Monthly Archives: October 2021

Senate backbenchers: Two can play at that game

State Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) waits for the State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Not to be outdone by House backbenchers filing the bulk of the bills in the ongoing special session on dialing back COVID-19 mandates, a handful of Senators who otherwise have little legislative clout have followed suit in a big way.

Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) is sponsoring 27 bills, Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) has 12, Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) as signed on to 11, and Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) is backing 10. Together, the four senators account for 60 of 84 bills filed before the deadline, or 71% of the total.

Here’s full breakdown.

  • Mark Pody (R-Lebanon): 27
  • Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma): 12
  • Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald): 11
  • Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains): 10
  • Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge): 9
  • Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville): 4
  • Mike Bell (R-Riceville): 2
  • Paul Rose (R-Covington): 2
  • Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis): 2
  • Ed Jackson (R-Jackson): 2
  • Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield): 1
  • Steve Southerland (R-Morristown): 1
  • Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville): 1

NFIB urges lawmakers to reject bills clearing way for more lawsuits

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to the National Federation of Independent Business at the Cordell Hull building in Nashville on Feb. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business is urging lawmakers not to pass legislation seeking to create “a new cause of action against private employers” during this week’s special session on COVID-19 mandates.

“Our most vulnerable businesses in Tennessee are struggling to keep their doors open and our communities thriving,” NFIB state director Jim Brown writes in the letter. “The legislature should be looking at legislation to help them recover, not to hinder their very survival.”

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Members of the 112th Tennessee General Assembly,

Thank you for all you have done to make Tennessee the great state it is in which to own, operate and grow a business. As you know, the last 18 months have been exceedingly challenging for many independent businesses, with the severe, persistent labor shortage, along with rising inflation and supply chain disruptions. Fifty-one percent of small business owners report job openings that cannot be filled – a 48-year record high for the third consecutive month. Their livelihoods are at stake, and uncertainty is at an all-time high.  As you enter the third extraordinary session of 2021, we ask you to consider what small businesses are facing before enacting any new laws.

NFIB has always strongly opposed any legislation, ordinance or policy that creates a new cause of action against private employers. Our review shows several bills would do just that, including HB 1643/SB 9001, HB9001/SB 9004, HB 9004, HB 9006, HB 9011, HB 9019, HB 9021 and HB 9026. Some expand the scope of the Tennessee Human Rights Act, which NFIB has opposed over a long period of time and in recent years. The last thing businesses need right now is the added cost and distraction of unnecessary legal actions. Of note, “Cost and Availability of Liability Insurance” was identified by NFIB members through our 2020 Research Center Problems and Priority report as one of the top ten biggest concerns.

Our most vulnerable businesses in Tennessee are struggling to keep their doors open and our communities thriving. The legislature should be looking at legislation to help them recover, not to hinder their very survival.

On behalf of NFIB’s 6,500 members in Tennessee, I respectfully ask you to oppose all legislation that would create new causes of action against Tennessee employers.  

Sincerely,

Jim Brown

State Director, NFIB

Here are your House committees for Special Session III

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

Here are the committees House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has assigned for the third special session of the year. The Senate is sticking with its regular committees.

Banking

  • Chair: Powers
  • Vice Chair: Boyd
  • Alexander
  • Bricken
  • Halford
  • Hardaway
  • Harris
  • Hicks, T.
  • Jernigan
  • Mannis

Covid-19

  • Chair: Farmer
  • Vice Chair: Grills
  • Carr
  • Carringer
  • Cooper
  • Darby
  • Eldridge
  • Faison
  • Hall
  • Hodges
  • Howell
  • Hulsey
  • Johnson, C
  • Lamberth
  • Potts
  • Rudder
  • Sherrell
  • Thompson
  • Todd
  • Warner
  • Zachary

Elections

  • Chair: Moon
  • Vice Chair: Wright
  • Campbell
  • Casada
  • Cepicky
  • Dixie
  • Doggett
  • Lafferty
  • Mitchell
  • Ramsey

Emergency Orders

  • Chair: Littleton
  • Vice Chair: Leatherwood
  • Calfee
  • Chism
  • Clemmons
  • Kumar
  • Lynn
  • Moody
  • Ogles
  • Parkinson
  • Rudd
  • Stewart

