that he was dealing with some personal issues and wanted to seek help after his struggles became apparent,” Casada said in the statement. “Knowing these issues were impacting his ability to fulfill his job duties, Mr. Cothren sought counseling and forgiveness, and has been doing an outstanding job ever since.”

Cothren accomplished since dealing with his personal issues.

“Like so many young, egotistical men aspiring to a career in politics that came before me, moving up the career ladder was met with unrelenting stress, peer pressure, and unrealistic expectations,” he said. “I know that this is not an excuse. Nonetheless, I unfortunately turned to maladaptive coping mechanisms. However, I thank God for these experiences because they’ve allowed me a unique opportunity to witness to the young men who will come after me that actions have consequences.”

UPDATE: Voucher compromise approved by both chambers

The House voted 51-46 to approve the compromise on Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher bill. The Senate followed suit 19-14 later in the day. The freshman governor says he “looks forward to signing this bill into law.”

Here’s the House vote:

The vote was 50-48 when it cleared the chamber the first time. There were several changes between the two votes, though. they include:

From no to yes: Reps. Patsy Hazlewood (R-Chattanooga), David Wright (R-Corryton).

From absent to yes: Rep. Debra Moody (R-Covington).

From yes to abstain: Reps. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville), Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin).

(After the vote was all over, Daniel and Ogles filed paperwork to change their votes to be in favor of the measure. That change of heart will be reflected in the House Journal, but doesn’t affect the official tally taken through the voting machine).

The Senate lost one vote from its previous version when Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) switched from yes to no.

 

 

House passes bill to ban drivers from using handheld mobile phones

The House has narrowly approved a bill to ban Tennessee drivers from using handheld mobile phones on the road. The measure passed 53-38 on Wednesday. It takes 50 votes for bills to pass the chamber.

The bill sponsored by Rep. John Holsclaw (R- Elizabethton) and Art Swann (R-Maryville) would make Tennessee the 17th state to enact such a ban aimed at reducing distracted driving.

Violating the ban would be punishable by a $50 fine, though it could be waived on the first offense by completing a driver education course. Using a speaker phone or Bluetooth device would still be allowed under the bill.

Critics of the bill have included Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), who in a committee meeting listed several other distracting activities not specifically banned under state law, including eating, changing the radio station, arguing with a spouse, or “reaching around and smacking a young’un in the back seat.”

The companion bill is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Finance Committee next week.