senate education

Senate Education holds meeting in largely empty committee room

The Senate Education Committee meets on March 16, 2020, amid a ban on public attendance in the Cordell Hull Building. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate Education Committee was the first panel to hold a meeting Monday under emergency rules preventing the public from entering the Cordell Hull Building. The committee advanced the state Education Department’s budget and then adjourned.

“We indeed live in interesting times,” Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), the chair of the committee, said. “It’s been the hallmark and tradition that each member who brings a bill to this committee can expect a fair hearing on their proposal…. We have approximately 110 bills yet to have been heard in this committee, but these interesting times make that somewhat challenging.

“Our state’s priorities are clear, however. We are required by our constitution to address a budget and appropriations plan. Therefore, today we will only consider briefly the budget for the Department of Education in order to refer it to Finance for their appropriate action. Education bills are our next priority, and hope to have an opportunity to consider those before we adjourn sine die, whatever that date that may be.”

One curiosity was the attendance of political activist Kevin Baigert, the husband of a writer for a conservative website. Baigert is the treasurer of a PAC that has targeted Republican House incumbents during campaign season. It’s unclear how he got into the building when members of the public, advocates, lobbyists, and other visitors have been barred.