Cameron Sexton

Here are your special House committees

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to the House Republican Caucus after winning their nomination for speaker on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton has appointed special committees to handle each of three subjects being taken up in the special session. The Senate, meanwhile, is sticking with its regular standing committees.

Here are the House panels for the special session:

COVID Related Liability Committee

  • Chair-Curcio, R
  • Vice Chair-Howell, R
  • Boyd, R
  • Bricken, R
  • Byrd, R
  • Camper, D
  • Carr, R
  • Cochran, R
  • DeBerry, D
  • Freeman, D
  • Gant, R
  • Grills, R
  • Halford, R
  • Keisling, R
  • Lamberth R
  • Love, D
  • Marsh, R
  • Potts, D
  • Rudder, R
  • Sherrell, R
  • Thompson, D
  • Tilis, R
  • Travis , R
  • Whitson, R
  • Windle, D

Electronic Delivery of Healthcare Committee

  • Chair- Terry, R
  • Vice Chair- Baum, R
  • Carter, R
  • Casada, R
  • Chism, D
  • Clemmons, D
  • Dixie, D
  • Dunn, R
  • Faison, R
  • Hardaway, D
  • Hawk, R
  • Hill, Timothy, R
  • Johnson, Gloria, D
  • Kumar, R
  • Leatherwood, R
  • Mitchell, D
  • Moon, R
  • Parkinson, D
  • Ragan, R
  • Ramsey, R
  • Smith, R
  • Sparks, R
  • Vaughan, R
  • White, R
  • Williams, R

Public Safety Committee

  • Chair- Farmer, R
  • Vice Chair- Hurt, R
  • Beck, D
  • Calfee, R
  • Cepicky, R
  • Cooper, D
  • Crawford, R
  • Griffey, R
  • Garrett, R
  • Hakeem, D
  • Hodges, D
  • Hulsey, R
  • Lafferty, R
  • Littleton, R
  • Miller, D
  • Moody, R
  • Ogles, R
  • Reedy, R
  • Rudd, R
  • Russell, R
  • Staples, D
  • Todd, R
  • Van Huss, R
  • Weaver, R

Finance Committee

  • Chair- Lynn, R
  • Vice Chair- Hicks, R
  • Camper, D
  • Coley, R
  • Daniel, R
  • Doggett, R
  • Eldridge, R
  • Hall, R
  • Haston, R
  • Hazlewood, R
  • Helton, R
  • Hill, Matthew, R
  • Holsclaw, R
  • Holt, R
  • Jernigan, D
  • Johnson, Curtis, R
  • Lamar, D
  • Lamberth, R
  • Powell, D
  • Powers, R
  • Sexton, Jerry, R
  • Shaw, D
  • Stewart, D
  • Towns, D
  • Wright, R
  • Zachary, R

(Additions to the Finance panel compared with the regular session are Daniel, Eldridge, Hall, Haston, Helton, Holsclaw, Jernigan, Johnson, Lamar, Powell, Powers, Sexton, Stewart, Towns, and Wright. Subtractions are Republicans Baum, Crawford, Faison, Gant, Hawk, Ogles, Reedy, Tillis, Todd, Whitson, and Williams, along with Democrats DeBerry, Miller, Staples, and Windle.)

It’s special session time in Tennessee (again)

The Senate meets in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Lawmakers are back in Nashville on Monday for a special session, this time to complete unfinished business from when they couldn’t agree back in June over COVID-19 liability protections and a telehealth bill.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) got in under the wire on a fundraising blackout on Monday morning by collecting checks from donors at the Hermitage Hotel. Sens. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) had their own fundraisers at Puckett’s restaurant and Nissan Stadium, respectively.

The House Republican Caucus picked up where it left off by holding a closed-door meeting before the start of the first floor session.

Legislative historian Eddie Weeks has combed through the records to find some interesting facts about his special session:

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Winners and losers in the General Assembly’s fundraising sweepstakes

The state Capitol was closed to visitors on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The final fundraising disclosures are in before Thursday’s primary election. We’ve dug through the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance disclosures to aggregate how much each candidate for the House and Senate has raised so far through this election cycle.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) leads the way with $359,200, followed by freshman Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) with $290,700. Sen. Paul Rose (R-Covington) is next on the list with $226,500, though his numbers are a bit inflated by having stood for a special election during the cycle.

On the other end of the spectrum are incumbents who have raised the least. They are Reps. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) with $2,900, Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) with $3,900, and former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) with $6,450.

These totals are for candidates only, meaning they don’t include any of their political action committees.

A couple caveats about the way the Registry keeps these numbers: They include outside donations and direct contributions from the candidates themselves, but not loans. For example, while Rep. Rick Tillis’ challenger Todd Warner in District 92 is listed as raising $2,950, that figure doesn’t include the eye-popping $127,100 he has loaned himself. The figures also don’t include unitemized contributions, which for some candidates can be substantial.

