Monthly Archives: December 2021

Redistricting: How Senate Democrats would do it

Democrats in the state Senate have submitted a plan for the chamber’s seats as part of the once-per-decade redistricting process.

Democrats currently hold six of 33 seats in the chamber. Republicans have yet to release their draft plan.

Here’s the release from the Senate Democratic caucus:

NASHVILLE—Nearly every city in the state and 87 counties are kept whole in Tennessee Senate districts under a proposed statewide map released Friday by Democrats.

“This proposal keeps communities together—whole counties and whole cities wherever possible,” says Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the Tennessee Senate minority leader. “We want every member of every community to know that their voice matters in the state Senate and that their vote will make a difference.”

Democrats are releasing their 33–district Senate proposal after gathering input directly from Tennesseans at five public community meetings across the state. Additionally, members of the Democratic caucus participated in dozens more meetings hosted by local organizations to discuss how districts should change in 2022.

“This is a fair map that directly incorporates feedback from people and organizations who told us, ‘please keep our city together,’” Sen. Raumesh Akbari said. “This is a map that keeps more cities and more communities together than ever before. It’s a map that makes senators more accountable to the voters they serve.”

Biggest changes

Most of the districts in this proposal shift toward Middle Tennessee to accommodate for the region’s explosive population growth. But every district in the proposal retains core characteristics from the current map.

  • Antioch added to La Vergne & Smyrna’s Senate Seat: Senate District 13 maintains its base in western Rutherford County, but it now extends into southeast Nashville to create a full a Senate District for like-communities of Antioch, La Vergne and Smyrna along the I-24 corridor.
  • Bradley County unsplit. This proposal undoes a controversial decision from 2012: splitting Bradley County into two districts. Senate District 10 instead returns to Hamilton County with its lines around the city of Chattanooga and Senate District 9 takes in the whole of Bradley County along with McMinn, Meigs and Rhea counties.
  • Full Senate Seat within Montgomery County: Following a decade where they county saw a near 30 percent growth in population, the city of Clarksville almost qualifies to have its very own state senate seat. In this proposal, Senate District 22 sheds two counties to the west and now captures the core of Clarksville along with unincorporated areas north of the Cumberland River.
  • West Tenn. Districts Get Bigger: West Tennessee saw slow growth in many counties and population loss in others — a trend that forces senate districts to expand geographically. As such: Senate District 24 grows east from six to eight counties. Senate District 26 grows east from eight to nine counties. Senate District 27 grows from 5 to 6 counties. And Senate District 32 grows from Tipton County and a portion of Shelby County to three counties and a portion of Shelby.

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White House declares disaster for 9 tornado-stricken Tennessee counties

President Joe Biden has declared a disaster in nine Tennessee counties hit by tornados and other strom damage over the weekend. The affected area includes Cheatham, Decatur, Dickson, Dyer, Gibson, Lake, Obion, Stewart, and Weakley counties.

Here is the release from the White House:

Today, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that an emergency exists in the State of Tennessee and ordered Federal assistance to supplement State and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from severe storms, straight-line winds, and tornadoes during the period of December 10 to December 11, 2021.

The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the counties of Cheatham, Decatur, Dickson, Dyer, Gibson, Lake, Obion, Stewart, and Weakley.

Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.  Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent Federal funding. 

Deanne Criswell, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Myra M. Shird as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas. 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION MEDIA SHOULD CONTACT THE FEMA NEWS DESK AT (202) 646-3272 OR FEMA-NEWS-DESK@FEMA.DHS.GOV.

AAA: Gas prices easing slightly in Tennessee

Gas prices in Tennessee are down 12 cents from a month ago, but still up by $1.11 per gallon compared with a year ago, according to the AAA.

More than half of gas stations in state have gas available for less than $3. The national average is $3.33 per gallon.

Here’s the full release from the auto club:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee gas prices declined another four cents since last week. The Tennessee Gas Price average is now $3.03 which is 12 cents cheaper than one month ago and $1.11 more than one year ago.  

“Gas prices tend to fall a bit this time of year due to the shorter days and less robust demand,” said Stephanie Milani, Tennessee Public Affairs Director, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “And this trend was assisted by the recent steep drop in oil prices due to fears over the omicron variant. But the variant’s impact on pricing appears to be fading, so it remains to be seen if oil prices stabilize or move higher.”

Quick Facts

  • 54% of Tennessee gas stations have prices below $3.00 
  • The lowest 10% of pump prices are $2.78 for regular unleaded 
  • The highest 10% of pump prices are $3.35 for regular unleaded

National Gas Prices

Pump prices continue their slow seasonal descent, despite a slight rebound in oil prices due to waning fears of a global slowdown caused by the COVID-19 omicron variant. The national average for a gallon of gas fell two cents on the week to $3.33.

