Monthly Archives: June 2021

Dog days of summer are here

Programming note: The Tennessee Journal is on summer break this week. The blog and the print edition return next week.

Get your 225th Tennessee birthday posters here

Gov. Bill Lee has unveiled new posters commemorating Tenenssee’s 225 years of statehood.

They are available by request from the state at https://www.tennessee225.com/posters

See details below.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee unveiled three limited-edition posters highlighting each Tennessee grand division to celebrate 225 years of statehood. Tennesseans are invited to share an untold story and request a poster at www.Tennessee225.com.

“From the Mississippi River to the Great Smoky Mountains, our grand divisions reflect their own unique character and represent the best of Tennessee,” said Gov. Lee. “I invite Tennesseans to submit untold stories that celebrate every corner of our state as we commemorate 225 years of statehood.”

The limited-edition posters, designed by famed artist Justin Helton of Knoxville, highlight the culture and beauty of each Tennessee grand division.

Capitol community mourns passing of Mike Dedmon

The state Capitol community is mourning the sudden passing of Mike Dedmon, the deputy budget director in the Department of Finance and Adminstration. The affable Dedmon recently celebrated 30 years of service, which spanned five governors and nine finance commissioners.

“This breaks my heart,” former Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter said in a tweet. “The State of TN lost an extremely valuable civil servant. Mike was one of the brightest individuals I knew who humbly did an important job behind the scenes.”

Lee joins Iowa counterpart in calling for congressional hearing on unaccompanied minors

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is joining Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in calling on a congressional hearing on unaccompanied minors being flown to their states by the federal government.

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds joined with U. S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in calling for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding the crisis at the southern border and the ensuing flow of unaccompanied minors to states.

“We are writing to support your continued calls for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold an oversight hearing regarding the current border crisis,” the governors wrote in their letter to Senator Grassley. “We believe this hearing should also address the Biden Administration’s failure to provide notice and transparency in their movement of unaccompanied migrant children into states.”

Both Iowa and Tennessee have faced a series of disturbing incidents involving the transport of unaccompanied children into respective states, under the cover of darkness, with no advance notification, consent or plan from federal partners.

“These experiences sow seeds of mistrust in our communities, and work to intentionally subvert the will of the people for a secure border and a clear, lawful immigration process,” the governors wrote in their letter to Senator Grassley. “Additionally, the lack of transparency places an undue burden on our law enforcement partners to determine whether these types of flights constitute a criminal act of human trafficking or the federally-sponsored transport of vulnerable children.”

Both Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn and Senator Bill Hagerty support calls for a hearing.

“The Biden Administration is secretly transporting migrants to communities throughout the United States, including in Tennessee, without the knowledge of or permission of the communities involved,” said Senator Blackburn. “President Biden’s failed immigration policies have turned every town into a border town. The Senate Judiciary Committee should immediately hold an oversight hearing on the crisis at our southern border. I applaud Governor Lee for his efforts to protect our state and the people who are being trafficked by the Mexican cartels.”

“Tennessee and states all across the country are seeing the real, tangible results of President Biden’s total failure to solve the crisis at the border—a crisis of his own making—with the systematic resettling of migrants in our communities,” said Senator Hagerty. “Mayors, sheriffs and governors are on the front lines of combatting increased human trafficking and drug smuggling, as well as addressing strains on public resources. I applaud Governors Lee and Reynolds for continuing to draw attention to these matters, asking questions and urging Congress to perform its proper oversight function.”

Gardenhire says resettlement of migrant children is being ‘politicized’

Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), center, attends a hearing in Nashville on Jan. 30, 2018. At left is Sen. Ed Jackson (R-Jackson) and at right is Sen, Paul Bailey (R-Sparta). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) has written an op-ed published in newspapers around the state that criticizes fellow Republicans for “politicizing the issue of taking care of children and putting them with caring families and sponsors.”

“Shutting our doors locally will only prolong the suffering of these children and their families by keeping them apart and in detention centers along the border instead of in licensed shelters and facilities which specialize in caring for immigrant children,” Gardenhire writes.

Read the op-ed below:

I have just been appointed to a special joint committee of the Tennessee legislature by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally to study the issues surrounding migrant children being brought into Tennessee.

I requested this assignment because the facility in Highland Park in question is in my district. I have known about this for several months and have spoken to Rev. Kevin Wallace about any help I can offer for the care of these children.

My hope is for us to look at — as Sgt. Joe Friday from the 1950s TV show “Dragnet” says — “Just the facts, ma’am,” and not get caught up in the politicizing the issue of taking care of children and putting them with caring families and sponsors.

Almost two years ago, I went on a mission trip with three other members of Chattanooga churches plus an interpreter to a Red Zone state, Chiapas, in southwest Mexico on the border of Guatemala. What I saw were situations that any person with common sense would want their children to leave and not come back. I have heard friends criticize the person shown on the news recently dropping her two very young children over a wall so they could be in America. I’m reminded of a Levite woman named Jochebed who did a similar thing thousands of years ago to save the life of her son so he would not be killed. Her son’s name was Moses. Was Moses’ perfect? No. Did God use him to change the world and the Israeli people? Yes.

