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Joe Biden is now rescinding that guidance, meaning that previously approved demonstration projects or waivers could be withdrawn at any time.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.

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.