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Erik Schelzig

Editor, The Tennessee Journal

McNally to holdout school districts: So you *want* a special session?

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton await Gov. Bill Lee arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Nashville) was one of the leading opponents of House Republican calls to hold a special session to ban schools from imposing mask mandates. Under a compromise, Gov. Bill Lee on Monday issued an executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of mask requirements. But Shelby County and Nashville school districts have slow-walked the order so far, saying they want to look into the legal specifics. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk also announced he wouldn’t bring charges against teachers or district officials who violate the order.

McNally doesn’t appear pleased that the order isn’t being immediately complied with. Here’s his statement released on Tuesday afternoon:

“I am extremely appalled and alarmed at the response to Governor Lee’s executive order from Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools. This order was a compromise that still allows school boards to ensure the health and safety of their students while recognizing the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children. The Governor and the General Assembly cannot and will not allow lawful orders to be defied. If these systems persist in resisting the order, we will have no choice but to exercise other remedial options.”

In other words, if the opt-out provision isn’t implemented, McNally likely won’t stand in the way of renewed calls for a special session in which all bets could be off.

Emissions testing to end in 5 Tennessee counties in January

Emissions testing will no longer be required in Hamilton, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson, and Wilson counties starting in January. Davidson County has elected to retain its testing requirements.

Here’s the full release from the state Department of Environment and Conservation:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) announced today that vehicle emissions testing in five Tennessee counties will end on Jan. 14, 2022 now that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a revision to the state’s air quality plan.

EPA’s approval, which was published in the Federal Register on Aug. 17, 2021 and becomes effective on Sept. 16, 2021, means vehicle emissions testing will end on Jan. 14, 2022 in five counties – Hamilton, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson. Davidson County has chosen to continue its testing program.

“This decision by EPA is a major step that means an end to mandatory tests of vehicles for many Tennesseans,” TDEC Commissioner David Salyers said. “It’s a recognition of the improvement of our state’s air quality and demonstrates the diligence Tennesseans have shown toward achieving and maintaining this goal.”

The Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill in 2018 that eliminated vehicle emissions testing in the state 120 calendar days following EPA approval. In February 2020, the state submitted to EPA its revision to the state’s air quality plan requesting removal of the vehicle emissions testing program.

“Emissions testing has been an unfair burden not only on Tennessee taxpayers, but particularly our poorest residents who are forced to remedy auto issues they can’t afford,” Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said. “The testing no longer served a purpose as most modern vehicles are aligned with emissions standards. This long-awaited decision is a tremendous win for the people of Tennessee. My only regret is Rep. Mike Carter, who also worked relentlessly to end this now needless government program, did not live to see this day.”

“Emission testing is not only time-consuming for taxpayers, but also completely unnecessary,” House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, said. “Today’s vehicles are environmentally cleaner than ever before and Tennessee’s air quality is exceptional.  I’m very proud we have finally eliminated this obsolete test that put a terrible burden on lower income families and small business owners by forcing them to pay for needless repairs.”

“I am pleased to learn that the vehicle emissions testing program is finally coming to an end,” Rep. Joan Carter, R-Ooltewah, widow of Rep. Mike Carter, said. “More fuel and energy efficient vehicles meant the program had largely outlived its usefulness, yet the financial hardship on the very Tennesseans who could least afford it remained in place. Thanks to Senator Watson, Leader Lamberth, TDEC, and all the great people across Tennessee who worked so hard to make this happen. Mike would be proud.”

“Finally we will see an end to the unnecessary stress, long waits and financial burdens placed on hardworking families in Williamson, Sumner, Rutherford, Hamilton and Wilson counties where emissions testing is required,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said. “This action puts in motion the legislation our General Assembly passed in 2018 to end emissions testing and I appreciate the efforts of all of our legislators and state officials who have worked hard to end this burdensome requirement.”

EPA determined that the removal of vehicle emissions testing in Tennessee is consistent with the federal Clean Air Act and all applicable regulations. EPA’s technical analysis concludes that after removal of vehicle emissions testing, Hamilton County and the Middle Tennessee area will continue to comply with all National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Since the NAAQS are set to protect public health and welfare, and EPA’s technical analysis shows that the areas will continue to comply with all NAAQS, public health and welfare will continue to be protected once vehicle emissions testing is removed from Tennessee’s air quality plan.

