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Erik Schelzig

Editor, The Tennessee Journal

UPDATED: What consistency? Seven who opposed Bible bill override vote for latest version

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

When then-Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a 2016 bill to make the Bible the official state book, 15 Republicans who still remain in the chamber today voted against an override. On Monday night, seven of those representatives switched their positions to support the latest version that passed by just five votes more than the minimum needed to clear the chamber.

The GOP members who essentially voted to sustain Haslam’s veto five years ago while approving the renewed measure were Majority Leader William Lamberth of Portland, Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison of Cosby, Andrew Farmer of Sevierville, Curtis Johnson of Clarksville, John Ragan of Oak Ridge, Mark White of Memphis, and Ryan Williams of Cookeville.

While 55 members approved of the bill on Monday, 28 voted against. Another nine didn’t vote, including Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

The measure now heads to the Senate, where Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has spoken out in opposition.

Lee revives $250M mental health trust fund proposal for K-12 students

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

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is reviving a proposal to create $250 million trust fund to tackle mental health issues for K-12 students. Lee made a similar proposal last year, but it was abandoned amid uncertainty about the state’s budget picture amid the pandemic.

Here is the full release from the Lee adminstration:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee re-introduced the Mental Health Trust Fund in a renewed proposal to assist K-12 families who are facing significant mental health issues in the wake of COVID-19. This proposal allocates $250 million in available funds to create strong mental health services for school-aged students through a systemwide, evidence-based approach.

“The mental health of all Tennessee students is essential to their safety, education and success beyond the classroom,” said Gov. Lee. “While my administration proposed these critical mental health supports last year, we now have the available funding and a greater need than ever before to ensure our students have access to mental health resources. I thank the members of the General Assembly for their partnership in this important effort.”

“We know the earlier we can intervene, the better outcomes are for children and families,” said TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams, LCSW. “The services that will be funded by this investment will allow us to increase the services available from community mental health providers and schools, preventing children from entering mental health crisis situations and ending up in an emergency room.”

Services supported by the Mental Health Trust Fund would include: 

– Direct clinical services in schools

– Mental health awareness and promotion

– Suicide prevention and postvention strategies

– Trauma-informed programs and practices

– Violence and bullying prevention

– Project Basic, which includes mental health supports

There is a significant need for strong K-12 mental health supports:

– Nationally, one in five children has a mental health diagnosis in any given year

– Over 60% of children who receive mental health services do so through their school

– Youth mental health has worsened in the last decade: From 2014 to 2019, the prevalence of Major Depressive Episode (MDE) in Tennessee youth ages 12-17 increased from 9.1%

– The approximate prevalence of any mental illness in the past year among Tennessee youth is about 300,000

– In January 2021, Tennessee ranked 28th in overall mental health and 34th overall in youth mental health 

– School closures during COVID-19 limited students’ access to mental health services and caused a pause in critical mental health reporting

The Lee administration has taken strong action to address mental health:

– Behavioral Health Safety Net for Children: Essential mental health supports for uninsured children age 3-17 beginning September 2020

School Based Behavioral Health Liaison (SBBHL) Expansion:Expanded proven program to all 95 counties

TN Suicide Prevention Network: Expanded regional directors to increase coverage and boosted training in suicide prevention

– Youth and Young adult Mental Health Awareness and Promotion:Funding granted to three separate programs that reached more than 11,000 individuals

Tennessee in line to receive $8.56B from latest federal relief package

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee is projected to receive $8.56 billion in the latest round of federal COVID-19 relief funding, according to Gov. Bill Lee’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group. That includes $4 billion to the state, $2.26 billion to local governments, and $2.3 billion to local school districts.

The state share includes $3.82 billion for the state fiscal recovery fund and $216 million for state coronavirus capital projects.

The local fiscal recovery fund includes $941 million for cities and $1.33 billion for counties.

“These funds represent an historic opportunity to make investments in your communities,” Comptroller Jason Mumpower said in a meeting of the financial group.

Tennessee-wide fundraisers get underway for gubernatorial candidate … in Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former Trump spokeswoman, is in Tennessee this weekend to drum up campaign cash for her gubernatorial bid in Arkansas. Sanders has events scheduled in Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville on Sunday and Monday.

