Lee doesn’t sign bill banning camping on public property

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a bill criminalizing camping on public property, allowing the measure to become law without his approval.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) has been criticized as targeting homeless people. The measure defines camping as erecting temporary structures, cooking, or sleeping outside of a motor vehicle.

Lee earlier this week expressed concerned about “unintended consequences” contained within the bill, but didn’t elaborate.

During the debate over the measure, Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) gained national attention for delivering what he called a “history lesson” about Adolf Hilter and homelessness.

“In 1910, Hitler decided to live on the streets for a while,” Niceley said. “So for two years, Hitler lived on the streets and practiced his oratory and his body language and how to connect with the masses, and then went on to lead a life that’s got him into history books.” 

Niceley said homelessness shouldn’t be considered a “dead end.”

“They can come out of this, these homeless camps, and have a productive life,” he said. “Or in Hitler’s case, a very unproductive life.”

Starbuck sues over ouster from GOP ballot

Music video producer Robby Starbuck is suing over his removal from the Republican primary ballot in the 5th Congressional District. Starbuck was booted along with former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus and businessman Baxter Lee.

“The state party is trying to go beyond the scope of what they’re allowed to do by kicking a bonafide Republican like me off the ballot” Starbuck said in a statement. “It’s the same sort of backroom trickery they tried to use against Trump in 2016 at the Republican convention — which is ironic since the state party is trying to get the next Republican convention to Nashville.”

Here’s the press release from the Starbuck camp:

Republican congressional candidate Robby Starbuck has responded to the Tennessee GOP scheme to effectively remove him from the ballot with a lawsuit, filed Monday afternoon in Federal court. The suit names the Tennessee Republican Party — which includes the State Executive Committee, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party Scott Golden, Coordinator of Elections Scott Goins, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and the office of the Secretary of State. 

The Starbuck campaign’s brief alleges that officials used secret and irregular means to prevent a free and fair election. The Starbuck campaign expects that disenfranchised Tennesseans and Robby Starbuck will be awarded relief in the form of a court-ordered reversal of the State Executive Committee’s decision, likely on constitutional grounds, to return Robby Starbuck to the ballot.

“The state party is trying to go beyond the scope of what they’re allowed to do by kicking a bonafide Republican like me off the ballot” said Starbuck. “It’s the same sort of backroom trickery they tried to use against Trump in 2016 at the Republican convention — which is ironic since the state party is trying to get the next Republican convention to Nashville. Tennessee voters won’t forgive this behind the back theft of their choice on Election Day. Disenfranchising our voters robs them of an America First candidate aligned with President Trump, leaving them with only weak alternatives — Tennesseans demand a reversal!”

Starbuck is also fighting for two of his primary opponents to be reinstated on the ballot, Baxter Lee and Morgan Ortagus. 

“This is not communist Cuba, where my family escaped from,” Starbuck commented. “In America, the party doesn’t get to just SELECT candidates that they like — the people get to ELECT the candidate they want on Election Day!”

President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. expressed his support for Starbuck on Twitter earlier this week. .

“This lawsuit is a testing point—and hopefully a turning point—that could end backroom politics” concluded Starbuck. “We’re not going to stop fighting until WE THE PEOPLE are given our constitutional rights back.”

Lee halts executions for rest of year, calls for independent review

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

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is placing a moratorium on executions in Tennessee for the rest of the year to allow for an independent review of lethal injection processes.

Lee had postponed the execution of death row inmate Oscar Smith on April 21 due to an unspecified “oversight in preparation for lethal injection.” The governor’s office has hired former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton of Memphis to oversee the review.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced plans to launch a third-party review of a lethal injection testing oversight that resulted in a temporary reprieve for death row inmate Oscar Franklin Smith.

“I review each death penalty case and believe it is an appropriate punishment for heinous crimes,” said Lee. “However, the death penalty is an extremely serious matter, and I expect the Tennessee Department of Correction to leave no question that procedures are correctly followed.”

Both the United States Supreme Court and Lee declined to intervene on the merits of Smith’s case, but questions surrounding lethal injection testing preparation for the April 21 execution resulted in a temporary reprieve by the governor.

Tennessee will retain former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to conduct an independent review of the following:

— Circumstances that led to testing the lethal injection chemicals for only potency and sterility but not endotoxins preparing for the April 21 execution.

— Clarity of the lethal injection process manual that was last updated in 2018, and adherence to testing policies since the update.

— TDOC staffing considerations.

“An investigation by a respected third-party will ensure any operational failures at TDOC are thoroughly addressed,” said Lee. “We will pause scheduled executions through the end of 2022 in order to allow for the review and corrective action to be put in place.”

Since 2019, three of four executions have been carried out by electric chair. Death row inmates may choose to be executed by electric chair rather than lethal injection, and lethal injection is the default execution method in Tennessee. The April 21 execution was set to be the first execution since February 2020 due to disruptions caused by COVID-19. This execution was one of five executions scheduled to take place this year. The Tennessee Supreme Court will determine rescheduled dates for the 2022 executions.

