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Sexton, McNally re-elected speakers

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) presides first day of the legislative session in Nashville on Jan. 10, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) have been re-elected as the heads of their respective chambers.

All 75 House Republicans voted for Sexton, plus Democrat Antonio Parkinson of Memphis. The remaining 22 members of the minority party voted for Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons of Nashville.

In the Senate, 27 Republicans backed another two years with McNally in charge, while all six Democrats abstained.

Here are some more photos of the action on Tuesday.

Senators applaud Sen. Randy McNally’s election as speaker on the first day of session. From front are Sens. Page Walley (R-Savannah), Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro), and Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains).
Sen. Bill Powers (R-Clarksville) arrives in the House chamber to inform members the Senate is ready to conduct businesses first day of the legislative session in Nashville on Jan. 10, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Ed Jackson (R-Jackson, center, applauds Sen. Randy McNally’s election as speaker on the first day of the legislative session in Nashville on Jan. 10, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Freshman Rep. Brock Martin (R-Huntingdon) attends the first day of the legislative session in Nashville on Jan. 10, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) attends first day of the legislative session in Nashville on Jan. 10, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Rep. Clark Boyd (R-Lebanon) applauds for House Speaker Cameron Sexton on the first day of the legislative session in Nashville on Jan. 10, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) applauds during the first day of the legislative session in Nashville on Jan. 10, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Dental care now available to adult TennCare enrollees

About 600,000 adult TennCare enrollees are now eligible for dental benefits, joining children and pregnant women who were already covered under the expanded Medicaid program.

Here are the details from TennCare:

Nashville, TN — Approximately 600,000 adults on TennCare are now eligible for extensive dental benefits. Last year, Governor Lee proposed and the General Assembly approved a $25 million investment to offer dental care to persons 21 years and older on TennCare. Children on TennCare, as well as pregnant women on TennCare, already receive dental benefits.

Regular dental checkups help dentists identify, prevent, and treat dental related issues promptly. Early detection of tooth decay and gum disease can prevent painful, complicated, and costly treatment down the road and preserve a person’s natural teeth.

TennCare’s dental plan DentaQuest is responsible for administering the dental care of members under the oversight of TennCare. Members can receive regular exams, x-rays, cleanings, fillings, crowns, and more. DentaQuest has been growing the provider network to support the increased population prior to launching the new benefits, and TennCare and DentaQuest are committed to ensuring all adult members have a dental home in their communities. A dental home is the ongoing relationship between the dentist and the patient, inclusive of all aspects of oral healthcare delivery, in a comprehensive, continuously accessible, coordinated, and family centered way. To find a dentist in-network, members can use the “Find a Dentist Tool”, which is also available through TennCare’s website.

“We are excited to offer this new benefit to our adult TennCare members,” said TennCare Director Stephen Smith. “Dental care is critical to overall health and will help us further our mission of improving lives through high-quality, cost-effective care.”

DentaQuest began sending members a welcome letter in December with more information on accessing dental benefits. TennCare members can also go online to the TennCare Dental Services website to get more information. All members should make sure TennCare has their correct address by checking online through Tenncareconnect.tn.gov or by calling 855-259-0701. Members can use their TennCare member IDs or their health plan card when visiting the dentist.

New TNJ alert: Supreme Court finalists in their own words, lawmakers drop bills into the hopper

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— A look at some key answers given to the screening panel by the three finalists for an upcoming vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court: Kristi Davis, Tom Greenholtz, and Dwight Tarwater.

— Fresh out of the hopper: Lawmakers file bills on sentencing, handgun safety, fees on developers, and bringing remedial classes back to four-year colleges.

Also: Andy Ogles at the center of the stalemate over a new House speaker, Bill Lee’s “deliberative process privilege” denied by Nashville judge, Tim Burchett on the effects of not kissing enough butt, and Bill Hagerty’s letter-writing campaign.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Here are the details for the festivities surrounding Lee’s second inauguration

Bill Lee takes the oath of office as Tennessee’s 50th governor in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is scheduled to be sworn in to his second term on Jan. 21. Here are the details for the celebrations:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the theme and schedule of events for the 2023 inaugural celebration, ‘Tennessee: Leading the Nation’.

“Tennessee is leading the nation as a guiding light for opportunity, security and freedom,” said Lee. “Maria and I invite Tennesseans to join us as we reflect on the tremendous success Tennessee has seen over the past four years and celebrate as we move forward in anticipation of our state’s continued prosperity.”

Gov. Lee will take the oath of office for his second term at the inauguration ceremony on January 21 at 11:00 a.m. CT on Legislative Plaza in Nashville. The oath will be administered by Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Page. The event is a joint convention of the 113th General Assembly.