Sanders’ father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, won Tennessee’s presidential primary in 2008. Huckabee carried 34% of the vote, compared with 32% for John McCain and 24% for Mitt Romney. Huckabee’s campaign adviser that year was Chip Saltsman, who is also consulting on Sanders’ gubernatorial bid.

Saltsman ran Randy Boyd’s unsuccessful bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Tennessee in 2018. He has also worked as a political consultant for U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Chattanooga) and David Kustoff (R-Memphis).

Current Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is term limited.

Read the ruling unfreezing betting on the Action 24/7 sportsbook

Nashville Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal on Friday lifted the state Lottery’s suspension of sportsbook Action 24/7 due to fraudulent activity on its platform.

“We applaud the Court’s decision and look forward to working with state officials to ensure public safety and trust in our regulatory system while maintaining an environment for businesses to thrive in Tennessee,” Action 24/7 president Tina Hodges said in a statement. “Thank you to our loyal players and friends across the state for your confidence, support and encouragement. We’ll be Back in Action soon!”

The ruling sends the case back for further hearings before the Lottery.

“We will continue to work with Action 247 to implement appropriate minimum internal control standards that protect the public interest and minimize risk to the integrity of sports gaming in Tennessee,” Lottery spokesman David Smith said in a statement.

Here is the order for Chancellor Moskal:

ORDER ON TEMPORARY INJUNCTION

This matter came before the Court for hearing on March 24, 2021, by videoconference, on Plaintiff Tennessee Action 24/7, LLC’s (“Action 24/7”) Emergency Motion for Temporary Injunction, seeking reinstatement of Plaintiffs sports gaming operator’s license temporarily suspended by Defendants Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation and members of its Board of Directors and President and CEO, in their official capacities (collectively, “TEL”). Participating in the hearing were Attorney E. Steele Clayton IV, Sarah B. Miller, and Nicholas J. Goldin, representing Action 24/7, and Assistant Attorney General Lindsay H. Sisco, Deputy Attorney General Justin Urban, and Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Shirley, representing Defendants. Also attending were Tina Hodges, Action 24/7’s President, and Andrew Jack, Action 24/7’s Chief Operating Officer.

Action 24/7 filed a Verified Complaint, with exhibits, against Defendants on March 22, 2021, seeking judicial review of Defendants’ action indefinitely suspending Plaintiffs sports gaming operator’s license under Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-51-328. Plaintiff contemporaneously filed an Emergency Motion for Temporary Injunction supported by a Memorandum of Law. The Court entered an Order setting the Motion for a temporary injunction hearing on March 24, 2021 at 2:00 p.m./central, pursuant to Rule 65.04 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and Davidson County Local Rules of Practice § 19.03. See March 22, 2021 Order. Defendants filed a response in opposition to the Motion, with exhibits, on March 24, 2021.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

The Court makes the following preliminary findings of fact for purposes of the pending request for a temporary injunction, only, based upon the Court’s record at this early stage of the proceedings.

As of November 1, 2020, Tennessee residents are allowed to place online sports wagers under the recently enacted Tennessee Sports Gaming Act (the “Act”). Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-51- 301, et seq. Action 24/7 is licensed by the State of Tennessee ·as an online sports wagering business under the Act. The Act authorizes the Tennessee Education Lottery Board of Directors (the “TEL Board”) to enforce and supervise compliance with the provisions of the Act. Id.,§ 4-51-306. The Act au-thorizes the TEL Board to control the licensing of sports wagering operators in Tennessee. Id., § 4-51-317, -326. The Act also authorizes the TEL Board to promulgate rules in accordance with the Act. Id., § 4-51-306. Further, the TEL Board is authorized to “investigate and conduct a hearing with respect to a licensee” that has violated the Act, in accordance with rules adopted by the TEL Board. Id.,§ 4-51-326(a). Upon finding a violation of the Act or rule, the TEL Board may suspend, revoke or refuse to renew a license for violations.of any provision of the Act or rules
promulgated by the Board. Id., 4-51-326(b).

