Monthly Archives: August 2020

Absentee voting: CDC’s high-risk conditions for COVID-19 include obesity, smoking, blood pressure

As part of the state’s concessions on absentee balloting to get the Tennessee Supreme Court to throw out an court order allowing anyone fearful of contracting COVID-19 to vote by mail, officials agreed that anyone with a “special vulnerability” to the virus would be allowed to cast an absentee ballot.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

According to guidance released by Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Wednesday, people with an “underlying illness, physical disability, or other health condition and who cannot appear at the polling place on Election Day” can obtain an absentee ballot. That also goes for people who care for someone who does.

The press release urges voters to “consult trusted guidance from medical experts and use common sense in determining whether they have a special vulnerability.” It goes on to suggest looking up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information.

According to the CDC website linked by Hargett’s office, the list of people with increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19 includes:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus

The CDC says other conditions that might leave people at an increased risk are:

  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Smoking
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus

The release from the Secretary of State’s office follows.

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More than 2,000 K-12 students test positive for COVID, but school-specific info to remain secret

More than 2,000 school-age children have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past two weeks, but state officials say they won’t release details of where the infections are occurring.

As of Tuesday, 2,099 students between ages 5 and 18 had tested positive, with Davidson County leading the way with 228 cases, followed by 209 in Hamilton County, 202 in Shelby County, 118 in Rutherford County, and 106 in Knox County.

Gov. Bill Lee’s Adminstration says federal privacy laws prevent the release of details about how many children have been infected in specific schools.

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

“It’s a balance,” Lee said. “It’s really important that people in a school district can’t figure out which children individually have a case.”

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said there are schools around the state that have fewer than 200 students, where disclosing an outbreak would make it easy to identify who had become sick. It’s unclear how that reasoning would apply to larger schools.

According to WPLN-FM, it’s the fourth time the Lee administration has flip-flopped on making information about the pandemic public. In March, officials at first refused to share county-specific data about infections and deaths. That decision was later reversed. The same went for keeping details of infections at nursing homes secret, which was later dropped amid pushback from the public and the media.

Lee had initially said the school infection information would be kept from the public, only to reverse himself later before once again saying the details will be confidential.

Akbari to speak at Democratic presidential convention today

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) takes a selfie with colleagues and Gov. Bill Lee before the start of the State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis is one of 16 speakers deemed rising Democratic stars scheduled to speak at the party’s presidential convention to nominate Joe Biden on Tuesday.

“Amidst all of the chaos and crises our nation is facing, Democrats are focused on finding new and innovative ways to engage more Americans than ever before—because that’s how we’ll mobilize the nation to defeat Donald Trump in November,” Joe Solmonese, CEO of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, said in a release. “The convention keynote has always been the bellwether for the future of our party and our nation, and when Americans tune in next week they’ll find the smart, steady leadership we need to meet this critical moment.” 

Akbari was elected to the Senate in 2018 after previously serving in the state House since 2013. She is the chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, former chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, and national treasurer of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. She also spoke at the 2016 Democratic convention in support of then-nominee Hillary Clinton.

Rep. Carter hospitalized with COVID-19

Rep Mike Carter is sworn in to the 111th General Assembly in Nashville on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) has been hospitalized with COVID-19, according to an email sent to Republican House members by Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison.

“Our friend and colleague Mike Carter is in ICU at Erlanger with Covid,” Faison wrote to colleagues. “He is asking for prayers. Let’s lift him up y’all.”

Lawmakers were in Nashville last week for a special legislative session. Many did not wear masks. Carter did not attend.

Former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) skipped the special session because he had been exposed to COVID-19, The Tennessean reported. Casada wouldn’t disclose whether he had tested positive, but said he had no symptoms and felt fine.

“I was exposed to covid and did not want to run the risk of exposing anyone else,” he told the paper in a statement Saturday.

Rep. Kent Calfee (R-Kingston) tested positive for COVID-19 following the conclusion of the regular session in June, as did former Republican Rep. Kevin Brooks, the mayor of Cleveland, who was hospitalized with pneumonia on both lungs. Brooks had served as as the minister of the day for the final House floor session in June.

For real this time? Lawmakers adjourn

Speaker Cameron Sexton presides over a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The General Assembly concluded a three-day special session Wednesday evening to complete unfinished business dating back to its a blowup between House and Senate Republicans at the end of the regular session in June.

The agenda included Covid-19 lawsuit protections for businesses and schools, a telehealth bill, and a sweeping effort to crack down on protest that have raged around the Capitol for weeks.

According to The Tennessean:

Unlike when the legislature adjourned its regular session in June, when the legislative chambers traded barbs while House Democrats urged reforms on policing and race, internal fireworks during the special session were minimal. The most significant confrontations during the relatively pain-free special session came when protesters repeatedly blocked lawmakers’ access out of their office building. 

The Daily Mempian reported:

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat, said she wants to make sure it doesn’t protect “bad actors” that might put up signs prohibiting masks or refuse to clean their facilities […] Bell contended those types of cases would be decided in court if a business is “grossly negligent” by refusing to follow safety guidelines. He argued, nevertheless, the legislation would offer protection to large businesses statewide, including Amazon and Nissan, as well as a bakery in tiny Eagleville and schools.