To celebrate the state’s rich history, Tennesseans are encouraged to schedule free tours of the Tennessee State Capitol and Tennessee State Museum in the days leading up to inaugural weekend.

‘Tennessee: Leading the Nation’ celebratory events will take place January 20-21 in Nashville. With the
exception of the ticketed Saturday evening events, all activities are free and open to the public with limitations based on venue capacity. Registration is required for all events. Event details, tickets and registrations are available here.

Friday, January 20

Tennessee: Leading the Nation Reception, 8:00 p.m. CT – Wildhorse Saloon, 120 2nd Avenue North

Saturday, January 21.

Inaugural Worship Service, 8:30 a.m. CT – Ryman Auditorium, 116 5th Avenue North.

Inaugural Ceremony, 11:00 a.m. CT – Legislative Plaza, Union & 6th Avenue.

First Couple’s Inaugural Dinner, 6:30 p.m. CT – Grand Hyatt Hotel Grand Hall, 1000 Broadway, ticketed event.

Inaugural Ball, 8:00 p.m. CT – The Fisher Center, 2020 Belmont Boulevard, ticketed event.

Inaugural celebration events and activities are fully supported by private donations according to contribution guidelines.

Lee makes roads proposal official

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at Ford’s announcement it will build an electric vehicle and battery plant at the Memphis Regional Megasite on Sept. 28, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is making it official he will to introduce a proposal to create “choice” lanes and public-private partnerships for road projects in Tennessee. The proposal will be titled the Transportation Modernization Act of 2023.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee presented his administration’s strategic infrastructure plan to accommodate Tennessee’s record growth, address traffic congestion and meet transportation needs across rural and urban communities. In the coming weeks, the Lee administration will introduce the Transportation Modernization Act of 2023

Tennesseans are invited to view the full presentation here.

“As Tennessee continues to experience tremendous growth, we have an obligation to make strategic transportation investments that prepare our state for continued success – without raising taxes or going into debt,” said Lee. “Our infrastructure plan will prepare Tennessee communities, both rural and urban, for increased economic advantages and improved mobility in the years ahead. I look forward to partnering with members of the General Assembly to solve transportation challenges.”

Lee’s plan will ensure the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), under the leadership of Commissioner Butch Eley, has the resources needed to solve the state’s current and future mobility challenges. Proposed solutions include: 

— Seeking the use of public-private partnerships to allow private investment in new urban roadway infrastructure, which will allow the state to reserve funds for more rural infrastructure priorities.

— The plan for public-private partnerships will include exploring Choice Lanes, which are additional, optional lanes funded in partnership with the private sector on urban Tennessee interstates to decrease congestion and increase economic impact across the state.

–Expanding the alternative delivery model to save taxpayer dollars and deliver road projects more quickly.

Additional information about the “Build with Us” plan can be found here

“Tennessee is facing a critical juncture when it comes to transportation and mobility,” said Commissioner Eley. “Our infrastructure investments will ensure that TDOT has the tools needed to quickly deliver and maintain quality roads so that Tennesseans and commerce can move across our state, all while saving taxpayer dollars.”

Rep.-elect Ogles among House Republicans opposing McCarthy speakership

U.S. Rep.-elect Andy Ogles of Columbia is among nine House Republicans expressing opposition to Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s ascent to the speakership.

“The times call for radical departure from the status quo — not a continuation of past, and ongoing, Republican failures,” according to the letter signed by Ogles. “For someone with 14-year presence in senior House Republican leadership, Mr. McCarthy bears squarely the burden to correct the dysfunction he now explicitly admits across that long tenure. “

McCarthy headlined a fundraiser for Ogles in Tennessee during a general election campaign in which the former Maury County mayor struggled to raised money.

Here’s the text of the letter dated Jan. 1:

Late in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, Kevin McCarthy gave his first comprehensive written response to proposals offered in good faith on December 8 to articulate key values we believe must be championed — and led — by any candidate for Speaker of the House.

Mr. McCarthy’s title, “Restoring the People’s House and Ending Business as Usual,” is a welcome and telling admission of the longstanding and deep dysfunction of the House of Representatives and statement of aspiration to begin to set it right in the 118th Congress. Regrettably, however, despite some progress achieved, Mr. McCarthy’s statement comes almost impossibly late to address continued deficiencies ahead of the opening of the 118th Congress on January 3rd.

At this stage, it cannot be a surprise that expressions of vague hopes reflected in far too many of the crucial point still under debate are insufficient. This is especially true with respect to Mr. McCarthy’s candidacy for speaker because the times call for radical departure from the status quo — not a continuation of past, and ongoing, Republican failures. For someone with a 14-year presence in senior House Republican leadership, Mr. McCarthy bears squarely the burden to correct the dysfunction he now explicitly admits across that long tenure.

