jerry sexton

Sponsoring it to kill it? Opponent of making Bible official state book takes control of resolution

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) presides over the chamber on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has taken over sponsorship of a resolution seeking to declare the Bible the official book of Tennessee. The move could effectively kill the measure, The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison reports.

The sponsor of a bill or resolution decides when — or whether — it should be discussed in committee.

McNally has long argued that putting the Bible would be trivialized by placing it alongside other symbols like the state amphibian or flower. Then-Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, vetoed a similar Bible measure in 2016 on similar grounds. The House ended up voting against an ovrride.

The House last week passed the perennial measure sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on 55-28 vote. This year’s version is a joint resolution, which goes through the entire process in its originating chamber before being shipped over to the other (unlike bills, which are usually debated concurrently and usually have like-minded sponsors at the helm).

“The first senator to sign on to a House Joint Resolution received by the Senate becomes the prime sponsor,” McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider told the paper.

It just so happened to be the Senate speaker.

UPDATED: What consistency? Seven who opposed Bible bill override vote for latest version

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

When then-Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a 2016 bill to make the Bible the official state book, 15 Republicans who still remain in the chamber today voted against an override. On Monday night, seven of those representatives switched their positions to support the latest version that passed by just five votes more than the minimum needed to clear the chamber.

The GOP members who essentially voted to sustain Haslam’s veto five years ago while approving the renewed measure were Majority Leader William Lamberth of Portland, Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison of Cosby, Andrew Farmer of Sevierville, Curtis Johnson of Clarksville, John Ragan of Oak Ridge, Mark White of Memphis, and Ryan Williams of Cookeville.

While 55 members approved of the bill on Monday, 28 voted against. Another nine didn’t vote, including Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

The measure now heads to the Senate, where Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has spoken out in opposition.

Report: Lawmaker’s furniture company struck deal to supply hospital gowns to state

Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) attends a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

WTVF-TV investigative reporter Phil Williams is raising questions about no-bid contracts handed out to politically connected vendors amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One of them appears to have been state Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), who landed a deal to supply hospital gowns through his furniture company.

According to Williams, Sexton’s arrangment was to supply $165,000 worth of gowns at $5.50 a piece, nearly double the amount charged by other vendors. Sexton delivered the gowns but the purchase order was canceled after the TV station began asking questions. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declined to say why.

According to Williams’ report:

Sexton, who still hasn’t been paid, declined NewsChannel 5’s request to explain what happened.

[State Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville] noted that state law makes it illegal for state officials to bid on state contracts, although various attorney general’s opinions have raised questions about whether that statute applies in such cases.

Yarbro said it at least raises some ethical red flags.

“If in the early days of COVID, we weren’t paying attention to that basic rule and were planning to pay a legislator, I think it raises significant questions about just the level of oversight into all of these contracts.”