Finance, Ways, & Means

  • Chair: Hazlewood
  • Vice Chair: Hicks, G
  • Baum
  • Campbell
  • Camper
  • Chism
  • Cochran
  • Crawford
  • Gant
  • Faison
  • Helton
  • Howell
  • Lamar
  • Lamberth
  • Miller
  • Moody
  • Russell
  • Shaw
  • Vital
  • Williams
  • Windle
  • Zachary

Public Health

  • Chair: Terry
  • Vice Chair: Hawk
  • Byrd
  • Gant
  • Gillespie
  • Haston
  • Holsclaw
  • Kiesling
  • Love
  • Marsh
  • McKenzie
  • Powell
  • Smith
  • Sparks
  • Towns
  • Vaughan
  • White
  • Whitson
  • Williams

Judiciary

  • Chair: Curcio
  • Vice Chair: Russell
  • Beck
  • Garrett
  • Griffey
  • Hakeem
  • Hurt
  • Johnson, G
  • Lamar
  • Ragan
  • Reedy
  • Travis
  • Weaver

Calendar & Rules

  • Chair: Zachary
  • Vice Chair: Darby
  • Camper
  • Curcio
  • Faison
  • Farmer
  • Freeman
  • Gant
  • Grills
  • Hazlewood
  • Howell
  • Lamberth
  • Littleton
  • Love
  • Moon
  • Powers
  • Shaw
  • Terry
  • Todd
  • White
  • Windle

Kelsey steps down as chair of Education Committee following federal charges

Sen. Brian Kelsey walks in the state Capitol in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has announced he will stop down as chair of the Education Committee while fighting federal conspiracy and campaign finance charges.

Kelsey in his floor comments erroneously cited The Tennessee Journal as reporting the chief witness in the case had been granted immunity from federal charges. We have previously reported that the attorney for former Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), who is included in the complaint as an unindicted coconspirator, said in an unrelated court appearance that federal prosecutors told him his client wasn’t going to face criminal charges. But Durham’s attorney, Peter Strianse, said nothing about immunity or any connections to the Kelsey matter.

It’s possible Kelsey was referring to someone other than Durham, but the Journal hasn’t reported about immunity for anyone else in the case.

Here are Kelsey’s full comments on the Senate floor, along with responses from two colleagues.

KELSEY:

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Per Senate rules, I’m requesting a temporary suspension from chairing the Education Committee based on allegations of intent to violate campaign finance laws. Colleagues, let me be clear: I’m totally innocent. And I look forward to clearing my name through the judicial process.

If you will indulge me for a brief moment, there are three points about the government’s investigation I did want to emphasize.

No 1., and most important, I understood I was operating within campaign finance rules, and I believe the donation at issue was legal. It was made on the advice of counsel. No. 2, ad I’m sure you saw in The Tennessee Journal, according to his lawyer, the government’s lead witness was given immunity from federal charges. And No. 3, the timing of the government’s investigation is questionable because they waited five years and a change of administration to pursue it.

And there are several other issues that I will not mention here because my lawyers won’t let me.

But I’m confident that these will become apparent during the course of the legal proceedings. And like many of you, I entered public service as a calling. While regretfully partisan politics these days often comes into play, and we may not agree on every issue, I hope that you will agree that for 17 years – 17 years – I, like you, have always voted for what I thought was best for Tennesseans.  And we must find a way in state governmetn and our nation to heal these divisions, to work together on behalf of the people, to move past this extremely divisive time, and to not use political attacks on one another to discourage good people from running for office and participating in our vital government processes.

I hope and pray that we can all truly come together again in the peace, strength, and unity that defines our great state of Tenenssee and our nation. You know, my faith in the lord, it will get me through this challenge. And I am extremely blessed with the strongest and most supportive wife that I can ever imagine and a joyous 2-year-old daughter, too. I have the tremendous honor to represent the people of my county and my state.

And I cannot close without expressing my sincere appreciation for the encouragement that many of you have recently offered. I trust in time the truth will prevail and I will resume my leadership role o the Education Committee. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your time and support.

SENATE SPEAKER RANDY MCALLY (R-Oak Ridge:

Thank you, Sen. Kelsey. I know it’s a very difficult time for you and your wife and daughter. And I want you to know that my prayers are with you and your family, and I appreciate the action that you have taken today. I think this will allow you to concentrate fully on your case and not be burdened with the issues of chairmanship. And I appreciate you as a senator and as a person. Thank you.

