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Farmer challenging Lamberth for majority leader

Reps. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), right, and Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) speak before a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville) is challenging Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland) for the position of House majority leader this fall, according to a letter to colleagues obtained by the The Tennessee Journal.

Farmer and Lamberth were two of four Republican attorneys first elected to the House in 2012 (the other two were Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah and disgraced former Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin). Farmer won the District 17 seat following Republican Rep. Frank Niceley’s election to the state Senate, while Lamberth was elected the District 44 seat vacated by the retirement of Rep. Mike McDonald (D-Portland).

Lamberth won the chamber’s No. 2 leadership position in November 2018 in the same caucus election that saw Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) nominated for what turned out to be a truncated speakership.

Here’s Farmer’s letter:

Dear Members,

As most of you know, I have been considering the opportunity to run for a caucus leadership position. Realizing the challenges of the upcoming session, I am ready to work with you to face those challenges to make a positive impact on our great state. After much prayer, deliberation and discussion with my wife and family, I have decided to announce my candidacy for House Majority Leader.

Our caucus benefits from a wide range of abilities, viewpoints and experiences among the members. As Majority Leader, I will work to help every member effectively represent their district. We all deserve to make a difference, and that is only accomplished when all of our voices are heard. We only reach our full potential when we recognize the wisdom of our constituents who put us here in the first place. After more than a decade as an attorney I have experienced the challenges that individuals, businesses, and families face. I have learned that listening and understanding their needs are always the first step in helping. By applying those same principles we can make the upcoming session both exciting and productive.

I appreciate the support that so many of you have already offered and I look forward to meeting individually with each one of you to discuss how we, together can reach new heights as a unified caucus. I am respectfully asking each of you for your support and vote.

Sincerely,

Andrew Farmer

Report: Lawmaker’s furniture company struck deal to supply hospital gowns to state

Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) attends a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

WTVF-TV investigative reporter Phil Williams is raising questions about no-bid contracts handed out to politically connected vendors amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One of them appears to have been state Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), who landed a deal to supply hospital gowns through his furniture company.

According to Williams, Sexton’s arrangment was to supply $165,000 worth of gowns at $5.50 a piece, nearly double the amount charged by other vendors. Sexton delivered the gowns but the purchase order was canceled after the TV station began asking questions. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declined to say why.

According to Williams’ report:

Sexton, who still hasn’t been paid, declined NewsChannel 5’s request to explain what happened.

[State Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville] noted that state law makes it illegal for state officials to bid on state contracts, although various attorney general’s opinions have raised questions about whether that statute applies in such cases.

Yarbro said it at least raises some ethical red flags.

“If in the early days of COVID, we weren’t paying attention to that basic rule and were planning to pay a legislator, I think it raises significant questions about just the level of oversight into all of these contracts.”

Poll finds partisan divide on return of high school sports in Nashville

A poll commissioned by Baker Group Strategies finds 49% of Nashvillians support allowing high school sports to resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic, while 45% oppose.

The feeling was stronger among Republicans, who support a return of sports without spectators by a 72% to 21% margin. Just 38% of Democrats supported a return, while 57% opposed. Fifty-three percent of indpndents support resuming sprots, while 42% oppose. Democrats support is just 38% – 57%. Among Independents support is 53% – 42%.

Here is a breakdown among various subgroups (note that the Baker group is consulting on Republican state Sen. Steve Dickerson’s re-election campaign in District 20):

SUBGROUPSUPPORTOPPOSEDIFFERENCE
Conservatives70%26%44%
New Voters 63%31%32%
Non-College Men59%35%24%
Men 45+57%39%18%
State Senate District 2051%42%9%
Moderates47%45%2%

The phone poll of 500 registered voters found 78% find the quality of life in Nashville to be good or excellent, while 21% said it’s not so good or poor. Among college educated voters, 83% had a positive outlook on living in the city, while 71% of non-college educated voters felt the same.

However, just 37% of voters said they think Nashville is headed in the right direction, while 44% said it is going in the wrong direction.