According to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), total domestic gasoline stocks increased by nearly 4 million bbl to 219,304 million bbl last week. Meanwhile, gasoline demand was relatively flat, creeping upwards from 8.8 million b/d to 8.9 million b/d. The slight increase in demand was countered by crude prices in the low $70s bbl.

Today’s national average of $3.33 is eight cents less than a month ago and $1.17 more than a year ago.

National Oil Market Dynamics

At the close of last week’s formal trading session, WTI increased 73 cents to settle at $71.67. Crude prices increased slightly after EIA’s weekly report showed that total domestic crude inventories decreased by 200,000 bbl to 432.9 million bbl. The current storage level is approximately 14 percent lower than last year’s storage level at this time, which is helping to keep crude prices elevated. Additionally, prices rebounded last week as optimism increased that the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus will not have as large an impact on global energy demand as initially feared. For this week, continued optimism could help crude prices continue to rise.

Motorists can find current gas prices along their route with the free AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. The app can also be used to map a route, find discounts, book a hotel and access AAA roadside assistance. Learn more at AAA.com/mobile.

Tennessee Regional Prices 

  • Most expensive metro markets – Memphis ($3.09), Morristown ($3.09), Jackson ($3.07)
  • Least expensive metro markets – Clarksville ($2.93), Cleveland ($2.94), Chattanooga ($2.99)

Tennessee Gas Price Averages 

(Price per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline) 

MondaySundayWeek AgoMonth AgoOne Year Ago
Tennessee$3.03$3.03$3.06$3.14$1.92
Chattanooga$2.98$2.99$3.02$3.12$1.87
Knoxville$3.03$3.04$3.07$3.16$1.88
Memphis$3.09$3.09$3.12$3.17$1.98
Nashville$3.04$3.05$3.08$3.15$1.93

New TNJ edition alert: State GOP executive committee update, finalists emerge from SCOTENN sweepstakes, Dole’s legacy in Tennessee

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

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what we delve into this week:

— GOP executive committee mulls judicial candidate fees, pride coalition, presidential convention.

— Three finalists emerge for state Supreme Court vacancy after one leading candidate drops out to take top legal job in Lee administration.

— Political roundup: Bridgestone looks to turn the tables on the clawback provision, Memphis politicos leave for Nashville and don’t come back, and Slatery gets awarded.

— Obituary: Bob Dole outmaneuvered two of Tennessee’s most prominent Republicans on the national political stage.

Also: Kelvin Jones mounts an Alabama defense under questioning about buried cash, Knoxville kicks of 40th anniversary celebrations for 1982 World’s Fair, and Jon Huntsman likens Bob Corker to Led Zeppelin.

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

Read up on your state Supreme Court finalists here

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

After two days of interviews, the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointment whittled down the list of nine applicants to three for Gov. Bill Lee to choose from.

You can read the finalists’ applications here:

Sarah Campbell, associate solicitor general and special assistant to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery.

Kristi M. Davis, state appeals judge.

Neal McBrayer, state appeals judge.

The vacancy was created by the passing of Justice Connie Clark in September.

Big shakeup in Supreme Court sweepstakes as Lee to hire Skrmetti as legal counsel

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Just as the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments was getting ready to interview candidates for a state Supreme Court vacancy on Wednesday, The Tennessee Journal has learned a major contender is dropping out to instead become Gov. Bill Lee’s top legal adviser.

Jonathan T. Skrmetti, the chief deputy to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery will succeed Lang Wiseman, who stepped down on Friday.

Skrmetti is a Harvard law graduate who worked for the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department before serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Memphis from 2011 to 2014. While later working at Butler Snow, Skrmetti was a member of the legal advisory board for the Beacon Center, the conservative think tank and advocacy group. Hired as the No. 2 position in the AG’s office in 2018, he spearheaded the state’s efforts to negotiate a $26 billion national settlement with opioid producers and distributors.

Skrmetti’s withdrawal from the Supreme Court application process leaves nine candidates for job. The Council for Judicial Appointments will narrow the field down to three for Lee to choose from.

UPDATE: The governor’s office has made it official:

“Jonathan is a dedicated public servant and highly qualified legal professional,” Lee said in a release. “He will bring significant experience and tremendous value to our work on behalf of Tennesseans, and I am confident he will continue to serve our state with integrity.”

National attorneys general group names Slatery top AG

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The National Association of Attorneys General has presented Tennessee’s Herbert Slatery with its top award.

Here’s the release from the AG’s office:

NASHVILLE — The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), the nonpartisan national forum for America’s state and territory attorneys general, presented Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III with the Kelley-Wyman Award Tuesday, December 7th, 2021 in Washington, DC.