SEN. FRANK NICELEY (R-Strawberry Plains):

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This would be a perfect time for me to not say anything. But I want to just give you something to think about. These campaign contributions are private dollars. They’re not tax dollars. And when the federal government, the U.S congressmen and U.S. senators, passed a law that we couldn’t use our money that we raised here in the state of Tenenssee to run for federal office, that was pure self-service. That was an incumbent protection act. They didn’t want us to use our money to run against them. I think the whole law is bad.

I don’t think I have a single contributor who would mind, if I was 20 years younger, me running for Congress and using that money. So I know they’ll never change it because they don’t want someone with three or four hundred thousand dollars in their Senate account running for Congress. And that’s exactly the reason that law was passed in the first place, keeping somebody like Jack Johnson using his state money to run for a federal seat. It’s self-serving and it’s not right.

Sexton’s nullification resolution declares right to snub federal COVID-19 rules

A statue of President Andrew Jackson is seen in front of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has a filed a resolution declaring the Tennessee General Assembly may “nullify” actions it deems to constitute federal overreach.

“It is the right of the Tennessee General Assembly to enact such legislation as it deems necessary to nullify actions taken by the federal government regarding COVID-19 when those actions violate the United States Constitution,” according to Sexton’s resolution.

The resolution employs terminology echoing the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s, in which South Carolina lawmakers called a state convention to declare a federal tariff null and void. Supporters thought President Andrew Jackson, a Tennessee plantation owner, would back them. He instead issued a proclamation stating his opposition to the move and threatened to respond with force if supporters took up arms over the issue.

South Carolina ultimately backed down, and Jackson, who is memorialized with a statue outside the state Capitol, was credited with staving off the Civil War by 30 years.

Here’s the full text of Sexton’s resolution:

HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION 9005

By Sexton C

A RESOLUTION to address the federal government’s penalizing, or taxation of, citizens of this State through enforcement of restrictions relative to COVID-19 by supporting the challenging, condemning, and nullifying of such action.

WHEREAS, on September 9, 2021, the President of the United States announced an executive order that mandates COVID-19 vaccinations for employees of federal contractors and subcontractors; and

WHEREAS, President Biden also announced a forthcoming Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to be issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding COVID-19 vaccinations or routine testing for employers with more than 100 employees; and

WHEREAS, part of the President’s COVID-19 Action Plan includes having the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in most healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies; and

WHEREAS, the new CMS requirements will be in addition to the vaccination requirement for nursing facilities previously announced by CMS, and will apply to nursing home staff as well as staff in hospitals and other CMS-regulated settings, including clinical staff, individuals providing services under arrangements, volunteers, and staff who are not involved in direct patient, resident, or client care; and

WHEREAS, federalism is described and analyzed in Bond v. United States, 564 U.S. 211 (2011), in which the United States Supreme Court declared that the federal system rests on the insight that “freedom is enhanced by the creation of two governments, not one”; and

WHEREAS, the Court further stated that this freedom is enhanced “first by protecting the integrity of the [two] governments themselves, and second by protecting the people, from whom all governmental powers are derived”; and

WHEREAS, federalism serves “to grant and delimit the prerogatives and responsibilities of the States and the National Government vis-a-vis one another . . . [and] preserves the integrity, dignity, and residual sovereignty of the States”; and

WHEREAS, this federal balance “ensure[s] that States function as political entities in their own right”; and

WHEREAS, “[b]y denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life, federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power. When government acts in excess of its lawful powers, that liberty is at stake”; and

WHEREAS, the limitations prescribed under federalism are not “a matter of rights belonging only to the States. States are not the sole intended beneficiaries of federalism. An individual has a direct interest in objecting to laws that upset the constitutional balance between the National Government and the States”; and

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court in National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. 519 (2012), further analyzed federalism and the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as the taxing power of the federal government; and

WHEREAS, the Court acknowledged that a government’s “police power” is the general power of governing, possessed by the states but not by the federal government as the federal government only possesses enumerated powers listed in the United States Constitution; and

WHEREAS, the Constitution’s express conferral of some powers for the federal government makes clear that it does not grant others, and the federal government can exercise only the powers granted to it; and

WHEREAS, the independent power of the states serves as a check on the power of the federal government; by denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life, federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power; and

WHEREAS, the federal government may create incentives for states to act in accordance with federal policies, but when pressure turns into compulsion, it runs contrary to federalism, and the Constitution does not give federal government the authority to require the states to regulate, regardless of whether the federal government directly commands a state to regulate or indirectly coerces a state to adopt a federal regulatory system as its own; and