Tennessee updates COVID-19 reporting details

Gov. Bill Lee, left, announces a $200 million relief program for businesses affected by the state’s stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses at Arnold’s restaurant in Nashville on June 2, 2020. To his right are House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Rep. Pat Marsh, and Rep. Harold Love. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s adminstration is updating the way it discloses COVID-19 information. Here’s the full release::

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Health is improving the format for sharing of data on COVID-19 to update how some metrics are calculated and reflect evolving knowledge of the pandemic. The new format will begin September 3, 2020 and reflect a change in how active cases are calculated and a correction in county of residence for some cases. In addition, TDH is adding new resources including data snapshots for each county and a Critical Indicators Report. TDH data on COVID-19 will be posted at 3 p.m. CDT Sept. 3 at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html as the new format is implemented.

“We’re pleased to be adding new reports to help support rapid public health actions in Tennessee communities,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP. “We also want to promote data transparency and help Tennesseans understand the reason case counts for some counties will change as we correct information based on their addresses.”

Reporting Inactive/Recovered Cases

Starting Sept. 3, TDH case count reports will include figures for “Inactive/Recovered” cases and will no longer include data for “Recovered” cases. “Inactive/Recovered” cases will include people who are 14 days or more beyond their illness onset date (or, for asymptomatic cases, their specimen collection date). This will more closely align with what is now understood about the infectious period of COVID-19, as recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show most patients with COVID-19 are no longer infectious after 10 days.

Previously, TDH considered a case recovered after a 21-day period.

Correcting County Locations

TDH is also correcting discrepancies in county location for about 1,700 cases, as the county to which they were originally assigned does not correspond correctly to their street addresses. This can occur in laboratory reports because some lab systems automatically assign county location based on the patient’s ZIP code, which may be incorrect if the ZIP code straddles county lines. These cases will be corrected all at once, which will result in case count changes for some counties. A solution is in place to automate this process in the future.

New Reports and Data Points

Starting Sept. 3, individual County Data Snapshots will provide information on case counts, hospitalizations, testing and more for each county at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov/data/county-data-snapshot.html. In addition, the new weekly Critical Indicators Report includes information to help stakeholders monitor trends in cases, symptoms, testing capabilities and health care system capacity. Find the Critical Indicators Report online at www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/health/documents/cedep/novel- coronavirus/CriticalIndicatorReport.pdf. TDH is also adding data on current hospitalizations to daily information posted at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html.

Tennessee’s county health departments continue to offer COVID-19 testing at no charge to anyone who wishes to be tested. Find a map of health department locations and contact information online at www.tn.gov/content/tn/health/cedep/ncov/remote-assessment- sites.html. County health department testing sites will be closed Sept. 7 for Labor Day.

TDH is posting updated COVID-19 case numbers by 2 p.m. CDT each day at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html. Find additional information at www.tn.gov/governor/covid-19.html and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

For real this time? Lawmakers adjourn

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

The General Assembly concluded a three-day special session Wednesday evening to complete unfinished business dating back to its a blowup between House and Senate Republicans at the end of the regular session in June.

The agenda included Covid-19 lawsuit protections for businesses and schools, a telehealth bill, and a sweeping effort to crack down on protest that have raged around the Capitol for weeks.

According to The Tennessean:

Unlike when the legislature adjourned its regular session in June, when the legislative chambers traded barbs while House Democrats urged reforms on policing and race, internal fireworks during the special session were minimal. The most significant confrontations during the relatively pain-free special session came when protesters repeatedly blocked lawmakers’ access out of their office building. 

The Daily Mempian reported:

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat, said she wants to make sure it doesn’t protect “bad actors” that might put up signs prohibiting masks or refuse to clean their facilities […] Bell contended those types of cases would be decided in court if a business is “grossly negligent” by refusing to follow safety guidelines. He argued, nevertheless, the legislation would offer protection to large businesses statewide, including Amazon and Nissan, as well as a bakery in tiny Eagleville and schools.

