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McNally: Special session won’t make Biden order any more unconstitutional

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) wields the gavel during a floor session to adjust the course of the legislative session in response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) appears unmoved by calls from fellow Republicans to hold a special session on COVID-19 mandates.

Here’s a statement from McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider:

Lt. Governor McNally’s position has not changed. He does not see an urgent need for a special session. President Biden’s unconstitutional executive order does not change that. The General Assembly cannot pass any state law that would make what President Biden has done any more unconstitutional. It is already the height of federal overreach. As soon as Biden’s actual rules and regulations have been adopted, our attorney general, in conjunction with other states attorneys general, can challenge this order in the courts, the arena where this issue will ultimately be decided.”

Feds clamping down on COVID-19 antibody treatments in states like Tenn.

President Joe Biden’s administration is imposing new limits on COVID-19 antibody treatments in states like Tennessee where governors have relied on the drug instead of imposing stricter mitigation efforts, Politico reports.

Until now, the federal government has shipped the monoclonal antibody drugs on an as-needed basis, and seven Southern states — Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama — have accounted for 70% of the orders this month.

Under the new approach, the drugs would be allocated to states on a proportional basis rather than where outbreaks happen to be the worst. Critics say the current demand in states with high per-capita infection rates reflects a political resistance to vaccines and masks.

Tennessee Health Department spokeswoman Sarah Tanksley tells Politico the new scrutiny of state orders has resulted in delays getting the drugs to providers.

Biden declares major disaster following Tennessee flooding

Damage from heavy flooding in seen in Waverly on Aug. 22, 2021. (Image credit: State of Tennessee)

President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster following the fatal flooding in Humphreys County over the weekend.

Here’s the release from the White House:

Yesterday, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Tennessee and ordered Federal aid to supplement State and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by a severe storm and flooding on August 21, 2021.

The President’s action makes Federal funding available to affected individuals in Humphreys County.

Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Federal funding is also available to State and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures in Humphreys County.

Lastly, Federal funding is available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Deanne Criswell, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Myra M. Shird as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

Damage assessments are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed.

Residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin applying for assistance tomorrow by registering online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION MEDIA SHOULD CONTACT THE FEMA NEWS DESK AT (202) 646-3272 OR FEMA-NEWS-DESK@FEMA.DHS.GOV.

White House details how much Tennessee would receive from infrastructure bill

President Joe Biden’s administration is detailing how Tennessee would stand to benefit from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill pending in the U.S. Senate.

Here’s the release from the White House:

— Repair and rebuild our roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians. In Tennessee there are 881 bridges and over 270 miles of highway in poor condition. Since 2011, commute times have increased by 7.7% in Tennessee and on average, each driver pays $209 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair. Based on formula funding alone, Tennessee would expect to receive $5.8 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $302 million for bridge replacement and repairs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over five years. Tennessee can also compete for the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program for economically significant bridges and nearly $16 billion of national funding in the bill dedicated for major projects that will deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.

— Improve healthy, sustainable transportation options for millions of Americans. Tennesseans who take public transportation spend an extra 67.9% of their time commuting and non-White households are 5.6 times more likely to commute via public transportation. 21% of transit vehicles are past useful life. Based on formula funding alone, Tennessee would expect to receive $633 million over five years under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to improve public transportation options across the state.

— Build a network of EV chargers to facilitate long-distance travel and provide convenient charging options. The U.S. market share of plug-in electric vehicle (EV) sales is only one-third the size of the Chinese EV market. The President believes that must change. The bill invests $7.5 billion to build out the first-ever national network of EV chargers in the United States and is a critical element in the Biden-Harris Administration’s plan to accelerate the adoption of EVs to address the climate crisis and

— Help connect every American to reliable high-speed internet. 5.9% of Tennesseans live in areas where, under the FCC’s benchmark, there is no broadband infrastructure. Even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be within reach. 17% of Tennessee households do not have an internet subscription. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Tennessee will receive a minimum allocation of $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to the at least 402,000 Tennesseans who currently lack it. And, under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, 2,009,000 or 30% of people in Tennessee will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access.

