Monthly Archives: January 2021

Lee releases special session legislation

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is releasing the Republican’s package of bills to be taken up by lawmakers in a special session scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced special session legislation addressing K-12 student learning loss and the adverse effects on Tennessee students’ proficiency in reading and math after extended time away from the classroom due to COVID-19.

“COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of education and we are on the cusp of severe consequences for our students if we don’t act now,” said Gov. Lee. “Data suggests that Tennessee third graders are facing an estimated 50% drop in reading proficiency and a projected 65% drop in math proficiency and that is not an acceptable path for our kids[1]. I thank Lt. Gov. McNally, Speaker Sexton and members of the General Assembly for acting quickly on behalf of our students and taking up intervention measures during the special session.”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that only 34% of Tennessee students are proficient or advanced readers by fourth grade. Research shows that students who do not achieve reading proficiency by third grade are more likely to drop out of high school, be incarcerated or experience poverty as adults.

In addition to learning loss interventions and accountability hold harmless measures, Gov. Lee will propose adding funding for teacher salaries.

“Educators across the state are working tirelessly to turn the tide for their students and help them regain critical math and reading skills,” said Gov. Lee. “We believe they should be compensated for their efforts and look forward to working with the General Assembly to provide funding for our teachers.”

Intervening to Stop Learning Loss – SB 7002

  • Requires interventions for struggling students including after-school learning mini-camps, learning loss bridge camps and summer learning camps, beginning summer 2021
  • Program prioritizes students who score below proficient in both reading (ELA) and math subjects
  • Creates the Tennessee Accelerated Literacy and Learning Corps to provide ongoing tutoring for students throughout the entire school year
  • Strengthens laws around a third grade reading gate so we no longer advance students who are not prepared

Building Better Readers with Phonics – SB 7003

  • Ensures local education agencies (LEAs) use a phonics-based approach for kindergarten through third grade reading instruction
  • Establishes a reading screener for parents and teachers to identify when students need help, well before third grade
  • Provides training and support for educators to teach phonics-based reading instruction

Accountability to Inform – SB 7001

  • Extends hold harmless provisions from the 2019-20 school year to the 2020-21 school year so that students, teachers, schools and districts do not face any negative consequences associated with student assessments
  • Provides parents and educators with assessment data including TCAP testing to provide an accurate picture of where Tennessee students are and what supports are needed to offset any learning losses

Former commissioner reports Rep. Weaver to DC police

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) attends a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A former commissioner in then-Gov. Ned McWherter’s administration has reported state Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) to law enforcement for taking part in Washington protest that turned into a riot.

“I respectfully inform you that Terri Lynn Weaver… was a participant,” Dudley Taylor wrote to D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee. “She posted photos and informed The Tennessean, the daily newspaper in Nashville, that she was ‘in the thick of it.’ She claimed to be a ‘patriot,’ of course.”

Contee in an email thanked Taylor for his report.

“I will ensure our FBI partners have this information,” Contee wrote.

Taylor is a Knoxville attorney who served as revenue commissioner for McWherter. He is also a former member of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance and was the Democratic nominee in the open 2nd Congressional District won by Republican Jimmy Duncan in 1988.

Taylor wrote in his letter that if his report qualifies for a $1,000 reward, he will donate it to the family of the U.S. Capitol Police officer who was killed in the riot.

Here are Sexton’s House committee assignments

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) announced his committee appointments on Wednesday before the General Assembly adjourned its organizational session. Here they are:

AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE

  • Chair – Curtis Halford
  • Vice Chair – Rusty Grills
  • Mark Cochran
  • Barbra Cooper
  • Tandy Darby
  • Clay Doggett
  • GA Hardaway
  • Bud Hulsey
  • Chris Hurt
  • Jason Potts
  • Jay Reedy
  • Iris Rudder
  • Johnny Shaw
  • Chris Todd
  • Ron Travis
  • Dave Wright

Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee

  • Chair – Chris Todd
  • Mark Cochran
  • Tandy Darby
  • Curtis Halford
  • Bud Hulsey
  • Chris Hurt
  • Jason Potts
  • Jay Reedy
  • Johnny Shaw

