Monthly Archives: November 2021

COVID czar launches website to apply for exemptions to vax mandate ban

Jason Mumpower presents a comptroller’s report in Nashville on Jan. 30, 2018. At left is Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Under a bill signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee on Friday, businesses are banned from requiring employees to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Unless, that is, they are granted an exemption from Comptroller Jason Mumpower — who has been dubbed the COVID czar.

Mumpower’s office has launched a website to handle applications. Here’s the full release:

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has launched a new webpage that will allow Tennessee businesses, governmental entities, or schools to seek an exemption from House Bill No. 9077/Senate Bill No. 9014, which was signed into law on Friday, November 12.

The new law prohibits most Tennessee businesses from imposing a vaccine mandate unless they receive an exemption from the Comptroller’s Office.

An exemption may be granted by the Comptroller if an applicant can demonstrate that compliance with Chapter 2 or 6 of the new law would result in a loss of federal funding and an exemption is necessary to conform to a federally awarded or amended contract, subcontract, or postsecondary grant.

Exemptions granted by the Comptroller are not permanent and may be renewed for no more than one calendar year.

The Comptroller’s Office invites qualifying entities to begin submitting a notice for exemption by visiting comptroller.tn.gov/covidexemption. This webpage also includes program Guidelines and some frequently asked questions.

Applicants with questions about the exemption process can contact exempt@cot.tn.gov.

New TNJ edition alert: Casada’s fall, Bell bows out, Durham decision

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) checks his phone in the House chamber in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— Casada won’t run again after fall from speaker to delivery driver. Could run for Williamson County clerk be next?

— Redistricting: Bell, Casada retirements grant breathing room to mapmakers.

— Lee favorite bows out, leaving wide-open competition for Supreme Court opening.

— We have a ruling over ousted Rep. Durham’s record penalty for campaign finance violations.

— A shakeup at the top in Gov. Bill Lee’s office.

Also: Hagerty hits fellow Republicans over infrastructure vote, the Barretts host a fundraiser for Ketron, Trump endorses Fleischmann, and mirrors on the ceiling at the governor’s mansion (shudder).

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

Mark Green is getting involved where now?

U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Ashland City) has long been known for his pursuit of higher office, whether it is for governor, U.S. Senate, or beyond. He’s also been actively lobbying his former colleagues in the Tennessee legislature to not fundamentally alter his congressional district when they draw new political maps this winter.

But it turns out Green’s political interests aren’t limited to Tennessee — or even this hemisphere. The New York Times reports Green is now agitating in Brazil, where supporters of the country’s far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro are echoing many of the themes adopted by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

From the Times story:

Representative Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican who has pushed laws combating voter fraud, met with lawmakers in Brazil to discuss “voting integrity policies.” […] The American Conservative Union paid about $15,000 to send Mr. Green, the Tennessee Republican, according to a lobbying disclosure. His planned agenda included a discussion, over lunch, of voting laws with two Brazilian members of Congress who pushed to change Brazil’s.

The American Conservative Union has been in the news in Tennessee lately following the federal indictment of Green’s former state Senate colleague Brian Kelsey on charges he conspired to funnel campaign donations to the group through two political action committees. Kelsey has pleaded not guilty.

Former House Speaker Casada to retire amid FBI scrutiny

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) speaks to Republican colleagues in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former state House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) announced he won’t seen another term in 2022. The decision comes after federal agents searched his home and office before the start of the legislative session in January. No charges have been filed.

Casada stepped down as speaker in 2019 following a text messaging scandal with this former chief of staff, Cade Cothren, and a revolt among Republican lawmakers over his heavy-handed leadership style.

Casada has denied offering inducements to lawmakers to vote in favor of Gov. Bill Lee’s signature school voucher bill, which narrowly passed the chamber after the speaker kept the voting board open to cajole holdouts to switch their votes. Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) ultimately changed his vote from no to yes after being promised his home county would be kept out of the bill.