And the AP summed it up as follows:

Efforts to increase law enforcement oversight were rebuffed by the GOP-dominant Statehouse. Instead, the majority white General Assembly chose to focus their attention on the ongoing protests that have been led by mostly young Black activists outside the Capitol, who have been calling for racial justice reforms for the past two months.

Hagerty gets Right to Life endorsement

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bill Hagerty appears at a Republican event in Franklin on Aug. 8, 2020 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The National Right to Life Committee has endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty following his Republican primary win last week. The move comes as a bit of a surprise because Hagerty has expressed support for keeping access to abortions to women who are victims of incest or rape and for mothers whose pregnancies put their lives in danger. A similar position by U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn has long kept the Brentwood Republican from gaining the Right to Life endorsement.

Here’s the release from the Hagerty campaign:

Nashville, TN — Today, Bill Hagerty, Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, announced the National Right to Life Committee endorsed Hagerty to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“As a Christian conservative and a father of four children, I know just how precious the right to life is, and I am humbled to have the support of the National Right to Life Committee,” said Bill Hagerty. “Radical Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden, seek to implement their socialist agenda that includes abortion funded by taxpayers for any reason up to and even after the moment of birth. As your Senator, I will be a voice for the voiceless, fight for pro-life legislation including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and work to defund Planned Parenthood once and for all.”

“National Right to Life is pleased to endorse Bill Hagerty for election to the U.S. Senate, to represent the state of Tennessee,” said Carol Tobias, National Right to Life Committee President. “Bill is a strong advocate for life. All Tennessee voters who are concerned with the right to life and with the protection of the most vulnerable members of the human family should vote to send Bill to the Senate, so that he can work to advance vital pro-life public policies.”

National Right To Life Committee joins the Susan B. Anthony List in supporting Bill Hagerty for Senate.

House drops proposal to have AG prosecute protest crimes, cost per conviction projected at $500K

House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) makes an announcement before Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state House has dropped a proposal to give the state Attorney General the power to prosecute crimes committed by protesters.

The Daily Memphian reports House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) dropped the provision after hearing concerns from the District Attorneys General Conference.

Under the bill enhancing penalties for various unruly behavior, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation could be called in.

Attorney General Slatery Herbert Slatery’s office said the legislation reflects a “widely held sentiment that laws be enforced” if state prpoerty is damaged or law enforecement agents are injured.

“If the General Assembly wants us to take on additional responsibilities, there will be a number of steps to consider. If requested, we will obviously engage in those discussions,” said AG spokeswoman Samantha Fisher.

The fiscal note on the bill enhancing penalties for illegal camping on state property to a Class E felony places the cost for each conviction at more than $500,000. But nobody has been convicted under the existing illegal camping laws over the last five years, leading Fiscal Review to deem the impact to be “not significant.”

UPDATE: The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday amended its version of the bill to decrease the severity of the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Facebook to build $800M datacenter in Gallatin

A rendering of the new Facebook datacenter in Gallatin.

Social media giant Facebook is building an $800 million datacenter in Gallatin, according to the state Department of Economic and Community Development. More than 1,100 construction workers are expected to work on the project at its peak.

Here’s the ECD release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) officials announced today that the global technology company will invest $800 million to build a new state-of-the-art data center in Gallatin.

Once operational, the project is estimated to support approximately 100 jobs and will have more than 1,100 construction workers on site at peak. The data center will support a variety of positions and job types, from technical operations, electricians, logistics staff, security and more. Construction has just begun on the 982,000-square-foot facility.

The Facebook Gallatin Data Center will be among the most advanced, energy- and water- efficient data center facilities in the world. It will be supported by 100 percent renewable energy, will use 80 percent less water than the average, and, once completed, will be LEED Gold certified. Facebook has already partnered with the TVA to bring 220 MW of new solar energy to the Tennessee Valley to support Facebook’s operations in the region.

The announcement is the culmination of a three-year recruitment effort by the Gallatin Economic Development Agency, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and Tennessee Valley Authority.

Facebook will join several other large brand names located in the Gallatin Industrial Park, including Beretta USA, Gap and SERVPRO.

Since 2015, TNECD has supported 13 economic development projects in Sumner County, resulting in more than 2,000 job commitments and $223 million in capital investment.

QUOTES

“It is a testament to the quality of our business environment and the competitive spirit of our state that in this economy we are able to attract one of the world’s largest companies to our state. We welcome Facebook to Tennessee, and we are excited about the investment, quality jobs and economic opportunity they will bring to Gallatin.” – Gov. Bill Lee

“Tennessee is known for the companies that call our state home, and we are proud to welcome another globally recognized brand to our roster. Facebook could have chosen anywhere in the world for its newest state-of-the-art data center, and it means a great deal that the company has chosen Gallatin. This substantial investment will make a lasting impact on Sumner County for years to come, and we thank Facebook for its confidence in Tennessee.” – TNECD Commissioner Bob Rolfe

