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New TNJ alert: Back to the drawing board, hanging around after the budget, and ivermectin for all

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

The new print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Back to the drawing board? Republicans scramble to draw new Senate maps in case their appeal of redistricting order falls short.

— Not so super? New law establishing three-judge panels to evaluate redistricting challenges didn’t prevent embarrassing ruling against GOP.

— Long goodbye or veto override opportunity: House plans to hang around for two weeks after passing budget.

— Legislative roundup: Smoking ban, ivermectin for anyone asking, school board hubbubs, public records.

Also: Ford gets “spun up” about takeover of West Tennessee town’s finances, Slatery names a new chief deputy, Windle goes independent, and lawmakers want guidance for motorists about how to behave during traffic stops.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Site plan for Ford plant gets green light from Megasite Authority

The Blue Oval City plans superimposed on a map of the West Tenenssee Megasite. (Illustration by The Tennessee Jounral)

The Megasite Authority of West Tennessee has approved the site plan for Ford Motor Co.’s $5.6 billion electric pickup truck and battery plant in Haywood County.

The Daily Memphian reports the company only needs to secure an environmental permit before it can begin preparing the Blue Oval City project for construction. Ford has chosen Detroit-based Walbridge as its general contractor.

The Megasite Authority previously approved a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement by which the company will remit $8 million by 2030 and $11.5 million by 2051.

The 3,600-acre parcel of land is being leased to Ford and SK Innovation for $1. Under a clawback provision, 90% of the committed 5,760 jobs must be filled within a decade. Otherwise the companies would have to pay back a portion of a $500 million grant from the state, plus the $175 million value of the land, the Associated Press reported last month.

New TNJ alert: Ford labor deal to construct plant worries lawmakers, election changes proposed

The Blue Oval City plans superimposed on a map of the West Tenenssee Megasite.

— GOP lawmakers fret over Ford’s national labor agreement to build West Tennessee site.

— Proposal to require residency requirements for congressional candidates could have big effect on 5th District race – if it’s legal.

— Numbering disparity in new Senate maps could serve as basis for redistricting lawsuit.

— From the campaign trail: Kelsey dodges primary challenge from prominent House chairman, candidates line up to run for seats being vacated by Byrd and Halford, Stewart joins the ranks of retiring lawmakers.

Also:

The Tennessee Performing Arts Center says its in “ongoing discussion” with the state about its future home, Andy Ogles is “offended” by Morgan Ortagus, Lee Beaman is back at Belmont, and the former senator who made it legal to have up to a gallon of booze on you in every Tennessee county has died.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Statehouse emerging from holiday slumber

A statue of President Andrew Jackson is seen in front of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Capitol complex is emerging from its holiday slumber after observing the New Year’s holiday on Monday. Lawmakers return into session next week, with much attention focused on Wednesday’s scheduled unveiling of redrawn congressional maps.

Meanwhile, the state chapter of the Americans for Prosperity is looking to get back on track after failing to put a dent in the state’s massive incentive package to cement Ford Motor Co.’s $5.6 billion investment into the Memphis Regional Megasite.

Here’s the release from the AFP:

NASHVILLE, TN — Americans for Prosperity-TN (AFP-TN) previewed its 2022 Legislative Agenda, which includes priorities to unlock economic freedom, expand educational opportunity, and enact criminal justice reforms. 

The 2022 Legislative Agenda is available here

AFP-TN State Director Tori Venable released the following statement: 

“As lawmakers return to Nashville, AFP-TN is focused on advancing policies that will help every Tennessean reach their full potential. This includes lowering taxes and advancing economic freedom, giving parents more say in their children’s education, and critical criminal justice reforms. We are looking forward to engaging with legislators about advancing priorities to break down the government barriers that hold people back.”  

Legislation AFP-TN will be advocating for includes: 

— Repeal of the Professional Privilege Tax.

— Reform the school funding formula to be student-centered and flexible.

— Expand open enrollment across state.

— Fund the police through transparent budgets.

— End civil asset forfeiture .

AFP-TN will be rolling out the agenda at events across the state in the coming weeks. 