The approval becomes effective on Sept. 16, 2021, 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Tennessee law states the elimination of vehicle emissions testing is effective 120 days following EPA’s approval. Therefore, the effective end date of the program is Jan. 14, 2022. In counties where vehicle emissions testing is ending, persons registering their vehicles on or before Jan. 13, 2022 will still be required to get the vehicle emissions test. Residents in those counties who register after Jan. 13, 2022 will not have to undergo vehicle emissions testing.

Tennessee law provides an option for local agencies with their own air pollution control program to continue vehicle emissions testing. Davidson County opted to continue vehicle emissions testing.

Those who have questions regarding the elimination of vehicle emissions testing may visit the TDEC website. Tennesseans may also send questions to TDEC via this link

Read the Almanac of American Politics’ profile of Gov. Bill Lee

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following his address to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest edition of the Almanac of American Politics includes an updated profile of Gov. Bill Lee’s first term in office.

The folks over at the Almanac have graciously given the TNJ: On the Hill blog permission to post this sneak peak at the profile below (one major addendum since the text was finalized was former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Lee’s re-election bid last week):  

Businessman Bill Lee easily won the governorship of Tennessee in 2018, becoming the first Tennessee Republican to succeed a Republican governor since 1869. Lee’s victory shattered another longstanding pattern in Tennessee: Since the 1960s, partisan control of the governor’s office had changed with every new governor. This electoral habit finally came to an end as Tennessee became one of the most Republican states in the union.

Lee, a seventh-generation Tennessean from Williamson County south of Nashville, earned a mechanical engineering degree at Auburn University, then returned home to join the Lee Co., a business founded by his grandfather in 1944 that specializes in HVAC, electrical work, and plumbing. Starting in 1992, Lee served as president and CEO; by the time of his gubernatorial run, the company was employing 1,200 people and earning annual revenue of more than $220 million. The company collected $13.8 million from state contracts between 2012 and 2018, but it stopped signing new state contracts during his campaign, and Lee put his holdings into a blind trust. Separately, Lee helped operate the Triple L Ranch, a 1,000-acre farm founded by his grandparents with 300 head of Hereford cattle. Carol Ann, Lee’s wife and the mother of their four children, died in a horse-riding accident in 2000. Lee eventually became close to a third-grade teacher of one of his children, and in 2008, they married. Bill and Maria Lee attend a conservative, charismatic church, and Lee serves as a board
member of the Men of Valor prison ministry.

Lee was one of several Republicans to enter the race to succeed two-term Gov. Bill Haslam. A major business figure in the state, Haslam had come to the governorship after serving as mayor of Knoxville. He fit with the East Tennessee tradition of pragmatic Republicanism, producing achievements in education and transportation policy. Haslam often sparred with the more conservative members of his own party in the GOP-controlled state legislature, and declared he would not vote for Donald Trump in 2016, even though Trump was poised to win the state by 26 points.

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Lee declines to call special session, issues order for parents to opt kids out of mask mandates

Gov. Bill Lee arrives for a press conference on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has declined House GOP calls for a special session to block mask mandates and debate the “discrimination” against customers of private businesses who can’t prove they have been inoculated or tested for COVID-19.

Lee instead issued an executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of mask mandates for children attending K-12 schools.

Here are the governor’s remarks as prepared for delivery on Monday.

Thanks for joining today. Before we cover an important COVID-19 announcement, I want to express a heavy heart regarding the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan. Over the years, many Tennesseans were deployed and some lost their lives to fight the War on Terror and create stability in the region. 

The sacrifices of American troops are not in vain. My hope is that wisdom will prevail in the United States’ response. I hope you will join me in praying for the people of Afghanistan. 

Let me start off this portion of the briefing by saying that we’re facing a significant challenge in our hospitals as a result of the increase in COVID cases. 

The most important tool we have to fight the pandemic is a vaccine. I encourage Tennesseans who have not been vaccinated to talk to their doctor to consider getting vaccinated and to make an informed decision. I worked with my doctor and received the vaccine and it has been a dependable tool to keep me healthy. 

The government will not mandate or require anyone to get a vaccine but I encourage you to consider it for yourself. It’s widely available, it’s effective and it’s free. 

More and more Tennesseans are choosing to be vaccinated, almost 100,000 per week and this is good news for the health of our state. 

If you do become sick with COVID, early intervention is important – please call your doctor to ask about treatments. Monoclonal antibodies are widely available at 72 centers across our state and are highly effective if used early. Your doctor can advise you on the best route for you. 

I want to acknowledge the frustration and fear that many are feeling – fear of COVID and its effects on your family, fear of government intervention and its effect, and frustration over everything from masks to information that changes by the day. 