So with all that being said, the full list follows. Challengers and candidates in open races are listed in italics.

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War of words erupts over failure to pass bill to ban COVID-19 lawsuits

Everyone thought the deal was done. But then it wasn’t. The General Assembly adjourned in the predawn hours of Friday without passing either a bill to provide businesses immunity from most COVID-19 lawsuits or another measure to set insurance reimbursement standards for telemedicine appointments.

That’s when a war of words began to erupt between the Republican leaders of both chambers. Senate Speaker Randy McNally blamed House Majority Leader William Lamberth and House Judiciary Chairman Michael Curcio for torpedoing the lawsuit bill.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, normally a McNally ally, shot back that “finger pointing on social media … is not a productive way to arrive at an effective solution.”

Talk immediately turned to whether Gov. Bill Lee might call a special session to try to fix the damage. But first, the two chambers would have to come together on an agreement — something that has proven elusive so far.

The sticking point over the lawsuit liability has been over whether it be backdated to the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate has argued it should, while the House has pointed out that retroactive legislation is banned by the state constitution. Business interests appeared to have been willing to back off the retroactive language in the interest of getting at least something passed this session, but those discussions evaporated after the word was put out the two chambers had agreed to pass the original forms of both the liability and telemedicine bills.

It turned out rank-and-file members of the House weren’t on board with such an arrangement. The vote to adopt the Senate version including the retroactive language was 46-36. It takes 50 votes for bills to be approved in the House.

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House GOP picks an unusual bargaining chip in budget debate: Retaining the Hall income tax

Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) presides over a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

For years, the contest among legislative Republicans was over who could move to eliminate the state’s Hall Income Tax the quickest. Now it appears House Republicans want to hold on to the last vestige of the tax on earnings from stocks and bonds for another five years.

The Daily Memphian‘s Sam Stockard reports the House plan would keep the 1% tax on the books until 2025, pulling in about $49 million per year as the state scrambles to make up for revenues lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate wants to keep the levy on it’s current path toward expiration on Jan. 1.

Look no further than House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) to illustrate the political importance of doing away with the Hall tax. As Sexton told the told the Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce in 2011. ”

We don’t want to be a state that penalizes people for investments or for saving … It’s also bad policy. We shouldn’t penalize people for saving for the future.

Will Sexton really want to have to explain to constituents — a large portion of whom are retirees — why his first session as House speaker included a resurrection of the hated Hall tax? Probably not. Many political observers see the Hall tax item as a bluff by the House to try to negotiate concessions out of the Senate.

The question is whether House Republicans are really just negotiating with themselves.

Lee, speakers announce plan to pass budget then recess General Assembly

The state Capitol was closed to visitors on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Per Gov. Bill Lee, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton:

Over the last week, we have remained in close contact with the state’s health leaders, and we have continued to carefully monitor the complex and aggressive COVID-19 virus in Tennessee. The latest guidance from both the CDC and Department of Health requires us to take unprecedented action. In the best interests of public health, we have jointly decided to limit all remaining legislative business to fulfilling our constitutional requirement of passing a balanced budget, and any associated actions that will ensure Tennessee can keep its doors open. This is a serious time for our state and country, and we all must make adjustments in response to this threat. Our approach will take into account the unique public health challenges this complex virus presents, as well as the economic disruption likely to occur as a result of its spread. Passing an amended budget now and recessing will allow the General Assembly to focus on an immediate plan of action, while still determining needs down the road. This pathway forward should only be reserved for extraordinary circumstances. We will continue operating out of an abundance of caution and take additional action if it becomes necessary.

Tennessee Capitol complex to close doors to public

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Capitol and legislative office complex will be off limits to the public starting on Monday amid the spread of the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 is an evolving situation but we urge vulnerable populations, including those over age 60 and with chronic medical conditions to limit participation in mass gatherings and to take extra precautions for personal well-being like increased hand-washing,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement. “With 26 confirmed cases in our state, we have issued further guidance to help communities mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Here’s a joint statement from House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally:

Governor Lee continues to take a thoughtful approach to containing the possible spread of COVID-19. We applaud his steps to better protect the public’s health. Beginning Monday, March 16, we will limit access to the Cordell Hull Building out of an abundance of caution. Access is prohibited to everyone except elected members, staff and members of the media until further notice. However, the citizens of Tennessee will still be able to access the work they have elected us to do through the livestreaming services available on our website.

We must take any and all reasonable steps to slow the spread of COVID-19. It is imperative the public’s health be prioritized and economic disruption minimized. We will continue to evaluate this situation, remain in contact with Governor Lee, the state’s health leaders, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to determine whether additional action is needed.

The governor’s office also gave the following guidance:

Mass Gatherings

Heading into the weekend, many Tennesseans will be making decisions regarding faith gatherings and church attendance. Congregations and groups are urged to consider alternatives to traditional services by utilizing livestreams, pre-recorded messages and other electronic means. 

