general assembly

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

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.