Right now, some of the greatest frustration is occurring in our K-12 schools, especially around the issue of mask mandates. While local decision-making is important, individual decision-making by a parent on issues regarding the health and well-being of their child is the most important. 

No one cares about the health and well-being of a child more than a parent. I am signing an executive order today that allows parents to opt their children out of a school mask mandate if either a school board or health board enacts one over a district. 

Districts will make the decision they believe are best for their schools, but parents will have the ultimate decision-making for their individual child’s health and well-being. I will not be calling a special session at this time. 

Our hospitals are struggling under the weight of COVID but those hospital beds are filled with adults. Requiring parents to make their children wear masks to solve an adult problem is in my view the wrong approach. 

Our hospitals and our health care workers are doing everything they can to take care of Tennesseans. That’s why I signed an executive order last week giving them maximum flexibility to do their jobs. My administration continues to provide funding and staffing support to ensure there are no barriers to hospitals facing strain. I commend them once again for their incredible work and service to Tennesseans. 

While we deal with this issue, it remains important that we keep our schools open and in person as we’ve seen the devastating loss of progress our kids have had academically when schools were remote or closed. Parents, if your children aren’t feeling well – keep them at home, stay in touch with your pediatrician. Good common sense will go a long way. 

I commend school boards across this state as most of you kept your schools open last year and are committed to doing so again this year. 

It’s frustrating that we’re headed into another school year with these challenges – it’s disheartening that the COVID challenge continues – but I’m proud of Tennesseans who, in spite of suffering, have persevered, and because of their character, there’s great hope. Thank you for joining today.

Another washout at the legislative office complex

A ruptured water main forced the closure of the Cordell Hull Building on Aug. 16, 2021.

House Republicans clamoring of a special session may want to make sure their building is dry enough to host the return of lawmakers. Another busted water main has caused the Cordell Hull Building to be closed for the second time in as many weeks.

Legislative staffers have been told to go home for the day as workers try to repair the damage. The burst water line last week flooded parts of the Capitol Hill Press Corps suite and other offices on the ground floor of the building. The previously affected areas appear to have been spared any new sogginess this time around.

Lawmakers moved into the 11-story Cordell Hull Building in late 2017. The facility originally built in 1954 had been renovated to accommodate the General Assembly at a total cost of $126 million,

See by how much Tennessee districts miss their ideal populations following census count

Lawmakers await Gov. Bill Lee arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The U.S. Census Bureau late last week released population count data to be used for the once-a-decade redistricting process. The information arrived in a legacy format that requires some massaging to make usable for legislative consultants. But the City University of New York has already processed the numbers in the form of a national map.

We’ve teased out the Tennessee numbers to show how much variance current legislative districts have with the ideal population. State case law has established General Assembly seats can fall within plus or minus 5% of the average. The bigger the variance, the more districts will have to be shifted before next year’s election.

Here are the breakdowns for the Senate and House:

SENATE:

DistrictSenatorPartyCountiesover/under
29Akbari, RaumeshDShelby (part)-12%
15Bailey, PaulRBledsoe, Cumberland, Jackson, Overton, Putnam, White3.8%
9Bell, MikeRBradley (part), McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk-5.6%
16Bowling, JaniceRCoffee, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, Sequatchie, Van Buren, Warren-1.6%
7Briggs, RichardRKnox (part)-1.8%
20Campbell, HeidiDDavidson (part)6.7%
3Crowe, RustyRCarter (part), Washington, Unicoi-6.5%
10Gardenhire, ToddRBradley (part), Hamilton (part)-4.4%
19Gilmore, BrendaDDavidson (part)8.6%
18Haile, FerrellRDavidson (part), Sumner, Trousdale13.8%
28Hensley, JoeyRGiles, Lawrence, Lewis, Maury, Perry, Wayne1.6%
27Jackson, EdRMadison, Crockett, Dyer, Lake, Lauderdale-13.2%
23Johnson, JackRWilliamson18.3%
31Kelsey, BrianRShelby (part)-0.1%
30Kyle, SaraDShelby (part)-10.3%
4Lundberg, JonRCarter (part), Johson, Sullivan-10.4%
6Massey, Becky DuncanRKnox (part)-3%
5McNally, Lt. Gov. RandyRAnderson, Knox (part), Loudon-3.5%
8Niceley, FrankRClaiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson, Union-7.6%
17Pody, MarkRCannon, Clay, DeKalb, Macon, Smith, Wilson12.2%
22Powers, BillRStewart, Houston, Montgomery15.6%
14Reeves, ShaneRBedford, Lincoln, Marshall, Moore, Rutherford (part)4.2%
25Roberts, KerryRCheatham, Dickson, Hickman, Humphreys, Robertson1.3%
33Robinson, KatrinaDShelby (part)-5.1%
32Rose, PaulRTipton, Shelby (part)0.6%
1Southerland, SteveRCocke, Greene, Hamblen, Sevier (part)-7%
24Stevens, JohnRBenton, Carroll, Gibson, Henry, Obion, and Weakle-9%
2Swann, ArtRBlount, Sevier (part)0%
26Walley, PageRChester, Decatur, Fayette, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, McNairy-7.1%
11Watson, BoRHamilton (part)-1.4%
13White, DawnRRutherford (part)19.1%
12Yager, KenRCampbell, Fentress, Morgan, Rhea, Roane, Pickett, Scott Counties-8.4%
21Yarbro, JeffDDavidson (part)12%