And the AP summed it up as follows:

Efforts to increase law enforcement oversight were rebuffed by the GOP-dominant Statehouse. Instead, the majority white General Assembly chose to focus their attention on the ongoing protests that have been led by mostly young Black activists outside the Capitol, who have been calling for racial justice reforms for the past two months.

Hagerty gets Right to Life endorsement

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bill Hagerty appears at a Republican event in Franklin on Aug. 8, 2020 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The National Right to Life Committee has endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty following his Republican primary win last week. The move comes as a bit of a surprise because Hagerty has expressed support for keeping access to abortions to women who are victims of incest or rape and for mothers whose pregnancies put their lives in danger. A similar position by U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn has long kept the Brentwood Republican from gaining the Right to Life endorsement.

Here’s the release from the Hagerty campaign:

Nashville, TN — Today, Bill Hagerty, Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, announced the National Right to Life Committee endorsed Hagerty to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“As a Christian conservative and a father of four children, I know just how precious the right to life is, and I am humbled to have the support of the National Right to Life Committee,” said Bill Hagerty. “Radical Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden, seek to implement their socialist agenda that includes abortion funded by taxpayers for any reason up to and even after the moment of birth. As your Senator, I will be a voice for the voiceless, fight for pro-life legislation including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and work to defund Planned Parenthood once and for all.”

“National Right to Life is pleased to endorse Bill Hagerty for election to the U.S. Senate, to represent the state of Tennessee,” said Carol Tobias, National Right to Life Committee President. “Bill is a strong advocate for life. All Tennessee voters who are concerned with the right to life and with the protection of the most vulnerable members of the human family should vote to send Bill to the Senate, so that he can work to advance vital pro-life public policies.”

National Right To Life Committee joins the Susan B. Anthony List in supporting Bill Hagerty for Senate.

House drops proposal to have AG prosecute protest crimes, cost per conviction projected at $500K

House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) makes an announcement before Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state House has dropped a proposal to give the state Attorney General the power to prosecute crimes committed by protesters.

The Daily Memphian reports House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) dropped the provision after hearing concerns from the District Attorneys General Conference.

Under the bill enhancing penalties for various unruly behavior, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation could be called in.

Attorney General Slatery Herbert Slatery’s office said the legislation reflects a “widely held sentiment that laws be enforced” if state prpoerty is damaged or law enforecement agents are injured.

“If the General Assembly wants us to take on additional responsibilities, there will be a number of steps to consider. If requested, we will obviously engage in those discussions,” said AG spokeswoman Samantha Fisher.

The fiscal note on the bill enhancing penalties for illegal camping on state property to a Class E felony places the cost for each conviction at more than $500,000. But nobody has been convicted under the existing illegal camping laws over the last five years, leading Fiscal Review to deem the impact to be “not significant.”

UPDATE: The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday amended its version of the bill to decrease the severity of the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Facebook to build $800M datacenter in Gallatin

A rendering of the new Facebook datacenter in Gallatin.

Social media giant Facebook is building an $800 million datacenter in Gallatin, according to the state Department of Economic and Community Development. More than 1,100 construction workers are expected to work on the project at its peak.

Here’s the ECD release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) officials announced today that the global technology company will invest $800 million to build a new state-of-the-art data center in Gallatin.

Once operational, the project is estimated to support approximately 100 jobs and will have more than 1,100 construction workers on site at peak. The data center will support a variety of positions and job types, from technical operations, electricians, logistics staff, security and more. Construction has just begun on the 982,000-square-foot facility.

The Facebook Gallatin Data Center will be among the most advanced, energy- and water- efficient data center facilities in the world. It will be supported by 100 percent renewable energy, will use 80 percent less water than the average, and, once completed, will be LEED Gold certified. Facebook has already partnered with the TVA to bring 220 MW of new solar energy to the Tennessee Valley to support Facebook’s operations in the region.

The announcement is the culmination of a three-year recruitment effort by the Gallatin Economic Development Agency, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and Tennessee Valley Authority.

Facebook will join several other large brand names located in the Gallatin Industrial Park, including Beretta USA, Gap and SERVPRO.