Thus far, there continue to be missing specific commitments with respect to virtually every component of our entreaties, and thus, no means to measure whether promisses are kept or broken. Moreover, some in the Republican conference have expressed that absent universal support for Mr. McCarthy, they would reject even the progress made to date regarding rules and changes to bill text availability, single subject and germaneness requirements, and other structural changes for the good of the body and every member. Mr. McCarthy’s statement also continues to propose to restrict the availability of the traditional motion to vacate the chair a a means of holding leadership accountable to its promises; ,we have from the beginning made clear that we will not accept following Nancy Pelosi’s example by insulating leadership in this way. We also note that the statement fails completely to address the issue of leadership working to defeat conservatives in open primaries.

The progress made thus far has been helpful and should guide our thinking going forward.

Respectfully,

Rep. Scott Perry, PA

Rep. Paul Gosar, AZ

Rep.-elect Andy Ogles, TN

Rep.-elect Anna Paulina Luna, FL

Rep.-elect Eli Crane, AZ

Rep. Chip Roy, TX

Rep. Dan Bishop, NC

Rep. Andy Harris, MD

Rep. Andrew Clyde, GA

Todd Warner wishes you a merry (Dixieland) Christmas

State Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) is going back to the well by sending out his Christmas cards through a presorted mail permit that first drew attention to a mysterious political vendor at the center of a federal cases against two former lawmakers and a onetime top legislative aide. Warner’s home and offices were searched as part of the probe, but the lawmaker has not been charged.

During his 2020 Republican primary campaign against incumbent Rep. Rick Tillis, Warner’s mail pieces were sent by his Rainbow City, Ala.-based vendor Dixieland Strategies using a Chattanooga postal permit. What was unusual was when the same permit No. 383 also appeared on attack pieces sent out by an ostensibly independent group called the Faith Family Freedom Fund and another outfit called Phoenix Solutions, which was was sending out literature on behalf of other Republican candidates around the state.

The treasurer of the Faith Family Freedom Fund later testified to the Registry of Election Finance she had established the group at the behest of Cade Cothren, a former boyfriend who had been fired as chief of staff to then-House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) because of sexist and racist text messages and boasting of drug use in his office. Former Rep. Robin Smith resigned and pleaded guilty in March to secretly setting up and promoting Phoenix Solutions to her colleagues. Cothren and Casada are awaiting a public corruption trial in federal court next year.

Warner told reporters following the January 2021 FBI raids he couldn’t remember whom he had dealt with at Dixieland. He again engaged the outfit for his successful re-election campaign last year. When the arrangement caused heartburn among his GOP colleagues, Warner assured them he had cut ties with
the company. But a campaign finance disclosure filed the day after the GOP primary showed he had paid Dixieland another $19,100 to bring his annual total to $55,150.

New TNJ edition alert: New battle brewing over abortion law, new faces in the legislature

New Faces 23

The Tennessee Journal’s final print edition of the year is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Exceptions to abortion ban back on table when lawmakers return, Sexton could ap-point special committee to evaluate proposals.

— New faces: Photos and bios of all 23 new additions to the General Assembly.

Also: Andy Ogles threatens Mitch McConnell, Vincent Dixie blames Cameron Sexton for his defeat his caucus leadership election, Chattanooga’s conflict of interest loses Olympic trials bid, and Justin Jones has a leg up on his new colleagues in the House.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Year in review: The most viewed TNJ posts of 2022

Here are the 10 most-viewed TNJ: On the Hill blog posts of 2022, counting up to the

10. Whoever signed this Phoenix Solutions document has some explaining to do.

March 8: An IRS W-9 form submitted to the General Assembly in January 2020 carries the signature of Matthew Phoenix, right under a section outlining the certification is made “under penalties of perjury” that the person signing the document is a “U.S. person.”

9. Trump endorses Ortagus in GOP primary for 5th District.

Jan. 25: Former President Donald Trump is endorsing Morgan Ortagus, a former spokeswoman to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for the Republican nomination in the new-look 5th Congressional District being vacated by U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville).

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony outside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

8. Casada, Cothren indicted on federal bribery, kickback charges.

Aug. 23: Former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren, have been indicted on federal bribery and kickback charges. The FBI arrested both at their homes. Casada is retiring from the House this year after stepping down from the speakership amid scandal in 2019. He was overwhelmingly defeated in his bid for Williamson County Clerk earlier this year.

7. TNJ exclusive: Lee chooses Campbell for Tenn. Supreme Court.

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Jan. 12: Republican Gov. Bill Lee is naming associate state solicitor general Sarah Campbell to the bench of the Tennessee Supreme Court, The Tennessee Journal has learned. Campbell, 39, is an associate solicitor general and special assistant to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery. 