HOUSE

DistrictIncumbentPartyCountiesover/under
7Alexander, RebeccaRWashington (part)-5.2%
37Baum, CharlieRRutherford (part)15.1%
51Beck, BillDDavidson (part)7.9%
46Boyd, ClarkRCannon, DeKalb (part), Wilson (part)14.7%
47Bricken, RushRCoffee, Warren (part)2.2%
71Byrd, DavidRHardin, Lawrence (part), Lewis, Wayne,-10.3%
32Calfee, KentRLoudon (part), Roane (part)-10.4%
3Campbell, ScottyRCarter (part), Johnson, Sullivan (part)-9.1%
87Camper, KarenDShelby (part)-2.5%
12Carr, DaleRSevier (part)-4.7%
16Carringer, MicheleRKnox (part)-4.9%
29Carter, JoanRHamiton (part)15.1%
63Casada, GlenRWilliamson (part)42.9%
64Cepicky, ScottRMaury (part)14.4%
85Chism, JesseDShelby (part)-3.3%
55Clemmons, John RayDDavidson (part)0.2%
23Cochran, MarkRMcMinn, Monroe (part)-2.1%
86Cooper, BarbaraDShelby (part)-8.8%
1Crawford, JohnRSullivan (part)-13.5%
69Curcio, MichaelRDickson (part), Hickman, Maury (part) 1.8%
76Darby, TandyRCarroll (part), Obion (part), Weakley-15.9%
54Dixie, VincentDDavidson (part)-5.1%
70Doggett, ClayRGiles, Lawrence (part)-3.2%
10Eldridge, RickRHamblen-7.6%
11Faison, JeremyRCocke, Greene (part), Jefferson (part) -10.6%
17Farmer, AndrewRJefferson (part), Sevier (part)-3.1%
56Freeman, BobDDavidson (part)1.5%
94Gant, RonRHardeman (part), Fayette, McNairy1%
45Garrett, JohnnyRSumner (part)10.4%
97Gillespie, JohnRShelby (part)0.5%
75Griffey, BruceRBenton, Henry, Stewart-11.6%
77Grills, RustyRDyer, Lake, Obion (part)-10.4%
28Hakeem, YusufDHamiton (part)-2.1%
79Halford, CurtisRCarroll (part), Gibson-6.8%
24Hall, MarkRBradley (part)0.4%
93Hardaway, G. A.DShelby (part)-8.8%
90Harris, Torrey C.DShelby (part)-15.3%
72Haston, KirkRChester, Decatur, Henderson, Perry-6.9%
5Hawk, DavidRGreene (part)-10.3%
27Hazlewood, PatsyRHamilton (part)1.6%
30Helton, EstherRHamilton (part)6.9%
9Hicks, GaryRWashington (part)-9.2%
6Hicks, TimRwashington-4.3%
67Hodges, JasonDMontgomery (part)15.2%
4Holsclaw, JohnRCarter (part), Unicoi-8.7%
22Howell, DanRBradley (part), Meigs, Polk-1.4%
2Hulsey, BudRSullivan (part)-10%
82Hurt, ChrisRCrockett, Haywood, Lauderdale-18.5%
60Jernigan, DarrenDDavidson (part)-0.5%
68Johnson, CurtisRMontgomery (part)30.5%
13Johnson, GloriaDKnox (part)-5.1%
38Keisling, KellyRClay, Fentress (part), Macon, Pickett, Scott-2.3%
66Kumar, SabiRRobertson4.3%
89Lafferty, JustinRKnox (part)8.1%
91Lamar, LondonDShelby (part)-16.7%
44Lamberth, WilliamRSumner (part)22.6%
99Leatherwood, TomRShelby (part)1.5%
78Littleton, MaryRCheatham, Dickson (part)0.8%
58Love, HaroldDDavidson (part)5.8%
57Lynn, SusanRWilson (part)27%
18Mannis, EddieRKnox (part)-2.5%
62Marsh, PatRBedford, Lincoln (part)-2.1%
15McKenzie, SamDKnox (part)-7.4%
88Miller, LarryDShelby (part)-9.2%
50Mitchell, BoDDavidson (part)0.7%
81Moody, DebraRTipton-12.7%
8Moon, JeromeRBlount (part)-5.4%
61Ogles, BrandonRWilliamson (part)2.6%
98Parkinson, AntonioDShelby (part)-8.6%
59Potts, JasonDDavidson (part)8%
53Powell, JasonDDavidson (part)5.9%
36Powers, DennisRAnderson (part), Campbell, Union (part)-11.8%
33Ragan, JohnRAnderson (part)-2.6%
20Ramsey, BobRBlount (part)-0.8%
74Reedy, JayRHouston, Humphreys, Montgomery (part)8.7%
34Rudd, TimRRutherford (part)42.8%
39Rudder, IrisRFranklin (part), Marion (part), Moore-9.4%
21Russell, LowellRLoudon (part), Monroe (part)1.6%
25Sexton, CameronRCumberland, Putnam (part), Van Buren 4.7%
35Sexton, JerryRClaiborne, Grainger, Union (part)-10.9%
80Shaw, JohnnyDHardeman (part), Madison (part)-18.6%
43Sherrell, PaulRGrundy, White, Warren (part)-2.1%
26Smith, RobinRHamilton (part)3.1%
49Sparks, MikeRRutherford (part)15.5%
52Stewart, MikeDDavidson (part)4.2%
48Terry, BryanRRutherford (part)15.8%
96Thompson, DwayneDShelby (part)3%
73Todd, ChrisRMadison (part)-7.2%
84Towns, JoeDShelby (part)-2.9%
31Travis, RonRBledsoe, Rhea, Roane (part), Sequatchie-0.2%
95Vaughan, KevinRShelby (part)4.2%
92Warner, ToddRFranklin (part), Lincoln (part), Marion (part), Marshall-5%
40Weaver, Terri LynnRDeKalb (part), Smith, Sumner (part), Trousdale12.8%
83White, MarkRShelby (part)-1.4%
65Whitson, SamRWilliamson (part)9.3%
42Williams, RyanRPutnam (part)6.1%
41Windle, John MarkDFentress (part), Jackson, Morgan, Overton-6.7%
19Wright, DaveRKnox (part)-4.6%
14Zachary, JasonRKnox (part)2.5%

