general assembly

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.

House, Senate pass barebones budget

The state Capitol has been closed to visitors since March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly have passed a barebones budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The spending plan projects no economic growth and required the deep reductions from Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s original proposal.

Democratic efforts to eliminate about $40 million to start up the governor’s school voucher program failed.

Lee was on hand to watch the the budget debate in the House and Senate.

Lawmakers contemplate 8-week break to legislative session

The doors of the state Capitol were closed to the public on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A series of secret meetings were being held in the closed-door Cordell Hull Building on Monday to determine how the General Assembly should proceed amid the coronavirus pandemic. Reporters got Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston) to shed some light on what was discussed among members. Here’s a transcript of what he had to say:

Ken Yager: The urgency of the situation dictated prompt action, so we just decided to talk to a few folks.

Q: What did you tell them?

KY: I just told them that we recognize the need to comply with the CDC guidelines, which have eight weeks. We’re looking at doing that. We’re tying to stay in compliance with the CDC guidelines. It’s important for us to follow the same guidelines that we’re asking other people to do…. We’re just trying to get word out to everybody, some of the members as they’re coming in.

This week we’ll focus on mission critical bills that we need to pass. We’ll let the speakers announce the rest of that.

Q: Is it being contemplated to pass a temporary budget and then recess while awaiting developments?

KY: I’ve not heard the word temporary mentioned. I think mission critical – there’s a discussion about whether we’re going to adjourn or recess. And if you adjourn, you pass a budget. If we recess to a date certain, then we certainly have the opportunity to continue to work on the budget during that recess.

Q: Why the sudden urgency when last week everything seemed fine?

KY: This issue is an evolving issue. And I think that we’ve had a chance to look at it. I’ll speak for myself, I think I’ve had a chance to talk to my local professionals and to review these guidelines with greater scrutiny after our discussions last week. And I’ve just drawn the conclusion, as my colleagues have, that we need to stay in compliance with what the CDC is asking, and set the example.

Q: How to you decide what’s mission critical? There’s a lot of key legislation that people care very deeply about still hanging out there. Does everything go by the wayside other than the budget?

KY: Those things that are mission critical, those are the things that we’ll keep. The budget, and those things that keep the state running that we have to do.

25 killed in Middle Tennessee tornadoes, legislature resumes regular business

At least 25 people have been killed in severe weather that tore through Middle Tennessee early Tuesday, including 14 in Putnam County alone.

The start of Super Tuesday voting was delayed by an hour in Nashville after a overnight tornado touched down in the city causing widespread damage. In addition to the Putnam County fatalities, three died in Wilson County, two in Davidson County, and one in Benton County.

The storm did major damage to the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville, just north of the state Capitol complex. A power outage at the Cordell Hull Building led legislative leaders to cancel all morning committee meetings. The cancellations meant a week-long delay of Senate hearings on an effort to cut the privilege tax for brokers, doctors, and attorneys.

But a decision to resume activities at 1 p.m. meant bills could still get hearings on implementing sweeping restrictions on access to abortions in Tennessee and allowing adults to carry firearms in public without a permit. Legislation to grant 12 weeks of paid leave for state employees to care for a new child or sick family member was put off by a week.

Gov. Bill Lee ordered all non-essential state employees in Middle Tennessee to stay home.

“We have activated the State Emergency Operations Center and are engaged with emergency and local officials throughout the affected areas,” he said in a statement. “Please join Maria and me in praying for the victims, their families, and all those tragically affected by this storm.”

Secretary of State Tre Hargett ordered the polls to open an hour late in Nashville, but they are still scheduled to close at the normal time of 7 p.m. Central. Nashville voters whose polling places were damaged by the storm can vote in alternate locations outlined here.

One heavily damaged building was the Basement East, a music venue in East Nashville that had been the site of a “Berniefest” fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Staffers cleaning up after the show huddled in the basement as the storm tore off the roof and destroyed a large exterior deck, according to reports.

The Monday evening event at the Basement East, which was heavily damaged by a tornado in Nashville on March 3, 2020.

 

An Easter adjournment? McNally hopes to make it so

Legislative leaders kick off the joint convention to inaugurate Gov. Bill Lee in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. From left at podium are House Majority Leader William Lamberth, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, and then-House Speaker Glen Casada. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally tells colleagues he wants to get the legislative session wrapped up by the week of Easter, which falls on April 12 this year.

The Oak Ridge Republican acknowledged that sessions tend to last at least a week longer than targeted adjournment dates, but committees will be shutting down with an eye toward getting incumbents out on the campaign trail — and raising money (which is banned while the General Assembly is in session).

Last year’s adjournment fell on May 2, while lawmakers in 2018 got out of town on April 25.

“We set these dates and usually we get pretty close, but usually it runs over a week,” he said. “We’ll try to get all the bills on notice, the governor presents his budget on Feb. 1, and we should be ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”