We need to separate rhetoric from the facts. We need to separate the issue of the border fiasco and how these individuals came to our border from the by-product of the children in the custody of the U.S. government.

Forty-plus years ago, we faced the same issue with Cambodian refugees being brought to America right after the Vietnam War. There was a lot of resistance to having “those people” brought here. More than 100 were settled here in Chattanooga by area churches. They faced the same unfortunate public outcry as we see today.

But think about this: The first flight arrived in Chattanooga last month and two children were reunited with loved ones here while six others were transferred to the shelter.

The mission of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilitating the reunification process is to safely care for unaccompanied children until they are able to be placed with a vetted sponsor, usually a parent or close relative.

As part of the unification process, ORR is facilitating travel for the children in its custody to their sponsors to prevent any delays. Their parents and relatives are located across the United States, and ORR contractors use a variety of transportation modes to reunite unaccompanied children with their families. Those methods, which include air and ground transportation, take into account child safety and wellness, travel time and cost effectiveness.

Shutting our doors locally will only prolong the suffering of these children and their families by keeping them apart and in detention centers along the border instead of in licensed shelters and facilities which specialize in caring for immigrant children.

These children leave their homes and travel more than 2,500 miles for weeks and months to come to America because their home countries are dangerous, impoverished and unsafe.

My father’s ancestors came to America from Germany in the early 1700s. On my mother’s side, I’m an 8th generation born in the city of Chattanooga; her family also came from Germany. If your ancestors were immigrants, you should welcome people who want to be here.

I would ask our elected officials not to beat up on children; stay focused on the real problem (the border fiasco) and not the by-product. Tennessee is not obligated to provide any benefits to these children, but it’s the right thing to do. That will be part of the special committee’s discussion.

Democratic donor running ads hitting Hensley over prescription case involving paramour

A copy of newspaper ads Bill Freeman is running in the district of Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald)

Prominent Democratic donor Bill Freeman of Nashville is running ads in Republican state Sen. Joey Hensley’s district criticizing the Hohenwald physician over conflicting testimony about how long he was romantically involved with a second cousin to whom he had prescribed opioids.

The state Board of Medical Examiners last year placed Hensley’s license on a three-year probation. Hensley had argued in a hearing that writing prescriptions for relatives was unavoidable in a small town like Hohenwald, suggesting it would have been “discrimination” for him to refuse them treatment.

The senator later acknowledged other medical care is available, as a doctor and nurse practitioner routinely visit the town. The Tennessean reported medical board member Neal Beckford noted Columbia is only 30 miles away, meaning other medical options may be “inconvenient
but not insurmountable.”

The Tennessean recently followed up with a story about how Hensley’s involvement with his second-cousin may have lasted longer than the brief spell he testified about during the hearing.

Read the full release from Freeman below:

Continue reading

Lee approves modernization of captive insurance laws

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a groundbreaking event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A release from the state Department of Commerce and Insurance:

NASHVILLE – Newly approved updates to Tennessee’s captive insurance statute will help fuel the Volunteer State’s growing reputation as a first-choice domicile for companies looking to establish a captive insurance company.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee recently approved the latest modernizations to Tennessee’s captive laws, including authorizing parametric insurance coverage and reducing the statutory capital needed by protected cell captive insurers to commence operations from $250,000 to $100,000, amongst other improvements.

A captive insurance company (called a “captive”) represents an option for many corporations and groups wanting to take financial control and manage their business risks by forming their own insurance company. The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) is responsible for properly regulating Tennessee’s captive insurance industry.

“By reducing the minimum capital and surplus needed to start protected cell captive insurance companies, Tennessee is sending a strong message that we value companies’ freedom to invest their money to obtain the highest return on investment possible rather than allocate money in excess of what is needed to support the potential risk of insurance losses in their captive,” said TDCI Captive Section Director Belinda Fortman. “By modernizing Tennessee’s captive insurance statute to reduce the minimum coverage for protected cell captive insurers as well as including parametric insurance coverage for the first time, the Volunteer State is providing strong incentives for captive owners to choose Tennessee as their captive domicile.”

2020 was another record-setting year for Tennessee’s captive insurance section as captive premium volume topped $1.6 billion and the number of active captives in Tennessee increased to 146. Today, over 750 risk-bearing entities call Tennessee home. Additionally, TDCI’s leadership has drawn international accolades as Fortman was recently named to Captive Review magazine’s “Power 50” list.