Since 2015, TNECD has supported 13 economic development projects in Sumner County, resulting in more than 2,000 job commitments and $223 million in capital investment.

QUOTES

“It is a testament to the quality of our business environment and the competitive spirit of our state that in this economy we are able to attract one of the world’s largest companies to our state. We welcome Facebook to Tennessee, and we are excited about the investment, quality jobs and economic opportunity they will bring to Gallatin.” – Gov. Bill Lee

“Tennessee is known for the companies that call our state home, and we are proud to welcome another globally recognized brand to our roster. Facebook could have chosen anywhere in the world for its newest state-of-the-art data center, and it means a great deal that the company has chosen Gallatin. This substantial investment will make a lasting impact on Sumner County for years to come, and we thank Facebook for its confidence in Tennessee.” – TNECD Commissioner Bob Rolfe

“We chose Gallatin because of its terrific infrastructure, talented workforce, and the spirit of partnership the community offered. This technology is actually what makes Facebook work, allowing people around the world to connect to each other. We are thrilled to be joining the Gallatin community.” – Rachel Peterson, VP of Data Center Strategy, Facebook

“Our community made the decision three years ago to pursue technology jobs as part of our economic development strategy. We are pleased to welcome Facebook to Gallatin, and we look forward to the positive impact they will have on our city.” – Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown

“TVA congratulates Facebook on its decision to locate and create quality job opportunities and significant investment in Gallatin. This public-private partnership demonstrates the strength of TVA’s public power model to deliver clean, renewable energy at competitive costs to stimulate investment and jobs that help communities grow. We are building the energy system of the future, and we are proud to work partners like Gallatin Department of Electricity, the City of Gallatin and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development to help bring more top-tier companies like Facebook into our region.”  – John Bradley, TVA Senior Vice President of Economic Development

“This is a huge investment by Facebook and is tremendous news for Sumner County. It is a testament not only to the strong talent pool we have in our local workforce, but to the hard work done for many months by Gallatin’s Economic Development team, Governor Bill Lee, Commissioner Bob Rolfe, and other essential community partners to bring these high quality jobs home. I was proud to partner with them. It will also be a catalyst for more companies to see all that Sumner County and Gallatin have to offer with our low taxes, high quality of life, prime location and business friendly environment.” – Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin)

Your comprehensive guide to contested primaries for the Tennessee General Assembly

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

Today is primary election day in Tennessee. If you’ve been reading The Tennessee Journal and this blog, you know who’s duking out at the top of the ticket in U.S. Senate and House races. But some of the toughest fights are occurring among candidates seeking their respective party nominations for legislative seats around the state.

Here’s your comprehensive guide for contested primaries for the state House and Senate. Incumbents are listed in italics. Open seats are  in bold.