WHEREAS, assertions of federal authority must be grounded in some constitutional grant of power, with the most common basis for federal intervention in private affairs being the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which empowers Congress “to regulate commerce . . . among the several states”; and

WHEREAS, in NFIB v. Sebelius, the Supreme Court held that the Commerce Clause cannot be used to compel individuals to engage in activity, even when such activity has an impact on interstate commerce; and

WHEREAS, while the compelled activity in NFIB was purchasing health insurance, the logic applies with equal force to a federal mandate to get an injection or submit to a weekly test, as foreshadowed by Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, when he rejected an interpretation of the Commerce Clause that would allow, for example, Congress to pass a law requiring individuals to buy vegetables to promote healthier eating habits; and

WHEREAS, it is Congress, not the executive branch, that is granted the enumerated power under Article I, § 8, to “lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States”; and

WHEREAS, the essential feature of any “tax” is that it produces at least some revenue for the government, and in distinguishing penalties from taxes, the general concept of a “penalty” means punishment for an unlawful act or omission; and

WHEREAS, the federal government cannot change whether an exaction is a tax or a penalty for constitutional purposes simply by describing it as one or the other; and

WHEREAS, the Court in NFIB determined that the exaction that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act imposed on those without health insurance, through the act’s shared responsibility payment, was a “tax,” for purposes of Congress’s taxing power, though the act described the exaction as a penalty rather than as a tax, and the exaction was intended to affect individual conduct; and

WHEREAS, by requiring employees or employers in this State to pay for a COVID-19 test to comply with federal mandates, including the forthcoming ETS to be issued by OSHA, such employees or employers will effectively be taxed by the executive branch and not by an act of Congress, as constitutionally required; and

WHEREAS, reliance by the federal government on OSHA to implement a federal mandate represents an egregious overstepping of the authority that is granted to OSHA under the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act, as nothing in that law even hints at the sweeping powers the President has claimed; and

WHEREAS, the Occupation Safety and Health Act’s reference to “substances or agents” strongly suggests that OSHA’s ETS power is meant to target workplace hazards like dangerous chemicals and not naturally occurring hazards like viruses; and

WHEREAS, decisions regarding any vaccine mandate properly belong to the states, not the federal government, and United States Supreme Court precedents on the validity of vaccine mandates under Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905) and Zucht v. King, 260 U.S.

174 (1922), involve state, not federal, laws, and are part of the broad “police powers” enjoyed by the states; and

WHEREAS, the announced executive orders and COVID-19 Action Plan are attempts by the federal government to coerce the State of Tennessee and its citizens in violation of both the United States Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution; and

WHEREAS, each member of the General Assembly has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of Tennessee and the Constitution of the United States; and

WHEREAS, if the federal government intends to overreach its authority to the point that it assumes the traditional constitutional role of a state legislative body, it is only fitting and proper that the very existence, as well as the depth and breadth, of this federal power be condemned and challenged not just in a court of law, but also through actions of the General Assembly to nullify such federal overreach; now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, THE SENATE

CONCURRING, that the State of Tennessee condemns any attempt by the federal government to penalize or tax citizens of this State in an effort to enforce an unconstitutional mandate regarding COVID-19 vaccinations or other COVID-related restrictions and requirements.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that it is the right of the Tennessee General Assembly to enact such legislation as it deems necessary to nullify actions taken by the federal government regarding COVID-19 when those actions violate the United States Constitution.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Tennessee General Assembly urges the Attorney General and Reporter of the State of Tennessee to initiate or intervene in one or more civil actions on behalf of the State of Tennessee or, in the alternative, seek appropriate relief in a federal court of competent jurisdiction regarding COVID-19 mandates issued by the federal government, and any actions taken by the federal government, including the President of the United States, the head of any department or agency, or any other employee of the executive branch of the federal government, in violation of federal law or as prohibited by the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, or any other statutory or constitutional provisions of the United States or the State of Tennessee, with respect to the implementation or enforcement in this State of any provision of the federal government’s mandate that requires citizens of this State to either receive a COVID-19 vaccination or submit to routine testing.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a certified copy of this resolution be transmitted to the Attorney General and Reporter of Tennessee.

