Cameron Sexton

Speakers form study committee on refugee issues

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally are assembling joint study committee on refugee issues.

“The Tennessee General Assembly filed suit against the federal government five years ago on refugee settlement,” said McNally (omitting that the lawsuit failed in federal district and appeals courts). “With this study committee, we reaffirm that there is a clear and compelling state interest in a sane immigration policy.”

“We must have transparency to address the concerns raised by both members of the General Assembly and Tennesseans,” said Sexton. “I am in agreement with Gov. Lee not to accept any unaccompanied migrant children.”

The panel is entirely Republican: Reps. Dan Howell of Cleveland, Bruce Griffey of Paris, Ryan Williams of Cookeville, Scotty Campbell of Mountain City, and Chris Todd of Jackson, along with Sens. Dawn White of Murfreesboro, Bo Watson of Hixson, Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, Richard Briggs of Knoxville, and Ed Jackson of Jackson.

Here’s the letter the speakers sent to House and Senate clerks:

Dear Ms. Clerk and Mr. Clerk,

As Speakers of the Senate and House of Representatives of the 112th General Assembly, we hereby create a Study Committee on Refugee Issues to evaluate the number of migrant children being permanently relocated to Tennessee by the federal government, the number of migrant children being flown into Tennessee and then relocated to other states by the federal government, how to increase transparency from the federal government regarding its relocation of unaccompanied migrant children to and through Tennessee, and the impact, financial and beyond, on Tennesseans, as it relates to the federal government’s migrant relocation program. 

House members appointed to the committee are: Representative Howell (Chair), Representative Griffey, Representative Williams, Representative Campbell, and Representative Todd.

Senate members appointed to the committee are:  Senator White (Chair), Senator Watson, Senator Gardenhire, Senator Briggs, Senator Jackson.

/Signed/

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton

State Rep. Mike Carter passes away

Rep Mike Carter is sworn in to the 111th General Assembly in Nashville on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Mike Carter, whose refusal to sign what he called a “predetermined” ethics report helped hasten Rep. Glen Casada’s departure as House speaker, has died of pancreatic cancer.

Carter, an Ooltewah Republican, made his own bid for speaker after Casada announced he would step down in 2019, but the contest was won by Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

Carter’s cancer was discovered after he was hit by a heavy bout of COVID-19 last year. He missed most of the recently-completed legislative session while undergoing treatment.

Democrat Potts won’t run for state House again next year

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Jason Potts (D-Nashville) won’t seek another term in the General Assembly next year, The Tennesseans Natalie Allison reports. Potts missed 21 of 34 legislative days this session, telling the paper the job doesn’t pay enough, that he wants to spend more time with his young family, and that he was “discriminated against” by the Republican supermajority.

Potts is the second lawmaker to say he won’t be returning next year. Republican Rep. Bruce Griffey of Paris has said he wants to run for a judicial seat or district attorney general in 2022. Several other lawmakers are expected to step aside with redistricting looming.

“I’m not going to run again when I’m discriminated against every day,” Potts told the paper about his inability to get legislation passed.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) rejected Potts’ assertion as “utter nonsense.”

“In order to pass legislation, you should be in the General Assembly to actually run a bill,” Sexton said.

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

UPDATED: What consistency? Seven who opposed Bible bill override vote for latest version

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

When then-Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a 2016 bill to make the Bible the official state book, 15 Republicans who still remain in the chamber today voted against an override. On Monday night, seven of those representatives switched their positions to support the latest version that passed by just five votes more than the minimum needed to clear the chamber.

The GOP members who essentially voted to sustain Haslam’s veto five years ago while approving the renewed measure were Majority Leader William Lamberth of Portland, Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison of Cosby, Andrew Farmer of Sevierville, Curtis Johnson of Clarksville, John Ragan of Oak Ridge, Mark White of Memphis, and Ryan Williams of Cookeville.

While 55 members approved of the bill on Monday, 28 voted against. Another nine didn’t vote, including Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

The measure now heads to the Senate, where Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has spoken out in opposition.

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.”

Bill to ban lawmakers from selling services to the state wouldn’t extend to executive branch

A Lee Company truck is parked outside the fire-damaged John Sevier State Office Building on Nov. 24, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Current law makes it illegal for public officials to enter into sales or purchase contracts with the state. A bill moving in the House would also make it a crime for lawmakers to secure service contracts with the state, with the main aim being to curb the practice of members’ political consulting firms getting paid with taxpayer funds to design and send constituent correspondence on behalf of their colleagues.

The bill sponsored by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) initially would have applied to any government official, but as amended it is limited to “any member of the General Assembly.”

When Bill Lee was running for governor, he appeared to have been caught off guard by questions about what would happened to government contracts held by his family plumbing and air conditioning company if he were elected governor.

“I would guess we would be required to do that. I haven’t actually looked into that. I basically went into this thing and said, am I willing to give up state contracts to do this, yes,” Lee said in 2017. “Will we be required to? I don’t know. If we aren’t required to, I won’t.”

Lee later clarified his position and announced he would cancel all contracts if he was elected. Lee Co. trucks have sporadically been spotted around the Capitol complex since the governor took office, but officials say the company has no active contracts.

Smith wants to cast wider net on banning lawmakers from doing business with state

Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) attends a House floor session in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A bill introduced by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) is aimed at ending the practice of having lawmakers’ political consulting firms be paid with taxpayer dollars to send out constituent mailers for their colleagues. The measure would apply to two GOP lawmakers who recently had their homes and offices raided by the FBI, Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin and Robin Smith of Hixson.

Smith’s Rivers Edge Alliance last year billed the General Assembly nearly $11,000 for work on behalf of three colleagues. Casada’s Right Way Consulting billed $12,500 to six GOP lawmakers’ accounts. Smith and Casada have also refused to say whether they have a stake in a secretive vendor Phoenix Solutions that sprung into prominence last year.

Smith tells Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Andy Sher she wants to amend Sexton’s legislation to make it “even better” by expanding it to also include legislators’ “consultant or agent.”

Smith didn’t tell Sher whom she was seeking to target with her amendment, but her attorney has been blaming Sexton adviser Chip Saltsman for the FBI probe into his client, calling the matter a “turf war between political consultants.”

Saltsman and Smith are both former political consultants to the House Republican Caucus. They have been at odds since a 2010 congressional race in which Saltsman client Chuck Fleischmann defeated Smith in the Republican primary.

Sexton is cool to the idea of Smith amending his bill.

“Her amendment and what she wanted to do would not fit the caption of my bill,” Sexton told the Times Free Press. “Nor has she come to me about adding an amendment to my bill. What she’s wanting to do would not fit the caption, therefore you can’t do it even if I gave her the approval, I would accept the amendment — which I have not.”

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.

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.