District Party Name City
Senate 6 D Sam Brown Knoxville
D Jane George Knoxville
Senate 20 D Kimi Abernathy Nashville
D Heidi Campbell Nashville
Senate 22 R Doug Englen Clarksville
R Bill Powers Clarksville
Senate 24 R Casey L Hood Obion
R John D. Stevens Huntingdon
Senate 26 R Jai Templeton Stantonville
R Page Walley Bolivar
Senate 30 D Marion Latroy A-Williams Jr. Memphis
D Sara P. Kyle Memphis
Senate 32 R Paul W. Rose Covington
R Scott Throckmorton Collierville
House 3 R Scotty Campbell Mountain City
R Neal Kerney Mountain City
House 4 R Robert (Bob) Acuff Elizabethton
R John B. Holsclaw Jr Johnson City
R Tim Lingerfelt Erwin
House 6 R Tim Hicks Gray
R Micah Van Huss Gray
House 7 R Rebecca Keefauver Alexander Jonesborough
R Matthew Hill Jonesborough
House 15 D Sam McKenzie Knoxville
D Matthew Park Knoxville
D Rick Staples Knoxville
House 16 R Patti Lou Bounds Knoxville
R Michele Carringer Knoxville
House 18 R Eddie Mannis Knoxville
R Gina Oster Knoxville
House 20 R Bob Ramsey Maryville
R Bryan Richey Maryville
House 32 R Kent Calfee Kingston
R Mike Hooks Kingston
 House 42 R Dennis C Bynum Cookeville
R Ryan Williams Cookeville
House 43 R Jerry Lowery Sparta
R Bobby Robinson Sparta
R Paul Sherrell Sparta
House 47 R Rush Bricken Tullahoma
R Ronnie E. Holden Tullahoma
House 52 D Mike Stewart Nashville
D James C. Turner II Antioch
House 54 D Terry Clayton Nashville
D Vincent Dixie Nashville
House 60 D Darren Jernigan Old Hickory
D Grant Thomas Medeiros Nashville
House 71 R David “Coach” Byrd Waynesboro
R Austin Carroll Hohenwald
R Garry Welch Savannah
House 72 R Kirk Haston Lobelville
R Gordon Wildridge Lexington
House 76 R Tandy Darby Greenfield
R Dennis J. Doster Dresden
R David Hawks Martin
R John McMahan Union City
R Keith Priestley McKenzie
House 78 R James Ebb Gupton Jr. Ashland City
R Mary Littleton Dickson
House 79 R Curtis Halford Dyer
R Christine Warrington Humboldt
House 84 D Dominique Primer Memphis
D Joe Towns Jr. Memphis
House 85 D Jesse Chism Memphis
D Alvin Crook Memphis
House 86 D Barbara Cooper Memphis
D Austin A. Crowder Memphis
D Dominique Frost Memphis
D JoAnn Wooten-Lewis Cordova
House 88 D Larry J. Miller Memphis
D Orrden W. Williams Jr. Memphis
House 90* D Torrey C. Harris Memphis
D Anya Parker Memphis
D Catrina Smith Memphis
House 92 R Vincent A. Cuevas Lewisburg
R Rick Tillis Lewisburg
R Todd Warner Cornersburg
House 97 R John Gillespie Memphis
R Brandon S. Weise Memphis
D Allan Creasy Memphis
D Ruby Powell-Dennis Cordova
D Gabby Salinas Memphis
D Clifford Stockton III Cordova
House 98 D Antonio Parkinson Memphis
D Charles A. Thompson Memphis
House 99 R Tom Leatherwood Arlington
R Lee Mills Arlington

(*Longtime Rep. John DeBerry has said he plans to run as an independent in House 90 after being ousted from the primary ballot by the state Democratic Party)

Supreme Court: Reversal on vulnerable voters makes absentee balloting ruling unnecessary

The state Supreme Court has vacated a lower court’s temporary injunction allowing anyone fearful of contracting COVID-19 to cast absentee ballots after the state reversed itself to say it considers people with an underlying vulnerability to the virus — or those caring for someone who does — to be eligible to vote by mail.

State Election Coordinator Mark Goins told Associated Press reporter Jonathan Mattise in May that “in consultation with the Attorney General’s office the fear of getting ill does not fall under the definition of ill.”

But under questioning during oral arguments in the Supreme Court last week, Janet Kleinfelder of the AG’s office conceded that voters’ underlying conditions or of those living with them would be allowed to vote by mail.

“If the voter has made that decision, then yes, they may vote absentee,” Kleinfelter said.

Justice Cornelia Clark wrote in the majority opinion:

At oral argument before this Court, the State conceded that, under its interpretation […] persons who have underlying medical or health conditions which render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it (“persons with special vulnerability to COVID-19”), as well as those who are caretakers for persons with special vulnerability to COVID-19, already are eligible to vote absentee by mail. We hold that injunctive relief is not necessary with respect to such plaintiffs and persons. We instruct the State to ensure that appropriate guidance, consistent with the State’s acknowledged interpretation, is provided to Tennessee registered voters with respect to the eligibility of such persons to vote absentee by mail in advance of the November 2020 election.

The high court said the lower court erred in extending the order to people who have no specific vulnerability to COVID-19.