Over the coming days and weeks, we will expect to receive additional data on the impact of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in Tennessee.

White House details American Families Plan impact in Tennessee

Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration is breaking down how its American Families Plan would affect each state.

Here is the White House report on Tennessee:

The Need for Action in Tennessee

The American Families Plan is an investment in Tennessee’s children and families – because when American families do well, our nation thrives. The American Families Plan is a once-in-a-generation investment in the foundations of middle-class prosperity: education, health care, and child care. It will help families cover the basic expenses that so many struggle with now, lower health insurance premiums, and continue the American Rescue Plan’s historic reductions in child poverty. It will yield significant economic returns – boosting productivity and economic growth, supporting a larger, more productive, and healthier workforce on a sustained basis, and generating savings to states and the federal government.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Higher education is key to unlocking opportunity in the new economy, but the average cost of a 2-year degree in Tennessee is $4,600 per year. High costs are part of the reason just 60 percent of students in Tennessee are able to complete a postsecondary degree of any kind within 6 years of enrolling, and across the United States, high-minority and high-poverty high schools have seen 9 percent and 11 percent declines in college enrollment, respectively. To make higher education more accessible, the American Families Plan will provide at least two years of free community college to all students, including DREAMers. It will also increase the maximum Pell Grant awards by approximately $1,400 to support the 124,000 students in Tennessee who rely on Pell for their education, and provide grants to increase college retention and completion. In addition, the American Families Plan will provide support to
minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and the students they serve across the country, like Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). This includes 12 MSIs in Tennessee.

UNIVERSAL PRE-SCHOOL: Pre-school is critical to ensuring that children start kindergarten with the skills and supports that set them up for success in school. But today, only 40,900 or 25 percent of the 166,000 3- and 4-year-olds in Tennessee are enrolled in publicly-funded pre-school. The American Families Plan will provide access to free, high-quality pre-school to all 3- and 4-year-olds in Tennessee, boosting their educational outcomes and allowing more parents to go back to work. In addition, the American Families Plan will ensure that all employees in funded pre-school programs are paid a $15 minimum wage and provide compensation and benefits comparable to kindergarten educators to those with similar qualifications.

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White House declares major disaster in TN counties affected by February storms

The White House has declared a major disaster in 13 Tennessee counties rocked by a winter storm in February.

Here’s the release:

Today, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Tennessee and ordered Federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms from February 11 to February 19, 2021.

Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storms in the counties of Bedford, Cannon, Coffee, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Moore, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Scott, Shelby, and Smith.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Robert J. Fenton, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Myra M. Shird as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments. 

Biden appoints four to TVA board, including two from Tennessee

President Joe Biden has announced plans to nominate four members to the board of the TEnnessee Valley Authority, including two from Tennessee.

Here’s the details from the White House:

Beth Geer, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
Beth Prichard Geer is Chief of Staff to former Vice President Al Gore and serves as a member of Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s Sustainability Advisory Committee. Geer has extensive policy and outreach experience on issues including climate change, environmental justice, and regenerative agriculture. She has served in senior roles in the Clinton-Gore White House, Department of Labor, and United States Senate. As a native of rural Tennessee, she graduated with honors from Middle Tennessee State University and earned the Public Leadership Executive Certificate from the Harvard Kennedy School Senior Managers in Government program.  She resides in Brentwood, Tennessee with her husband, Dr. John Geer.

Robert Klein, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
Robert P. Klein is a lifelong resident of Chattanooga having attending Hamilton County public schools graduating from Tyner High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society and National Beta Club.  He also attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Klein served in the Tennessee Army National Guard where received an Honorable Discharge.

He began his professional career at the Chattanooga Gas Company before continuing at the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga (now EPB) where he worked in the Overhead Line Department.  He completed the Joint Lineman Apprenticeship Program becoming a Journeyman Lineman in 1982.  He furthered his career by becoming a Line Foreman supervising the building and maintaining of the power distribution system. Klein took a leave of absence with EBP to work with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 175 and was appointed in 1998 as an International Representative with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).  In 2003 he was appointed as the International Vice President of the IBEW Tenth District, which consists of Tennessee, Arkansas, North and South Carolina.  He was re-elected as Vice President at the 37th and 38th IBEW International Conventions.