Not natural? Lee declines signature for bill treating people who have had COVID-19 same as vaccinated

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A bill declaring previous COVID-19 infections to be same as having been vaccinated has become law in Tennessee without the signature of Republican Gov. Bill Lee.

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Bud Hulsey of Kingsport and Sen. Joey Hensley, a Hohenwald physician. Both are Republicans. The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 26-5 in the Senate and 66-20 in the House.

The bill defines natural immunity as being verified by a lab test or a letter for a licensed physician. Critics said the latter does not require any scientific proof to be established.

The Tennessee Constitution gives the governor 10 days (excluding Sundays) from receipt of a bill to sign, veto, or allow the measure to become law without his signature.

The governor took similar action on a recent bill seeking to establish a three-year residency requirement for congressional candidates to run in Tennessee primaries. By waiting for the entire period before declining to affix his signature, the bill didn’t become law until after the candidate filing deadline.

New edition alert: Lawmakers adjourn for the year and we hand out our annual TNJ awards

Lawmakers attend Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address in Nashville on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— With the legislature safely adjourned, we hand out awards for the year’s best legislation, lobbying effort, and administration liaison. Also, an assortment participation medals for less laudable actions during the session.

— Party purity? Trump-backed candidate kicked off GOP ballot, but pot-smoking party switcher stays.

— Twenty-two Republican hopefuls failed to meet party standards but 13 are restored to the ballot, including a challenger to Rep. Scott Cepicky and three of four GOP candidates to succeed retiring Rep. Michael Curcio.

Also: Weston Wamp says he’s not behind attacks on rivals, Knoxville hires a new police chief, lawmakers deal final insult to Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, and the latest intrigue surrounding Bruce and Rebecca Griffey.

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

Or subscribe here.

Piercey leaving state Health Department

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020, as Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey looks on. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey is leaving Gov. Bill Lee’s administration at the end next month.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey’s departure from state government to enter the private sector, effective May 31. Lee will name a successor in the coming weeks.

“Lisa led our state’s health response through one of the most challenging crises Tennessee has faced, and I commend her faithful service to Tennesseans,” said Gov. Lee. “She has played an

invaluable role in my cabinet, and I wish her much success as she enters the private sector.”

Dr. Piercey joined the Lee Administration in January 2019. As commissioner, she served as a member of the Governor’s Unified Command Group during the COVID-19 pandemic, spearheaded efforts to innovate public health operations across the state and bolstered the healthcare workforce pipeline.

Few surprises in CPAC ratings of Tennessee congressional delegation

The American Conservative Union Foundation, the organizer of CPAC conferences, is out with its latest congressional ratings. The Tennessee delegation’s scores are about what one would expect.

Here are this year’s ratings, with last year’s scores listed in parenthesis:

Senate

Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood): 92% (96%).

Bill Hagerty (R-Nashville): 92% (n/a).

House

1st District: Diana Harshbarger (R-Kingsport): 96% (n/a).

2nd District: Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville): 97% (79%).

3rd District: Chuck Fleischmann (R-Chattanooga): 79% (79%).

4th District: Scott DesJarlais (R-Sherwood): 90% (98%).

5th District: Jim Cooper (D-Nashville): 8% (4%).

6th District: John Rose (R-Cookeville): 94% (89%).

7th District: Mark Green (R-Ashland City): 96% (85%).

8th District: David Kustoff (R-Memphis): 79% (78%).

9th District: Steve Cohen (D-Memphis): 3% (0%).

Biden grants clemency to 78, including 5 with Tennessee ties

Democratic President Joe Biden has granted clemency to 78 people. Here are the details on five with ties to Tennessee:

Jose Luis Colunga – Juniata, Nebraska

Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 240 months of imprisonment, 10-year term of supervised release (July 13, 2010).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on October 26, 2023, leaving intact and in effect the 10-year term of supervised release.

Virgil Goodman, Jr. – Lexington, Tennessee

Offense: Possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute (Western District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 262 months of imprisonment, six-year term of supervised release (June 30, 2005).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on August 24, 2022, leaving intact and in effect the six-year term of supervised release.

Brandon Jermaine Huguley – Chattanooga, Tennessee

Offense: Conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of cocaine base (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 235 months of imprisonment, five-year term of supervised release (August 20, 2012); amended to 188 months of imprisonment, five-year term of supervised release (May 22, 2017).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on April 26, 2023, with the remainder to be served in home confinement, leaving intact and in effect the five-year term of supervised release.

Bethel Cheyenne Mooneyham – Spencer, Tennessee

Offense: Conspiracy to manufacture and distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine and 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing methamphetamine (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 240 months of imprisonment, 10-year term of supervised release (June 13, 2011).