The Board promulgated rules and regulations under the Act, referred to as “Chapter 15 – Sports Gaming Rules, Regulations and Standards” (“Rules”). The Rules recognize a “Sports Wagering Committee” of the TEL Board. The Rules, in tum, authorize the Sports Wagering Committee to suspend, revoke, or not renew a license for any of the reasons set forth under the Act or the Rules, upon recommendation by the CEO. Rule 15.2.3.A. The Rules grant the Sports Wagering Committee the discretion to revoke, suspend or not renew a license when it determines it is “in the best interests of the TEL, its Board, or the public policy or welfare of the State of Tennessee,” after notice and a right to a hearing in accordance with the Act and the Rules. Rule 15.2.3.B. The Rules additionally authorize the Sports Wagering Committee, or its designee, to suspend a license upon “exigent circumstances without prior notice pending any prosecution, hearing or investigation.” Rule 15.2.3.B. The Rules do not describe or provide for the size or composition of the Sports Wagering Committee, and do not specifically define what constitutes “exigent circumstances.”

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Lee’s appointments to wildlife board questioned

Bill Lee speaks at a unity press conference in Nashville on Aug. 4, 2018 after winning the Republican gubernatorial nomination. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s nominations of his former campaign manager and a businessman who was once cited for a hunting violation to the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission are raising questions in the General Assembly, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

Lee wants to appoint Chris Devaney, a former state GOP chairman who ran his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, and Stan Butt, the husband of former state Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia), to the wildlife panel.

Devaney, a Texas native, obtained his first Tennessee hunting and fishing permit in 2017. Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), a major player in the legislature’s sportsmen’s caucus, expressed some unease about the Devaney nomination.

“I live in Southeast Tennessee, and the last two commissioners we’ve had from our area, David Watson and Tony Sanders, are huge outdoorsmen, people that I’ve seen outdoors, people that I’ve seen on social media who go hunting and fishing and participate in outdoor activities,” Bell told the Times Free Press. “It is somewhat concerning to me that we now have a person who’s been appointed to be on the commission whom I’ve never seen at an event.”

Bell hastened to add he considers Devaney a friend that he “may make a fantastic commissioner.” Fellow Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga said he was a “little disappointed that [Devaney] would even let himself be considered for this.”

“His expertise is in a lot of other areas besides hunting and fishing and wildlife,” Gardenhire told the paper.

Devaney said he’s a lifelong hunter and the grandson of late George Wells, a Texas apparel manufacturer who helped pioneer camouflage hunting clothing. He showed the paper a copy of a Texas-issued hunter education certificate earned in the eighth grade, along with a current Texas hunting license and one issued in 2014 in Alabama.

Butt and his three adult sons were cited by wildlife officers in 2008 for hunting during bow season “while in possession [of] a firearm or accompanied by person in violation of a firearm.” He later paid a $50 civil fine and $195 in court costs.

Butt, who was also an active Lee supporter during the 2018 campaign, chalked it up to a misunderstanding.

“We weren’t hunting with a bow,” Butt said in an interview. “We were hunting on a 5,000-acre lease. And in our ignorance we were hunting hogs on this lease, hogs were legal at the time. We didn’t know that bow season [for deer] had opened that weekend. And we weren’t hunting deer, we were hunting hogs.”

Butt called the incided “unfortunate” and “one of them things, that’s what I told them, I said, ‘Hey, I can certainly understand how people get caught in those situations because I’ve been there.'”

Bell said Butt “has a good resume as being an outdoorsman and somebody who’s participated. Somebody who’s had, as I understand, one wildlife infraction in his background. But again, that’s the governor’s choice.”

Bell said if Lee wants to shake up the commission, Butt could be a good choice because “I know he can be a little aggressive, and again I was on the same side as him on a couple of issues. But he can be a little aggressive, which that may be the governor’s intention. If it is, I understand.”

Speaker Sexton strips Griffey of committee assignments

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) attends a meeting at the legislative office building in Nashville on Dec. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has stripped Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) of his committee assignments. The move comes after Griffey’s unsuccessful attempt earlier this week to pull an e-verify bill that had earlier been defeated in a subcommittee straight to floor.

Griffey had engaged in a testy exchange with Sexton and House parliamentarian Daniel Hicks on Monday about whether he should be allowed to deliver remarks in favor of his bill while making the motion on the floor. After cutting the lawmaker off, Sexton determined Griffey’s motion didn’t have a second and declared it defeated.

Griffey, who is considering a bid for a judgeship next year, was removed as a member of the Civil Justice, Criminal Justice, and Education Instruction committees.