The Kelley-Wyman Award is NAAG’s most prestigious honor given annually to the attorney general who has done the most to advance the objectives of the Association. A bipartisan panel of attorneys general selects the recipient of the award annually.

In 2021, General Slatery led nationwide, bipartisan coalitions of attorneys general resulting in an historic $26 billion opioids settlement announced in July 2021, and is one of several attorneys general leading actions against tech platforms like Google and Facebook.

He also serves as Treasurer for the NAAG Mission Foundation and co-chair of NAAG’s Consumer Protection Committee with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. General Slatery previously served as chair of the Southern Region of Attorneys General, which stretches from Texas to Virginia.

“I’m honored to receive this award from my colleagues, and it was a complete surprise,” said General Slatery. “If you’re looking for bipartisan, effective cooperation on issues that affect Americans across the country, it’s happening at the state level among attorneys general. I’m proud of that.  We work together to solve problems common to our states, ‘together’ being the key word.  It is no secret an award at this level is a way of recognizing not just one person but a team of dedicated, hardworking attorneys and staff.  We have that in Tennessee, and it is my honor to work with them.  They make me look a lot better than I really deserve.”

Originally called the Wyman Memorial Award, it was renamed the Kelley-Wyman Award in recognition of the outstanding service and contributions of Frank Kelley, who served as attorney general of Michigan from January 1962 to January 1999. The award was instituted as a gift, made by former New Hampshire Attorney General Louis Wyman, in memory of his father. 

The only other Tennessee Attorney General to receive this award is Charles W. Burson in 1993.

American Conservative Union releases ratings of Tenn. lawmakers, makes no mention of legal issues

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

The American Conservative Union, which is mentioned in several not-so-subtle ways in the federal campaign finance fraud indictment against state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), has released its latest ratings of Tennessee lawmakers — including of the aforementioned Kelsey, who gets an 85.

“From protecting the Second Amendment to banning Critical Race Theory in schools, it is no surprise that Tennessee, led by a great governor in Bill Lee, once again scores among the most conservative state’s in the country,” Matt Schlapp, the group’s chairman, said in a release.

Kelsey is accused of funneling money from his state account through two other PACs to the American Conservative Union, which then spent money on ads supporting his ill-fated congressional bid in 2016. Kelsey has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

The ACU scored 84 roll call votes as part of its ratings, including bills banning government vaccine passports, changing certificate of need rules, making Tennessee a gun rights “sanctuary state,” banning students from participating in sports not corresponding to the gender listed at birth, opting out of federal unemployment benefit enhancements, and banning “critical race theory” in schools.

Here are the ratings:

SenatorPartyDist.20212020Lifetime
Akbari, RaumeshD2923%38%29%
Bailey, PaulR1587%79%87%
Bell, MikeR980%75%85%
Bowling, JaniceR1683%75%85%
Briggs, RichardR778%71%80%
Campbell, HeidiD2026%n/a26%
Crowe, RustyR381%75%82%
Gardenhire, ToddR1073%75%82%
Gilmore, BrendaD1928%29%25%
Haile, FerrellR1883%71%86%
Hensley, JoeyR2882%62%85%
Jackson, EdR2783%76%85%
Johnson, JackR2384%75%88%
Kelsey, BrianR3185%77%87%
Kyle, SaraD3027%28%31%
Lundberg, JonR485%77%85%
Massey, BeckyR679%76%79%
Mcnally, RandyR578%72%85%
Niceley, FrankR881%79%81%
Pody, MarkR1782%n/a85%
Powers, BillR2283%76%79%
Reeves, ShaneR1485%76%84%
Roberts, KerryR2587%79%89%
Robinson, KatrinaD33n/a†n/a38%
Rose, PaulR3283%79%83%
Southerland, SteveR181%71%83%
Stevens, JohnR2483%75%89%
Swann, ArtR283%n/a81%
Walley, PageR2678%n/a78%
Watson, BoR1185%76%87%
White, DawnR1385%76%90%
Yager, KenR1279%74%82%
Yarbro, JeffD2128%38%36%
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Tate to step down as chief administrator of Tennessee court system

(Image credit: Administrative Office of the Courts)

Deborah Taylor Tate is stepping down after seven years as director of the state court system.

“As we face the remainder of the pandemic and its impact on our courts, there will continue to be new challenges ahead,” Tate said in a statement. “I believe that now is the time for fresh leadership and new ideas to carry the Judiciary to the next exciting decade of change and further improvement to our operations.

Tate worked in the offices of legal counsel to Republican Govs. Lamar Alexander and Don Sundquist. She was later a member of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and the Federal Communications Commission.

