Monthly Archives: April 2020

New Hagerty ad takes aim at China

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty has a new TV ad out blasting China for the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s a transcript of the spot:

Narrator: Communist China covered up the Wuhan virus, putting America at risk.

Conservative Bill Hagerty says we must hold China accountable.

Endorsed by President Trump, Bill Hagerty is tough on China.

Bill Hagerty: I’m Bill Hagerty, and I approve this message.

Lee names Butch Eley as new finance commissioner

Gov. Bill Lee, bottom left, looks on as his Cabinet takes the oath of office in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is naming Butch Eley as his new finance commissioner. Eley has served as Lee’s chief operating officer and was a top adviser during the 2018 governor’s race. He replaces Stuart McWhorter, who stepped down to lead the state’s “unified command” in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Department of Finance and Administration will play a crucial role in the reboot of our state’s economy and Butch brings significant expertise to the role as our state faces economic changes,” Lee. said in a release. “His knowledge of the private sector and service as our chief operating officer will ensure we keep Tennessee in a fiscally sound position by prudent management of state services.”

Here’s what The Tennessee Journal wrote about Eley when Gov.-elect Lee  named him head of his transition team in November 2018:

Eley was an aide to then-U.S. Rep. Bill Boner (D-Nashville) who drew attention by going into real estate business with his boss in the mid-1980s. He was a spokesman for Boner’s successful 1987 mayoral bid and later served as his chief of staff, budget director, and economic development chief. The Tennessean editorial page declared Eley to be Boner’s “most loyal soldier.”

Eley left Boner’s staff in 1990 to open his own lobbying firm (later joining and then leading the Ingram Group), and was a noted campaign donor to Boner’s successor, Phil Bredesen, in 1991. He was named head of communications for Belmont University in 1995 and founded Infrastructure Corporation of America in 1998.

He was among those considering (but ultimately deciding against) a bid for Nashville mayor in 2015. Eley told The Tennessean he had been approached by several potential supporters who were “looking for somebody who can pick up where Karl leaves off.” That would be Karl Dean, the former Nashville mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lee vanquished on Tuesday.

Other members of the transition team include campaign general consultant Blake Harris, who will serve as executive director. Campaign manager Chris Devaney, a former state Republican Party Chairman, will be deputy director and legislative liaison. And Laine Arnold will reprise the role of spokeswoman that she previously held for the Lee and Randy Boyd campaigns. 


Emergency lawsuit filed against Lee’s ban on abortions amid coronavirus pandemic

Reproductive rights advocates have filed an emergency lawsuit challenging Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order that included abortions among banned non-emergency health procedures to ensure medical equipment and resources were reserved for the coronavirus response.

The federal lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“This would be like any other non-essential procedure,” Lee told reporters last month when asked about the abortion ban. “It would be treated the same, and my expectation and belief and certainly my expectation is that no non-essential procedures would be performed in the state during the crisis and during this time we need all of those supplies to be used on the frontlines of protecting citizens.”

Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office told the Associated Press at the time that he stands “ready to defend the actions of the executive branch in enforcing Executive Order 18.”

Lee has announced that his statewide measures regarding nonessential activity, including elective medical procedures, will be extended through the end of this month.

Here’s the full release from the groups challenging the abortion ban in court:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, a Tennessee order effectively banning abortion procedures in the state was challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. The April 8 order, issued by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, limits “non-emergency” health care procedures and bars people from getting a procedural abortion. Patients who are less than 11 weeks pregnant are still permitted to obtain medication abortions in the state.

Tennessee is not the first state to restrict abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU, and other allies have filed lawsuits in multiple states. In Texas, most abortions are currently prohibited, and providers have asked the Supreme Court to intervene on an emergency basis. Court decisions allowing abortion care to continue have occurred in Alabama, Ohio and Oklahoma.
Statement from Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee:

“While we must all do our part to protect our communities from the spread of COVID-19, the actions our state government takes must be driven by science and public health, not politics. The COVID-19 crisis cannot be used to prevent women from obtaining abortions. Abortion is time sensitive and essential, and is not an elective procedure. You cannot just press pause on a pregnancy. During this pandemic, women must still have access to a full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion, to protect their health.”

Statement from Nancy Northup, President & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“We have filed this case to protect the constitutional rights of women in Tennessee who need access to essential, time-sensitive abortion care. All signs indicate that this crisis will not be over soon, and patients cannot wait until it is. Leading medical experts have been clear that COVID-19 responses should not ban abortion care.”

Statement from Ashley Coffield, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi:

“My heart goes out to everyone who is facing unexpected healthcare and economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including those seeking abortion. Abortion care cannot wait. Unlike some medical procedures, delays or additional barriers to care can make it impossible for patients to access safe, legal abortion. This will undoubtedly disproportionately impact people who are already vulnerable—black people and other communities of color, young people, the LGBTQ community, and those with low-incomes—just as we’re seeing it unfold now with COVID-19 infections, due to systemic disparities they face every day. These folks are making difficult decisions about how to pay their bills and care for their families during a pandemic—they should not be forced to continue a pregnancy against their will, too.”