CIVIL JUSTICE COMMITTEE

  • Chair – Mike Carter
  • Vice Chair – Darren Jernigan
  • Rush Bricken
  • John Ray Clemmons
  • Michael Curcio
  • Rick Eldridge
  • Andrew Farmer
  • Johnny Garrett
  • John Gillespie
  • Bruce Griffey
  • Torrey Harris
  • Mary Littleton
  • Brandon Ogles
  • Antonio Parkinson
  • Bob Ramsey
  • Robin Smith
  • Mike Stewart

Civil Justice Subcommittee        

  • Chair – Andrew Farmer
  • Mike Carter       
  • John Ray Clemmons       
  • Michael Curcio 
  • Johnny Garrett 
  • Bruce Griffey    
  • Brandon Ogles  
  • Antonio Parkinson

Children and Family Affairs Subcommittee         

  • Chair – Mary Littleton   
  • Rush Bricken     
  • Mike Carter       
  • Rick Eldridge     
  • John Gillespie   
  • Torrey Harris     
  • Mike Stewart
Continue reading

Hagerty names Jim Henry as state director

Deputy to the Governor Jim Henry speaks with Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Nashville) has named Jim Henry, a former top deputy to then-Gov. Bill Haslam, as state director. Michael Sullivan, a former executive director of the state Republican Party, will serve as deputy to Henry.

Here’s the full release from Hagerty’s office:

NASHVILLE – United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN) today announced the appointment of Jim Henry as his State Director and the appointment of the other dedicated public servants who will serve in his Tennessee state offices. The offices will be located in Nashville, Chattanooga, Cookeville, Jackson, Knoxville, Memphis, and Tri-Cities.

“Having Jim Henry, someone who has spent his career serving our state, as my state director will bring tremendous experience to our state team and will help ensure that Tennesseans know my offices are available to help in their communities,” said Hagerty. “The men and women who will make up these seven offices bring a wealth of knowledge and understanding of Tennessee-specific issues that will serve our state and our citizens well.”

Nashville

Jim Henry will serve as State Director. Henry most recently served as the Deputy Governor and Chief of Staff to Governor Bill Haslam. He has served Tennessee as the Commissioner of Children’s Services, was the first Commissioner of the Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, and was the Republican Leader in the House of Representatives. Jim is also a past Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. He ran for Governor in 2002, and is a former mayor of the city of Kingston.

Michael Sullivan will serve as Deputy State Director. Sullivan most recently served as Hagerty’s Campaign Manager. Previously he was the Executive Director of the Tennessee Republican Party. He is a graduate of Hanover College and has worked in government and politics since 2007. His experience includes work in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. He moved to Nashville in 2011, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Preston Cooper will serve as Special Projects Coordinator. Previously she served as a Political Coordinator for Hagerty’s campaign, her first job in politics. She is a graduate of Sewanee: The University of the South. Cooper currently lives in Nashville.

Tammy Pierce will serve as Special Assistant to the State Director. Pierce previously served as Executive Assistant for Special Projects at the Tennessee Department of Child Services Institute. Prior to her work in the social services and government sectors, Pierce worked with Kenny Rogers and others in the music and entertainment industry. She has one son, a high school teacher and coach, and a daughter-in-law who is a registered nurse at Vanderbilt Hospital. Pierce is a fourth generation Nashvillian.

Braden Stover will serve as a Field Representative. Stover most recently was Hagerty’s Deputy Campaign Manager. Prior to that, he served as Director of Operations and Campaign Manager for Congressman John Rose. He is a graduate of Belmont University and currently resides in Gallatin with his wife Gracie

Rachel Jackson Jones will serve as a Constituent Services Representative. Jones has been a Registered Nurse since 1989. She has been a County Commissioner in Trousdale County since 2017 and was the first woman Chairman of the Trousdale County Republican Party. Jones is an active member of the Rotary Club and a member of the Hartsville Church of Christ. Jones is from Trousdale County, where she lives with her two daughters.

The Nashville office is located 3322 West End Avenue, Suite 120 and can be reached by calling 615-736-5129.

Chattanooga

Stan Settles will serve as a Field Representative. Settles most recently served as Hagerty’s Chattanooga Regional Field Director. Previously, he was a Field Organizer for Congressman Chuck Fleischmann. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, where he was the Student Body President. Settles has worked on several local and state-level campaigns in the area. Settles moved to Chattanooga in 2016, where he lives now.