“We chose Gallatin because of its terrific infrastructure, talented workforce, and the spirit of partnership the community offered. This technology is actually what makes Facebook work, allowing people around the world to connect to each other. We are thrilled to be joining the Gallatin community.” – Rachel Peterson, VP of Data Center Strategy, Facebook

“Our community made the decision three years ago to pursue technology jobs as part of our economic development strategy. We are pleased to welcome Facebook to Gallatin, and we look forward to the positive impact they will have on our city.” – Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown

“TVA congratulates Facebook on its decision to locate and create quality job opportunities and significant investment in Gallatin. This public-private partnership demonstrates the strength of TVA’s public power model to deliver clean, renewable energy at competitive costs to stimulate investment and jobs that help communities grow. We are building the energy system of the future, and we are proud to work partners like Gallatin Department of Electricity, the City of Gallatin and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development to help bring more top-tier companies like Facebook into our region.”  – John Bradley, TVA Senior Vice President of Economic Development

“This is a huge investment by Facebook and is tremendous news for Sumner County. It is a testament not only to the strong talent pool we have in our local workforce, but to the hard work done for many months by Gallatin’s Economic Development team, Governor Bill Lee, Commissioner Bob Rolfe, and other essential community partners to bring these high quality jobs home. I was proud to partner with them. It will also be a catalyst for more companies to see all that Sumner County and Gallatin have to offer with our low taxes, high quality of life, prime location and business friendly environment.” – Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin)

Here are your special House committees

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to the House Republican Caucus after winning their nomination for speaker on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton has appointed special committees to handle each of three subjects being taken up in the special session. The Senate, meanwhile, is sticking with its regular standing committees.

Here are the House panels for the special session:

COVID Related Liability Committee

  • Chair-Curcio, R
  • Vice Chair-Howell, R
  • Boyd, R
  • Bricken, R
  • Byrd, R
  • Camper, D
  • Carr, R
  • Cochran, R
  • DeBerry, D
  • Freeman, D
  • Gant, R
  • Grills, R
  • Halford, R
  • Keisling, R
  • Lamberth R
  • Love, D
  • Marsh, R
  • Potts, D
  • Rudder, R
  • Sherrell, R
  • Thompson, D
  • Tilis, R
  • Travis , R
  • Whitson, R
  • Windle, D

Electronic Delivery of Healthcare Committee

  • Chair- Terry, R
  • Vice Chair- Baum, R
  • Carter, R
  • Casada, R
  • Chism, D
  • Clemmons, D
  • Dixie, D
  • Dunn, R
  • Faison, R
  • Hardaway, D
  • Hawk, R
  • Hill, Timothy, R
  • Johnson, Gloria, D
  • Kumar, R
  • Leatherwood, R
  • Mitchell, D
  • Moon, R
  • Parkinson, D
  • Ragan, R
  • Ramsey, R
  • Smith, R
  • Sparks, R
  • Vaughan, R
  • White, R
  • Williams, R

Public Safety Committee

  • Chair- Farmer, R
  • Vice Chair- Hurt, R
  • Beck, D
  • Calfee, R
  • Cepicky, R
  • Cooper, D
  • Crawford, R
  • Griffey, R
  • Garrett, R
  • Hakeem, D
  • Hodges, D
  • Hulsey, R
  • Lafferty, R
  • Littleton, R
  • Miller, D
  • Moody, R
  • Ogles, R
  • Reedy, R
  • Rudd, R
  • Russell, R
  • Staples, D
  • Todd, R
  • Van Huss, R
  • Weaver, R

Finance Committee

  • Chair- Lynn, R
  • Vice Chair- Hicks, R
  • Camper, D
  • Coley, R
  • Daniel, R
  • Doggett, R
  • Eldridge, R
  • Hall, R
  • Haston, R
  • Hazlewood, R
  • Helton, R
  • Hill, Matthew, R
  • Holsclaw, R
  • Holt, R
  • Jernigan, D
  • Johnson, Curtis, R
  • Lamar, D
  • Lamberth, R
  • Powell, D
  • Powers, R
  • Sexton, Jerry, R
  • Shaw, D
  • Stewart, D
  • Towns, D
  • Wright, R
  • Zachary, R

(Additions to the Finance panel compared with the regular session are Daniel, Eldridge, Hall, Haston, Helton, Holsclaw, Jernigan, Johnson, Lamar, Powell, Powers, Sexton, Stewart, Towns, and Wright. Subtractions are Republicans Baum, Crawford, Faison, Gant, Hawk, Ogles, Reedy, Tillis, Todd, Whitson, and Williams, along with Democrats DeBerry, Miller, Staples, and Windle.)

It’s special session time in Tennessee (again)

The Senate meets in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Lawmakers are back in Nashville on Monday for a special session, this time to complete unfinished business from when they couldn’t agree back in June over COVID-19 liability protections and a telehealth bill.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) got in under the wire on a fundraising blackout on Monday morning by collecting checks from donors at the Hermitage Hotel. Sens. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) had their own fundraisers at Puckett’s restaurant and Nissan Stadium, respectively.

The House Republican Caucus picked up where it left off by holding a closed-door meeting before the start of the first floor session.

Legislative historian Eddie Weeks has combed through the records to find some interesting facts about his special session:

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