Revenge of the backbenchers? Here is who is behind this week’s special session bills

House Republicans attend a caucus meeting in Nashville on Nov. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

As pointed out earlier, House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s package of eight bills (plus one more to pay for lawmaker expenses) are expected to get the most serious attention during this week’s special session aimed at dialing back COVID-19 mandates.

The remaining 65 Republican bills filed before the deadline are sponsored by 16 members who — with a few exceptions — are not particularly known for their legislative prowess. They include 14 filed by Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge, nine by Chris Todd of Jackson, six by Debra Moody of Covington, and five by Scott Cepicky of Culleoka.

Notably, only one of the members of Sexton’s special committee on redistricting, Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville), sponsored a special session bill. Redrawing district lines is considered one of the most serious matters facing lawmakers this fall. The bulk of this week’s special session bills, by contrast, aren’t expected to get more than cursory consideration.

Here’s the full breakdown of how many special session bills have been filed by each sponsor:

  • John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge): 14
  • Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville): 9
  • Chris Todd (R-Jackson): 9
  • Debra Moody (R-Covington): 6
  • London Lamar (D-Memphis): 5
  • Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport): 5
  • Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka): 5
  • Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin): 4
  • Bruce Griffey (R-Paris): 4
  • Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville): 3
  • Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville): 3
  • Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro): 3
  • Glen Casada (R-Franklin): 2
  • G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis): 2
  • Clay Doggett (R-Pulaski): 2
  • Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill): 2
  • Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster): 1
  • Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington): 1
  • Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville): 1

79 special session bills have been filed in the House, but here are the 8 that matter most

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

House members have submitted 79 bills this week’s session aimed at dialing back COVID-19 mandates (among other things). But the last eight dropped in the hopper before the filing deadline are the ones most worth paying attention to.

They all have one key thing in common: their sponsor is House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

With the upper chamber’s filing deadline coming later, it will be most interesting to see whether Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) serves as cosponsor to Sexton’s package of bills. (UPDATE: McNally signed on to all of them).

Having spearheaded the effort to hold this special session, Sexton will be under enormous pressure to pass most or all of his agenda. It remains to be seen how far the Senate will be willing to go along — and how forcefully the business community will push back against efforts to interfere in their operations.

Here are the bills in question, in a rough order of controversy:

HB9078: Banning businesses from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination from customers or employees.

HB9077: Allowing employees fired for refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to collect unemployment benefits.

HB9072: Requiring partisan school board elections for school boards.

HB9076: Granting the governor exclusive authority over orders and directives regarding county health departments during a pandemic and giving county mayors the power to decide over local health matters.

HB9074: Requiring the state Attorney General to seek fines of $10,000 for failing to enforce or execute emergency orders.

HB9071: Allowing the state attorney general to request a replacement for a local prosecutor who “peremptorily and categorically refuses” to bring criminal charges on certain laws.

HB9075: Limiting the duration of states of emergency issued by the governor from 60 to 45 days.

HB9073: Allowing banks to use cash as a form of eligible collateral for purposes of securing public deposits amid the massive influx of federal recovery funds.

Kelsey: ‘I’m totally innocent’

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) discusses his federal indictment on campaign finance charges on Oct. 25, 2021. (Screengrab from Zoom call)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) hosted a Zoom call with reporters on Monday to denounce his federal indictment as politically motivated. Kelsey appeared with the Senate chamber as the backdrop.

Here’s what Kelsey had to say:

Look, this is nothing but a political witch hunt. The Biden administration is trying to take me out because I’m a conservative and I’m the No. 1 target of the Tennessee Democratic Party. I won my seat only 51% to 49% last time, and the Democrats think this will make the difference. They’re wrong. These 5-year-old, unfounded allegations have been reviewed and re-reviewed. They were wrong then, and they’re wrong now. I’m totally innocent, and I look forward to being cleared at trial.”

Kelsey’s attorney Ty Howard also spoke on the brief call.

“Let me state clearly and empathically from the start, these allegations are false,” Howard said. “Sen. Kelsey committed no crime. He is innocent. And he very much looks forward to his day in court.”

“Despite this ill-considered indictment, Sen. Kelsey and his legal team have great faith in our justice system,” Howard said. “He looks forward to being fully vindicated in a court of law. Out of respect for the legal process, we will take no questions today and this will be our only public comment during the pendency of this matter.

Read the Kelsey indictment here

Brian Kelsey, center with folder in hand, awaits Gov. Bill Lee’s arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The indictment of Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has led to widespread speculation about the identities of people and organizations mentioned in the charges.