Tonya Johnson will serve as Constituent Services Representative. Johnson recently served as a Constituent Services Representative for 10 years in Chattanooga for Senator Lamar Alexander. She is a graduate of Bryan College. Johnson is from Chattanooga where she still lives with her husband and two daughters.

The Chattanooga office is located in the Joel E. Soloman Federal Building at 900 Georgia Avenue, Suite 260 and can be contacted by calling 423-752-5337.

Cookeville

Tanner Cox will serve as a Field Representative. He was most recently Campaign Manager for Congressman John Rose’s campaign. Previously, he was a Regional Field Director for Hagerty. He is a graduate of Tennessee Tech University. Cox is originally from Fentress County and lives in Cookeville.

Bonny Warren will serve as a Constituent Services Representative. Warren has 10 years of constituent service experience with the U.S. House of Representatives. Having previously worked in Tennessee state government, Warren has a background serving constituents. Warren lives in Cookeville with her husband and enjoys her large family.

The Cookeville office will be located in the L. Clure Morton Federal Building at 9 E. Broad Street, 3rd Floor and can be contacted at this time by calling the Nashville office at 615-736-5129.

Jackson

Matt Varino will serve as a Field Representative. Varino most recently served as a Field Representative in Jackson for Senator Lamar Alexander. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi where he studied Political Science. He is married and has three children.

The Jackson office will be located in the Ed Jones Federal Building at 109 S. Highland Avenue, Suite 216 and can be reached at 731-664-0289.

Knoxville

Joe Bailey will serve as Regional Director. Bailey has most recently been managing his own consulting business. He was Vice Mayor for the city of Knoxville and a member of the City Council for eighth years. He is a veteran of multiple campaigns, including President Reagan’s re-election campaign in 1984 and President Bush’s 1988 campaign. Bailey served in the Reagan and Bush administrations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy. Additionally, he worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Bailey lives in Knoxville with his son and two daughters.

Riley Lovingood will serve as a Field Representative. Lovingood has spent the past year working for Hagerty’s Campaign as a Regional Field Director in Knoxville. He recently graduated from the University of Tennessee where he was a football player. He received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee. Lovingood is an eighth Generation Tennessean originally from Hendersonville.

Keith Abraham will serve as a Constituent Services Representative. Previously he served as a Constituent Services Representative for Senator Lamar Alexander. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Abraham is from Knoxville, where he lives today with his wife and two daughters.

The Knoxville office is located in the Howard H. Baker, Jr. U.S. Courthouse at 800 Market Street, Suite 112 and can be reached by calling 865-545-4253.

Memphis

Chris Connolly will serve as a Field Representative. Connolly was most recently a Field Representative for Senator Lamar Alexander. He was previously an aide to Congressman Stephen Fincher. He is a two-time graduate of the University of Memphis. Connolly is from Memphis and lives with his wife in Bartlett.

Mary Wooldridge will serve as Constituent Services Representative. Since 2011, Wooldridge has been a Constituent Services Representative for Senator Lamar Alexander. She was previously employed by BellSouth (now ATT) and LeBonheur Children’s Hospital. Wooldridge attended the University of Memphis and Southwest Tennessee Community College. She is a lifelong Memphian, where she lives with her husband. Wooldridge is the proud mother of two children and four grandchildren.

The Memphis office is located in the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building at 167 North Main Street, Suite 1068 and can be reached by calling 901-544-4224.

Tri-Cities

Nick Castle will serve as a Field Representative. Previously, he served as Hagerty’s Tri-Cities Field Director. He attended East Tennessee State University, where he studied history and political science. Castle is from Kingsport.

Tracie O’Hara will serve as a Constituent Services Representative. Previously, she served the First Congressional District for eleven years, working for Congressman Phil Roe. She resides in Jonesborough with her husband Scott.

The Tri Cities office is located in the Tri Cities Regional Airport at 2525 Highway 75, Suite 101 and can be contacted by calling 423-325-6240.

Senate names new chairs, House juggles committees

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) presides over a floor session on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has named Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) as chair of the Education Committee and Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) to head the State and Local Government Committee. The positions were vacated by the retirements of Dolores Gresham and electoral defeat of Steve Dickerson, respectively.

Committee assignments have yet to be made in the House, but draft rules signal a change in the overall makeup of standing committees. Speaker Cameron Sexton will once again split apart the Judiciary Committee into two standing panels: Civil Justice and Criminal Justice. He is also turning the single Education panel into separate Education Administration and Education Instruction committees. The Consumer and Human Resources Committee will be no longer.