UPDATE: A statement from Sexton:

There are certain expectations that must be met by members of the Tennessee House of Representatives. These include maintaining decorum and professionalism, as well as respect for others, and perhaps most importantly — respect for our longstanding committee process. If any or all of these expectations become an issue, appropriate actions will be taken — including removing a member from his or her committee assignments.”

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Brock dies at 90

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Brock (R-Chattanooga) has died at age 90, according to a family spokesman.

Brock defeated incumbent Democrat Albert Gore Sr. in 1970, but lost his re-election bid to Democrat Jim Sasser six years later.

Brock went on to head the Republican National Committee before embarking on another bid for the Senate in 1994, this time in Maryland. He won the GOP nomination, but lost to incumbent Democrat Paul Sarbanes.

Here is the family obituary:

Former Tennessee Senator Bill Brock, who served in both chambers Congress and as a Cabinet member, passed away today at the age of 90 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida peacefully, surrounded by his family.

Brock spent eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1962 to 1970, becoming the first Republican to hold the Third Congressional District seat in 40 years. In 1970, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He also served as U.S. Trade Representative and Labor Department Secretary during the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

He was elected Chair of the Republican National Committee, rebuilding the GOP through grass roots efforts that welcomed people of different races, backgrounds, and perspectives. 

Brock co-chaired the National Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce and chaired the Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills which set a new course for elementary and secondary education. He received the National Academy of Human Resources highest tribute and recognition for outstanding achievement in advancing human development.

He was as a Senior Counselor and Member of the Board of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he chaired the International Policy Roundtable.

Born and raised in Chattanooga, TN, Bill Brock graduated from McCallie School in 1949, attended Washington & Lee University, earning a BS in Commerce in 1953. When Brock returned from serving 2 years in the Navy, he went to work in his family’s candy company.  Like his parents and grandparents, Sen. Brock was called to serve in his community and became active in the Chattanooga Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Brock is survived by his wife, Sandra Schubert Brock; two brothers, Paul “Pat” Brock and Frank Brock; six children and step-children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Health commissioner warns of possible COVID-19 surge

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

State Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey is warning of the next potential spike in COVID-19 infections despite the downward trends of the last quarter.

The Nashville Post reports the state’s infection rate dropped 85% between January and the middle of this month, but that 8,500 new cases were reported over the last week, with the active case count jumping by 1,000 people. Hospitalization rates are also creeping up.

“I’m fairly certain it’s going to get worse. What I don’t know is how high the next surge might be,” Piercey told lawmakers. “We are already starting to see — we saw a plateau for three to six weeks — now we are starting to see it tick back up ever so slightly. What I don’t know is whether that will be a blip or if that will be a pretty substantive surge.”

Piercey said the statistics underscore the need to convince more Tennesseans to get vaccinated. Gov. Bill Lee has announced the state will drop all restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines by early April, meaning innoculations will be available to anyone who wants one.

“Some of the vaccine hesitancy we have encountered was expected. We anticipated some of it, but there has been, to be honest, some vaccine hesitancy that we did not anticipate, and we can’t readily identify reasons for that,” she said. “That’s why the market research piece is so important, in all 95 counties, particularly among rural conservative and rural white men, why they are hesitant and how to address it properly.”

Tennessee sportsbook sues to undo suspension by Lottery

Tennessee Action 24/7 is asking a court to undo a first-in-the-nation decision by the state Lottery to suspend its sportsbook license due to fraud and money laundering, the Associated Press reports.

Action 24/7, which is run by executives of short-term lender Advance Financial, is questioning the regulatory process used to issue the suspension.

According to Lottery investigator Danny DiRienzo, the company self-reported suspicious activity on March 17, which was several days after the alleged fraud took place. In one instance, he said, a player made a $10 deposit into his betting account, which was then followed by 124 deposits with seven cards in as many different names. The account holder then withdrew money without placing many bets.

“It is serious, serious criminal activity, probably in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damages done with multiple real individuals and business victims,” DiRienzo said during an emergency meeting of the Lottery board on Friday.

According to the the lawsuit, company representatives wanted to be heard during the meeting, but the panel “refused to hear their position.”

The lottery’s actions were “an inadequate or sometimes complete lack of review of the evidence, an unwillingness to hear Action’s side of the story, and a rush to judgment, ultimately resulting in a destruction of Action’s business,” according to the lawsuit.

Tennessee Action said the total number of fraudulent deposits totaled about $37,400, of $14,700 has been recovered.