Some are are easier to pinpoint than others. For example, Unindicted Coconspirator No. 2 is described as a “member of the Tennessee House of Representatives from in or around January 2013 to in or around September 2016, when he was expelled.” That description only fits former Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin).

Political Organization No. 1 is listed as “a nonprofit corporation that hosted an annual political conference, published ratings on Members of Congress and State politicians, and issued political endorsements.” Presumably this refers to the American Conservative Union, which spent money in Kelsey’s congressional bid in 2016.

Individual No. 1 is named as the nonprofit’s director of government affairs who is now married to Kelsey. That description matches Amanda Bunning.

Coconspirator No. 1 is listed as “a Tennessee businessman and prominent political fundraiser and contributor,” who controlled a political action committee that received $30,000 from Smith’s PAC in July 2016. The Tennessean reported in 2017 the Standard Club PAC had given that amount to Citizens for Ethics in Government, the federal committee controlled by Andy Miller Jr.

Here is the full text of the indictment of state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown):

I N D I C T M E N T

THE GRAND JURY CHARGES:

COUNT ONE

18 U.SC. § 371

(CONSPIRACY)

At all times material to this indictment unless otherwise indicated:

I.       Relevant Individuals and Entities

1.      BRIAN KELSEY was a practicing attorney and member of the Tennessee Senate, representing District 31, which includes parts of Shelby County, Tennessee. In 2016, KELSEY unsuccessfully ran for an open seat to represent Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

2.      Federal Committee 1 was KELSEY’S authorized federal campaign committee.

3.      State Committee 1 was KELSEY’S Tennessee State Senate campaign committee.

4. JOSHUA SMITH was the owner and operator of Social Club 1, a members-only social club in Nashville, Tennessee popular among politicians and Nashville businessmen. SMITH also controlled PAC 1, a Tennessee-registered political action committee

5.      Unindicted Coconspirator 1 (“UCC 1”) was a Tennessee businessman and prominent political fundraiser and contributor. UCC 1 controlled PAC 2, a federal independent expenditure-only committee.

6.      Unindicted Coconspirator 2 (“UCC 2”) was a practicing attorney and member of the Tennessee House of Representatives from in or around January 2013 to in or around September 2016, when he was expelled by a vote of the House.

7.      Political Organization 1 was a nonprofit corporation that hosted an annual political conference, published ratings on Members of Congress and State politicians, and issued political endorsements. Political Organization 1 registered with the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) as a person or organization making independent expenditures.

8.      Individual 1 was the Director of Government Affairs for Political Organization 1 and a member of Political Organization 1’s senior management team from in or around late 2015 until in or around March 2017. In that role, Individual 1 managed Political Organization 1’s political expenditures during the 2015-16 federal election cycle. Individual 1 and KELSEY became engaged in or around July 2017 and married in or around January 2018.

9.      Individual 2 was a member of Political Organization’s senior management team. He oversaw Political Organization 1’s day-to-day operations, including managing its budget and finances. He worked closely with Individual 1 to direct all aspects of Political Organization l’s political activities, including political expenditures.

10.    Individual 3 was a practicing attorney with ties to Political Organization 2, a nonprofit corporation that publicly advocated on legal and judicial issues.

11.    Individual 4 was a longtime financial supporter of KELSEY’S political career.

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What does Kelsey indictment mean for Education chairmanship, leading role in Lee’s funding review?

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, attends a Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville on April 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The indictment of Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) on federal campaign finance charges starts the clock on whether he will try to cling on to his chairmanship of the Education Committee.

According to the Senate’s code of ethics, members have 10 days from the indictment to ask for a hearing to challenge a suspension from a committee leadership position. If no such request is lodged, the suspension takes effect “as long as the indictment is being actively pursued.”

Vice Chair Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) would presumably take over if Kelsey is suspended.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Germantown) issued the following statement:

I am obviously saddened by this news. It is important to remember that under our laws, Senator Kelsey is innocent until proven guilty. He will have the opportunity to answer this indictment in the coming days. I have confidence in our judicial system and will reserve judgment and comment at this point in order to allow the process to unfold.”

Gov. Bill Lee last week named Kelsey to his 12-member steering committee on overhauling the Basic Education Program school funding formula.

Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold said Kelsey serves on the panel by virtue of his chairmanship, so there are “no changes now but we are monitoring the situation.”