Here’s the release from Casada:

Franklin, TN – Glen Casada (Republican, Dist. 63) announced today that he will not seek re-election to the State House, marking the end of a 20-year career as state representative. Casada has served as Caucus Chairman, Majority Leader and Speaker of the House. “This decision comes after much prayer and thought,” said Casada. “I am blessed and grateful to have served Williamson County and to have achieved many goals for my constituents, but it is time for a new chapter of public service.”

Casada sponsored the landmark constitutional amendment to ban the personal state income tax, and has successfully sponsored numerous conservative, pro-life and pro­ business initiatives. Several organizations have honored Casada as Legislator of the Year throughout his public service career.

Rep. Sam Whitson (Republican, Dist. #65) commented, “I strongly feel that Katie Beckett will be Glen’s legacy,” referring to the 2019 law that gave access to life-saving medical treatments and therapies to children with special needs. Casada secured funding for the program. “This law would not have been possible without his support and leadership.”

Elected to the Democrat-controlled State House in 2001, Casada worked tirelessly to support conservative candidates across the state. Those efforts were successfully rewarded in 2008 when voters flipped the State Assembly to a Republican majority for the first time since 1868.

“Glen’s strong conservative voice will be greatly missed,” said Rep. Brandon Ogles (Republican, Dist. #61). “Tennessee is better off today because of Glen’s investment in our state.”

Senator Jack Johnson (Republican, Dist. #23) remarked, “Rep. Casada is a great friend and a tremendous asset to our community. I am grateful for his conservative leadership and service to Williamson County and Tennessee.”

Lee recognizes five state employees’ military service

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is recognizing the service of five state employees in honor of Veteran’s Day.

Here’s the release from the Department of Veterans Services:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Tennessee Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Tommy Baker and Tennessee Military Department

Adjutant General, Major General Jeff Holmes will recognize five veteran state employees and will honor nearly 456,000 veterans living in Tennessee on Wednesday, November 9, at 11 a.m. CST on Tennessee Tower Plaza in Nashville.

— Matt VanEpps, Office of the Governor, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, 5 years of outstanding state service.

— John Johnson, Department of Human Services, Assistant Commissioner, 10 years of outstanding state service.

— Jerry L. Seabolt, Department of Agriculture, Consumer Protection Director, 17 years of outstanding state service.

— John (Tripp) Voss, Military Department, Emergency Management Administrator, 15 years of outstanding state service.

— Tina Robinson, Department of Environment & Conversation, Environmental Manager, 29 years of outstanding state service.

WHO: Governor Bill Lee, Commissioner Tommy Baker, Major General Jeff Holmes

WHEN: Wednesday, November 9, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. (CST)

WHERE: Tennessee Tower Plaza, 312 Rosa L. Parks Ave., Nashville

NOTE: In case of inclement weather, the event will be relocated to the third floor of the TN Tower.

Bell won’t seek re-election to Tenn. Senate

Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) attends a redistricting hearing on Oct. 18, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Judiciary Chair Mike Bell (R-Riceville) isn’t seeking re-election next year.

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville) announced today that he will not be a candidate for re-election in 2022. Bell was first elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2006 before moving to the State Senate in 2010 where he represents Bradley, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk Counties in Senate District 9.

“It has been the highest honor of my life to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly,” said Sen. Bell. “I am incredibly thankful for the continued support, friendship and kindness of my constituents who have entrusted me to represent them for the past 15 years. Just as I knew it was time for me to run for office in 2006, I feel it is now time to move to the next chapter of my life and pass the leadership mantle for this district to a new state senator.”

Bell said he is making the announcement early enough to provide prospective candidates plenty of time to come forward and meet with the people of the district.

“I love representing the people of this district,” added Bell who regularly attends community and school functions in the district. “It has truly been a joy to get to know members of our civic, business, school, volunteer firefighters, sportsmen, veteran groups, and other community organizations. Their input has been a tremendous asset to me while serving in the General Assembly and I will miss that constant contact very much. I also couldn’t have done this job without the encouragement of my wife and children and am very appreciative of their support.”

