Bruce Griffey

Rep. Griffey has a message for school districts

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) speaks to a supporter at House Republican Caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 14, 2020 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Bruce Griffey has taken it upon himself to tell elected local school boards, special school districts, and education leaders around the state what their COVID-19 policies should be. The Paris Republican has sent a letter across the state (and copied it to all House and Senate members) declaring it “potentially” unlawful for districts to require face coverings or “create alternate learning environments for unvaccinated students, segregate such students, or treat them any differently.”

UPDATE: Griffey made some changes to the letter and got 11 GOP colleagues to sign on, including former Speaker Glen Casada of Franklin and Reps. Todd Warner of Chapel Hill, Jerry Sexton of Bean Station, and Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster).

Shelby County Schools is the only district in the state that has said it will require students to wear face coverings in the upcoming semester. Gov. Bill Lee said at a press conference last week that he oppose the move.

Read the whole (updated) Griffey letter here:

Dear Tennessee School Boards, Special School Districts and Directors:

As the 2021-2022 academic year is fast approaching, Tennessee families are anticipating whether or not masks will be required in our Tennessee public schools. For many, this is a contentious issue and one that crosses a wide spectrum of policy areas such as public health, parental rights, the role of government, and the constitutional rights of every citizen.

While we do acknowledge that there is a legitimate state interest in the safety of all Tennesseans, as legislators and elected officials, we must ensure that we continue to maintain the public trust in our government by above all else upholding the laws of our state. Citizens should rightfully expect that our state government will not exceed its authority by making rules that have no basis in state law or in our Tennessee Constitution.

On April 30, 2021, a Williamson County Chancery Court issued an order in Citizens v Golden (Case No. 20CV-49753) which carried an alternative ruling on the merits of the case indicating that requirements for face-coverings in schools have no basis in state law. The ruling stated, “The Court cannot find, as a matter of law, Defendants have acted within the authority given to them by the legislature when enacting face­ covering requirements,” and, ” … continued enforcement of face-covering requirements is not viable.”

Additionally, House Bill 13 was passed this year adding a new section to our Tennessee Code Annotated in Title 68, Chapter 5, Part 1 stating the following:

The governor shall not issue an executive order, a state agency or department shall not promulgate a rule, and a political subdivision of this state shall not promulgate, adopt, or enforce an ordinance or resolution, that requires a person to receive an immunization, vaccination, or injection for the SARS-CoV-2 virus or any variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

As this has now been signed into law by Governor Bill Lee and mady effective as of May 25, 2021, a vaccine, immunization, or injection for COVID-19 may not be required by any public school in the state of Tennessee for students or staff. Regardless of any recommendations or guidelines set forth by the CDC, WHO, or any health official, it must be understood that state law now prohibits a vaccine for COVID-19 to be mandated by the state, a county, a municipality, or any state agency in Tennessee.

To be clear, the legislature has not granted any authority to local school boards or superintendents to require face-coverings or promulgate any rules related to healthcare or the prevention of communicable diseases. As such, any attempts to create alternate learning environments for unvaccinated students, segregate such students, or treat them any differently would be potentially unlawful in the state of Tennessee.

We value our educators, and we value our students. Last year was hard on everyone. But our students suffered most of all. This year, let us focus on our students and ensure that they are our priority by providing them with the kind of education they so richly deserve. In this year’s special legislative session, we passed legislation that focused on those goals and provided increased resources to educators with the tools they need for a successful school year. Let’s lead the nation this year in putting our students and families first. We are the Volunteer State.

/signed/

Representative Bruce Griffey

Representative Bud Hulsey

Representative Tim Rudd

Representative Jerry Sexton

Representative Jay Reedy

Representative Rick Eldridge

Representative Terri Lynn Weaver

Representative Lowell Russell

Representative Mike Sparks

Representative Todd Warner

Representative Glen Casada

Representative Kirk Haston

Speaker Sexton strips Griffey of committee assignments

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) attends a meeting at the legislative office building in Nashville on Dec. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has stripped Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) of his committee assignments. The move comes after Griffey’s unsuccessful attempt earlier this week to pull an e-verify bill that had earlier been defeated in a subcommittee straight to floor.

Griffey had engaged in a testy exchange with Sexton and House parliamentarian Daniel Hicks on Monday about whether he should be allowed to deliver remarks in favor of his bill while making the motion on the floor. After cutting the lawmaker off, Sexton determined Griffey’s motion didn’t have a second and declared it defeated.

Griffey, who is considering a bid for a judgeship next year, was removed as a member of the Civil Justice, Criminal Justice, and Education Instruction committees.

UPDATE: A statement from Sexton:

There are certain expectations that must be met by members of the Tennessee House of Representatives. These include maintaining decorum and professionalism, as well as respect for others, and perhaps most importantly — respect for our longstanding committee process. If any or all of these expectations become an issue, appropriate actions will be taken — including removing a member from his or her committee assignments.”

Griffey defends caucus move after wife denied judicial post

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) attends a meeting at the legislative office building in Nashville on Dec. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Freshman Rep. Bruce Griffey and his wife, Rebecca, were outraged when Republican Gov. Bill Lee selected Huntingdon attorney Jennifer King to become the chancellor for the judicial district covering Benton, Carroll, Decatur, Hardin, and Henry counties.

Rebecca Griffey had failed to make the list of three finalists for the position in June, but her husband had been lobbying the governor to choose her anyway — even offering Harvey Durham, the father of ousted former state Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), as having particular insight over the matter. In a letter to Lang Wiseman, the governor’s top legal adviser, Bruce Griffey said it would be a “gross miscarriage of justice” if his wife didn’t end up on the bench, according to correspondence obtained by The Tennessee Journal under public records laws.

