adjournment

Gov. Lee declares victory in legislative session

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

Lawmakers wrapped up their business for the year last night, and Gov. Bill Lee is lauding fellow Republicans who run the General Assembly for their accomplishments.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee marked the close of the 2021 legislative session, which includes the passage of his $42.6 billion budget and full agenda as outlined during his State of the State address in February.

“Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton and the members of the General Assembly have been key partners in reducing crime, supporting strong families and strengthening our economy, especially in rural Tennessee,” said Gov. Lee. “I commend the legislature for their work this session to pass measures that will benefit Tennesseans and continue our reputation for conservative fiscal management.”

“We were presented with many challenges this session and we met each and every one,” said Lt. Gov. McNally (R-Oak Ridge). “We invested in education and kept taxes and debt low. Most importantly, we ensured our state pension system remains fully funded for years to come. This protects our fiscal stability and our state credit rating. I am thankful to Gov. Lee, Speaker Sexton and every member of the General Assembly for their tremendous work on behalf of the people of Tennessee this session.”

“I greatly appreciate Gov. Lee, his administration, Lt. Gov. McNally, the House and the Senate for their continued partnership, which has led to a smooth and incredibly successful legislative session,” said Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). “Solutions to improve childhood literacy, our debt-free balanced budget, permitless handgun carry, criminal justice and truth in sentencing reform and preserving our election integrity will continue to move this state forward in a conservative direction. I am proud of these and other achievements that will allow Tennessee to maintain its status as a national leader for all others to follow.”

Gov. Lee’s slate of budget and legislative priorities included initiatives to address criminal justice reform, invest in rural communities, enhance public safety, support families and build on the successes of the special session on education.

Highlights from Gov. Lee’s agenda include the following:

Investing in Rural Tennessee
• Investing a historic $100 million to provide underserved areas across the state with high-speed broadband, which is part of a public-private partnership to incentivize broadband providers to match public dollars
• Dedicating $100 million for local infrastructure grants

Strengthening Tennessee Families
• Providing higher education supports for youth aging out of the foster care system
• Extending coverage for adopted youth to retain TennCare eligibility up to age 18
• Expanding postpartum care for the TennCare population from 60 days to a full year
• Reforming the TANF program to promote economic mobility and improve outcomes for recipients

Supporting Tennessee Students
• Increasing transparency for any foreign investment activity on college campuses
• Expanding access and improving quality of apprenticeship programs
• Investing $250 million in the Mental Health Trust Fund
• Increasing the teacher salary component of the BEP by 4%

Enhancing Public Safety
• Protecting the Second Amendment by extending law-abiding Tennesseans’ constitutional right to carry a handgun
• Stiffening penalties for criminals who steal or illegally possess firearms

Prioritizing Conservative Criminal Justice Reform
• Improving outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals by increasing transparency in the parole process
• Enhancing practices that support success post-release
• Expanding treatment services and community-based supervision for offenders as alternatives to incarceration

Senate Education holds meeting in largely empty committee room

The Senate Education Committee meets on March 16, 2020, amid a ban on public attendance in the Cordell Hull Building. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate Education Committee was the first panel to hold a meeting Monday under emergency rules preventing the public from entering the Cordell Hull Building. The committee advanced the state Education Department’s budget and then adjourned.

“We indeed live in interesting times,” Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), the chair of the committee, said. “It’s been the hallmark and tradition that each member who brings a bill to this committee can expect a fair hearing on their proposal…. We have approximately 110 bills yet to have been heard in this committee, but these interesting times make that somewhat challenging.

“Our state’s priorities are clear, however. We are required by our constitution to address a budget and appropriations plan. Therefore, today we will only consider briefly the budget for the Department of Education in order to refer it to Finance for their appropriate action. Education bills are our next priority, and hope to have an opportunity to consider those before we adjourn sine die, whatever that date that may be.”

One curiosity was the attendance of political activist Kevin Baigert, the husband of a writer for a conservative website. Baigert is the treasurer of a PAC that has targeted Republican House incumbents during campaign season. It’s unclear how he got into the building when members of the public, advocates, lobbyists, and other visitors have been barred.