Bill Lee

Lee joins Iowa counterpart in calling for congressional hearing on unaccompanied minors

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is joining Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in calling on a congressional hearing on unaccompanied minors being flown to their states by the federal government.

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds joined with U. S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in calling for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding the crisis at the southern border and the ensuing flow of unaccompanied minors to states.

“We are writing to support your continued calls for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold an oversight hearing regarding the current border crisis,” the governors wrote in their letter to Senator Grassley. “We believe this hearing should also address the Biden Administration’s failure to provide notice and transparency in their movement of unaccompanied migrant children into states.”

Both Iowa and Tennessee have faced a series of disturbing incidents involving the transport of unaccompanied children into respective states, under the cover of darkness, with no advance notification, consent or plan from federal partners.

“These experiences sow seeds of mistrust in our communities, and work to intentionally subvert the will of the people for a secure border and a clear, lawful immigration process,” the governors wrote in their letter to Senator Grassley. “Additionally, the lack of transparency places an undue burden on our law enforcement partners to determine whether these types of flights constitute a criminal act of human trafficking or the federally-sponsored transport of vulnerable children.”

Both Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn and Senator Bill Hagerty support calls for a hearing.

“The Biden Administration is secretly transporting migrants to communities throughout the United States, including in Tennessee, without the knowledge of or permission of the communities involved,” said Senator Blackburn. “President Biden’s failed immigration policies have turned every town into a border town. The Senate Judiciary Committee should immediately hold an oversight hearing on the crisis at our southern border. I applaud Governor Lee for his efforts to protect our state and the people who are being trafficked by the Mexican cartels.”

“Tennessee and states all across the country are seeing the real, tangible results of President Biden’s total failure to solve the crisis at the border—a crisis of his own making—with the systematic resettling of migrants in our communities,” said Senator Hagerty. “Mayors, sheriffs and governors are on the front lines of combatting increased human trafficking and drug smuggling, as well as addressing strains on public resources. I applaud Governors Lee and Reynolds for continuing to draw attention to these matters, asking questions and urging Congress to perform its proper oversight function.”

Democratic donor running ads hitting Hensley over prescription case involving paramour

A copy of newspaper ads Bill Freeman is running in the district of Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald)

Prominent Democratic donor Bill Freeman of Nashville is running ads in Republican state Sen. Joey Hensley’s district criticizing the Hohenwald physician over conflicting testimony about how long he was romantically involved with a second cousin to whom he had prescribed opioids.

The state Board of Medical Examiners last year placed Hensley’s license on a three-year probation. Hensley had argued in a hearing that writing prescriptions for relatives was unavoidable in a small town like Hohenwald, suggesting it would have been “discrimination” for him to refuse them treatment.

The senator later acknowledged other medical care is available, as a doctor and nurse practitioner routinely visit the town. The Tennessean reported medical board member Neal Beckford noted Columbia is only 30 miles away, meaning other medical options may be “inconvenient
but not insurmountable.”

The Tennessean recently followed up with a story about how Hensley’s involvement with his second-cousin may have lasted longer than the brief spell he testified about during the hearing.

Read the full release from Freeman below:

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Lee approves modernization of captive insurance laws

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a groundbreaking event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A release from the state Department of Commerce and Insurance:

NASHVILLE – Newly approved updates to Tennessee’s captive insurance statute will help fuel the Volunteer State’s growing reputation as a first-choice domicile for companies looking to establish a captive insurance company.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee recently approved the latest modernizations to Tennessee’s captive laws, including authorizing parametric insurance coverage and reducing the statutory capital needed by protected cell captive insurers to commence operations from $250,000 to $100,000, amongst other improvements.

A captive insurance company (called a “captive”) represents an option for many corporations and groups wanting to take financial control and manage their business risks by forming their own insurance company. The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) is responsible for properly regulating Tennessee’s captive insurance industry.

“By reducing the minimum capital and surplus needed to start protected cell captive insurance companies, Tennessee is sending a strong message that we value companies’ freedom to invest their money to obtain the highest return on investment possible rather than allocate money in excess of what is needed to support the potential risk of insurance losses in their captive,” said TDCI Captive Section Director Belinda Fortman. “By modernizing Tennessee’s captive insurance statute to reduce the minimum coverage for protected cell captive insurers as well as including parametric insurance coverage for the first time, the Volunteer State is providing strong incentives for captive owners to choose Tennessee as their captive domicile.”