During his career Klein has served on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the United Way of Chattanooga, Board of Directors for the Tennessee Labor-Management Conference, Board of Directors for the Tennessee Safety and Health Congress, sat on the Tennessee Valley Trades and Labor Council, where is served as President for fourteen (14) years.  He also sat on the Tennessee Valley Authority Labor -Management Committee as well as on the Board of Directors for the Southeast Labor-Management Public Affairs Committee.  Additionally, he was a Trustee for the IBEW-NECA Family Medical Healthcare Plan.  He officially retired from EPB in 2011 and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 2015.

Klein, who is known as Bobby to his family, friends and colleagues attends Silverdale Baptist Church and still resides in Chattanooga with his wife, Sharon.

Kimberly Lewis, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
Kimberly Caudle Lewis of Huntsville, Alabama, is the Chief Executive Officer of PROJECTSYZ, Inc., a business that provides services and products in the areas of engineering, logistics, technical services, manufacturing, and international foreign military sales. She leads a workforce that supports federal and commercial customers across several diverse subsidiaries and at locations across the US and around the world. Lewis has a 25-year career spanning business operations and management, technology, and federal government contacting.

A life-long resident of Madison County, Alabama, Lewis would later become the first black female elected as Board Chair of the Huntsville / Madison Chamber of Commerce and most recently, the first minority owner of North Alabama’s only locally owned broadcast television station, WTZT-TV.

Lewis’ previous career roles and studies in healthcare and information technology set the foundation for starting PROJECTXYZ and where she was previously involved in management of large-scale IT implementations and projects for large healthcare companies. She earned a degree in Computer Information Systems at John C. Calhoun State Community College.

Michelle Moore, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
A social entrepreneur and former White House official with roots in rural Georgia, Michelle Moore is a purposeful leader with a passion for connecting clean energy with economic growth. Her passion for community power and getting good stuff done is rooted in her faith and the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Moore currently serves as CEO of Groundswell, a nonprofit that builds community power through community solar, clean energy, and resilience programs that share power, savings, and economic opportunity with more than four thousand families. Her accomplishments range from building the global green building movement as a senior executive with the U.S. Green Building Council to leading the sustainability and infrastructure delivery teams for the Obama Administration.

Moore got her start in sustainability in 1997 as Director of eBusiness for Interface Inc. in her hometown of LaGrange GA, where working for Ray Anderson showed her how to connect people, planet, and profitability and the pathway to “doing well by doing good.” Moore is married to Linwood Boswell, a local music mainstay, father of three, and community real estate agent in Richmond, Virginia.

White House circulates states’ infrastructure needs, but doesn’t detail how much each would get

The White House is putting out a state-by-state breakdown of infrastructure needs it says would be addressed by Democratic President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion proposal dubbed the American Jobs Plan.

While the cheat sheets list states’ specific deficiencies, they don’t break out how much of the federal money would be directed to each of them under the plan. So take it for what it’s worth.

Republicans are blasting the plan for going well beyond the scope of what is traditionally considered to be infrastructure.

Here’s the full release from the Biden administration:

For decades, infrastructure in Tennessee has suffered from a systemic lack of investment. The need for action is clear:

ROADS AND BRIDGES: In Tennessee there are 881 bridges and over 270 miles of highway in poor condition. Since 2011, commute times have increased by 7.7% in Tennessee and on average, each driver pays $209 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair. The American Jobs Plan will devote more than $600 billion to transform our nations’ transportation infrastructure and make it more resilient, including $115 billion repairing roads and bridges.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Tennesseans who take public transportation spend an extra 67.9% of their time commuting and non-White households are 5.6 times more likely to commute via public transportation. 21% of trains and other transit vehicles are past useful life. The American Jobs Plan will modernize public transit with an $85 billion investment.

RESILIENT INFRASTRUCTURE: From 2010 to 2020, Tennessee has experienced 40 extreme weather events, costing the state up to $20 billion in damages. The President is calling for $50 billion to improve the resiliency of our infrastructure and support communities’ recovery from disaster.