“This is a tremendous loss for the Senate and the State,” said Lt. Governor Randy McNally. “Mike has brought a true working-class perspective to the Senate that has been simply invaluable. An authentic citizen legislator, Mike has served with distinction as chairman of both the Judiciary and Government Operations committees while at the same time owning and operating his own small business. A consistent conservative and a true friend, Mike Bell has championed the cause of Life and the Second Amendment with impassioned advocacy. His commitment to those two issues, in particular, has resulted in successful legislative victories on multiple occasions. I have always considered him a very close friend and hope to continue to call on him for advice and counsel. I congratulate him on a well-deserved retirement from the legislature and wish him the best of luck on what comes next.”

Bell has served in several leadership positions during his legislative tenure. In addition to chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee, he led the Senate Government Operations Committee from 2012 to 2018 where he pushed for greater accountability of Tennessee’s boards and commissions to make them more effective and customer-friendly. In the House of Representatives, he chaired the Children and Family Subcommittee and was Freshman Leader in the Republican Caucus. 

In addition, he currently serves as Chairman of the General Assembly’s Sportmen’s Caucus and is a member of the Executive Council for the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC), receiving several awards on behalf of his efforts to preserve hunting and fishing. He serves as Chairman of Tennessee’s Asian Carp Advisory Commission to study and provide advice regarding the best methods for mitigating the invasion of Asian carp into the state’s lakes and river systems.

During his legislative tenure, Bell has been a strong advocate of Second Amendment rights, including sponsoring the law establishing the right to carry a firearm without a permit. Other key laws sponsored by Bell include:

  • Legislation revamping the state’s Textbook Commission to provide for greater transparency and more public input in the textbook selection process;
  • Several bills removing unfair restrictions concerning the eligibility of home school students for Tennessee’s lottery scholarships;
  • Legislation to protect Tennesseans’ access to healthcare through telehealth services;
  • The Broadband Accessibility Act to improve access to broadband through investment, deregulation and education, spurring development in rural areas to open them up to job growth;
  • Legislation creating volunteer firefighter grants for equipment and the new law to provide them with an annual $600 payment upon completion of training;
  • Numerous laws strengthening penalties for human trafficking and providing support for victims;
  • Legislation to make the Board of Judicial Conduct more responsive to the public; and
  • Several laws protecting unborn children, including legislation excluding facilities in Tennessee that perform abortion from receiving Tennessee taxpayer money.

He was also was a strong legislative supporter for the Bradley County Tennessee Veterans Home. 

Bell will continue to serve until a new state senator is elected in the regular general election on November 8, 2022.

Process to fill Tenn. Supreme Court vacancy getting underway

Connie Clark

The application process is opening soon for attorneys who want to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The vacancy on the five-member bench was created by the death of Justice Connie Clark on Sept. 24. The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments late last week received official notice of the vacancy from Gov. Bill Lee’s office. The panel plans to interview candidates in the second week of December and then present a slate of three finalists for the govenror to choose from.

Candidates must be at least 35 years old and have lived in Tennessee for five years. No more than two of the five justices can be from one grand division of the state. The current makeup of the court means candidates for the vacancy must come from East or Middle Tenenssee.

Clark was from Williamson County, as is Justice Jeff Bivins. Chief Justice Roger Page and Justice Holly Kirby are from West Tennessee, and Justice Sharon Lee is from the East. Bivins, Page, and Kirby were appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, while Lee and Clark were named to the bench by Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.

Under a 2014 amendment to the state constitution, the General Assemlby can reject the governor’s appointments to appellate courts.

UPDATE from the Administrative Office of the Courts:

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments is now accepting applications for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the passing of Justice Cornelia A. Clark on September 24, 2021.

