general assembly

Read the lawsuit filed against congressional residency requirements in Tennessee

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

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court in Nashville seeking to prevent a state law from going into effect that would impose a three-year residency requirement for congressional candidates in Tennessee. The challenge was filed on behalf of three residents who say they want to vote for Republican Morgan Ortagus in the the open 5th District race. Ortagus has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, but state lawmakers have chafed at her candidacy because she only moved to the state a year ago.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson, who was appointed to the bench by Trump. The lawsuit was filed by the Washington, D.C., law firm Dickinson Wright PLLC.

As frequent offenders when it comes to typos, we wouldn’t ordinarily make a point of highlighting the mistakes of others, but misspelled words in the lawsuit are particularly jarring given their central nature to the arguments presented. They include “Tennesse,” “Represenatives,” “unconstitional” “Repulican,” “impermissably,” “Consitution,” “Congressionl,” and “critreria.” They are replicated within the full text of the complaint below:

BARBRA COLLINS, AMY C. DUDLEY and DONALD J. SOBERY, PLAINTIFFS v. STATE OF TENNESSEE, and TRE HARGETT in his official capacity as Tennessee Secretary of State, DEFENDANTS.)

COMPLAINT

Plaintiffs Barbra Collins (“Collins”), Amy C. Dudley (“Dudley”), and Donald J. Sobery (“Sobery”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), file this Complaint against Defendants State of Tennessee (the “State”) and Tre Hargett (“Hargett”), in his official capacity as Tennessee Secretary of State, (collectively “Defendants”), and allege as follows:

NATURE OF THE ACTION

1. This is a civil action seeking damages and declaratory relief arising under the Qualification Clause of the United States Constitution. U.S. Const. Art. 1 § 2; U.S. Const. Art. 1 § 5. This action challenges the constitutionality of Tennessee Senate Bill 2616/House Bill 2764 (the “Provision”) that imposes an impermissible residency requirement on candidates running for United States Congress Specifically, the Provision requires that a candidate running for United States Congress reside in Tennessee, as well as within the congressional district they seek to represent, for at least three years in order to appear on the primary ballot as a candidate.

2. This Provision will become law unless Governor Bill Lee vetoes the legislation.

3. Under the challenged Provision, an otherwise constitutionally qualified candidate for whom Plaintiffs intend to vote in the Republican primary for the Fifth Congressional District, will be prohibited from running because she has not lived in Tennessee for at least three years. The Provision blatantly violates Article I of the United States Constitution (the “Constitution”) because the Constitution delineates the only qualifications necessary to serve as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and vests with the House of Representatives the exclusive authority to judge the qualifications of its own members.

4. Plaintiffs seek damages and a declaration that the Provision is unconstitutional so that all qualified candidates who wish to run for Congress in the August 4, 2022 primary election may do so.

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Lawmakers scramble to raise money before high-noon deadline

Lawmakers are scrambling to collect last-minute campaign donations as a fundraising ban looms. The blackout begins once the gavel falls on the start of the regular session at noon on Tuesday. It will last until the General Assembly adjourns for the year — or May 15 if they can’t complete their business before then.

As Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) had an event to raise money for his PAC on Monday at the Nashville City Club, while his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), held an event at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse .

Sexton spokesman Doug Kufner told the paper “the practice of hosting fundraisers on the day before the start of a legislative session is not uncommon and has occurred regularly among members of both parties in recent years.

Raising money will be all the more crucial for lawmakers facing potential primary challenges under this year’s newly drawn political maps.

American Conservative Union releases ratings of Tenn. lawmakers, makes no mention of legal issues

Sen. Brian Kelsey walks in the state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The American Conservative Union, which is mentioned in several not-so-subtle ways in the federal campaign finance fraud indictment against state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), has released its latest ratings of Tennessee lawmakers — including of the aforementioned Kelsey, who gets an 85.

“From protecting the Second Amendment to banning Critical Race Theory in schools, it is no surprise that Tennessee, led by a great governor in Bill Lee, once again scores among the most conservative state’s in the country,” Matt Schlapp, the group’s chairman, said in a release.

Kelsey is accused of funneling money from his state account through two other PACs to the American Conservative Union, which then spent money on ads supporting his ill-fated congressional bid in 2016. Kelsey has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

The ACU scored 84 roll call votes as part of its ratings, including bills banning government vaccine passports, changing certificate of need rules, making Tennessee a gun rights “sanctuary state,” banning students from participating in sports not corresponding to the gender listed at birth, opting out of federal unemployment benefit enhancements, and banning “critical race theory” in schools.