2020 was another record-setting year for Tennessee’s captive insurance section as captive premium volume topped $1.6 billion and the number of active captives in Tennessee increased to 146. Today, over 750 risk-bearing entities call Tennessee home. Additionally, TDCI’s leadership has drawn international accolades as Fortman was recently named to Captive Review magazine’s “Power 50” list.

Said Fortman: “Through the first five months of 2021,Tennessee has averaged 10 new captive formations a month, which is an impressive pace that we hope to see continue. The growth of the captive insurance industry in Tennessee that we are seeing today is a byproduct of years of focused teamwork and the far-reaching vision of Tennessee’s leaders. I am thankful for the hard work and support of Governor Lee, the members of the Tennessee General Assembly and the captive insurance stakeholders who are helping make Tennessee truly the ‘Gold Standard’ of the South.”

Tennessee Captive Insurance Association (TCIA) President Kevin Doherty said: “The TCIA is grateful that the Department and the General Assembly, two of the three legs of the proverbial three-legged stool, have continued to support important updates like this to the captive law that help Tennessee remain at the forefront of our industry. Specifically, the TCIA supports the reduction in the minimum capital for protected cell captives to $100,000 and believes this will help to spur significant growth in cell captives in Tennessee. The TCIA also believes it is significant that Tennessee is leading the way now in permitting captives to offer parametric insurance that can offer innovative ways to cover large numbers of insureds in natural disasters or other similar events. As the third leg of the stool, the TCIA looks forward to continuing to work with the other two legs of this public private partnership to maintain Tennessee’s prominence as a captive insurance domicile.”

To learn more about captive insurance in Tennessee, visit captive.tn.gov or call (615) 741-3805, (855) 809-0069 (toll free) or email at captive.insurance@tn.gov.

Lee declines to sign teacher training bill over cost dispute

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

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a bill sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) and Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) allowing school districts to establish their own teacher training programs.

The governor’s objections had less to do with the bill’s substance than concerns that the fiscal note was revised from $470,000 to “not significant,” despite his administration presenting evidence to the contrary. The lack of funding for the program is “something that will need to be addressed” in the upcoming budget year, Lee wrote.

Lee has not vetoed any bill since coming into office in 2019 and he’s now only allowed three to become law without his signature. In 2019, he didn’t sign the bill creating Tennessee’s online sports gambling program. In 2020, he declined to sign a resolution ratifying the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board’s increase in the 911 surcharge from $1.16 to $1.50. The latter was also sponsored by Bowling.

Here’s a copy of the letter Lee sent to House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge):

Dear Speaker Sexton and Lieutenant Governor McNally:

I am writing to inform you that I am returning HB1534/SB653 to become law without my signature. As our state faces a teacher shortage, we support alternative pathways to teacher licensure. These efforts cut back red tape and ensure more qualified professionals can teach our students. I am not signing the bill solely because of a cost discrepancy.

Unfortunately, this legislation incurs a cost that was not accounted for by Fiscal Review during the legislative process. Fiscal Review adjusted the fiscal note downward from several hundred thousand dollars to “not significant.” At the end of the legislative session, our team provided Fiscal Review with evidence of the costs associated with implementation and asked for correction.

The requested correction was not made, and the lack of adequate funding to support this legislation is something that will need to be addressed in the budget process in the year ahead in order to ensure proper implementation.

With your continued partnership, we have once again created and enacted a balanced budget that maintains Tennessee’s position as a leader in fiscal responsibility. We must be vigilant about thoroughly accounting for costs in the fiscal review process to ensure we maintain that fiscal prudence.

Our team at the Department of Education is available to discuss the cost assumptions on this matter at your convenience. We will also communicate our concerns with the bill sponsors and relevant committee chairs.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this fiscal matter and I look forward to supporting more qualified teachers in our state.

Respectfully,

/signed/

Bill Lee

Lee to memorialize three service members

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

Gov. Bill Lee is scheduled to honor three service members at a Memorial Day service on Friday morning.

Here’s the release from the Department of Veterans Services:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Tennessee Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Tommy Baker and Tennessee Military Department Adjutant General, Major General Jeff Holmes will honor three service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice at the state’s annual Memorial Day service on Friday, May 28, at 10:30 a.m. CDT at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville.