Statement from Rebecca Terrell, Executive Director of CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health:

“It’s common sense that abortion is time sensitive. Our patients cannot wait until this pandemic is over. They are panicking and many have no idea when or if they’ll be able to have an abortion. Patients are now being forced to travel out of state, which will only harm efforts to contain the spread of the virus. There is no sense in denying them abortion care here in their own communities.”

Statement from Corinne Rovetti APRN-BC, co-director of the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health:

“While we healthcare providers take COVID-19 concerns seriously, doing everything known to reduce the spread of the virus, we are also committed to ensuring that pregnant individuals during a worldwide pandemic can still access essential, time-sensitive and safe abortion care. Under normal circumstances, it is disturbing to find oneself unexpectedly pregnant when one is not financially, emotionally or otherwise ready to parent. These concerns become intensely magnified during the current pandemic crisis when people are already dealing with social and economic severity. Delaying access to care is not an option. Pregnant people need to be able to rely on care by compassionate and competent medical providers immediately.”

The lawsuit filed today argues that Tennessee’s order effectively bans abortion in the state for many women, violating Roe v. Wade and nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent protecting a woman’s right to liberty and autonomy under the Fourteenth Amendment. The lawsuit also argues that forcing women to travel out of state for abortion care, or to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and give birth, will increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 and undermine the state’s asserted goal of preserving medical resources and limiting person-to-person encounters.

Leading medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have opposed these attempts to restrict abortion during the pandemic. Both groups filed an amicus brief in the case challenging Texas’s COVID-19 abortion ban, stating: “Indeed, the Governor’s order is likely to increase, rather than decrease, burdens on hospitals and use of PPE. At the same time, it will severely impair essential health care for women, and it will place doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in an untenable position by criminalizing necessary medical care.”

Tennessee also bans the use of telehealth for medication abortion — a tool that could greatly expand access and reduce in-person contact. Other abortion restrictions in Tennessee include: a mandatory 48-hour waiting period (which includes a requirement that patients make an additional, medically unnecessary trip to the clinic to receive state-mandated information); limits on when state and public insurance can cover abortion services; and a requirement that minors obtain parental consent.

This lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU, the ACLU of Tennessee and pro-bono counsel Kramer Levin. Plaintiffs in the case are CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Adams & Boyle P.C, and Dr. Kimberly Looney.

The full complaint is available here:

Hagerty releases ‘Blueprint to Bring Jobs Back to the U.S.’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks at Nashville event on Dec. 3, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty has been named to President Donald Trump’s advisory board on re-opening the U.S. economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Hagerty has released what what he calls a “blueprint” to bring jobs to the U.S. from China.

Here’s the full release from the Hagerty campaign:

Nashville, TN — In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it has become clear that our dependency on China for key medical supplies and pharmaceutical drugs is a dangerous vulnerability for the United States. Today, Bill Hagerty released his latest plan to bring jobs back to the U.S. and secure our supply chains. 

“As the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, I have seen firsthand how dangerous the Communist Chinese regime can be. The coronavirus pandemic has only highlighted the threat China poses by underscoring the need to bring our supply chain back,” said Bill Hagerty. “We cannot rely on China’s state-owned companies to make so many of the products we need- including medical supplies and pharmaceutical drugs. As your next Senator, I will continue to support President Trump in standing up to the Chinese regime and bring jobs back to the U.S.”

In his plan, Hagerty notes that he will work alongside President Trump to: 

  • Make the corporate tax rate in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanent and further lower the corporate tax rate to make us more cost-competitive with other countries, including China
  • Continue to eliminate and remove outdated, costly and often conflicting regulations
  • Increase jobs training and skills development
  • Balance a number of corporate tax options to further incentivize manufacturers to move their businesses back from China, including:
    • ​Allowing immediate expensing of manufacturing equipment and related investments
    • Providing a capital gains tax reduction that would release fresh capital, encourage investment in the United States, and bring back manufacturing jobs
    • Implementing payroll tax relief for a specified period for companies that bring jobs back from China.

Read the full plan here.

State parks closure extended until further notice

A workout area is taped off in Nashville due to the coronavirus pandemic on April 2, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The closure of Tennessee’s 56 state parks and natural areas had been scheduled to expire on Tuesday. Now it’s been extended until further notice.

“We want to make sure that when we do reopen, visitors and our park staff can feel confident in their safety,” said Jim Bryson, the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Environment and Conservation. “With health and safety at the forefront, we look forward to getting people back into the outdoors – beyond their backyards and neighborhoods – to experience the natural wonders our state has to offer.”

Here’s the full release from TDEC:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee State Parks today announced it will extend the closure of all 56 state parks as officials at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation continue to monitor health and safety guidance related to COVID-19.

The announcement extends Tennessee State Parks’ current closure beyond the previously announced April 14. Officials are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation and will notify the public when parks reopen.