Here are the ratings:

SenatorPartyDist.20212020Lifetime
Akbari, RaumeshD2923%38%29%
Bailey, PaulR1587%79%87%
Bell, MikeR980%75%85%
Bowling, JaniceR1683%75%85%
Briggs, RichardR778%71%80%
Campbell, HeidiD2026%n/a26%
Crowe, RustyR381%75%82%
Gardenhire, ToddR1073%75%82%
Gilmore, BrendaD1928%29%25%
Haile, FerrellR1883%71%86%
Hensley, JoeyR2882%62%85%
Jackson, EdR2783%76%85%
Johnson, JackR2384%75%88%
Kelsey, BrianR3185%77%87%
Kyle, SaraD3027%28%31%
Lundberg, JonR485%77%85%
Massey, BeckyR679%76%79%
Mcnally, RandyR578%72%85%
Niceley, FrankR881%79%81%
Pody, MarkR1782%n/a85%
Powers, BillR2283%76%79%
Reeves, ShaneR1485%76%84%
Roberts, KerryR2587%79%89%
Robinson, KatrinaD33n/a†n/a38%
Rose, PaulR3283%79%83%
Southerland, SteveR181%71%83%
Stevens, JohnR2483%75%89%
Swann, ArtR283%n/a81%
Walley, PageR2678%n/a78%
Watson, BoR1185%76%87%
White, DawnR1385%76%90%
Yager, KenR1279%74%82%
Yarbro, JeffD2128%38%36%
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Missed legislative votes tracked by Club for Growth

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Club for Growth has tracked how many floor votes were missed by members of the state House and Senate. The average representative missed 8% of the vote, while the average in the upper chamber was 6%.

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) missed 100% of the 2,244 House votes as he was hospitalized following a COVID-19 infection. Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) missed most of the session before passing away from cancer, meaning he missed 99% of votes. Rep. Jason Potts (D-Nashville) was away for 60% of votes, while Rep. Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin) missed 50%.

Out of the 2,105 Senate votes tracked by the group this year, Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) missed more than any of her colleagues with 40%. She was followed by Sens. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis) with 22%, Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) with 20%, and Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) with 19%.

Lundberg and Ogles said their absences were due to COVID-19 infections.

“I appreciate you reaching out regarding the scorecard, I think it’s great that you put that together to keep us accountable,” Ogles said in a statement to the group. “Unfortunately, I was out with COVID-19 starting 3/15/21 and was not healthy enough to return until 4/26/21.”

See the ratings below

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AP: Tennessee leads nation in laws targeting transgender people

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following his address to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A flurry of anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed around the country this year, but Tennessee has gone further than any other in targeting transgender people, according to AP reporters Jonathan Mattise, Kimberlee Kruesi, and Lindsay Whitehurst.

From the story:

Lawmakers passed and Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed five new bills into law, consistently dismissing concerns that they discriminate against an already vulnerable population, that some of the laws are unworkable and that they could damage the state’s reputation.

Supporters defend the laws policy by policy, arguing that one protects parental rights, others protect girls and women and one even improves equality. Opponents reject those claims.

[…] Tennessee’s emergence as an anti-LGBTQ leader grows out of a rightward political shift in a state Republicans already firmly controlled. Lee’s Republican predecessor tapped the brakes on some socially conservative legislation, but emphatic GOP election wins fueled by strong support for former President Donald Trump have emboldened lawmakers since then. That’s the political landscape in which Lee is launching his 2022 reelection bid.

Read the whole report here.

Alexander to be honored in joint convention

News coverage of Lamar Alexander’s first joint address to state lawmakers in 1979. The retired U.S. Senator is scheduled to speak to lawmakers on April 12, 2021.

Lamar Alexander, who served three terms in the U.S. Senate and two as governor, is scheduled to be honored in a joint convention of the General Assembly on Monday afternoon.

Alexander, a Maryville Republican who didn’t seek re-election last fall, will also be in Nashville to tour the new Tennessee State Library and Archives facility north of the state Capitol.

Alexander’s first speech to a joint convention of the House and Senate occurred more than 42 years ago when he delivered his first budget address in February 1979.