United States Army Sergeant First Class Jeremy Wayne Griffin of Greenbrier was killed in action on September 16, 2019 while conducting combat operations in Wardak Province, Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. He was 41 years old. Griffin was a Special Forces communications Sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group who joined the Army in 2004. He was on his fourth combat tour after completing three other combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

United States Army Private First Class Oliver Jeffers of Huntsville was killed in action November 10, 1944 during combat in the Hürtgen Forest of Germany. Following the end of the war, officials were unable to recover or identify Jeffers’ remains, and he was declared non-recoverable in 1951. While studying unresolved American losses in the Hürtgen area, historians discovered a set of unidentified remains in the Ardennes American Cemetery that possibly belonged to Jeffers. In April 2018 his remains were disinterred and were positively identified April 23, 2020. Jeffers was laid to rest in Huntsville, TN October 7, 2020.

United States Navy Fireman Third Class Warren H. Crim of McMinnville was killed December 7, 1941 aboard the USS Oklahoma, while moored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Crim’s unidentified remains were subsequently interred in either the Halawa or Nu’uanu cemeteries in Hawaii between 1941 and 1944 and remained there until June 2015, when the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the disinterment of unidentified remains associated with the USS Oklahoma. Crim was identified December 8, 2017 and was laid to rest in Smartt, TN October 24, 2020.

AP: Tennessee leads nation in laws targeting transgender people

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 flurry of anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed around the country this year, but Tennessee has gone further than any other in targeting transgender people, according to AP reporters Jonathan Mattise, Kimberlee Kruesi, and Lindsay Whitehurst.

From the story:

Lawmakers passed and Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed five new bills into law, consistently dismissing concerns that they discriminate against an already vulnerable population, that some of the laws are unworkable and that they could damage the state’s reputation.

Supporters defend the laws policy by policy, arguing that one protects parental rights, others protect girls and women and one even improves equality. Opponents reject those claims.

[…] Tennessee’s emergence as an anti-LGBTQ leader grows out of a rightward political shift in a state Republicans already firmly controlled. Lee’s Republican predecessor tapped the brakes on some socially conservative legislation, but emphatic GOP election wins fueled by strong support for former President Donald Trump have emboldened lawmakers since then. That’s the political landscape in which Lee is launching his 2022 reelection bid.

Read the whole report here.

Gov. Lee announces withdrawal from feds’ pandemic unemployment programs

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

Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that Tennessee will withdraw from the federal government’s enhanced unemployment benefit program during the pandemic, citing the more than 250,000 unfilled positions in the state.

Democrats are panning the decision as unfair to people who have lost their jobs.

“More than 200,000 Tennesseans have been laid off since Jan. 1 and the Lee administration just made the irresponsible decision to punish their families in a time of need,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Raumesh Akbari. “That’s not leadership, it’s legislative violence. This callous decision highlights just how out of touch this administration is with the lives of everyday Tennesseans.”

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the end of all federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs in Tennessee, effective July 3.

“We will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs because Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state,” said Gov. Lee. “Families, businesses and our economy thrive when we focus on meaningful employment and move on from short-term, federal fixes.”

Gov. Lee’s letter to the U.S. Department of Labor can be viewed here.

Federal pandemic unemployment programs set to end on July 3 include the following:

·         Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which provides for an additional $300 weekly payment to recipients of unemployment compensation

·         Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides benefits for those who would not usually qualify, such as the self-employed, gig workers and part-time workers

·         Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides for an extension of benefits once regular benefits have been exhausted

·         Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), which provides an additional $100 benefit to certain people with mixed earnings

Unemployment claimants in Tennessee have been required to complete three weekly job searches in order to remain eligible for benefits since Oct. 4, 2020.

Any weeks filed before July 3 that are eligible under federal program requirements will continue to be processed.

The Tennessee Workforce Development System stands ready to help Tennesseans return to the workforce. Career specialists are available to help job seekers match with new employment opportunities at more than 80 American Job Centers across the state. They can work to identify possible training programs that can help an individual change their career pathway or enter an apprenticeship program so they can earn a competitive wage, while they learn a new trade.

The Tennessee Virtual American Job Center, www.TNVirtualAJC.com, allows Tennesseans to research different programs that can help remove barriers to employment so they can more easily reenter Tennessee’s workforce.