6. Read Vanderbilt hospital’s letter to lawmakers on transgender clinic.

Oct. 7: Vanderbilt University Medical Center says no minors have received genital procedures at its transgender clinic and that all patients were at least 16 years old and had parental consent. The hospital told Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) it will pause gender affirmation surgery on patients under age 18 while it seeks advice from local and national experts, a process that could take several months.

5 Here’s the backstory on the Andy Ogles attack ad.

July 18: We found Ogles appeared as a co-owner of a Franklin home between 2005 and 2015, though for reasons unknown he was not listed on the rolls in the 2013 tax year. While it’s true that property tax payments were late on nine occasions, that includes years where the Ogles family was as little as one or two days behind the deadline. But in other years it took as many as 194 and 322 days to pay the tax bill.

4 Former Tennessee first lady Honey Alexander dies at 77.

Oct. 30: Honey Alexander, who was married to former governor and U.S. senator Lamar Alexander for 53 years, died Saturday at her home outside Maryville. She was 77.

3. Rep. Ron Gant survives head-on crash.

Oct. 25: State Rep. Ron Gant was flown by helicopter for treatment at a Memphis hospital after the vehicle he was driving was struck in a head-on collision in rural West Tennessee. The other driver died in the crash.

2. Lee declines signature on ‘truth in sentencing’ bill.

May 5: Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a “truth in sentencing” bill championed by legislative Republicans to require people convicted of violent crimes to serve all of their sentences behind bars, The Tennessee Journal learned.

1. Hargett charged with DUI after Bonnaroo visit.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

June 18: Secretary of State Tre Hargett has been charged with drunken driving after attending the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Coffee County. Hargett was at the event from Friday afternoon through around 11:30 p.m. when he was stopped by Tullahoma police. He was given a blood test and charged with DUI.

TennCare enrollees will be required to reverify their eligibility

TennCare enrollees will have to reverify their eligibility for the expanded Medicaid program starting in April under a new law passed by Congress.

Here’s the release from TennCare:

Nashville, TN – [. . . ] Congress passed legislation which will end the Medicaid continuous enrollment requirement related to the COVID-19 pandemic on April 1, 2023. At that time TennCare will be required to reverify the eligibility status of everyone receiving TennCare or CoverKids benefits. One of TennCare’s top priorities during this process is to make sure all eligible members do not risk a gap in health care coverage.

Per federal requirements, the ending of the continuous enrollment requirement will represent the first time in three years that Medicaid and CHIP members will go through the renewal process, and it will be one of the most substantial health coverage processes around the country. For Tennessee, the legislation means that more than 1.7 million Tennesseans will be impacted by this process. It is imperative that TennCare and CoverKids members update their contact information with TennCare and respond to all TennCare communication.

Over a twelve-month period, TennCare will review every member’s eligibility and, where approved by state or federal rules, use available data sources, such as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) income data and Supplementation Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) information, to automatically renew members. If TennCare cannot auto-renew a person’s coverage using available and approved data sources, the member will receive a pre-populated renewal packet by mail or a notification by email, depending on the selected preference. TennCare and its partner health plans will also use texts, email, and social media when available to enhance outreach efforts. A member will be able to complete the renewal packet through a variety of ways: Online, by phone, by mail, by fax, or at any county Department of Human Services (DHS) office.

For members no longer eligible for TennCare or CoverKids benefits, TennCare will send their information to the federal Health Care Marketplace, as required by CMS, where alternative health insurance options are available. For nearly three years, TennCare has carefully planned for the end of the PHE and the resumption of renewals. The agency worked to improve TennCare Connect, the online portal where members can update their information and renew their coverage, as well as improved the mobile application for easier document submission. TennCare has also worked to increase the number of members who can be approved through the auto-renewal process. TennCare initiated several campaigns to encourage members to update

their contact information and worked closely with health plans, advocates and providers to ensure that members completed this important step. TennCare has created a public toolkit for stakeholders to continue to maximize awareness of the renewal process. The toolkit and other resources can be found here: https://www.tn.gov/tenncare/information-statistics/unwinding-the-phe-for-partners/phase-ii–educate.html.

TennCare has been and is committed to making the renewal process as easy and user-friendly as possible so that those eligible can continue to receive TennCare benefits, but it is a critical requirement for Tennesseans who receive these benefits to participate in the process by updating their contact information and responding to all TennCare communication. To prepare for the renewal process, TennCare members should verify that their address is up-to-date by logging in to TennCareConnect.tn.gov or by calling 855-259-0701. Information for members can be found at: www.tn.gov/tenncare/renewals.

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