Here is the full release from the Administrative Office of the Courts:

Deborah Taylor Tate, Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) for the Tennessee Supreme Court, will leave her current role in early 2022 after seven years of service to the Judiciary. Tate, twice a former Presidential appointee, previously served as a Commissioner on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

“As an attorney, this appointment has been the highest honor and privilege of my career; it allowed me to work with and for the Supreme Court of our Great State,“ Tate said. “However, more important, is the significant progress we have made to ensure courts are more accessible and efficient whether through technological innovations or improved processes with the goal of serving our fellow Tennesseans. Almost as important is the determination — on the front end — of those who actually do not need to be in the court system at all and to ensure that they find the services they need to be healthy, productive citizens.”

“As we face the remainder of the pandemic and its impact on our courts, there will continue to be new challenges ahead. I believe that now is the time for fresh leadership and new ideas to carry the Judiciary to the next exciting decade of change and further improvement to our operations. I know the outstanding AOC team is well-prepared for any challenge and I will be cheering them on as they build on our past success.”

In addition to overseeing the administration of the broader court system, Tate serves on numerous state boards and commissions as well as serving for over two years as the Co-Chair of the National Judicial Opioid Task Force. In that role, she was a national advocate for training judges and court systems, assisting with the development of curriculum and tools for every court in the country. She was elected by her peers to the Board of the National Conference of State Court Administrators and serves on numerous committees regarding child welfare, government affairs and court innovation.

During her tenure, Tate is credited with increasing the stature and funding of the AOC; overseeing the extensive broadening of the court’s involvement with other branches, including the implementation of 12 Safe Baby Courts; efforts to stem the impact of the opioid and addiction epidemic; and coordination of two Eviction Summits during the height of the pandemic. Her multi-disciplinary efforts expanded access to justice programs, including most recently a “Justice Bus” to deliver legal and other support services into rural communities.

History-making systemic improvements

In 2015, Tate assisted the Supreme Court in establishing the first business docket pilot project in Tennessee history, both as an economic development tool for the state as well as to embrace civil justice reforms toward more efficient, expedient resolution of highly complex business-to-business disputes. She also steered the legislation to allow E-filing statewide, obtained $4 million to upgrade court security equipment in courthouses statewide, expanded video arraignment for criminal courts, and secured almost $9 million to upgrade the court clerks statewide data reporting system. Other historic data-driven initiatives included the establishment of the first General Sessions Data Repository and collection of uniform, consistent juvenile court data, as well as helping launch an online dispute resolution pilot aimed at assisting Tennesseans with high medical debt.

“Debi was instrumental in assisting the Court — and our national colleagues — over the past 20 months to respond to the impact of a global pandemic, continue court operations and even to upgrade our remote technological capabilities to keep courts open for business,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger A. Page. “She had long championed video recording of appellate oral arguments, resulting in nearly 100,000 views of appellate court hearings. Citizens, as well as our classrooms, have benefited from this transparency, building upon our recognition as a national Sandra Day O’Connor Access to Justice honoree. Her passion for those in need is palpable; but we have confidence in the capable team she has assembled to continue the high bar of success toward even greater impact ahead. We have watched her enthusiasm and collegiality result in numerous initiatives and projects that have positively impacted our Tennessee court system and enhanced our number one priority: access to justice for all.”

Background

Tate has spent much of her professional life in public service — at every level and across all branches of government; serving on dozens of nonprofits, national, and community boards. She previously served in the office of legal counsel to Governor Lamar Alexander and Governor Don Sundquist, led the Health Facilities Commission and was Chairman of the Public Service Commission. Her dedication and efforts to expand broadband and health care services to rural areas, protect the safety and welfare of children in both the real and virtual worlds and her decades long service to mental/behavioral health entities have been recognized by numerous diverse organizations from local to international. She served as the first Special Envoy for Child Online Protection at the International Telecommunications Union and recently received End Slavery Tennessee’s public service award for a myriad of efforts to mitigate Human trafficking.

New TNJ edition alert: Ranking Supreme Court applicants, flight vouchers fizzle

Scorch marks from a portable toilet fire are seen on the John Sevier State Office Building in Nashville on Nov. 24, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee)

The newest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what we delve into this week:

— Will the Supreme Court nominating panel break the mold or stick with tradition? The TNJ ranks the applicants for the vacancy on the state’s highest court.

— Launched to great fanfare (and no small amount of ridicule), Gov. Bill Lee’s flight voucher giveaway finds few takers.

— Prisoners could become eligible for reduced sentences after lawmakers dropped enhancements for drug dealing within 1,000 feet to 500 feet of schools and playgrounds.

— Lawmakers worry about recouping lost gas taxes from increased electric vehicle purchases.

Also: Lee sees the light (after a delay in illuminating the state Christmas tree), Gardenhire on taking the wrong hill, Robinson sentencing delayed, and the portable toilet fire outside the AG’s office goes to court.

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