The changes will leave the House with 14 standing committees, up from 13 last session. Sexton is also expected to significantly retool the subcommittee system.

Update: Dems force vote, abstain on re-election of Secretary of State Hargett

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)

Tennessee Democrats objected to re-electing Secretary of State Tre Hargett by acclamation, forcing a roll call vote on another four-year term. Hargett went on to win 112 votes out of a possible 132.

The move by Democrats was largely symbolic, as Republican supermajorities in both chambers.

“In the middle of a pandemic, the secretary of state used the power of his office to undermine voter safety and kill bipartisan election reforms that would have made voting easier and more accessible to all Tennesseans,” Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro said in a statement. “We cannot, in good conscience, support his appointment to a new four-year term.”

The joint convention also re-elected David Lillard as treasurer and voted for Jason Mumpower to succeed Justin Wilson as comptroller.

Here’s the full release from the Democrats:


NASHVILLE – Democratic leadership in the General Assembly will cast a vote of no confidence on Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s nomination for a new four-year term citing his office’s record of pushing anti-democratic legislation and repeated court losses.

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly will appoint a secretary of state during a joint meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives today.

Democratic leaders from both chambers say they expect the secretary of state to a be figure who unites lawmakers around proposals that make it safer and easier for people to vote, regardless of party or zip code.

“In the middle of a pandemic, the secretary of state used the power of his office to undermine voter safety and kill bipartisan election reforms that would have made voting easier and more accessible to all Tennesseans,” Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the Senate minority leader, said. “We cannot, in good conscience, support his appointment to a new four-year term.”

“Tennessee has become one of the most difficult states to cast a vote in and, as a result, voter participation in Tennessee is among the worst in the nation,” House Democratic Leader Rep. Karen Camper said. “Our secretary of state should be a champion for voters, a leader who is consistently committed to ensuring every eligible voter has an equal chance to participate in our elections.”

“Too often over his tenure, Secretary Hargett’s office has entangled the state in costly and unnecessary lawsuits,” Rep. Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said. “Instead of pushing unconstitutional legislation that suppresses the vote and wastes our resources, we should be working in partnership to address real problems, like updating the many outdated and corruptible voting machines throughout the state.”

“Despite the outcome of today’s vote, our caucuses will continue working on common sense reforms that empower voters and protect our elections,” Sen. Raumesh Akbari, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said. “Voter registration should be automatic. Every voter should have the option to vote by mail. Every voter should be able to verify their votes on a paper ballot. We can make a lot of progress quickly if we work together.

First House GOP meeting following FBI raid will be secret

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) is seen through a smoked glass window to a closed Republican caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House Republican Caucus is holding its first meeting since federal agents descended on the homes and offices of three sitting GOP members. It will be closed to the press and public under a new rule adopted by its members without debate following the November elections.

During the same meeting two years ago, then-House Speaker Glen Casada of Franklin made the hard sell on rule changes that ended the unrestricted power of the speaker pro tem to vote in any committees and eliminated floor speeches unrelated to pending bills or motions (the latter appeared to apply to all but then-Rep. John DeBerry or Memphis, who was continued to be allowed to speechify to his heart’s content).

Casada and fellow Republican Reps. Robin Smith of Hixson and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill were the subjects of FBI searches on Friday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not yet announced the reason for the probe. Search warrant affidavits remain sealed.

Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) speaks to reporters in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Casada and fellow Republican Reps. Robin Smith of Hixson and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill were the subjects of FBI searches on Friday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not yet announced the reason for the probe. Search warrant affidavits remain sealed.

The meeting takes place on Tuesday morning before lawmakers are scheduled to start the 112th General Assembly by electing their respective speakers. Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) are expected to be re-elected without much trouble.

Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) is sworn into the House in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Republican Caucus meetings remain open to the public.

State BlueCross stops short of sweeping donation ban

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The national BlueCross BlueShield Association made waves this week by announcing it would suspend political donations to lawmakers who objected to the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election as president.

“In light of this week’s violent, shocking assault on the United States Capitol, and the votes of some members of Congress to subvert the results of November’s election by challenging Electoral College results, BCSBA will suspend contributions to those lawmakers who voted to undermine our democracy,” the federation of 36 independent BlueCross companies said in a statement.

Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee doesn’t appear to be taking the same blanket approach toward its PAC donations to state candidates.

“An internal committee routinely reviews any potential PAC contributions before they are made. As part of this process, the committee examines the actions and records of elected officials on a campaign-by-campaign and candidate-by-candidate basis to determine whether they’re consistent with our mission, beliefs and goals,” the company said.

“BlueCross, like many other companies, will continue closely scrutinizing PAC contributions. As we always have, we will continue to look particularly close at candidates who take positions that differ from their stated core values, and how their values align with our own,” according to the statement.

The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee PAC made $200,600 in state contributions during the last election cycle, of which $15,500 went to six Republicans who signed a Dec. 30 letter urging Congress to reject the presidential election results. A total of 18 representatives and five senators had signaled their support for the letter.

Senate to block public access to committee floor

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

The state Senate will continue to bar public access to committee meetings during the upcoming legislative session. According to guidelines shared with members, the restrictions will mirror the COVID-19 mitigation steps taken by the upper chamber last summer.

The House is expected to continue to allow access by lobbyists and other members of the public.

Here’s is the memo sent by Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey:

To:     Members of the Senate, 112th General Assembly

From:   Russell A. Humphrey, Chief Clerk

In consideration of the infection rates and State of Tennessee COVID-19 guidelines, Mr. Speaker McNally and Senate Leadership have set the following protocols:

  *   The Senate side of the first floor of the Cordell Hull Building and the Senate Hearing Room are only to be utilized by Senators and authorized staff.

  *   On the 7th Floor of the Cordell Hull Building only Senate Members, Senate Staff, and appointments pre-scheduled by the pubic are authorized on the floor.  Please notify Ms. Connie Ridley of Senators appointments with members of the public the afternoon in advance.  Once appointments are concluded, guest must leave the floor.

  *   The Senate Chamber and the Senate Hearing Room are arranged to provide seating at a minimum physical distance of six feet. Only Senate Members, limited Clerk’s staff, and a press pool reporter are allowed in the Senate Chamber.

  *   Members are requested to wear face covering that covers both the mouth and nose while in public areas, including the Senate Chamber and Senate Hearing Room.

  *   Staff are required to wear face covering that covers both the mouth and nose while in public areas, including the Senate Chamber and Senate Hearing Room.

  *   Testimony in Committee meetings by non-members will be conducted remotely only. Please let the Chairman’s office know if you have someone to testify on a matter.

  *   Due to space limitations, seating is limited to staff and press in the Senate Hearing Room and the Senate Gallery.

  *   No accommodations are available for Days on the Hill or local, regional or state Leadership Groups.

These protocols shall remain in effect until further notice.  Mr. Speaker McNally ask you to be flexible, as these will change as conditions improved. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

McNally: Lawmakers should resign if arrested

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

Senate Speaker Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican who wore a wire for the FBI in the Rocky Top investigation in the 1980s, says state lawmakers who who had their homes and offices searched by federal agents should resign if they are arrested.

“Of course nobody’s been arrested. They’ve just had search warrants,” McNally told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “But, if somebody’s arrested, I think they should resign.”

The lawmakers who had their offices and homes raided on Friday include former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson), and Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill). The FBI is also looking into former top Casada aide Cade Cothren, interim House Chief of Staff Holt Whitt, and two legislative staffers.

So far we’ve heard from the lawyers of Smith and Whitt:

[Smith] intends to cooperate fully with the investigation in all respects. while she would have preferred to do so voluntarily, Robin understands this may not have been possible…. [She] “is not the target of the investigation, and she has not done anything wrong. Please understand that due to the ongoing investigation, Robin will not be providing any further comment.”

— Smith attorney Ben Rose to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Holt Whitt was one of several individuals contacted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding an ongoing investigation. Mr. Whitt is a well-respected legislative aide with an impeccable reputation, and he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He is cooperating fully with the investigation. Out of respect for the legal process, Mr. Whitt will have no further public comment regarding this matter.”

— Whitt attorney Ty Howard.

Federal agents descended on Rep. Warner’s home and business in Marshall County with search warrants, the contents of which remain shrouded in mystery by the government. Significantly, Rep. Warner has not been charged with any wrongdoing.”

— Warner’s attorney Peter Strianse