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New Library and Archives building to open April 13

A rendering of the Tennessee State Library and Archives Building (Image credit: Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office)

The new Tennessee State Library and Archives building is scheduled to open on April 13. Secretary of State Tre Hargett is organizing a parade for the transfer of Tennessee first three constitutions to the new facility on Monday.

The $124 million structure — which some critics have dubbed the Taj Ma-Hargett — has been under construction since 2017. It is located across from the new Tennessee State Museum on Bicentennial Mall.

The Archives are under the jurisdiction of the legislative branch of government, while the museum falls under the aegis of the executive branch.

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee State Library and Archives, TSLA, is scheduled to open to the public on April 13, 2021, in its new location on the northeast corner of the Bicentennial Mall at the intersection of Rep. John Lewis Way N. and Jefferson St.

“It is an exciting time for TSLA as we are only weeks away from opening the doors to this important resource for our great state,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. “This state-of-the-art facility will ensure Tennessee’s history will be properly preserved and accessible for generations to come.”

After more than a year of preparation, TSLA staff started moving and installing collections and exhibits in the new building at the beginning of February.

“Countless hours of planning by our staff has gone into carefully and thoughtfully transporting our historical documents, manuscripts and collections,” said Chuck Sherrill, Tennessee State Librarian and Archivist.

“Thanks to the dedication of our staff and the professionalism of our moving contractor, most of the 500,000 books and 40,000 boxes of archival material in our collection will be available for Tennesseans when we open our doors in April.”

The new 165,000 square foot facility includes a climate-controlled chamber for safely storing historic books and manuscripts with a space-saving robotic retrieval system. A new blast freezer will allow TSLA staff to help save materials damaged by water or insects following floods and other disasters. The new facility also has classrooms for student groups and meeting space for training librarians and archivists.

The larger and more technologically advanced building is a major upgrade from TSLA’s current 1950s era home. The new facility has the much needed space to properly house collections, improved climate controls and increased handicapped access. The extra space and efficiency will increase TSLA’s capacity by nearly 40 percent from 542,700 to 759,500 items.

The 110th General Assembly approved funding in 2017 and 2018 for the new facility. Although the project timeline was adjusted slightly after the March 2020 tornados, construction remained within the $123.8 million budget.

A ribbon cutting event will be held on April 12, with virtual viewing details forthcoming. The new building will open to the public with limited capacity due to COVID-19 safe precautions on April 13.

For the latest information about the new building opening, follow the TSLA’s social media channels: Facebook: Tennessee State Library and Archives and Instagram: @tnlibarchives along with the Secretary of State’s Twitter account: @SecTreHargett.

About the Tennessee State Library and Archives
The office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett oversees the operations of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. By law, it is required to preserve Tennessee’s legal and civic history by housing the archives of state government and collections of records from families, churches, businesses and organizations. TSLA is home to many notable historic documents including Tennessee’s Constitutions, letters from Tennessee’s three presidents, Civil War diaries, records of 55 past Governors of the State and original records and maps of the State of Franklin. The collections include copies of virtually every book published about Tennessee and Tennesseans. Original documents from court cases and legislation along with audio recordings of legislative proceedings since 1955 are preserved by TSLA. Copies of the records from every Tennessee courthouse and all surviving Tennessee newspapers can also be viewed in the library’s collections.

Virtual reception, real Jack Daniel’s for lawmakers

A Jack Daniel’s pickup truck is parked in spot reserved for the House speaker’s office outside the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville on Feb. 24, 2021. (Sam Stockard, Tennessee Lookout)

Jack Daniel’s representatives were at the state Capitol complex today, handing out free bottles of Tennessee whiskey and gift bags to lawmakers in advance of a “virtual reception,” the Tennessee Lookout’s Sam Stockard reports.

In-person legislative receptions are on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the Lynchburg distiller has invited lawmakers to join a viewing of a Jack Daniel’s documentary from their homes or offices.

“Please mark your calendars for this exclusive opportunity as we toast and honor the Tennessee Legislature,” the invitation says.

Most gifts to lawmakers are banned under ethics rules, though lobbyists and their employers can offer free food and drink as long as each legislator is invited. But those events are generally held off-site when alcohol is involved.

According to the Ethics and Campaign Finance Bureau, Brown-Forman properly applied to hold the virtual reception, although the expense per person is pending. Jack Daniel’s corporate parent Brown-Forman did ask permission from the Ethics Commission, but didn’t run the idea past Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge). A spokesman for House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said he was aware the liquor had been offered to all members.

Longtime Capitol watchers said the whiskey handout reminded them of the time when a liquor lobbyist would cover the the cost of any liquor picked up by legislators at the old Hermitage package store or when a beer lobbyist would place free suds in the car of any member who left their trunk lid open.

Feds rescind effort to lock in Medicaid changes made by Trump administration

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)

A little over two weeks before President Donald Trump left office, the Republican administration sent out a letter to states like Tennessee to declare it was locking in any approved changes to Medicaid programs for a period of at least nine months. Democratic President Joe Biden is now rescinding that guidance, meaning that previously approved demonstration projects or waivers could be withdrawn at any time.

The most immediate effect of the move could be a cancellation of work requirements for Medicaid recipients that had been approved in several states. But Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation block grant could also be on the chopping block.

“We’re the first state in America that just got a federal waiver for Medicaid that allows us to share savings with the federal government,” Gov. Bill Lee told the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of partisan squabbling about that, but that was a business deal that was negotiated over a year-and-a-half that will allow Tennessee to have more money to spend on its Medicaid population than it would have underer a traditional Medicaid agreement.”