Ford concerns about COVID-19 bill referred to lawmakers

The Memphis Regional Megasite.

Ford Motor Co., which just last week received the glowing praise of a vast majority of state lawmakers when they approved an $884 million incentive package for the automaker to build a new plant at the Memphis Regional Megasite, apparently isn’t so thrilled about efforts to outlaw mask and vaccine mandates by private employers.

Word spread around the legislature that Ford had called Gov. Bill Lee to register its complaints. But the governor has famously declined to get involved in the special session, perhaps fearing the very situation that lawmakers now seem to be putting the state in.

Officially, the governor’s office isn’t saying much.

“We have heard from a number of businesses and groups regarding proposals, and we have told them to reach out directly to legislators with their concerns,” said Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold, adding that other automakers in Tennessee have also raised concerns.

UPDATE: The Tennessee Lookout reports a Ford official sent a text message to senators saying the company worries about being barred from requiring its employees from wearing masks.

Sen. Page Walley, R-Bolivar, alluded to Ford’s concerns in a committee meeting Friday.

“I’m very concerned we don’t adversely impact that with this legislation and what Ford is attempting to achieve and what they say has been critical for them to be able to manage their operations and stay open in other parts of the state with their ability to utilize masking requirements,” the Lookout quoted Walley as saying.

“I’m not going to be comfortable unless we have a plan on how we’re going to address this.”

UPDATE: Ford incentive deal, megasite panel approved by General Assembly

The Memphis Regional Megasite.

The nearly $900 million incentive package for Ford to build Blue Oval City on the Memphis Regional Megasite has passed both chambers of the General Assembly.

The Senate voted 27-3 on both the funding measure and a bill creating a new megasite authority. The opponents were Sens. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), and Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield).

The House later voted 90-3 to approve the bill fudning the megasite. Opponents were Reps. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka), Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster), and Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro).

The bills are expected to be signed into law quickly by Gov. Bill Lee so work on the megasite can get underway.

Here are the House committees for the special session

Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to colleagues on the House floor in Nashville on Oct. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate is keeping its regular committees in place for the special session, but House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) is appointing special panels to hear the Ford incentive bills and other legislation.

Here are the special House committees:

Commerce

  • Chair: Vaughan
  • Vice Chair: Todd
  • Bricken
  • Chism
  • Freeman
  • Gillespie
  • Griffey
  • Halford
  • Harris
  • Hurt
  • Leatherwood
  • Miller
  • Moody
  • Parkinson
  • Powers
  • Ramsey
  • Travis
  • Vital
  • White

Health and Safety

  • Chair: Terry
  • Vice Chair: Grills
  • Calfee
  • Campbell
  • Carringer
  • Cepicky
  • Cooper
  • Doggett
  • Hakeem
  • Hardaway
  • Howell
  • Johnson of Knox
  • Lafferty
  • Ogles
  • Ragan
  • Rudder
  • Smith
  • Thompson

Finance, Ways & Means

  • Chair: Hazlewood
  • Vice Chair: Hicks of Hawkins
  • Baum
  • Boyd
  • Camper
  • Carr
  • Faison
  • Farmer
  • Gant
  • Garrett
  • Haston
  • Hawk
  • Helton
  • Hodges
  • Lamar
  • Lamberth
  • Littleton
  • Lynn
  • Shaw
  • Whitson
  • Williams
  • Windle

Calendar & Rules

  • Chair: Zachary
  • Vice Chair: Russell
  • Beck
  • Camper
  • Curcio
  • Darby
  • Faison
  • Halford
  • Hazlewood
  • Howell
  • Jernigan
  • Keisling
  • Kumar
  • McKenzie
  • Mitchell
  • Lamberth
  • Marsh
  • Reedy
  • Terry
  • Warner
  • Weaver

Price tag for Ford megasite deal hits $884M

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at Ford’s announcement it will build an electric vehicle and battery plant at the Memphis Regional Megasite on Sept. 28, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

When lawmakers return into special session next week to take up an incentive package for Ford’s Blue Oval City at the Memphis Regional Megasite, they might be surprised the price tag has now reached $884 million.

