general assembly

Teachers’ union endorses Republican Dickerson over Democratic challenger Campbell

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

The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, has endorsed incumbent Republican state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) over his Democratic challenger, Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell.

“Davidson County is home to the best educators in Tennessee, and I will continue to support meaningful legislation that will fully fund our schools, empower school principals and support our teachers,” Dickerson said in a statement.

Here’s the TEA’s endorsement letter:

Dear Sen. Steve Dickerson:

You have received the TEA endorsement for re‐election to the Tennessee State Senate for District 20. Your strong legislative record of supporting and defending Tennessee’s public schools and the dedicated professionals who work in them is the basis of the unanimous endorsement by the members of the TEA Fund for Children and Public Education, our political action committee. Congratulations, for it is well deserved.

In the many legislative battles over public education, your advocacy and care have stood out to educators here in Nashville and across Tennessee.

Fighting privatization. You have a long history as an ardent opponent of vouchers, not only when they targeted your senate district in the most recent legislative fight, but in any and every manner privatization schemes have been proposed. Your opposition has been vocal and effective and based on your knowledge that public schools are the foundation of our communities.

Defending the profession. When teachers’ careers have been threatened or attacked by misguided policies and proposed legislation, you have been a stalwart defender and advocate for educators. When the State Board of Education passed a policy to revoke teaching licenses based on the fuzzy numbers of TVAAS, you stepped in to help pass legislation outlawing the practice. You recognize teaching as a profession—one as important as your own—and treat it with the respect and support it deserves.

Improving student outcomes with community schools. All of us who are dedicated to improving student outcomes in schools with high poverty rates know we must address the barriers to learning that accompany the economic insecurity of families. It is why TEA has worked closely with you to increase efforts to expand and enhance community schools in Tennessee. Community schools have a proven track record and are grounded in the knowledge that the emotional, social, and physical needs of students must be addressed for them to succeed academically.

It is critical to keep effective and respected advocates for public schools in the state senate. That is why we fully support your re‐election and ask every voter who supports public education to cast their vote for you.

Good luck in your campaign. Sincerely,

Beth Brown

President, Tennessee Education Association

Another provision of TN abortion law blocked in federal court

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference announcing his sweeping bill seeking to ban most Tennessee abortions in Nashville on Jan. 23, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Another provision of Tennessee’s sweeping anti-abortion law has been blocked in federal court. U.S. District Judge Chip Campbell, a Trump appointee, put a hold on a requirement that would have gone into effect on Thursday to require patients be informed about “abortion reversal.” He previously blocked other elements of the law seeking to ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The plaintiffs argued the law would violate abortion providers’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to convey “scientifically unsupported and misleading information.” Campbell said he was unable to fully assess competing expert opinions about whether such reversals are possible, but said he plans to hear what expert witnesses have to say on the matter during a hearing scheduled for Oct. 13.

But Campbell said he did not have to wait to find one aspect of the law misleading: A requirement for the state Department of Health to post information about the reversal of chemical abortions on its website within 90 days of the law going into effect, meaning there would be up to three-month delay between when such signage had to be posted and when information must be made available. No details had yet been posted on the Health Department site as of Tuesday, Campbell said.

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Rep. Beck blames ‘highly risky’ special session for COVID-19 infection

Democratic state Rep. Bill Beck of Nashville is the latest House member to test positive for COVID-19. The lawmaker is blaming a “highly risky” special legislative session for his infection.

Lawmakers attend a House floor session in Nashville on March 16, 2020. Watching from the gallery are, from left, Reps. Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville), Bob Freeman (D-Nashville), and Bill Beck (D-Nashville). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

“Unfortunately, staying safe is a group effort and the General Assembly as a whole failed to follow the medical advice of wearing a mask and social distancing while in Nashville for the special session,” Beck said in a statement Thursday. “I and many others said this special session was unnecessary and highly risky. We have been proven right on both accounts.”

House Minority Leader Karen Camper (D-Memphis) disclosed she had tested positive after leaving the special session due to feeling ill. Others who have come down with COVID-19 include Reps. Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville), Kent Calfee (R-Kingston), and Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah). Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) said he did not attend the special session because he had been exposed to COVID-19, but refused to say whether he had tested positive. Former Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), now the mayor of his hometown, tested positive after serving as pastor of the day on the last day of the regular session in June.

Beck’s full statement follows.

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For real this time? Lawmakers adjourn

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

The General Assembly concluded a three-day special session Wednesday evening to complete unfinished business dating back to its a blowup between House and Senate Republicans at the end of the regular session in June.

The agenda included Covid-19 lawsuit protections for businesses and schools, a telehealth bill, and a sweeping effort to crack down on protest that have raged around the Capitol for weeks.