Despite those entreaties, Lee on Sept. 4 announced he had chosen King from the list of three finalists. Two days later, Rebecca Griffey took to Facebook to express her anger.

“Today was a big slap in the face to longtime, dedicated Republicans who have devoted blood, sweat, tears and money for years to the Republican cause,” she wrote.

Wiseman took note of the Facebook post, texting a copy to Bruce Griffey on Sept. 6.

“Why are you txt me this?” Griffey responded. Then the lawmaker sent him the copy of a news story about former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile saying she had “proof” that Hillary Clinton had rigged the presidential primary in 2016.

It’s unclear why Griffey sent Wiseman the link to that story, but it was then that King alleges the Griffeys and their allies began manipulating county Republican officials and the state GOP, where Rebecca Griffey is an executive committee member, to give them greater sway over who would be the party’s nominee for the chancellorship in 2020 — in other words, not King. So just nine days after her appointment to the bench, she quit.

The Republican parties in the five counties comprising the 24th District had been given the option of whether to hold a primary election for the chancellorship, or to plot the more unusual course of holding caucuses to determine their standard bearer. When the vote was tallied, the preference among the majority was to hold a primary.

Under party rules, the counties were bound by the decision of the majority to inform their respective county election commissions that they were going to hold a primary. Three county parties did, but those in Henry and Hardin counties failed to submit the notices by the June 17 deadline. King wrote in her resignation letter that what should have happened next is that the two counties that failed to submit their filings should have been excluded from the nomination contest.

But on Sept. 6 — two days after King’s appointment and the same day Bruce Griffey sent the cryptic text message about the “rigged” Democratic primary — the state party informed the county parties that a majority had asked to reconvene to reconsider its actions. This time the vote was 8-2 to abandon the primary and instead hold a caucus. King alleged in her letter to the governor that nothing in state GOP bylaws allowed for that redo. The party says it consulted with state Division of Elections before going forward with another vote.

Bruce Griffey in a statement said the decision to hold a caucus had “nothing whatsoever to do with Ms. King being appointed by Governor Lee.” Instead, he said, the decision needed to ensure that all five counties got a chance to participate in the nomination process.

But the timing of various votes has led to widespread speculation that GOP officials in Henry and Hardin counties purposefully withheld their filings so the case could be made later that that it wouldn’t be right to exclude them from the nomination contest.

Not so, Griffey said it in his statement.

“It was a matter of fundamental fairness in allowing all 5 counties in the district to participate and was done in accordance with the TN GOP Bylaws,” he said.

IRS placed $240K lien on state Rep. Griffey’s home

The saga of freshman Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) unsuccessfully trying to pressure first-year Gov. Bill Lee into appointing his wife, Rebecca, to a vacant judgeship is the subject of this week’s Tennessee Journal. The Associated Press has done a fine job following up on the story as well.

Griffey wrote to a top Lee adviser that choosing his wife would have several potential benefits for the governor: making an “automatic ally” out of the lawmaker and taking Rebecca Griffey “out of state politics.” If she didn’t get the job, he mused, “what do Rebecca and I have to lose?”

Rebecca Griffey didn’t make the list of three finalists for the position and Lee ultimately chose Huntingdon attorney Jennifer King for the post. But she quit after just nine days on the bench under what she described as political pressure and maneuvering by the Griffeys and their allies.

Bruce Griffey alleged a political conspiracy against him and his wife by the Trial Court Vacancy Commission, with a sympathetic story in the Tennessee Star claiming the panel was made up of appointees of former Gov. Bill Haslam. It isn’t. The commission is entirely appointed by the speakers of the state House and Senate.

During interviews of the candidates for the job, members of the panel took particular issue with Rebecca Griffey’s answer to a question on her application that she had not had a tax lien or other collection procedure instituted against her over the previous five years. Members of the panel had been given a copy of IRS notices indicating Griffey and her husband had a lien placed on their home for failing to pay $240,060 in 2015 and another $23,030 in 2016.

House panel kills resolution calling for end to birthright citizenship

A resolution to comment President Donald Trump’s call to end birthright citizenship has died in the House Constitutional Protections & Sentencing Subcommittee.

The  panel voted 4-3 on Wednesday to reject the measure sponsored by freshman Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris), the AP reports. Three Republicans and one Democrat voted against the resolution.

Griffey’s resolution calls for ending what it calls “the illegitimate, unauthorized, and illegal practice of bestowing citizenship to those born within the boundaries of our great country whose presence constitutes a violation of United States law and breach of the sovereignty of this Nation.”

Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) said “God help us” if lawmakers advanced a  the resolution telling people born in the U.S. that they aren’t citizens.

Bill would target landlords of people in U.S. without authorization

The House is advancing legislation targeting landlords who rent to people without proper authorization to be in the country, the AP’s Jonathan Mattise reports. 

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) who saw the defeat of another one of his measures seeking to help fund President Donald Trump’s border wall through fees charged on international money transfers from people in Tennessee who can’t present a driver’s license.

The landlord vote advanced out of the House Business Subcommittee on a 5-1 vote. It now heads to the full Commerce Committee.

Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, condemned the legislation.

“Representative Griffey’s despicable bill seeks to strip the most basic of human needs from hardworking Tennesseans– the roof over their heads.,” she said in a release. “The bill puts thousands of children at risk of homelessness and harm,  and detrimentally affects their health and their ability to get an education.”