Commutation Grant: Sentence to expire on August 24, 2022, leaving intact and in effect the 10-year term of supervised release.

Jesse Alan Trimue – Burton, Michigan

Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 5 grams of actual methamphetamine and 50 grams or more of methamphetamine mixture, a schedule II-controlled substance (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 120 months of imprisonment, eight-year term of supervised release (June 6, 2016).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on April 26, 2023, with the remainder to be served in home confinement, leaving intact and in effect the eight-year term of supervised release.

McNally hits back at ‘blatant untruths’ about campaign finance overhaul

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) wields the gavel during a floor session to adjust the course of the legislative session in response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) is hitting back at what he calls “blatant untruths” being spread about a the campaign finance and ethics overhaul advancing in the General Assembly.

McNally said efforts to get nonprofit “dark money” groups to disclose how much they are spending has caused the most pushback, including over what he called the false narrative that lawmakers are trying to force them to identify their donors.

“It is amazing that various seemingly ‘legitimate‘ groups are resorting to such disingenuous tactics to oppose it,” he said. “Is it because they are spending so much that Tennesseans would be appalled if they knew? Or is it that they spend so little that they fear they would be exposed as political grifters working to enrich only themselves?”

Here’s McNally’s full statement:

There are many blatant untruths circulating regarding the ethics reform bill Speaker Sexton and I have introduced.

The bill in question does not censor or otherwise curtail conservative activism or free speech in any way. Anything conservative groups can do now, they can still do under this bill. The legislation does not restrict their activity at all. The only additional requirement is disclosure.

Openness and transparency in the political process are prerequisites for freedom. For too long liberals, big corporations and corrupt political actors have been allowed to exploit loopholes in our system and operate in darkness.

The original Senate version as well as the current house version does not affect donors at all, just expenditures. It is simply a lie to say otherwise.

This bill is aimed at bad actors like the fictitious Matthew Phoenix and the various shell companies and shadowy PACs used by certain legislators to line their own pockets.

It is amazing that various seemingly “legitimate” groups are resorting to such disingenuous tactics to oppose it.

Is it because they are spending so much that Tennesseans would be appalled if they knew? Or is it that they spend so little that they fear they would be exposed as political grifters working to enrich only themselves?

If you are working to influence the outcome of an election, the voters deserve to know who you are and what you are doing. What could possibly be wrong with that? The fact this is even in question demonstrates the need for the legislation.

Crime victim compensation program has paid out $344M since 1982

Treasurer David Lillard attends a State Funding Board meeting in Nashville on Nov. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee has paid out more than $344 million to crime victims since 1982, according to state Treasurer David Lillard’s office.

“This is a fund of last resort,” Lillard said in a release. “One would hope to never be a victim, but we all know bad things do happen. When you have no other means, please know there may be help with this program, as evidenced by the millions of dollars paid out of this fund to victims over the past four decades.”

Here’s the release from the Treasurer’s Office:

Nashville, TN — The Tennessee Department of Treasury’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Program has paid more than $344 million to victims over the past 40 years since the program’s inception in 1982.

During that time, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Program has served tens of thousands of innocent victims of violent crimes who had no other means of helping to defray the costs of eligible expenses.

This month, the Tennessee Treasury is joining organizations across the country, April 24 – 30, in recognizing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week to raise awareness of victims’ rights, inspire the community, and address unmet needs.

In observation of the week, State Treasurer David H. Lillard, Jr. wants to increase awareness to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, which could cover expenses caused by personal injury due to a violent crime, such as medical bills, lost wages, loss of support to financial dependents, mental health counseling, and more.

Money in the fund can even help with expenses incurred while cleaning the scene of the crime, if it occurred in a victim’s home. If the crime results in the death of the victim, the fund can assist remaining dependents with some financial support and can help cover funeral expenses. The Fund does not cover certain ineligible expenses, such as rent or utility bills, travel to doctor appointments, costs from identity theft or fraud, personal property, or any public or private source, including insurance or donations. The money in the fund comes from fines, penalties, and fees paid by criminals to state and federal courts.

The theme for the 2022 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, “Rights, access, equity, for all victims,” spotlights victim service organizations’ best practices to reach all victims and help them forge new healing pathways. National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is a time to honor both the individual victims in our community and the groups engaged in building networks of understanding and support.

About 1.6 million people were victims of violent crime in 2020, excluding simple assault, a significant decrease from the year before, according to the most recent National Crime Victimization Survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“This is a fund of last resort,” Treasurer Lillard said. “One would hope to never be a victim, but we all know bad things do happen. When you have no other means, please know there may be help with this program, as evidenced by the millions of dollars paid out of this fund to victims over the past four decades.”

Learn more about the Criminal Injuries Compensation Program at treasury.tn.gov/injury. Follow the Tennessee Treasury on Facebook and Twitter to get involved in the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week conversation.