According to The Tennessean:

Unlike when the legislature adjourned its regular session in June, when the legislative chambers traded barbs while House Democrats urged reforms on policing and race, internal fireworks during the special session were minimal. The most significant confrontations during the relatively pain-free special session came when protesters repeatedly blocked lawmakers’ access out of their office building. 

The Daily Mempian reported:

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat, said she wants to make sure it doesn’t protect “bad actors” that might put up signs prohibiting masks or refuse to clean their facilities […] Bell contended those types of cases would be decided in court if a business is “grossly negligent” by refusing to follow safety guidelines. He argued, nevertheless, the legislation would offer protection to large businesses statewide, including Amazon and Nissan, as well as a bakery in tiny Eagleville and schools.

And the AP summed it up as follows:

Efforts to increase law enforcement oversight were rebuffed by the GOP-dominant Statehouse. Instead, the majority white General Assembly chose to focus their attention on the ongoing protests that have been led by mostly young Black activists outside the Capitol, who have been calling for racial justice reforms for the past two months.

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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Tennessee abortion law to be challenged before Trump-appointed judge

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

When Tennessee Republican lawmakers passed a sweeping abortion ban last week, it was the the expressed hope the measure could be used to challenge precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. A legal challenge filed in federal court in Nashville this week provides an early test as the case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Chip Campbell, whom President Donald Trump appointed to the bench in 2017.

Campbell was a business litigator with Frost Brown Todd before becoming a judge. He is the son of Republican National Committee member Beth Campbell and husband of Anastasia Campbell, the co-director of the General Assembly’s office of legal services.

Unlike some of Trump’s more controversial nominees, Campbell received a “Well Qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. The Senate voted 97-0 to confirm Campbell in January 2018.

It’s over: Lawmakers adjourn after strangely frantic end of session

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

A bizarre legislative session came to a close in the early hours of Friday. A last-minute deal to pass a sweeping  abortion ban caused the House and Senate to drop disagreements over the budget and wrap up their businesses.

The surprise nature of the decision to take up the bill after midnight (and behind closed doors) in the Senate, where leaders had earlier declared  it would not be taken up this year, is only likely to fuel legal questions about the measure.

 

House bill would do away with pre-election disclosures

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), right, attends a House GOP caucus meeting on July 24, 2019, in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Voters would know a lot less about candidates’ fundraising activity under bill up for consideration on the House floor Monday. The measure sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) would do away with the pre-primary and pre-general reports candidates must currently file to cover the period ending 10 days before the vote.

[UPDATE: The House voted 87-5 to pass the bill.]

The bill would instead require only quarterly reports. Using this year’s election as a guide, candidates wouldn’t have to disclose how much money they had raised — or from whom — for more than five weeks between the end of the most recent full quarter and the primary or general election.

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance says doing away with the pre-election reports would not significantly reduce the agency’s workload.

 

The measure would also do away with unitimized disclosures for contributions under $100.

The companion bill has yet to be head in the Senate, which has declared it will only focus on coronavirus-related or time-sensitive legislation in its return into session.

House scheduled to hear 391 bills this week, Senate none

Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) presides of the House Higher Education Subcommittee on May 26, 2020. (Screengrab: Tennessee General Assembly)

The full slate of 20 state House committees meeting this week have 391 bills on their calendars, according to a count by The Tennessean. By contrast, the Senate has none.

The two chamber are at odds about how wide the scope of their return into session should be. The upper chamber wants to focus on COVID-19 related legislation, the budget, and “time-sensitive” measures. The House wants to throw the doors open to any remaining bills, including controversial measures such as making the Bible the state’s official book, banning most abortions, and getting rid of training and background check requirements to carry handguns in public.

The lower chamber is allowing limited access to lobbyists and the public, while the Senate will remain on lockdown for all but lawmakers, staff, and the media.

The Finance Committee is the panel meeting on the Senate side this week.

Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) speaks during a House subcommittee meeting in on May 26, 2020 (Screengrab: Tennessee General Assembly)

Lee: ‘Metrics’ will be available for lawmakers to plan budget cuts

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at an event in Nashville on April 2, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee says lawmakers will have the revenue data available to plan for further budget cuts when they return into session on June 1.

While the full set of tax collection information usually isn’t released until the middle of the month, the General Assembly won’t have to wait that long to make adjustments to the state’s annual spending plan, the governor told the Daily Memphian over the weekend.

“It’s a challenge to project, but there are metrics which you use to make projections,” Lee said.

The governor said several state economists are assembling data and the State Funding Board will meet again to make recommendations before the legislative session resumes.