Tennessee GOP approves fee schedule for primary candidates

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

The executive committee of the Tennessee Republican Party has voted to impose fees on candidates seeking to run in GOP primaries. The vote was 33-22.

The fees are based on a sliding scale depending on the office sought. Here is what future Republican candidate will have to cough up when they file their papers:

  • Governor: $5,000.
  • U.S. Senate: $5,000.
  • U.S. House: $2,500.
  • State Senate: $1,000.
  • State House: $500.
  • Judicial offices: $500.
  • Countywide elected offices: $100.
  • County Commission or Constable: $25.

New edition alert: Sexton brings pressure for special session. Now can he deliver?

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

This week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what’s in it:

— Sexton pressures Lee to call session to halt COVID-19 mandates. But getting signatures for a letter is one thing, finding consensus is another.

— Lee already ranks third for special sessions and new one would make him No. 2 among all Tennessee governors.

— Opt-out provision to mask mandates posited as a way to take down the temperature.

— Census numbers start trickling in as lawmakers nervously ponder the future shape of their districts.

Also: Easley dismisses conspiracy theories about quarantine camps, WPLN -FM hires a new political reporter, the Titans launch a new PAC, and GOP lawmakers confirm they consider it their duty to tell locals what to do.

Access the your TNJ copy here or subscribe here.

Quarantine camps? Governor’s top lobbyist dispels myths about executive order

Gov. Bill Lee speaks in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s top legialtive lobbyist, Brent Easley, has written a letter to lawmakers seeking to dispel what he called conspiracy theories about an executive order authorizing the Tennessee National Guard to continue to help giving COVID-19 vaccines and tests.

