Monthly Archives: September 2021

New TNJ edition alert: Could losing 5th District be blessing in disguise for Dems?

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

The new print edition of the The Tenenssee Journal is out in the wild. Here’s what we delved into this week:

— Why losing the 5th District might not be the nightmare Dems think it’d be.

— A look back at the last Repubican elected to the 5th Distict seat nearly 150 years ago, and how he fell victim to redistricting.

— From the campaign trail: Vital wins over Dem accused of rape, former Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s once powerful PAC drained of campaign cash, audit in to freshman Rep. Todd Warner’s campaign spending put off until next Registry meeting.

— Mandate two-step: Official opposition to Biden vaccine stance coupled with private relief among some businesses.

Also: The general fund bonanza endures, Katrina Robinson’s trial gets underway, the Chattanooga Times Free Press to go (mostly) digital, and state Dems ‘voluntarily’’ stay away from annual fundraiser.

As always, access your copy of the TNJ here or subscribe here.

Programming note: The Journal is on break next week, so expect lighter-than-usual blog fare while we kick out feet up. The next print edition appears Oct. 1.

McNally: Special session won’t make Biden order any more unconstitutional

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) wields the gavel during a floor session to adjust the course of the legislative session in response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) appears unmoved by calls from fellow Republicans to hold a special session on COVID-19 mandates.

Here’s a statement from McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider:

Lt. Governor McNally’s position has not changed. He does not see an urgent need for a special session. President Biden’s unconstitutional executive order does not change that. The General Assembly cannot pass any state law that would make what President Biden has done any more unconstitutional. It is already the height of federal overreach. As soon as Biden’s actual rules and regulations have been adopted, our attorney general, in conjunction with other states attorneys general, can challenge this order in the courts, the arena where this issue will ultimately be decided.”

Flirting with trouble? Roberts calls for special session on COVID-19 mandates

Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Sprinfield) speak on the Senate floor on Jan. 10, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) is calling on Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) to join the House in calling for a special session on COVID-19 mandates.

Roberts recently got a talking to from McNally for allowing his Government Operations Committee to veer into discussions about dissolving the state Department of Health and considering livestock dewormer ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.

McNally has been resistant to holding a special session while the pandemic is worsening and has been skeptical of calls to limit private businesses’ options when it comes to their employees and customers.

Roberts is no stranger to going against leadership — sometimes to his own peril. After word got to then-Speaker Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) in 2011 that the freshman lawmaker was raising questions about whether the chamber needed a new leader, Roberts ended up finding himself drawn out of his district the following year in favor of controversial Sen. Jim Summerville (R-Dickson). Roberts defeated Summerville in the 2014 primary to return to the chamber.

Here’s the release from Roberts:

Nashville, Tennessee (September 15, 2021) – On Tuesday, State Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) sent a letter to Lt. Governor Randy McNally requesting a special session take place of the Tennessee General Assembly. Roberts’ letter explains that numerous constituents have reached out requesting a special session.

In the letter, Roberts lays out six topics he suggests to be considered during a special session:

1. Prohibiting mask mandates in public buildings, schools, and universities

2. Recognizing acquired immunity or immunity from monoclonal antibodies as satisfying vaccine mandates

3. Prohibiting Bridgestone Arena and other venues receiving government funding from implementing vaccine requirements, mask mandates, or segregating attendees according to vaccination status

4. Placing the county health departments of Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan counties under the direct oversight of the General Assembly

5. Challenging federal overreach exercised by President Joe Biden related to vaccine mandates

5. Requiring Executive Orders issued during a State of Emergency lasting over 90 days to be reviewed by the Joint Committee for Government Operations for a positive or negative recommendation

A special session of the legislature is held in the interim between regular sessions. It is called for a specific number of days by the governor or upon petition of two-thirds of the members elected to each house. It is restricted to matters specifically enumerated in the call.

UPDATE: Similar letters have been written by Sens. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro), and Paul Rose (R-Covington).

Feds clamping down on COVID-19 antibody treatments in states like Tenn.

President Joe Biden’s administration is imposing new limits on COVID-19 antibody treatments in states like Tennessee where governors have relied on the drug instead of imposing stricter mitigation efforts, Politico reports.

Until now, the federal government has shipped the monoclonal antibody drugs on an as-needed basis, and seven Southern states — Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama — have accounted for 70% of the orders this month.

Under the new approach, the drugs would be allocated to states on a proportional basis rather than where outbreaks happen to be the worst. Critics say the current demand in states with high per-capita infection rates reflects a political resistance to vaccines and masks.

Tennessee Health Department spokeswoman Sarah Tanksley tells Politico the new scrutiny of state orders has resulted in delays getting the drugs to providers.

State launches $180M public-private pilot program for welfare services

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

The state Human Services Department is accepting applications for its Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative that will invest $180 million in public-private partnerships developing programs to move vulnerable Tennesseans toward self-sufficiency.

The program is part of the TANF Opportunity Act passed this year.

Here is the Human Services release:

NASHVILLE – With the launch of the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) is taking a groundbreaking step to transform the way Tennessee serves its most vulnerable families. Over the next four years, this initiative will provide up to $5 million in Planning Grants and $175 million in Implementation Grants to further the Department’s vision of fundamentally changing the way government assistance is delivered to families in Tennessee.

This first phase will award Planning Grants of up to $500,000 each to public-private partnerships dedicated to developing innovative strategies that will move Tennesseans with economic, social, and developmental vulnerabilities beyond their current circumstances and on to self-sufficiency. With the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative, we have an unprecedented opportunity to create a new vision of government support. This new vision will shift the focus from the quantity of benefits, goods, and services provided to the quality of life for those served. TDHS invites Tennessee-based collaborative groups – large and small – that fall into one of the following categories to apply:

— Tennessee Nonprofit organizations

Development Districts (city/county economic planning organizations)

— Local government agencies (political subdivisions)

— Human Resource agencies created pursuant to the Human Resource Agency Act of 1973

Planning Grants will provide the resources needed for grantees to develop their vision, overall design, budget, and other important aspects required for their Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Implementation Grant proposals. Planning Grant applications must be submitted online no later than Friday, October 15, 2021 at 5PM CST. Next spring the Families First Community Advisory Board will select the 6 Pilot Program grantees (2 in each grand division) to receive up to $25 million in Implementation Grants over a three-year period. TDHS will also operate a pilot. Collaborative groups must be selected for a Planning Grant to be eligible for the larger Implementation Grants.

“The Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative Planning Grants offer an entry point for public- private groups to work together to form new ways of helping our citizens grow beyond life’s current challenges,” said TDHS Commissioner Clarence H. Carter. “We are putting an important stake in the ground for how Tennessee addresses our vulnerable citizens. To make this vision a reality, we need partnerships from across all regions and sectors of Tennessee – partners committed to transforming the lives of those in need so that dependence on government support is a mile marker in their life’s journey, not a destination unto itself.”

More information on application requirements, including applicant eligibility, can be found in the 2021 Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Program Planning Grant Application Guide.

Funding for the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative is provided through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF is a federally funded program that emphasizes work, family strengthening, and personal responsibility to empower families for long- term success.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services is dedicated to making our state a place where all Tennesseans can move beyond the barriers they may face, to self-sufficiency, and on to new heights.

Vital wins 80% of vote in special election to succeed Carter

Republican businessman Greg Vital won 80% of the vote in the special election to serve out the term of the late state Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah). Democrat DeAngelo Jelks’ bid was rocked by an 11-hour rape allegation made against him by a woman who had worked with the campaign.

Jelks resigned from his leadership position with the Hamilton County Democratic Party, but denied the rape allegation. Jelks said he had been involved in an extramarital affair, but stressed the relationship had been consensual.

Amazon to hire 6,600 in Tennessee

Amazon announced plans to hire 6,600 full- and part-time workers in Tennessee. That’s on top of the 25,000 jobs the online retailer has created in the state since 2010.

Here’s the release from Amazon:

NASHVILLE – Amazon continues to provide opportunities for full-time and part-time jobs in logistics as it expands its footprint to better serve customers in communities where they live. Today the company announced that it is providing an additional 6,600 local employment opportunities throughout Tennessee on top of the 40,000 corporate and technology jobs recently announced. The roles in fulfillment and transportation offer an average starting wage of more than $18 per hour—and up to $22.50 per hour in some locations. The company also provides full-time employees comprehensive benefits from day one, worth an additional $3.50 per hour. They include health, vision, and dental insurance, 401(k) with 50% company match, up to 20 weeks paid parental leave, and Amazon’s Career Choice program, in which the company will pay full college tuition for its front-line employees as part of $1.2 billion investment to expand education and skills training benefits for its U.S. workforce.

“Before Amazon, I was at a car wash making nine dollars an hour. Then I came to Amazon and I started earning $15 an hour—it was life changing for me,” said Leonardo C, an operations employee at an Amazon fulfillment center in Miami. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve had dental insurance, visual insurance, life insurance. And now that I have it here, I feel really good.”

Hiring for the new roles is already underway. Interested candidates can visit www.amazon.com/apply to learn more and apply.

Tennessee is home to more than 30 Amazon facilities – from delivery stations to a book store. These are investments that can unlock opportunity, helping to revitalize cities and neighborhoods. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Amazon has hired over 450,000 people in the U.S., and one-in-10 hourly employees who have been with the company six months or longer have been promoted. Amazon is now the largest job creator in the U.S. and was recently named by LinkedIn as the No. 1 company where Americans want to work and develop their careers.

“We are proud to offer opportunities for people from a range of backgrounds, from furloughed workers to former military personnel,” said Dave Clark, CEO Worldwide Consumer at Amazon. “We take our responsibility as an employer seriously and want our employees to succeed and thrive. That’s why we offer an average starting wage of over $18 per hour, provide a great range of comprehensive benefits—including health care coverage, parental leave, career training, and ways to save for the future—and have a team of thousands working to build a safe and inclusive work environment. Whether you’re looking for a short-term job to make money for the holidays or a long-term career, you’re welcome here, and we look forward to having you on our team.”

Jobs are available across the state. Interested candidates can see all the regions with open positions at www.amazon.com/apply.

In addition to hiring employees for its operations, Amazon is also supporting the growth of small and medium-sized businesses and helping to create tens of thousands of additional jobs, including many in Tennessee. Amazon works with more than 2,500 Delivery Service Partners, enabling these aspiring entrepreneurs to build their own delivery companies by leveraging Amazon’s experience in operations and logistics. These partners plan to hire more than 50,000 delivery associates by the end of the year. Interested applicants can find out more information here.

To help job seekers around the country, Amazon is hosting a Career Day—America’s biggest recruiting event—on September 15. The free virtual event will offer 20,000 individual career-coaching sessions with Amazon recruiters to help participants land their next job, as well as thousands of additional sessions for Amazon employees looking to transition to higher-paying roles within the company or elsewhere. Attendees will have access to personalized career coaching, insights, advice, and learning opportunities from Amazon CEO Andy Jassy and industry-leading experts, and tactical training through coding workshops and breakout sessions. The event is open to all, regardless of their level of experience, professional field, or background. Register for free here.

Democratic nominee for open state House seat accused of rape (UPDATED)

DeAngelo Jelks, the Democratic nominee to fill an open state House seat in Hamilton County, has been accused of rape during his campaign, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

Jelks, 40, resigned as vice chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party after a rape report was filed with the Chattanooga Police Department on Sunday. Jelks declined to comment when the newspaper visited his home on Monday.

UPDATE: Jelks admitted to having an affair, but denied the rape allegation, the newspaper reports, calling it “a consensual yet inappropriate relationship.”

City Council member Demetrus Coonrod said she was contacted by the alleged victim last week. Coonrod said she did not previously know the woman who had worked with Jelks during the campaign.

“I told her the only real way we can do anything is if she comes forward and goes to the police,” Coonrod told the paper. “So she went Sunday and met with a detective at the Family Justice Center and got a DNA swab.”

The election to serve the remainder of the term of the late Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) is Tuesday. Jelks was unopposed in the Democratic primary, as was the Republican nominee Greg Vital.

Jury seated in Democratic Sen. Robinson’s fraud trial

Katrina Robinson (Image credit: Tennessee General Assemlby)

A jury has been seated in the federal fraud trial of state Sen. Katrina Robinson. The Memphis Democrat is charged with spending more than $600,000 in federal grant money meant for her nursing school on personal expenses.

Opening statements are expected to take place on Tuesday. The trial could last more than three weeks.

Students at Robinson’s Healthcare Institute gathered outside the courthouse.

“We’re here to support her. She’s been nothing but great and amazing and we’re just going to support her,” Jennifer Taylor told WREG-TV. “But to be here together, standing for her, I’m very proud and very honored to be a part of the Healthcare Institute.”

The judge last week denied prosecutors’ motion to move the trial to Jackson or to bring in a jury pool from outside Shelby County.

Robinson, who was elected to the Senate in 2018, has pleaded not guilty.

New TNJ edition alert: Durham attorney targets Registry, committee changes in House

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

In this week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal:

— Registry on trial? Durham lawyer blames ‘scorched-earth’ treatment for record fine.

— House holds redistricting meeting, but big decisions remain a ways off.

— Lawmaker no longer on House Government Operations after diatribes over COVID-19 policies.

— House GOP lands big haul at caucus fundraiser.

Also: Katrina Robinson’s federal fraud trial gets underway next week, Gov. Bill Lee says he is vaccinated and acting like it, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper ruminates on the passage of time in the General Assembly, and the return of Chick-fil-A at the Tennessee Tower has Capitol denizens rejoicing.

Access the your copy of the TNJ here or subscribe here.