Read the full letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to TennCare Director Stephen Smith below.

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Lee joins call for Biden to withdraw moratorium on oil and gas exploration on federal land

Tennessee’s Bill Lee is joining 16 other Republican governors in calling on Democratic President Joe Biden to rescind an executive order placing a moratorium on oil and gas explosion on federal land and offshore.

Most of the governors signing the letter come from major fossil fuel producing states like Alaska, Texas, and Wyoming. By comparison, Tennessee is a bit player in oil and gas exploration.

According to 2014 information from the Tennessee Oil and Gas Association, most of the oil and gas drilling activity was concentrated in 11 counties in the Eastern Highland Rim and the Cumberland Plateau. The biggest producers were Overton, Fentress, Pickett, Morgan, and Clay counties.

Dolly Parton: No thanks to Tennessee Capitol statue

Gov. Bill Lee interviews Dolly Parton on Aug. 5, 2019, in Nashville. (Image credit: State of Tennessee)

Dolly Parton says she’s flattered Tennessee lawmakers want to place a statue of the singer on the state Capitol grounds, but is asking them to remove the legislation to do so from consideration.

“Given all that that is going on the in world, I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time,” Parton wrote in a tweet. “I hope, though, that somewhere down the road several years from now or perhaps after I’m gone if you still feel I deserve it, then I’m certain I will stand proud in our great State Capitol as a grateful Tennessean.”

It’s not the first time Tennessee lawmakers have been rebuffed in efforts to honor a living figure. Former Gov. Winfield Dunn called an effort to rename the Cordell Hull Building after him “completely out of proportion with the historical context of our state.” He praised the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Hull as an “unblemished representative of what Tennessee is.”

Vote on removal of Forrest bust delayed due to weather

Thursday was supposed to be the last chance for supporters and opponents of moving the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust out of the state Capitol to make their cases to the Tennessee Historical Commission. But the weather has intervened.

The panel decided to punt the discussion about the former Confederate general, slave trader, and early Ku Klux Klan leader until March 9. The delay could give Attorney General Herbert Slatery more time to decide whether to give a rare public legal opinion on whether Gov. Bill Lee’s administration skipped a step in the extensive process for changing or moving historical monuments.

While many were planning to attend the meeting via teleconference, an administrative law judge presiding over the hearing, attorneys, and witnesses were not able to make it to downtown Nashville due to treacherous road conditions, The Tennessean reported.

Tennessee legislature shuts down for rest of week

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

Heavy winter weather is leading to the closure of the Tennessee General Assembly for the rest of the week.

The House announced it will extend its bill filing deadline until the close of business on Feb. 24. It had previously been set for Wednesday.

The Senate bill filing deadline was Feb. 11.

Speakers seek rare AG’s opinion on effort to move Forrest bust

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)

Asking for a legal opinion from the state attorney general used to be a routine procedure. But these days, Herbert Slatery deigns to opine on only a handful of issues — and then only ones that aren’t likely to result in litigation.

So it will be interesting to see what Slatery does in response to a request for a legal opinion from House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) about whether Gov. Bill Lee is following proper procedure for moving the controversial bust of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave trader and early Ku Klux Klan leader, from the state Capitol.

The Tennessee Historical Commission is scheduled to meet later this week for what is supposed to be the final step in an extensive process required to change historical markers or monuments.

Sexton and McNally argue the Lee administration missed an intermediate step after the State Capitol Commission voted in favor of a petition asking for the move’s approval. The speakers pointed to language in the code requiring the State Building Commission to concur with any action by the Capitol Commission. That did not happen in this case.

Four of the six members of the Building Commission also serve on the Capitol panel, and each of those four voted in favor of moving the bust. But the two who happen not to serve on both commissions are Sexton and McNally.

It’s the latest twist in the Forrest bust saga. When Lee appeared to have the votes on the Capitol Commission to recommend the move last year, lawmakers made an 11th-hour maneuver to add two more House and Senate representatives to the panel in an effort to block it. Lee, who hadn’t been consulted about changing the makeup of the panel, decided to call its next meeting before signing the new law into effect.

In Slatery’s first full year at the helm in 2015, his office issued 81 legal opinions. The output dropped to about 50 each in the following three years, before plummeting to 20 in 2019 and just 17 in 2020.

Winter storm closes Legislature until at least Wednesday

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

The heavy blanket of ice and snow depositing itself across the state has caused legislative leaders to cancel meetings until at least Wednesday.

State government was already closed Monday due to Presidents’ Day, but Senate Speaker Randy McNally announced the Cordell Hull Building would also be closed on Tuesday.

Legislative leaders will monitor further developments before making a decision about whether to return Wednesday.

Warner files fundraising report after blaming FBI raid for delay

Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) is sworn into the House in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Freshman Rep. Todd Warner, one of three Republican House members who recently had their homes and offices raided by the FBI, has filed a campaign finance disclosure after previously saying he couldn’t access his records because they had been seized by the federal agents.

The Registry of Election Finance ruled this week that it didn’t have the authority to give Warner an extension due to the law enforcement activity and instructed him to reconstruct his report from online filings

According to the report, Warner’s top donations in the fourth quarter were $1,500 each from the PACs of Amazon and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). He also received $1,000 each from CVS Health, the Marshall County Republican Party, and Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro).

Warner reported raising a total of $9,750 and spending $1,183 during the period.

The other lawmakers searched by the FBI were Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin and Robin Smith of Hixson.