Read the whole thing in all its glory below:

Importance: High

Members,

Over the past few days, a number of you have reached out seeking information for your constituents as they have contacted you regarding several conspiracy theories that are unfortunately being shared as fact. These rumors distort Executive Order 83 that was signed on Friday, and we wanted to provide you with some additional information as you craft responses.

Five of the most frequently shared items that have been relayed to our offices are…

— The EO creates “quarantine camps” – FALSE.

— Tennesseans serving in the National Guard will be used to round up citizens that are unvaccinated and take them to locations to be quarantined or vaccinated – FALSE.

— Tennesseans serving in the National Guard will be coming to forcibly vaccinate citizens in their homes – FALSE – This is specifically prohibited by state law as well.

— This executive order is laying the groundwork for permanent lockdowns – FALSE.

— That Covid-19 vaccines are being given to livestock so it will enter the -food supply to vaccinate citizens through their meat consumption – FALSE.

All of these examples, and related rumors, are demonstrably false. Additionally, Tennesseans who serve in our National Guard have faithfully served their communities in many capacities this year and we are grateful that they remain committed to serving their neighbors.

Below are some of the key components of that Executive Order that are most frequently being misinterpreted. All of these items were included in previous EOs as well.

Section 8 allows members of the Tennessee National Guard to continue supporting our state’s response to Covid-19 in ways like administering tests, helping with voluntary vaccine distribution or driving ambulances if there is a shortage of qualified drivers. It is critical that we allow the flexibility for our National Guard members to lean in whenever a need is identified.

Section 14 allows for telehealth assessments with regard to existing mental health commitment procedures. There is no expansion or substantive change to existing mental health law processes and protections.

Section 18 is related to healthcare facility policies, and provides flexibility for hospitals to set up alternate care sites on their grounds such as tents in parking lots or use of a conference room to treat patients. This flexibility was included so that medical facilities can have this tool in their toolbox if extra space is needed.

We are responding to constituents who reach out with concerns and hope you will join us in sharing the facts. If you have additional questions on these items, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or anyone on my team.

Best,
Brent Easley

House Republicans urge Lee to call special session to restrict COVID-19 response

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

All 73 members of the House Republican Caucus have signed on to a letter urging Gov. Bill Lee to call a special session to curtail local authorities’ powers to impose mask mandates or for businesses to restrict access to only those who have been vaccinated or tested negative.

There are two ways for a special session to occur. The governor can call one (and limit the scope of what’s taken up) or lawmakers can collect the signatures of two-thirds of both chambers to call themselves back in. The House letter sent to Lee on Wednesday is not the same as issuing their own call. Senate leadership has not been quite as gung-ho about storming into another special session while the delta variant of the virus is on the rise.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Governor Lee:

The General Assembly of the State of Tennessee has a constitutional duty to enact general law to shape the options, decisions, and priorities of our local governments, including local boards and other local entities.

We write today to request that you call an extraordinary session of the General Assembly in order for the legislature to convene and address misdirected and mandated responses to COVID-19 by local entities and officials. It is of the utmost urgency to move quickly due to the potential of significant harm to Tennesseans.

We believe there is a need to curtail the overreach by independent health boards and officials, confirm a parent’s right to make decisions that impact the mental and physical health of their children, provide support and direction to schools to ensure educators are properly compensated for COVID-19 leave, and protect all Tennesseans from misdirected mandates designed to limit their ability to make their own decisions.

The six independent health boards, along with unelected officials, have made and will continue to make decisions that stifle access to educational opportunities for our children and infringe on their freedoms and liberty. Some of these mandates have been accompanied by threats of reckless endangerment, school closure, and segregating students based on vaccination status.

We believe there is much debate and action needed around the appropriate balance of parents’ right to make healthcare decisions for their children and the government’s ability to mandate healthcare decisions upon them.

Finally, in addition to the debate needed around continued COVID-19 mandates, the General Assembly needs to evaluate the ongoing discrimination of Tennesseans by prohibiting their access to buildings due only to their vaccination status.

Therefore, we request that you, by virtue of the power and authority vested in your office pursuant to Article III, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution, call the One Hundred and Twelfth General Assembly of the State of Tennessee to convene in extraordinary session for the purposes stated above as well as addressing other issues related to COVID-19. We look forward to working with you to pass meaningful legislation so that-Tennessee children, families, and businesses can continue to thrive.