Senate to block public access to committee floor

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

The state Senate will continue to bar public access to committee meetings during the upcoming legislative session. According to guidelines shared with members, the restrictions will mirror the COVID-19 mitigation steps taken by the upper chamber last summer.

The House is expected to continue to allow access by lobbyists and other members of the public.

Here’s is the memo sent by Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey:

To:     Members of the Senate, 112th General Assembly

From:   Russell A. Humphrey, Chief Clerk

In consideration of the infection rates and State of Tennessee COVID-19 guidelines, Mr. Speaker McNally and Senate Leadership have set the following protocols:

  *   The Senate side of the first floor of the Cordell Hull Building and the Senate Hearing Room are only to be utilized by Senators and authorized staff.

  *   On the 7th Floor of the Cordell Hull Building only Senate Members, Senate Staff, and appointments pre-scheduled by the pubic are authorized on the floor.  Please notify Ms. Connie Ridley of Senators appointments with members of the public the afternoon in advance.  Once appointments are concluded, guest must leave the floor.

  *   The Senate Chamber and the Senate Hearing Room are arranged to provide seating at a minimum physical distance of six feet. Only Senate Members, limited Clerk’s staff, and a press pool reporter are allowed in the Senate Chamber.

  *   Members are requested to wear face covering that covers both the mouth and nose while in public areas, including the Senate Chamber and Senate Hearing Room.

  *   Staff are required to wear face covering that covers both the mouth and nose while in public areas, including the Senate Chamber and Senate Hearing Room.

  *   Testimony in Committee meetings by non-members will be conducted remotely only. Please let the Chairman’s office know if you have someone to testify on a matter.

  *   Due to space limitations, seating is limited to staff and press in the Senate Hearing Room and the Senate Gallery.

  *   No accommodations are available for Days on the Hill or local, regional or state Leadership Groups.

These protocols shall remain in effect until further notice.  Mr. Speaker McNally ask you to be flexible, as these will change as conditions improved. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Tennessee Republicans’ Club for Growth ratings fall

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

Tennessee lawmakers didn’t fare very well in the Club for Growth’s ratings for 2020. The average House GOP scores were 45% in 2020, down from 67% the previous year. The ratings for Senate Republicans decreased from 64% to 43%.

The group’s ratings docked lawmakers for supporting legislation to tighten requirements for online vendors to collect Tennessee sales taxes from those doing at least $500,000 worth of annual business in the state to $100,000. Economists have cited the new threshold as a major reason for the state’s strong sales tax revenues while shoppers avoided brick-and-mortar stores during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are the ratings:

House MemberChamberParty2020LifetimeRating in chamber
LaffertyHouseR69681
HoltHouseR61712
OglesHouseR58663
DoggettHouseR56654
J. SextonHouseR56674
RuddHouseR55706
WindleHouseD54597
LundbergSenateR54641
TravisHouseR53548
Van HussHouseR53608
BowlingSenateR52602
LittletonHouseR516310
SparksHouseR496211
CrawfordHouseR496611
MoodyHouseR496911
GrillsHouseR494911
BellSenateR49643
CalfeeHouseR475015
ByrdHouseR475615
GriffeyHouseR475115
HallHouseR476015
LeatherwoodHouseR476115
M. HillHouseR466220
HowellHouseR465720
HulseyHouseR466320
CochranHouseR465220
HastonHouseR465120
WeaverHouseR465620
KeislingHouseR455326
ReedyHouseR455526
SherrellHouseR456026
CepickyHouseR456026
EldridgeHouseR455326
WatsonSenateR45564
YagerSenateR45514
GreshamSenateR45534
WhitsonHouseR444831
BaumHouseR445331
ChismHouseD443831
HurtHouseR445931
RudderHouseR445231
ToddHouseR445431
C. JohnsonHouseR445631
DanielHouseR445731
DeBerryHouseD445631
StevensSenateR44567
WhiteSenateR44567
SoutherlandSenateR44507
GardenhireSenateR44447
KelseySenateR44567
RaganHouseR435540
D. PowersHouseR436040
LamberthHouseR435540
BoydHouseR435540
C. SextonHouseR435040
RobertsSenateR435712
HensleySenateR435812
HolsclawHouseR424345
ZacharyHouseR425945
TillisHouseR425145
MoonHouseR425545
VaughanHouseR424345
GarrettHouseR425545
BrickenHouseR425045
HeltonHouseR425545
WrightHouseR425945
SmithHouseR425545
WhiteHouseR425345
FaisonHouseR425345
DunnHouseR425945
GantHouseR425045
HazlewoodHouseR425545
HalfordHouseR424845
HicksHouseR424845
T. HillHouseR426945
HawkHouseR424645
MarshHouseR425445
HaileSenateR426014
BaileySenateR424714
BriggsSenateR424414
JacksonSenateR425514
ReevesSenateR425714
RoseSenateR425414
B. PowersSenateR424714
NiceleySenateR425014
McNallySenateR425514
MasseySenateR425014
J. JohnsonSenateR425514
CurcioHouseR405465
PottsHouseD404365
CarrHouseR404765
LynnHouseR406065
CarterHouseR395569
KumarHouseR385370
FarmerHouseR385270
RamseyHouseR384370
WilliamsHouseR384770
RussellHouseR375274
CroweSenateR375325
StewartHouseD362675
LamarHouseD352976
ShawHouseD354376
MillerHouseD353776
ColeyHouseR354476
FreemanHouseD343380
PodySenateR345326
StaplesHouseD332981
HardawayHouseD333181
TownsHouseD323483
JerniganHouseD323683
MitchellHouseD313385
CasadaHouseR304786
ParkinsonHouseD303286
DickersonSenateR304127
ClemmonsHouseD292988
PowellHouseD272989
ThompsonHouseD272789
DixieHouseD262391
HodgesHouseD243292
LoveHouseD232893
Sara KyleSenateD233328
HakeemHouseD223194
BeckHouseD222294
G. JohnsonHouseD211996
YarbroSenateD203029
RobinsonSenateD182630
GilmoreSenateD152731
AkbariSenateD132532
CamperHouseDn.a.35n.a.
CooperHouseDn.a.32n.a.
TerryHouseRn.a.89n.a.
SwannSenateRn.a.57n.a.

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It’s Election Day in Tennessee. Here are the state races we’re following

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

Tennessee voters who weren’t among the record numbers casting early or absentee ballots go to the polls Tuesday to make their choices for president, Congress, and General Assembly.

Much of the attention and outside spending was focused on the Republican Senate primary decided in August. Republican nominee Bill Hagerty, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan, now faces Democrat Marquita Bradshaw, an environmental activist from Memphis.

On the legislative front, here are the races drawing the most attention:

Senate:

District 20, Nashville: Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville is being challenged by former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell.

District 10, Hamilton and Bradley counties: Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga faces Democrat Glenn Scruggs, an assistant police chief.

House:

District 97 in Shelby County: The open race for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) pits Republican John Gillespie against Democrat Gabby Salinas.

District 83 in Shelby County: House Education Chairman Mark White (R-Memphis) faces Democrat Jerri Green, an attorney and school voucher opponent.

District 49 in Rutherford County: Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) is facing his latest spirited challenge in Rutherford County from Democrat Brandon Thomas, an hourly worker at a Walmart in Smyrna.

District 90 in Shelby County: Running as an independent following his ouster from the Democratic Party this spring, Rep. John DeBerry faces Torrey Harris, a reproductive rights and AIDS advocate.

District 18 in Knox County. In the race to succeed retiring Rep. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville), Republican Businessman Eddie Mannis faces Democrat Virginia Couch, an attorney.

District 67 in Montgomery County: Freshman Rep. Jason Hodges (D-Clarksville) is being challenged by Republican John Dawson, a retired Army helicopter mechanic.

District 37 in Rutherford County: Freshman Rep. Charlie Baum (R-Murfreesboro), an economics professor at Middle Tennessee Tennessee State University, faces Democrat Mariah Phillips, a Murfreesboro teacher and longtime Starbucks employee.

District 82 in Crockett, Haywood, and Lauderdale counties: Freshman Republican Rep. Chris Hurt, a former Halls High School football coach, is being challenged by Democrat Andrea Bond Johnson, a Brownsville insurance agency CE.

District 13 in Knox County: Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville faces Republican challenger Elaine Davis, who has received financial backing from Republicans despite seemingly long odds.

District 96 in Shelby County. Democratic Rep. Dwayne Thompson of Cordova faces Republican de-annexation advocate Patti Possel.

District 63 in Williamson County: Former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) faces a challenge by Democrat Elizabeth Madeira and independent Brad Fiscus.

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