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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.

Oh, Chihuahua! The announcer and the senator

Republican Bill Hagerty speaks at Nashville event on Dec. 3, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tim Hagerty is a radio play-by-play announcer for the El Paso Chihuahuas, a minor league baseball team in Texas. Bill Hagerty is a freshman U.S. Senator from Nashville who is keeping the Donald Trump dream alive in Congress. So other than their last names, there’s little reason to get the two men confused.

But leave leave it to social media users not to be able to distinguish between @tdhagerty and @BillHagertyTN. The radio announcer has been on the receiving end of vitriolic comments by people unhappy with the senator’s actions in Washington.

Things may get a little more confused when minor league baseball returns following a halt caused by the pandemic. The Chihuahuas play in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, which is also home to the Nashville Sounds.

Warner a no-show at Registry hearing over failure to file disclosures due to FBI raid

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 (R-Chapel Hill) was a no-show at Wednesday’s meeting of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance to take up his request to waive his campaign finance disclosure requirement due to an FBI raid on his home and office.

Executive Director Bill Young said Warner had indicated he or his attorney would attend the meeting. But nobody appeared on his behalf.

“The FBI confiscated all files and documents related to my campaign including check copies from donations and checking account ledgers,” Warner said in last month’s email first reported by The Tennessee Journal. “They also took all computers and back ups for the campaign and my business.”

Registry member Hank Fincher said nothing prevented Warner from reconstructing his fourth-quarter disclosure from electronic bank records.

“The FBI took my bank records is not much of an excuse,” Fincher said.

The Registry agreed to send a letter to Warner saying the panel doesn’t have the authority to waive filing requirements.

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) also missed filing his report while hospitalized for COVID-19. Family members had alerted the panel only the lawmaker had access to the information needed to make the disclosure. The Registry again determined it wasn’t in a position to give Byrd a pass on filing requirements.

Lee speech shorter, but hardly short

Frequently used terms in Gov. Bill Lee’s three State of the State addresses (via MonkeyLearn)

Bill Lee’s third State of the State address clocked in at 42 minutes on Monday evening. That was still on the long side of budget addresses for Tennessee governors, but a good deal shorter than his previous two speeches.

Lee’s first State of the State in 2019 was 5,994 words long and lasted 57 minutes. Last year’s address came in at 5,493 words. But this year’s speech totaled 4,506 words as prepared for delivery.

For some historical perspective of State of the State speeches, see this TNJ: On the Hill analysis of a couple years ago:

A word cloud analysis processed through MonkeyLearn reveals Lee’s most frequently used terms over her his last three speeches:

  1. State (162 times)
  2. Tennessee/Tennessean (157 times)
  3. Year (126 times)
  4. School (71 times)
  5. Students (57 times)
  6. Teachers (56 times)
  7. Budget (43 times)
  8. Dollars (36 times)
  9. Investment (33 times)
  10. Health care (15 times)

Full text of Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is Gov. Bill Lee’s third State of the State address, as prepared for delivery on Monday evening:

Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, Speaker Pro Tem Haile, Speaker Pro Tem Marsh, Members of the 112th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, fellow Tennesseans:

I would also like to acknowledge the First Lady who is in the audience.
Maria serves our state with genuine compassion and is my partner in every aspect of this role.

I love you and am proud that you are ours.

I also share my gratitude to members of my Cabinet and staff who are here tonight.

Each of these men and women have committed to lives of service and honor.

They are battle-tested and I am proud of their work and their friendship.
Members of the General Assembly, let me say that it’s good to be here in person.

Last year, we stood together at the starting line of 2020 ready for a challenge and even more ready to leave our mark on what was sure to be a historic year for our state.

The events that would take place just a few weeks after, would set the tone for our year.

An unimaginable one for us that included the rise of a global pandemic, devastating tornadoes, flooding, violence, unrest, economic collapse, a downtown explosion and witnessing our nation undergo painful turmoil at the highest levels of government.

There have been heartbreaking losses.

We mourn the more than 10,000 Tennesseans we have lost in those deadly events this year.

In many respects, what was optimism has become a tempered feeling of resolve, and perhaps even cautiousness about what lies ahead in 2021 as we move forward but work to make sense of it all.

Scripture has a lot to say about that crossroads and what to do on the heels of suffering.

Where do we find the promise in this season?

The promise is found in perseverance, which produces character that leads to hope.

Tennesseans will know tonight that tragedy has no hold on who we are or where we are headed.

Tragedy will not define us and will not rob us of the opportunity that 2021 holds.

In fact, this year holds its own unique place for our state as we celebrate 225 years of statehood.

Since 1796, our state has been the portrait of perseverance, character and hope because of everyday heroes.

Ordinary Tennesseans are more than constituents – they are the strength of our state and the lifeblood of our country.

From early settlers, the farmers and factory workers, teachers and tradesmen, doctors and pastors.

We will celebrate that since 1796 the ordinary has made us extraordinary and remember that generations before us have not just weathered but excelled in the cycle of perseverance, character and hope.

I will once again travel to all 95 counties to reach the unsung people and places that make our state who she is.

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Effort falls short to designate site of State of State as House chamber for a night (UPDATED)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate passed a resolution seeking to remedy legal questions raised by The Tennessee Journal about holding the annual State of the State address outside the state Capitol, but the House didn’t take the measure up before the speech took place.

Under a 1970s-era law, the governor’s annual budget address must be given to a joint convention of the General Assembly in the House chamber. But Gov. Bill Lee gave his speech within the nearby War Memorial Auditorium on Monday evening.

While the War Memorial Auditorium is part of the Capitol complex and offers more space for social distancing, it does not meet the description of the House chamber. The Senate passed SJR100, which would have declared that “that for the sole purpose of hearing the state of the state address by the governor on February 8, 2021, the War Memorial Auditorium shall serve as ‘the chamber of the house of representatives.'”

But the House didn’t take up the measure before heading across the street to hear from the governor.