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration had already disclosed the $500 million grant it had agreed to provide to Ford and battery maker SK Innovation. But as first unearthed by Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Andy Sher, the legislation appropriates state funds for three further items.

Here’s the breakdown:

— State grant to Ford Motor Co. or its affiliates: $500 million.

— Road work: $200 million.

— Building, demolition, and related work on site: $138.2 million.

— Construction of Tennessee College of Applied Technology at the site: $40 million.

— Consulting and legal services: $5 million.

— Establishment of a new Megasite Authority of West Tenenssee: $675,000.

Just like any other major investor, Ford and SK Innovation will also qualify for statutory job tax credits worth $4,500 for each new job created. The Haywood County location also qualifies for an enhanced credit of an additional $4,500 for five years. Or the company can choose the “super tax credit,” of between $4,500 and $5,000 per position (depending on wage level) for up to 20 years.

The enhancement and super tax credit can’t be used together, so the Blue Oval City project will have to decide whether to go for the large per-employee credit for a shorter amount of time, or the lesser amount for longer.

The full projected employment level of 5,800 workers times $4,500 is $26 million. At the enhanced level, the total credit would balloon to $52 million against the projects franchise and excise tax obligations.

New TNJ edition alert: Ford incentive deal gets scant attention amid furor over COVID-19 mandates

The 6 1/2-square-mile Memphis Regional Megasite.

The new print edition of The Tenenssee Journal is out. Here’s what we covered this week:

— Ford session near, but still no official call on COVID-19 mandates.
— Robinson faces Senate removal following conviction in fraud trial (with cameos from John Ford, Tommy Burnett, and Ed Gillock).
— Cue the waterworks: State releases plan for spending federal funds on water, sewer projects.
— Obituary: Jim Coley, social studies teacher who spent 14 years as lawmaker.

Also: Mick Jagger on a pedal tavern, big school districts and teachers’ union frozen out of BEP review, Randy Boyd apologizes for Mark Pody fundraiser, and Steve Cohen makes an endorsement in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

As always, access your copy of the TNJ here or subscribe here.

Sexton threatens abstentions on Ford deal if there is no second session on COVID-19 mandates

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to colleagues at a House Republican Caucus on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Republicans may sit on their hands rather than vote for a $500 million incentive package for Ford’s massive investment in West Tennessee if there isn’t going to be another special session on COVID-19 mandates, Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said Friday.

“If there wasn’t a special session, you’d have members who vote against [the Ford deal] in the House,” Sexton told WWTN-FM. “Instead of getting the 90-plus votes that is like everyone’s in unison with the decision and wanting Ford, you’d be in the 70s. It would still pass, but is that really the message you want to send to the biggest investment in Tennessee history?”

Gov. Bill Lee has called a special session for the week of Oct. 18 to address issues related to the Ford deal. He extended his executive order allowing parents to opt their school children out of mask mandates on Thursday and said he wants to fight against federal rulings and orders about the issue in court rather than in the General Assembly.

That’s not good enough for some GOP lawmakers.

“You just have members who are like, If I’m in East Tennessee, and it’s great that we landed that in West Tennessee, but I’ve got families and parents over here and who need help and we’re not doing anything to help them. And why can’t we?” Sexton said.

“Members at that point may choose to vote for it anyway or they may choose to say I may not vote no, but I’m not going to vote yes,” he said.

One issue Sexton said lawmakers may want to take up is whether businesses should be subject to lawsuits from workers they require to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Currently they have absolute immunity if an employee has a reaction to that vaccine,” Sexton said. “So, I think it’s important for us to go in and take a look and say if you do a mandate on your employees then you shouldn’t have the immunity to where they don’t have any repercussions if that happens.”

The business community is likely to take a dim view of lifting liability protections enacted amid the pandemic.

Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) issued a joint statement on Friday:

The Ford megasite deal is transformational for Tennessee, and we look forward to working with Gov. Lee to finalize this project as part of his special session call for Ford Motor Company. At the same time, we have heard from many Tennesseans seeking relief from burdensome Covid-19 mandates being imposed upon them. We are working together per our state constitution to call an additional special session upon the completion of the megasite session to address issues surrounding Covid -19.”