Legislature

Byrd to have GOP primary challenger if he runs again

Embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Education Committee meting in Nashville on March 28, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) will have a Republican primary opponent if he reneges on his previous pledge not to seek another term representing House District 71.

Garry Welch, a former city manager of Savannah, announced he will run for the GOP nomination for the seat representing all of Hardin, Lewis, and Wayne counties and part of Lawrence County.

“I’m excited to pursue the opportunity, and I am running for the office to serve all the citizens of the district,” Welch said in a statement to The Courier of Savannah. “As city manager, I was in Nashville quite a bit. I understand the process and think I am well qualified to represent the district.”

Welch retired in 2018 after serving as city manager for 12 years.

Byrd told colleagues before a recent special session that he wouldn’t run again amid moves to oust him over allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was their high school basketball coach in the 1980s.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) told The Tennessean it will be up to the House GOP’s seven-member campaign committee to decide whether to support Byrd if he runs again.

“Personally, Jeremy Faison will not be a part of that race,” Faison told the paper. “I will stay out of the race and leave it up to his constituents if he runs.”

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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Rep. Farmer ends law firm advertising campaign touting lawmaker role

State Rep. Andrew Farmer, a likely choice to become House judiciary chairman had an unrelated leadership vote turned out differently, has abandoned a billboard campaign for his law firm touting his role as “an actual lawmaker,” The Tennessean’Joel Ebert reports.

“Who better to argue the law than an actual lawmaker?” read the billboards advertising Farmer’s personal injury, criminal defense, and family law practice.

Farmer said he sought approval from the state Board of Professional Responsibility and ethics officials about the language used in the ads before putting them up. He then started getting calls from constituents raising concerns.

“The first phone call I got, they said, it might be some people are taking this the wrong way,” Farmer told the paper. He then decided to change the billboards.

Farmer, of Sevierville, is the chairman of the House criminal justice subcommittee. He was widely believed to be the frontrunner to succeed House Judiciary Chairman Michael Curico had the latter won his bid for House Republican Caucus chairman. But Curcio lost to Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), so nothing has changed within the Judiciary Committee.

Farmer said he doesn’t use his elected office to drum up business.

“When I talk to clients … I don’t say, ‘Hey hire me because I’m in the legislature,'” he said. “I think that’s over the line.”

Read the full story here.

Casada’s chief of staff resigns after sexual texts with intern

House Speaker Glen Casada’s Chief of Staff Cade Cothren following a whirlwind day of revelations including that he sent text messages soliciting sex acts from an intern and used cocaine in his legislative office, The Tennessean reports.

Cothren the top strategist for Casada’s campaign to nail down his election as speaker by getting involved in contested primaries for open Republican seats last year. Cothren also played a pivotal role in ensuring the razor-thin passage of Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher bill.

“It was just a distraction,” Cothren told The Tennessean. “We’ve accomplished a lot of great things this year and I don’t want to take away from those for our caucus.”

That’s a wrap! Lawmakers go home for the year

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) speaks to reporters in the House chamber in Nashville on April 17, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Tennessee General Assembly has concluded its business for the year. Here’s a roundup of some of the last-minute festivities:

GOP colleagues split over Byrd chairmanship

A Tennessean survey of House Republicans has found the caucus is split over whether Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) should remain chairman of an education subcommittee given allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage basketball players when he was their high school coach in the 1980s.

Byrd has not specifically denied the allegations made by a woman who recorded a phone call with the lawmaker in which he apologized for unspecified past transgressions.

House Republican leadership tried to keep members from answering questions from the newspaper’s reporters, urging them to direct questions to caucus spokespeople. Eleven members declined to answer questions, while others spoke on condition of anonymity.

Read the full report here.

How nigh is the end? House leadership plots course

House Speaker Glen Casada speaks to fellow Republicans in a caucus meeting on Jan. 10, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

For the Tennessee General Assembly to get around to completing its business for the year, committees need to start closing. And for that to happen, the subcommittees need to wrap up. Here’s a schedule for when House leadership expects those panels to call it quits this year:

March 25: Agriculture, Transportation, Consumer & Human Resources.

April 1: Commerce, Insurance, Local.

April 8: Education, State, Health.

April 15: Judiciary. Also the full committees of Government Operations and Naming & Designating.

If all that happens to plan, the chamber will be on course for adjourning the first week of May. Or so we hope.

Lee makes vocational education push his first legislative initiative

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

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s first legislative initiative calls for expanding access to vocational and technical training in Tennessee.

The Lee administration has dubbed it the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education, or GIVE, program.

“We have the opportunity to help students discover quality career paths and gain skills that are needed right now in the workforce by emphasizing career and technical education,” Lee said in a release.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced his first legislative initiative, the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) to expand access to vocational and technical training for Tennessee students. 

“I believe that expanding our vocational and technical offerings will be transformational for Tennesseans and the future of our state,” said Lee. “We have the opportunity to help students discover quality career paths and gain skills that are needed right now in the workforce by emphasizing career and technical education.”

The GIVE initiative is a two-pronged approach that utilizes regional partnerships to develop work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities. Communities will now have the funding and flexibility to build programs that best reflect local needs and work directly with private industry to structure programming. 

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Lee administration to do away with ‘flag letters’

Bill Lee takes the oath of office as Tennessee’s 50th governor in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is doing away with “flag letters” traditionally issued by executive branch agencies over concerns about pending legislation.

Here’s a letter Legislative Director Brent Easley sent to all the members of the General Assembly on Friday.

Members,

I am alerting you to a change in policy that will take place over the next week regarding legislative priorities.

In the past, you have received “flag letters” from the Governor’s Office or departments when they have noted an issue, concern or opposition to legislation that has been filed. This transparency is critical, but we believe there is a more effective way to communicate these positions.

Moving forward, we will begin implementing the following system for positioning around legislative proposals.

  • When the Governor’s Office, or a state department/agency, notes opposition or concern about a legislative proposal, someone from that team will see you personally.
  • If a member of the liaison corps is not able to reach you in person, you will receive a phone call from them, followed by an email letting you know they are reaching out about a legislative item.
  • We will also share a weekly list of bills that have been “flagged” for various reasons with legislative leadership to provide an additional layer of transparency about our positioning. This document will be available in their respective offices for your review.

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Legislation seeks to move General Assembly flag to Cordell Hull

The flag of the Tennessee General Assembly is a bit of a curiosity. It flies above the Capitol when the legislature is in session. And, as it turns out, outside the Legislative Plaza office complex, according to the state law books. The only problem is that General Assembly no longer operates out of the old subterranean office space, having decamped to the Cordell Hull building last year.

Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) now wants to do something about that. He has introduced SB94, which would move the flag from the Legislative Plaza to the Cordell Hull.

The flag of the General Assembly was adopted in 1987 after being designed by Sheila Adkins, a high school student at Knoxville’s Fulton High School. According to the Blue Book, she “chose white for purity, blue to denote respect for Tennessee, red as the traditional color for America; stars to symbolize the state’s three Grand Divisions; wheat for agricultural heritage; and the gavel for the power of the people vested in the state’s legislative body.”