DRINKING WATER: Over the next 20 years, Tennessee’s drinking water infrastructure will require $8.7 billion in additional funding. The American Jobs Plan includes a $111 billion investment to ensure clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities.

HOUSING: In part due to a lack of available and affordable housing, 396,000 renters in Tennessee are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent. The President proposes investing over $200 billion to increase housing supply and address the affordable housing crisis.

BROADBAND: Nearly 10% of Tennesseans live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. And 46.8% of Tennesseans live in areas where there is only one such provider. Even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be within reach. 17% of Tennessee households do not have an internet subscription. The American Jobs Plan will invest $100 billion to bring universal, reliable, high-speed, and affordable coverage to every family in America.

CAREGIVING: Across the country, hundreds of thousands of older adults and people with disabilities are in need of home and community-based services. The President’s plan will invest $400 billion to help more people access care and improve the quality of caregiving jobs.

CHILD CARE: In Tennessee, there is an estimated $768 million gap in what schools need to do maintenance and make improvements and 48% of residents live in a child care desert. The American Jobs Plan will modernize our nation’s schools and early learning facilities and build new ones in neighborhoods across Tennessee and the country.

MANUFACTURING: Manufacturers account for more than 15% of total output in Tennessee, employing 357,000 workers, or 11.5% of the state’s workforce. The American Jobs Plan will invest $300 billion to retool and revitalize American manufacturers, including providing incentives for manufacturers to invest in innovative energy projects in coal communities.

HOME ENERGY: In Tennessee, an average low-income family spends 8-10% of their income on home energy costs forcing tough choices between paying energy bills and buying food, medicine or other essentials. The American Jobs Plan will upgrade low-income homes to make them more energy efficient through a historic investment in the Weatherization Assistance Program, a new Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to finance building improvements, and expanded tax credits to support home energy upgrades.

CLEAN ENERGY JOBS: Tennessee has outsized potential for innovative energy technologies including carbon capture and sequestration and geothermal energy generation, that create good paying union jobs. As of 2019, there were 79,626 Tennesseans working in clean energy, and the American Jobs Plan invests in building that industry through a reformed and expended Section 45Q tax credit and extending renewable energy tax credits.

VETERANS HEALTH: Tennessee is home to over 470,000 veterans, 9.4% of who are women and 45% who are over the age of 65. The President is calling for $18 billion to improve the infrastructure of VA health care facilities to ensure the delivery of world-class, state of the art care to veterans enrolled in the VA health care system. This includes improvements to ensure appropriate care for women and older veterans.

Feds rescind effort to lock in Medicaid changes made by Trump administration

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 little over two weeks before President Donald Trump left office, the Republican administration sent out a letter to states like Tennessee to declare it was locking in any approved changes to Medicaid programs for a period of at least nine months. Democratic President Joe Biden is now rescinding that guidance, meaning that previously approved demonstration projects or waivers could be withdrawn at any time.

The most immediate effect of the move could be a cancellation of work requirements for Medicaid recipients that had been approved in several states. But Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation block grant could also be on the chopping block.

“We’re the first state in America that just got a federal waiver for Medicaid that allows us to share savings with the federal government,” Gov. Bill Lee told the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of partisan squabbling about that, but that was a business deal that was negotiated over a year-and-a-half that will allow Tennessee to have more money to spend on its Medicaid population than it would have underer a traditional Medicaid agreement.”

Read the full letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to TennCare Director Stephen Smith below.

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Lee joins call for Biden to withdraw moratorium on oil and gas exploration on federal land

Tennessee’s Bill Lee is joining 16 other Republican governors in calling on Democratic President Joe Biden to rescind an executive order placing a moratorium on oil and gas explosion on federal land and offshore.

Most of the governors signing the letter come from major fossil fuel producing states like Alaska, Texas, and Wyoming. By comparison, Tennessee is a bit player in oil and gas exploration.

According to 2014 information from the Tennessee Oil and Gas Association, most of the oil and gas drilling activity was concentrated in 11 counties in the Eastern Highland Rim and the Cumberland Plateau. The biggest producers were Overton, Fentress, Pickett, Morgan, and Clay counties.