Any interested applicant must be a licensed attorney who is at least 35 years of age, a resident of the state for five years, and a resident of the Eastern or Middle Tennessee Grand Divisions. Applicants must complete the designated application and submit it to the Administrative Office of the Courts by 12:00 p.m. CST on Friday, November 19th. Applicants should note the AOC must receive all materials by 12:00 p.m. CST and materials in transit that arrive after that time will not be accepted. The application is available on the judicial resources page of tncourts.gov, located here: http://tncourts.gov/administration/judicial-resources

Applicants will be interviewed on either Wednesday, December 8 or Thursday, December 9 at a location to be announced soon.

New TNJ edition alert: Special session post-mortem, Warner audit comes to nothing

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

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

— Business concerns brushed aside in hurry-up special session.

— Registry punts on audit of Rep. Warner’s spending with mystery vendor but proceeds with probe of PAC.

— Knox GOP’s effort to topple incumbents in Knoxville City Council elections fizzles.

Also: Kelsey turns himself (and his passport) in, Robinson has a court date for her second federal fraud trial, Terry gives the Heimlich maneuver to choking colleague, and Ragan’s revisionist history on Andrew Jackson and the nullification crisis.

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

Chamber to offer seminars on trying to comply with conflicting COVID-19 rules

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

With federal guidance handed down this week requiring companies with 100 employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, the state Chamber of Commerce is offering seminars on how to try to comply with that rule while trying not to run afoul of a state bill passed in a special legislative session last week to outlaw most vaccine mandates in Tennessee.

One method may be a federal provision allowing regular testing instead of vaccines. The state bill did not address the question of tests.

The Chamber opposes all vaccination, masking, and testing mandates, but businesses still have to try to follow the law.

“We understand that recent federal orders and state legislation can result in confusion and costly litigation,” Chamber CEO Bradley Jackson said in a release. “Employers have to know how to comply.”

Here’s the release from the Chamber:

Nashville, TN The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry announced it will be hosting a series of free compliance seminars to assist all businesses with navigating compliance of Tennessee‘s newly passed COVID-19 requirements for employers. The essential seminars are intended to assist all employers by providing clarity as they attempt to maintain compliance with both state and federal COVID-19 mandates. “We are working to get the word out across Tennessee to all employers and assist every business that needs guidance to steer through the complexities of both state and federal policies. It is our obligation to ensure all employers understand their requirements under law. We understand that recent federal orders and state legislation can result in confusion and costly litigation. Employers have to know how to comply,” said Chamber President and CEO Bradley Jackson. The Tennessee Chamber has expressed opposition to both federal and state mandates relative to vaccination, masking and testing mandates for businesses. 

The first compliance seminar will be held at 10 AM CST on Tuesday, November 9. The virtual meeting series is free to attend and will have no registration expense or limit. Legal experts will be on hand to step through the complexities of the measures and address questions of employers. This recently enacted legislation could be effective as late as November 13th and Tennessee businesses of all sizes and sectors across our great state who are not in compliance are subject to penalties and litigation exposure. “The compliance curve on this particular mandate is extremely steep. We want to make sure there is no business in Tennessee that doesn’t fully understand their obligations and options.” noted Jackson.

The Tennessee Chamber will be hosting a subsequent seminar on November 17 to focus on the exemption process for qualified employers. In addition a final compliance seminar will take a closer look at expected OSHA emergency rules. 

To register, visit www.tnchamber.org/complianceseminar  

Funk revels in GOP attacks

Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk appears undaunted by becoming a target of Republican lawmakers during last week’s special session. The prosecutor’s supporters placed placards at tables at last weekend’s annul state Democratic Party fundraiser touting Funk’s record and reveling in negative comments made about him from GOP figures like Gov. Bill Lee, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

Republican lawmakers last week passed legislation calling for a special prosecutor to be appointed if a local DA refuses to prosecute certain crimes. Funk has drawn the ire of lawmakers for saying he wouldn’t bring charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana. He’s also said he won’t prosecute a state law requiring businesses owners to post warnings that they allow transgender people to use bathrooms of their choice.

Funk is up for re-election to another eight-year term in August.

Here are images of Funk’s placard: