Monthly Archives: October 2021

Lawmakers call selves back into session to fight COVID-19 mandates

A special place.

Tennessee lawmakers have called themselves into special session for just the third time in state history. They will return next week after concluding the current special session called by Gov. Bill Lee to approve the Blue Oval City joint venture between Ford Motor Co. and SK Innovation.

Here’s the release from Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville):

NASHVILLE — Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) today formally issued a call for the third extraordinary session of the 112th General Assembly. As outlined in Article 2, Section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution, this call was at the request of both chambers of the General Assembly. The session will cover a number of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including overreaching health care mandates.

“The members of the Senate and their constituents have been clear about the need for this session,” said Lt. Governor McNally. “The Covid-19 crisis — and how various institutions have adapted and reacted to it — has created new and unique legislative challenges. This is an opportunity to make the General Assembly’s voice heard on issues regarding masks, vaccines, executive power, and federal mandates.”

“For several weeks, we have heard from Tennesseans that have significant concerns over the unconstitutional and burdensome mandates being imposed upon them,” said Speaker Sexton. “As an elected body, it is our responsibility to let the distinctive voices of our communities be heard on these issues. I look forward to working together with Lt. Gov. McNally, the House, and Senate to create solutions that preserve the individual choices, freedoms, and liberties of all Tennesseans.”  

Signed by over two-thirds of the members of both chambers, the call will bring both the House and the Senate back into session on October 27, 2021, at 4:00 p.m. The call would allow legislation related to vaccines, masks, and other restrictions relative to COVID-19. Legislation to address the various unconstitutional federal mandates issued by the Biden administration would also meet the call guidelines. Additionally, legislation regarding the independent health departments and restrictions on monoclonal antibodies would also be appropriate under the call.

House anti-vax bill dead on arrival

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

The House appears to be amusing itself with a bill seeking to stop businesses from imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. But what they won’t say is that the bill is already dead. At least for this special session.

Sponsored by Rep. Rusty Grills, HB8003 is going through the motions in a special House committee with a self-congratulatory amendment by Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville). But no companion bill has been filed in the Senate. Bills need to be read on three separate legislative days to become law, and the special session is supposed to end as soon as Wednesday. And even if a bill had been filed in time in the upper chamber, it wouldn’t be deemed to meet Gov. Bill Lee’s call.

“Lt. Governor McNally believes the call for the current special session clearly limits the session to issues surrounding the Megasite. No companion bill to HB8003 – or any other bill outside the call – has been filed in the Senate during this session,” said McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider.

Similar measures could and probably will be introduced in a subsequent special session if both chambers gather enough signatures. But until such time, there’s no reason to pay the House moves much heed.

Here are the House committees for the special session

Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to colleagues on the House floor in Nashville on Oct. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate is keeping its regular committees in place for the special session, but House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) is appointing special panels to hear the Ford incentive bills and other legislation.

Here are the special House committees:

Commerce

  • Chair: Vaughan
  • Vice Chair: Todd
  • Bricken
  • Chism
  • Freeman
  • Gillespie
  • Griffey
  • Halford
  • Harris
  • Hurt
  • Leatherwood
  • Miller
  • Moody
  • Parkinson
  • Powers
  • Ramsey
  • Travis
  • Vital
  • White

Health and Safety

  • Chair: Terry
  • Vice Chair: Grills
  • Calfee
  • Campbell
  • Carringer
  • Cepicky
  • Cooper
  • Doggett
  • Hakeem
  • Hardaway
  • Howell
  • Johnson of Knox
  • Lafferty
  • Ogles
  • Ragan
  • Rudder
  • Smith
  • Thompson

Finance, Ways & Means

  • Chair: Hazlewood
  • Vice Chair: Hicks of Hawkins
  • Baum
  • Boyd
  • Camper
  • Carr
  • Faison
  • Farmer
  • Gant
  • Garrett
  • Haston
  • Hawk
  • Helton
  • Hodges
  • Lamar
  • Lamberth
  • Littleton
  • Lynn
  • Shaw
  • Whitson
  • Williams
  • Windle

Calendar & Rules

  • Chair: Zachary
  • Vice Chair: Russell
  • Beck
  • Camper
  • Curcio
  • Darby
  • Faison
  • Halford
  • Hazlewood
  • Howell
  • Jernigan
  • Keisling
  • Kumar
  • McKenzie
  • Mitchell
  • Lamberth
  • Marsh
  • Reedy
  • Terry
  • Warner
  • Weaver

Robinson attends special session despite federal fraud conviction

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis), center in yellow, hears from Sen. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis), right, on the Senate floor in Nashville on Oct. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) surprised observers by attending the first day of a special legislative session despite her recent conviction on federal wire fraud charges.