“We are grateful for the cooperation and understanding of Tennesseans during this difficult period,” Jim Bryson, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said. “We are extending closure of the parks in the interest of safety for everyone.” 

Tennessee has one of the top state park systems in the country. As the weather grew warmer, state parks saw staggering increases in visitor traffic, including from out of state visitors. While normally desirable, this increased visitation presented situations where it was difficult for park visitors and staff to maintain safe distances from each other.

“We want to make sure that when we do reopen, visitors and our park staff can feel confident in their safety,” Bryson said. “With health and safety at the forefront, we look forward to getting people back into the outdoors – beyond their backyards and neighborhoods – to experience the natural wonders our state has to offer.”

Here’s how much Tennessee colleges stand to receive in emergency coronavirus grants

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) speaks at a Tennessee Titans event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee colleges and professional schools are in line to receive to $237 million in emergency grants to help students affected by the coronavirus pandemic, according to U.S. Sen. LAmar Alexander’s office. The grants range from $9.6 million for the University of Tennessee in Knoxville to $5,092 for Omega Graduate School in Dayton.

(See the full list after the jump)

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Byrd accuser Rice fails to qualify for ballot

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House committee meeting on March 28, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. David Byrd won’t have to face his accuser after all.

Chrsti Rice had filed to run against Byrd (R-Waynesboro) this fall. But she failed to turn in copies of her Democratic petition in each of the four counties included in House District 71. So while Byrd has two opponents in the GOP primary, there won’t be a Democrat to take on the winner in November.

Byrd earlier this month reversed course on previous pledges to retire from his seat and filed to run for re-election.

Byrd has been accused of sexual misconduct with high school basketball players when he was their coach in the 1980s. Rice is one of those former student athletes. She recorded a phone conversation in 2018 in which Byrd apologized and told her how “hard it has been for me” to live with his actions with the woman, who was a 15 years old  at the time.

DeBerry sponsored 2010 bill to have courts — not parties — decide primary challenges

State Rep. John DeBerry, a longtime Memphis lawmaker appealing his removal from the Democratic primary ballot, once sponsored legislation aimed at eliminating political parties’ authority to decide primary contests.

The legislation would have sent primary challenges to administrative law judges, not party executive committees. The administrative rulings could have then been appealed to chancery court.

DeBerry’s 2010 bill was filed two years after Democrats declared then-Sen. Rosalind Kurita’s 19-vote primary victory “incurably uncertain” and awarded the nomination to Clarksville Democrat Tim Barnes. Democrats had been furious at Kurita for breaking ranks and voting for the Republican Sen. Ron Ramsey for speaker in 2007.

DeBerry was widely believed to have similarly agreed to vote for Rep. Jason Mumpower, the Republican nominee for House speaker, in 2009. But DeBerry ended up sticking with fellow Democrats to install Republican Rep. Kent Williams as the chamber’s leader. Williams was thrown out of the state GOP for the maneuver.

DeBerry insisted at the time his legislation was “not the Kurita memorial bill.” He said it was instead inspired by “some of the things said to me by some of my own colleagues in Memphis over the years reminding me who owns this office.” His goal, he said, was to enable all members of to be good legislators and party members “without being under undue pressure from any particular group.”

As DeBerry put it at the time, “when the taxpayers pay for an election nd somebody is elected, the election is over unless there is fraud.” Leaders of both parties opposed the bill because it would have weakened control over their own primaries and the bill failed.

Under the proposal, the parties would have retained their power to declare a candidate to be not a “bona fide” member and keep them off the primary ballot — as ended up occuring to DeBerry last week. The state Democratic Party is scheduled to take up his appeal on Wednesday.

Legislative office complex to remain shuttered until May 4

The doors of the state Capitol were closed to the public on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Cordell Hull Building will remain closed to lawmakers, staff, media, and the public until at least May 4. The announcement by building administrators follows Gov. Bill Lee’s decision extend a statewide stay-at-home order for nonessential business until the end of April.

The legislative office complex has been vacated since March 23. The General Assembly the previous week passed an emergency budget and left for what was planned to be a 75-day hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic. The plan has been to return on June 1.

Here is the notice sent out by Connie Ridley, the director of legislative administration, on Monday:

Lieutenant Governor McNally and Speaker Sexton advise that staff should not plan to return to the Cordell Hull Building until Monday, May 4, 2020.  They will continue to monitor the situation and update you as necessary.

Please continue to perform duties remotely per our earlier notice and monitor your email for updates.

Prior approval must be obtained from your Chief of Staff, Chief Clerk, your Director or me to enter the building during this period.

Lee to extend stay-at-home order through end of April, start phasing in economic activity in May

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is extending his statewide stay-at-home order through the end of the month, with plans to phase out the economic shutdown in May.

Lee said social distancing will need to continue in public even as the economic shutdown is phased out beginning in May. He acknowledged that “some discomfort” will be involved over the middle term.

“Beginning in May, we will begin a phased reboot of our economy,” Lee said. “Between now and then we will create industry-specific guidance so that businesses can be fully prepared to operate safely and to protect their employees.”


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