Legislature

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.”

House Speaker Casada names senior staff

Newly-elected House Speaker Glen Casada gestures toward his predecessor, Beth Harwell, in the House chamber on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

New House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) has named the top staffers for his office.

Here’s the full release:

(NASHVILLE) — Today, Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) announced the addition of his new senior staff to assist in the operations of the Tennessee House of Representatives and to help serve the citizens of the state.

Cade Cothren has been named Chief of Staff in Speaker Casada’s office. Cothren will oversee day-to-day operations in the General Assembly for the Speaker and serve as his top advisor and strategist. Under his leadership, Cothren will select and supervise House staff, manage communications and information flow, and negotiate with key stakeholders and groups to implement the Speaker’s agenda. The University of Tennessee graduate previously served as Political Director, Press Secretary, and Director of Communications. At age 31, Cothren is the youngest person to serve in this role in modern history.

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Richardson named partner at McMahan Winstead lobbying firm

Anna Richardson will become a parter in the lobbying firm founded by David McMahan and Beth Winstead. Richardson joined the prominent contract lobbying outfit in 2011 after serving as a legislative staffer, including for newly-elected Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin). The firm will be renamed McMahan Winstead & Richardson on Jan. 1.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE – McMahan Winstead today announced Anna M. Richardson will join David McMahan and Beth Winstead as a partner with the firm effective January 1. The firm will officially change its name to McMahan Winstead & Richardson on that date.

“Eight years ago, Anna brought her extensive legislative experience and legal expertise to our firm giving our clients unmatched representation in the Tennessee General Assembly. Her contributions have brought our firm to new heights,” said David McMahan. “Joining Beth and me as a partner is the next logical step for Anna and well-deserved. Our firm is built on honesty, loyalty and hard work. Anna displays all three on a daily basis. We could not be more excited about this new partnership.

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Casada wants to restore 3 oversight committees

Rep. Glen Casada, the Republican nominee for House speaker, wants to restore oversight committees for prisons, children and families, and TennCare, The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports. Those oversight committees — and eight others — were eliminated through an initiative of former Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and outgoing House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) in 2011.

Camper elected minority leader in Tennessee House

Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis) speaks tp reporters on Nov. 25, 2018, after her elected as House minority leader. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Fellow Democrats have elected state Rep. Karen Camper of Memphis to be the House minority leader for the 111th General Assembly. Camper is the first African-American to be elected the chamber’s Democratic leader.

Camper will also be the Democrats’ nominee for speaker. The Army veteran has served in the House since 2008.

Camper defeated Reps. Bo Mitchell of Nashville and Johnnie Shaw of Bolivar for the position.

“I am honored by the faith the caucus has shown in me and I pledge to bring the type of aggressive leadership needed to advance legislation that promotes the Democratic agenda, such as quality health care and economic opportunities for all Tennesseans,” she said in a statement.

Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville was unopposed in his re-election as Democratic caucus chair. Democrats hold 26 of the 99 seats in the House.

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Lee uncertain about Casada’s call for more House control on budget

Gov.-elect Bill Lee speaks at a press conference at the state Capitol in Nashville on Nov. 7, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov.-elect Bill Lee says he’s not certain how the House will become more assertive in the state budgeting process. Glen Casada, who won the GOP nomination for House speaker, announced earlier this week that he will seek to give the chamber a bigger role in developing the state’s annual spending plan.

“I have no idea that that is going to happen,” Lee told reporters at a Nashville food bank on Wednesday. “What I do know is we’re going to be working together and we’ve already started that process. I believe we can work together as the executive branch and legislative branch to advance the common good for Tennesseans.”

The Tennessean reports Lee and Casada played phone tag after Casada won the speaker nomination on Tuesday, but finally connected on Wednesday.

“My hope and my belief is that we have an opportunity to actually not work in separate veins, but on the same page,” Lee said.

Meanwhile, Lee said he’s working on assembling his staff and Cabinet. The first announcements are expected next week.

Casada’s PAC running ad defending Rep. Byrd as victim of ‘fake news’

State Rep. Glen Casada is running digital ads in support of Rep. David Byrd’s re-election campaign, likening him to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump and saying the lawmaker is the victim of “lies & fake news” spread by liberals.

Stand with Coach DAVID BYRD for State House!

What does Representative DAVID BYRD have in common with President Trump & Judge Brett Kavanaugh? They’re all being attacked by unhinged liberals & FAKE NEWS with false accusations because they’re fighting for our conservative agenda! Don't buy their desperate lies…

Posted by Keep Tennessee Republican on Thursday, September 27, 2018

Three women alleged in March report by WSMV-TV that Byrd (R-Waynesboro) had inappropriately touched and kissed them as teenagers while he was their 28-year-old high school basketball coach. One of the women secretly recorded a telephone call to Byrd in which he apologized and told her how “hard it has been for me” to live with his actions with the woman who was a 15-year-old student at the time.

House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) promptly called for Byrd’s resignation. Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) soon followed suit. Byrd issued a statement after the story broke, stating that he has done nothing wrong over his two terms as a state representative and expressing disappointment that Harwell “so quickly turned her back on me.”

Byrd’s image wasn’t helped by revelations that he served as a character witness in 2013 for a family friend who as a 23-year-old teacher pleaded guilty to statutory rape of a 16-year-old student. WSMV reported that Byrd, then the principal of Wayne County High School, told the court that he believed the defendant had learned his lesson and that he would “hire him in a minute” if he were able to teach again.

The AP reports that a national political action committee aimed at preventing politicians accused of sexual misconduct from being re-elected is now targeting Byrd.

O’Hara: 3 ways Tennessee lawmakers could honor McCain

Gov. Bill Haslam gives a copy of his final State of the State speech to Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

With The Tennessee Journal on break this week, former Tennessean political reporter Jim O’Hara offers some thoughts about how Tennessee might honor the legacy of the late U.S. Sen John McCain through some changes in the General Assembly:

Much was written last week about the best ways to honor the late Senator John McCain, from possibly re-naming the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., to general pleas for more civility and bi-partisanship in our politics.

Let me propose three ways for Tennessee to act, not just talk, about honoring the late senator.

When the 111th Tennessee General Assembly convenes in January, the speakers of the Senate and House should name three committee chairs from the other party. In the Senate that would still leave the majority party with nine chairmanships. In the House that would leave the majority party with 14 chairmanships.

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New effort underway for bottle deposits in Tennessee

A new effort is underway to require bottle deposits as a way to combat plastic waste in Tennessee. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that the Tennessee Bottle Bill Project, which is also known as TennCan, would place a 5-cent deposit on plastic containers that could be recouped by dropping empties off at redemption centers.

Supporters say the program could boost the current recycling rate of about 10% all the way to 80% or more. Bottle bills were once perennial legislative proposals, but had faded in recent years.

“What we’re trying to do is make Tennessee more sustainable by recovering some of the most valuable commodities in recycling stream, which are the beverage containers,” TennCan coordinator Marge Davis told the Times Free Press. “We want to keep them from becoming litter and make sure they go back toward manufacturing at the highest level possible.”

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