Robinson’s attorneys have asked the judge to throw out the verdict or order a new trial, but no decision has yet been made on that front. Republican leaders had hoped Robinson would sit out the special session on Ford incentives and the one expected to follow on COVID-19 mandates. The question will be whether the GOP now decides to being ouster procedures.

Robinson isn’t scheduled to be sentenced until just before the regular session begins in January.

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) attends a special session Nashville on Oct. 18, 2021, despite her recent conviction on federal fraud charges. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is the petition for the special session on COVID-19 mandates

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is the petition lawmakers are circulating to hold a special session on efforts to dial back COVID-19 mandates. It will take 66 signatures in the House and 22 in the Senate to take effect:

PETITION: Requesting the Speaker of the House of Representatives to call the House into session pursuant to Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution of Tennessee.

We, the undersigned members of the 112th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, and members of the House of Representatives of such body, petition the above presiding officer to call this body back into session in Nashville upon similar action taken by the Senate, on October 27, 2021, at 4:00 p.m. (CDT) for the limited purposes of:

(1) Considering and acting upon legislation to establish uniform standards regarding facial coverings, vaccinations, and other restrictions relative to COVID-19; to address the enforcement and use of state funds by public and private entities for restrictions relative to COVID-19; to address adverse actions against an employee based on an employee’s vaccination status; to address the federal government’s commandeering of public and private resources relative to COVID-19; and to address the federal government’s penalizing, or taxation of, citizens of this state through enforcement of restrictions relative to COVID-19;

(2) Considering and acting upon legislation to address the creation, organization, and authority of local entities and officers charged with the promotion, protection, and maintenance, through local health services or directives, of the health of citizens of this state; to address the provision of monoclonal antibody treatment; and to address authorization to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to a minor without parental consent;

(3) Considering and acting upon legislation addressing liability of an employer, and compensation of an employee, for harm or injury suffered by an employee as the result of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine that was required or incentivized through the employee’s employment; and to address an employee’s receipt of unemployment benefits relative to COVID-19;

(4) Considering and acting upon legislation to address the length of time and enforcement of an executive order or proclamation issued by the governor under the governor’s emergency management powers; to address a district attorney general peremptorily refusing to prosecute all instances of a criminal offense without regard to facts or circumstances; to include cash as eligible collateral and adjust the amount of eligible collateral pledged for the deposit of public funds; and to address partisan elections of school board members; and

(5) Considering and acting upon legislation to make appropriations sufficient to provide the first year’s funding for any act which receives final passage during the extraordinary session; and to pay the expenses of the extraordinary session of the General Assembly, including the expenses of carrying out any actions taken pursuant to this call.

Price tag for Ford megasite deal hits $884M

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at Ford’s announcement it will build an electric vehicle and battery plant at the Memphis Regional Megasite on Sept. 28, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

When lawmakers return into special session next week to take up an incentive package for Ford’s Blue Oval City at the Memphis Regional Megasite, they might be surprised the price tag has now reached $884 million.

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration had already disclosed the $500 million grant it had agreed to provide to Ford and battery maker SK Innovation. But as first unearthed by Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Andy Sher, the legislation appropriates state funds for three further items.

Here’s the breakdown:

— State grant to Ford Motor Co. or its affiliates: $500 million.

— Road work: $200 million.

— Building, demolition, and related work on site: $138.2 million.

— Construction of Tennessee College of Applied Technology at the site: $40 million.

— Consulting and legal services: $5 million.

— Establishment of a new Megasite Authority of West Tenenssee: $675,000.