Said Fortman: “Through the first five months of 2021,Tennessee has averaged 10 new captive formations a month, which is an impressive pace that we hope to see continue. The growth of the captive insurance industry in Tennessee that we are seeing today is a byproduct of years of focused teamwork and the far-reaching vision of Tennessee’s leaders. I am thankful for the hard work and support of Governor Lee, the members of the Tennessee General Assembly and the captive insurance stakeholders who are helping make Tennessee truly the ‘Gold Standard’ of the South.”

Tennessee Captive Insurance Association (TCIA) President Kevin Doherty said: “The TCIA is grateful that the Department and the General Assembly, two of the three legs of the proverbial three-legged stool, have continued to support important updates like this to the captive law that help Tennessee remain at the forefront of our industry. Specifically, the TCIA supports the reduction in the minimum capital for protected cell captives to $100,000 and believes this will help to spur significant growth in cell captives in Tennessee. The TCIA also believes it is significant that Tennessee is leading the way now in permitting captives to offer parametric insurance that can offer innovative ways to cover large numbers of insureds in natural disasters or other similar events. As the third leg of the stool, the TCIA looks forward to continuing to work with the other two legs of this public private partnership to maintain Tennessee’s prominence as a captive insurance domicile.”

To learn more about captive insurance in Tennessee, visit captive.tn.gov or call (615) 741-3805, (855) 809-0069 (toll free) or email at captive.insurance@tn.gov.

Pro-voucher groups celebrate Supreme Court arguments

School voucher supporters are lauding Thursday’s state Supreme Court arguments over the state’s appeal of lower court rulings declaring the program violates the Tennessee Constitution’s home rule protections.

Here’s what Justin Owen, the CEO of the conservative Beacon Center think tank, had to say:

We are pleased with today’s arguments in the ESA case and are optimistic that the Supreme Court will rule that this much-needed program can move forward. The local governments of Shelby County and Metro Nashville have stalled this program for nearly two years by claiming that they will suffer financially if parents are allowed to send their children to schools that better meet their needs. Even today, their attorney claimed that these students would burden the government financially if they were given the option to use an ESA to improve their education. Yet at the same time, the local governments admitted today in court that education funding in these two school districts would remain ‘roughly the same’ even if this program takes effect.

It’s terribly disappointing that these local governments continue to outright blame families seeking a lifeline from their failure to provide a quality education to these children. We are confident the Supreme Court will do what is right and look forward to their decision.”

And here is Shaka Mitchell, the the director of the Tennessee chapter of the American Federation for Children:

“We are optimistic the Tennessee Supreme Court will reverse the decision by the lower court and allow students in Shelby and Davidson Counties to access the Education Savings Account program. Thousands of families trapped in failing or low-performing schools had already signed up to participate when the program was halted as a result of the lawsuit.

School choice programs work. They empower parents with resources to find schools that better fit their unique needs and they foster innovation. These programs make both private and public schools create new and better options for all students. At American Federation for Children, we remain focused on students, not systems, and we hope for a favorable outcome in this case.”

Lee declines to sign teacher training bill over cost dispute

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a bill sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) and Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) allowing school districts to establish their own teacher training programs.

The governor’s objections had less to do with the bill’s substance than concerns that the fiscal note was revised from $470,000 to “not significant,” despite his administration presenting evidence to the contrary. The lack of funding for the program is “something that will need to be addressed” in the upcoming budget year, Lee wrote.

Lee has not vetoed any bill since coming into office in 2019 and he’s now only allowed three to become law without his signature. In 2019, he didn’t sign the bill creating Tennessee’s online sports gambling program. In 2020, he declined to sign a resolution ratifying the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board’s increase in the 911 surcharge from $1.16 to $1.50. The latter was also sponsored by Bowling.

Here’s a copy of the letter Lee sent to House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge):

Dear Speaker Sexton and Lieutenant Governor McNally:

I am writing to inform you that I am returning HB1534/SB653 to become law without my signature. As our state faces a teacher shortage, we support alternative pathways to teacher licensure. These efforts cut back red tape and ensure more qualified professionals can teach our students. I am not signing the bill solely because of a cost discrepancy.

Unfortunately, this legislation incurs a cost that was not accounted for by Fiscal Review during the legislative process. Fiscal Review adjusted the fiscal note downward from several hundred thousand dollars to “not significant.” At the end of the legislative session, our team provided Fiscal Review with evidence of the costs associated with implementation and asked for correction.

The requested correction was not made, and the lack of adequate funding to support this legislation is something that will need to be addressed in the budget process in the year ahead in order to ensure proper implementation.

With your continued partnership, we have once again created and enacted a balanced budget that maintains Tennessee’s position as a leader in fiscal responsibility. We must be vigilant about thoroughly accounting for costs in the fiscal review process to ensure we maintain that fiscal prudence.

Our team at the Department of Education is available to discuss the cost assumptions on this matter at your convenience. We will also communicate our concerns with the bill sponsors and relevant committee chairs.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this fiscal matter and I look forward to supporting more qualified teachers in our state.

Respectfully,

/signed/

Bill Lee