As federal pandemic unemployment compensation ends in Tennessee, the state encourages claimants to search for work at www.Jobs4TN.gov, which currently has over 250,000 active job postings of all skill levels. 

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

New PAC takes aim at Gov. Bill Lee’s re-election bid

(Image credit: Beat Bill Lee PAC)

A new political action committee called Beat Bill Lee takes aim at the Republican’s re-election efforts. The PAC is run by Emily Cupples, the former communications director of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Lee is running for a second term next year. While limited polling has shown his popularity has slipped with Democrats, he remains popular with Republicans. No Democratic candidate has won a statewide race in Tennessee since 2006.

Here’s the release from the new PAC:

GROUP OF CONCERNED TENNESSEANS LAUNCH BEAT BILL LEE PAC
April 29th, 2021 (Tennessee) – Today, Tennesseans from across the state filed a political action committee against Governor Bill Lee’s bid for re-election in 2022. Funded by small dollar donations, the PAC will use funds raised to organize hard working families across Tennessee and America to mobilize against the power grab from Bill Lee and other fringe conservatives. This political action committee is composed of Tennesseans from all parts of the state and members include working families, single young folks, white collar professionals, politicians, and Tennesseans from all backgrounds united around the mission to beat Bill Lee in 2022. Beat Bill Lee will utilize a mixture of traditional and unconventional campaign tactics to lead a campaign against the current sitting governor.

“Since Bill Lee took office 7 rural hospitals closed, 4 during the COVID19 pandemic, unemployment reached an all time high, gun violence increased by 50%, and our student proficiency dropped. Spending $7 million taxpayer dollars on lawsuits, it’s evident Lee is serving dark interest groups and not Tennessee families. We cannot wait until 3 months out from election day, when the primary is over, to start mobilizing against Lee. We must stop Bill Lee and the dark money interest groups he represents from their continued destruction of Tennessee. The work to Beat Bill Lee begins today.” – Emily Cupples, Beat Bill Lee PAC Director.

Lee’s addition of lawmakers to stimulus group seen as effort to forestall support for special session

Gov. Bill Lee speaks in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee on Wednesday added two lawmakers, House Finance Chair Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain) and Senate Pro Tem Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), to his Financial Stimulus Accountability Group. The move is being perceived in some circles as an effort to let the air out of a movement to have the General Assembly come back into special session later in the year to take a direct hand in appropriating billions of dollars flowing to the state in the former of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Here is the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the addition of Senator Ferrell Haile and Representative Patsy Hazlewood to the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group (FSAG). The bipartisan group will continue its work to support Tennessee’s economy and ensure proper fiscal management of federal relief funds, meeting publicly and reporting regularly to bring transparency to the process.

“As Tennessee’s strong economic recovery continues, we must ensure federal dollars coming to our state are used wisely and effectively,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “I thank Sen. Haile, Rep. Hazlewood and all members of this group for their valuable input as we steward these resources and serve Tennesseans.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to serve on this panel which is charged with ensuring this money is used properly to best benefit our citizens,” said Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile. “We have a huge responsibility to see that these funds are managed in the most effective manner and Governor Lee is taking every step possible to ensure the most efficient use. I look forward to working with him and the other members of the group to make good decisions about how these funds are spent.”

“One of the biggest challenges facing our state currently is using federal stimulus dollars in a fiscally responsible manner to ensure all Tennessean’s benefit,” said Rep. Patsy Hazlewood. “I appreciate Governor Lee appointing me to Financial Stimulus Accountability Group, and together our work will make sure we can continue to effectively address the immediate and emerging needs of our state.”

Since its founding in April 2020, the FSAG has overseen nearly 90% of all federal dollars distributed to Tennessee through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, authorized in the CARES Act. In 2020, the group proactively invested these dollars into the state’s unemployment trust fund, which successfully protected jobs and prevented tax hikes. The FSAG also supported the allocation of over $300 million in grants to small businesses across Tennessee.

The FSAG is currently preparing for implementation of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, an additional tranche of relief authorized by Congress in March 2021.

Effective April 2021, members of the group include:
• Governor Bill Lee
• Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally
• House Speaker Cameron Sexton
• Senator Bo Watson
• Senator Raumesh Akbari
• Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile
• Representative Patsy Hazlewood
• Representative Pat Marsh
• Representative Harold Love Jr.
• Jason Mumpower, Comptroller of the Treasury
• Commissioner Butch Eley, Finance & Administration