Just like any other major investor, Ford and SK Innovation will also qualify for statutory job tax credits worth $4,500 for each new job created. The Haywood County location also qualifies for an enhanced credit of an additional $4,500 for five years. Or the company can choose the “super tax credit,” of between $4,500 and $5,000 per position (depending on wage level) for up to 20 years.

The enhancement and super tax credit can’t be used together, so the Blue Oval City project will have to decide whether to go for the large per-employee credit for a shorter amount of time, or the lesser amount for longer.

The full projected employment level of 5,800 workers times $4,500 is $26 million. At the enhanced level, the total credit would balloon to $52 million against the projects franchise and excise tax obligations.

Tennessee Business Roundtable opposes efforts to ban companies’ mask or vaccine mandates

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Business Roundtable says it opposes efforts to either require or prohibit company COVID-19 rules.

“The Tennessee Business Roundtable opposes federal or state laws interfering with an employer’s management decisions concerning COVID vaccinations or mask mandates,” according to a policy decision adopted Friday morning. “Employers should be free to run their businesses without unnecessary government interference.”

The statement comes as some Republicans have called for emulating Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in trying to ban companies from requiring customers or employees wear masks or be vaccinated. Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) this week denounced those who support businesses’ authority to decide such matters themselves as “medical Nazis.”

A special session penciled in for Oct. 27 could address the issue.

The state group’s position appears to be at least partially at odds with its national counterpart, which includes the chief executives of some of the country’s and Tennessee’s largest employers like Amazon, Home Depot, and Walmart. The national Business Roundtable has voiced support for President Joe Biden’s vaccination requirement for companies with more than 100 employees.

New TNJ edition alert: Ford incentive deal gets scant attention amid furor over COVID-19 mandates

The 6 1/2-square-mile Memphis Regional Megasite.

The new print edition of The Tenenssee Journal is out. Here’s what we covered this week:

— Ford session near, but still no official call on COVID-19 mandates.
— Robinson faces Senate removal following conviction in fraud trial (with cameos from John Ford, Tommy Burnett, and Ed Gillock).
— Cue the waterworks: State releases plan for spending federal funds on water, sewer projects.
— Obituary: Jim Coley, social studies teacher who spent 14 years as lawmaker.

Also: Mick Jagger on a pedal tavern, big school districts and teachers’ union frozen out of BEP review, Randy Boyd apologizes for Mark Pody fundraiser, and Steve Cohen makes an endorsement in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

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

Thomas named first executive director of Sports Wagering Advisory Council

Mary Beth Thomas, the general counsel in Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office, has been named executive director of the soon-to-be independent Sports Wagering Advisory Council. Under the 2019 state law legalizing sports betting in Tennessee, the panel had been placed within the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. But under an update passed this year, the gaming council will become an independent entity in January.

The panel voted 9-0 in Thomas’ favor. The other finalists were Scott Sloan, the chief of staff and general counsel to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, and Roger Guillemette, the director of sports betting and
casino compliance for the Rhode Island Lottery.

Thomas was an attorney at the Waller Lansden law firm in Nashville for seven years before being hired to her current position in 2013. The Secretary of State’s Office oversees fantasy sports and other charitable gaming in Tennessee.

Thomas’ husband, Russell, is the director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

So who was at that Pence luncheon at the governor’s mansion?

With no press invited or informed about Gov. Bill Lee’s hosting of former Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the governor’s mansion in Nashville, we’re left to our own devices to try to figure out who attended. Helpfully, Pence posted a photo of the luncheon on Twitter.

Here’s who we think we’ve identified from the photo:

  • Gov. Bill Lee
  • First lady Maria Lee
  • Construction contractor Turney Talley
  • Finance Commissioner Butch Eley
  • Tennessee Titans President Burke Nihill
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence
  • Philanthropist Scott Niswonger
  • Nancy Dishner of the Niswonger Foundation 
  • Adam Lister of Tennesseans for Student Success
  • House Speaker Cameron Sexton
  • Developer Steve Smith
  • Political consultant Chip Saltsman
  • Advance Financial lobbyist Cullen Earnest
  • Construction contractor Steve Kirby
  • Former Gov. Bill Haslam
  • Karen Pence, wife of Mike Pence.
  • Construction contractor Cal Turner

Recognize anyone else? Drop us a line and we’ll update.