While at this time, mass gatherings such as conferences or other large social events remain at the discretion of the organizer, we strongly discourage events of 250 people or more as an important step in limiting exposure to COVID-19. 

Schools

At this time, school districts have been advised to exercise discretion when canceling school for K-12 students. The state will provide further support for districts pursuing this action but urge districts to consider the prevalence of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their area. In partnership with districts, students who depend on school-provided meals will still receive this support, regardless of school closure.

State Employees, Business Travel 

Effective immediately, state employees who have been trained and certified to work from home within the state’s Alternative Workplace Solutions (AWS) program will work from home through March 31, 2020. Approximately 11,000 state employees are certified AWS employees and can begin work from home with no disruption to state business. 

Effective immediately, state employees have been instructed to cease all non-essential business travel through March 31, 2020. 

Tennessee State Capitol Closed to Visitors

The Tennessee State Capitol is closed to tours and visitors through March 31, 2020. Members of the media will continue to have access to the State Capitol building. 

 

Lee and Sexton talk early childhood reading

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee and House Speaker Cameron Sexton toured Warner Arts Magnet Elementary School in East Nashville last week as a plan to spend nearly $70 million on early childhood reading initiatives has received some pushback by education groups.

As reported by Chalkbeat Tennessee, concerns include that the program is being rushed out and that it would add diagnostic testing for children starting in kindergarten.

Lee and Sexton discussed the reading initiative with The Tennessee Journal following the visit to the school. Here’s what they had to say:

Government moves very slowly a lot of the time. People get to used to that, so when there’s a desire to move in an expeditious way you find pushback. But I think, by and large, people know it’s time for us to do this. — Lee.

LEE: Literacy is the most important thing we can do in education, and early literacy will reap the rewards of that for generations to come if we get it right. And if we don’t get it right in literacy, all of the rest of our investment in education will fall short. This approach is data-driven, it is modeled in large part after approaches that are working other places in the country. And it’s just an investment in preparing teachers, getting them the right information and the right equipment needed, and then focusing on those kids and the outcomes that come through literacy. So we’re excited about what’s to come there.

SEXTON: We are in total agreement with Gov. Lee in putting the focus on the literacy problem that we have in the state of Tennessee. We’ve done a great job with the GIVE Act and Tennessee Promise and Reconnect, in really helping people have the opportunity. Now we’re refocusing back on the lower grades in school, where it really does matter what happens. And so we’re very hopeful and appreciate the huge investment that he put into that. And what I will say is, it’s great to know that we have a commissioner and a governor who want to get back to the phonics and get back to the basics of things that we know that work. And we’re looking forward to really having Tennessee move in light years like we have over the years. But really, expand and really grow exponentially in our reading proficiency.

It’s great to know that we have a commissioner and a governor who want to get back to the phonics and get back to the basics of things that we know that work. — Sexton.

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Speakers seek delay of sports gambling in Tennessee amid questions about draft rules

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton await Gov. Bill Lee’s arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Legislative leaders want the Tennessee Lottery to delay the approval of sports gambling rules. Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) wrote in a letter to Lottery Chair Susan Lanigan on Friday that some of the draft rules are outside the scope of the gaming law passed last year.

Here is the text of the letter:

Dear Ms. Lanigan,
We would respectfully request that the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation Board of Directors and the Sports Wagering Advisory Council delay voting on the rules to implement the “Tennessee Sports Gaming Act.”

There have been concerns brought to our attention that some of the rules, as drafted, may be outside the authority given to the Board or Council pursuant to the “Tennessee Sports Gaming Act.” For example, there is concern that the additional categories of licenses created within the rules aren’t within the scope or authority of the Board or Council under the “Tennessee Sports Gaming Act.” Specifically, the Sports Pool Intermediary License and the Vendor License, and associated fees, are not authorized in the Act.

Please feel free to contact our office with any questions you have regarding this letter,

Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,

/signed/
Lt. Governor Randy McNally, Speaker Cameron Sexton

Here’s a look at the fundraising sweepstakes among legislative incumbents

Lawmakers await the start of Gov. Bill Lee’s second State of the State address on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

New House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) was the top fundraiser among legislative incumbents in 2019 with $349,701, followed by freshman state Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville), who raised $227,881.

On the other end of the spectrum is embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro), whose $1,500 was the least amount raised by an incumbent up for re-election in 2020. Byrd, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by former players when he was  high school basketball coach in the 1980s, appeared to be waffling on an earlier pledge not to run again, but has ultimately said he won’t seek another term.

Other House members who haven’t been very active on the fundraising front are Memphis Democrats G.A. Hardaway ($2,900), John DeBerry ($4,250), and Joe Towns ($5,750). On the Republican side, Reps. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) raised $3,250, Mike Carter of Ooltewah brought in $3,900, and Bruce Griffey of Paris landed just $8,400.

See the full list of fundraising totals after the jump.

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