Randy McNally

Speakers form study committee on refugee issues

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally are assembling joint study committee on refugee issues.

“The Tennessee General Assembly filed suit against the federal government five years ago on refugee settlement,” said McNally (omitting that the lawsuit failed in federal district and appeals courts). “With this study committee, we reaffirm that there is a clear and compelling state interest in a sane immigration policy.”

“We must have transparency to address the concerns raised by both members of the General Assembly and Tennesseans,” said Sexton. “I am in agreement with Gov. Lee not to accept any unaccompanied migrant children.”

The panel is entirely Republican: Reps. Dan Howell of Cleveland, Bruce Griffey of Paris, Ryan Williams of Cookeville, Scotty Campbell of Mountain City, and Chris Todd of Jackson, along with Sens. Dawn White of Murfreesboro, Bo Watson of Hixson, Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, Richard Briggs of Knoxville, and Ed Jackson of Jackson.

Here’s the letter the speakers sent to House and Senate clerks:

Dear Ms. Clerk and Mr. Clerk,

As Speakers of the Senate and House of Representatives of the 112th General Assembly, we hereby create a Study Committee on Refugee Issues to evaluate the number of migrant children being permanently relocated to Tennessee by the federal government, the number of migrant children being flown into Tennessee and then relocated to other states by the federal government, how to increase transparency from the federal government regarding its relocation of unaccompanied migrant children to and through Tennessee, and the impact, financial and beyond, on Tennesseans, as it relates to the federal government’s migrant relocation program. 

House members appointed to the committee are: Representative Howell (Chair), Representative Griffey, Representative Williams, Representative Campbell, and Representative Todd.

Senate members appointed to the committee are:  Senator White (Chair), Senator Watson, Senator Gardenhire, Senator Briggs, Senator Jackson.

/Signed/

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton

Gov. Lee declares victory in legislative session

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Lawmakers wrapped up their business for the year last night, and Gov. Bill Lee is lauding fellow Republicans who run the General Assembly for their accomplishments.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee marked the close of the 2021 legislative session, which includes the passage of his $42.6 billion budget and full agenda as outlined during his State of the State address in February.

“Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton and the members of the General Assembly have been key partners in reducing crime, supporting strong families and strengthening our economy, especially in rural Tennessee,” said Gov. Lee. “I commend the legislature for their work this session to pass measures that will benefit Tennesseans and continue our reputation for conservative fiscal management.”

“We were presented with many challenges this session and we met each and every one,” said Lt. Gov. McNally (R-Oak Ridge). “We invested in education and kept taxes and debt low. Most importantly, we ensured our state pension system remains fully funded for years to come. This protects our fiscal stability and our state credit rating. I am thankful to Gov. Lee, Speaker Sexton and every member of the General Assembly for their tremendous work on behalf of the people of Tennessee this session.”

“I greatly appreciate Gov. Lee, his administration, Lt. Gov. McNally, the House and the Senate for their continued partnership, which has led to a smooth and incredibly successful legislative session,” said Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). “Solutions to improve childhood literacy, our debt-free balanced budget, permitless handgun carry, criminal justice and truth in sentencing reform and preserving our election integrity will continue to move this state forward in a conservative direction. I am proud of these and other achievements that will allow Tennessee to maintain its status as a national leader for all others to follow.”

Gov. Lee’s slate of budget and legislative priorities included initiatives to address criminal justice reform, invest in rural communities, enhance public safety, support families and build on the successes of the special session on education.

Highlights from Gov. Lee’s agenda include the following:

Investing in Rural Tennessee
• Investing a historic $100 million to provide underserved areas across the state with high-speed broadband, which is part of a public-private partnership to incentivize broadband providers to match public dollars
• Dedicating $100 million for local infrastructure grants

Strengthening Tennessee Families
• Providing higher education supports for youth aging out of the foster care system
• Extending coverage for adopted youth to retain TennCare eligibility up to age 18
• Expanding postpartum care for the TennCare population from 60 days to a full year
• Reforming the TANF program to promote economic mobility and improve outcomes for recipients

Supporting Tennessee Students
• Increasing transparency for any foreign investment activity on college campuses
• Expanding access and improving quality of apprenticeship programs
• Investing $250 million in the Mental Health Trust Fund
• Increasing the teacher salary component of the BEP by 4%

Enhancing Public Safety
• Protecting the Second Amendment by extending law-abiding Tennesseans’ constitutional right to carry a handgun
• Stiffening penalties for criminals who steal or illegally possess firearms

Prioritizing Conservative Criminal Justice Reform
• Improving outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals by increasing transparency in the parole process
• Enhancing practices that support success post-release
• Expanding treatment services and community-based supervision for offenders as alternatives to incarceration

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.

Tennessee legislature shuts down for rest of week

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

Heavy winter weather is leading to the closure of the Tennessee General Assembly for the rest of the week.

The House announced it will extend its bill filing deadline until the close of business on Feb. 24. It had previously been set for Wednesday.

The Senate bill filing deadline was Feb. 11.

Winter storm closes Legislature until at least Wednesday

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

The heavy blanket of ice and snow depositing itself across the state has caused legislative leaders to cancel meetings until at least Wednesday.

State government was already closed Monday due to Presidents’ Day, but Senate Speaker Randy McNally announced the Cordell Hull Building would also be closed on Tuesday.

Legislative leaders will monitor further developments before making a decision about whether to return Wednesday.

Senate names new chairs, House juggles committees

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) presides over a floor session on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has named Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) as chair of the Education Committee and Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) to head the State and Local Government Committee. The positions were vacated by the retirements of Dolores Gresham and electoral defeat of Steve Dickerson, respectively.

Committee assignments have yet to be made in the House, but draft rules signal a change in the overall makeup of standing committees. Speaker Cameron Sexton will once again split apart the Judiciary Committee into two standing panels: Civil Justice and Criminal Justice. He is also turning the single Education panel into separate Education Administration and Education Instruction committees. The Consumer and Human Resources Committee will be no longer.

The changes will leave the House with 14 standing committees, up from 13 last session. Sexton is also expected to significantly retool the subcommittee system.

No changes at the top for Senate GOP

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

Senate Republicans have renominated Randy McNally as speaker and re-elected Ken Yager as caucus chairman and Jack Johnson as majority leader.

Here’s a release outlining today’s action:

NASHVILLETennessee’s Senate Republican Caucus met today in Nashville where they voted unanimously to renominate Lt. Governor Randy McNally to a third term and to return Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) to their top leadership roles as Majority Leader and Republican Caucus Chairman respectively.  Others elected to caucus leadership positions include Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) as Treasurer, Senator Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro) as Secretary and Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) as Chaplain. 

Lt. Governor McNally said, “As I reflect back on over forty years in the General Assembly, I cannot think of a more dedicated group of public servants than we have in the Senate at this moment. An effective team not only has to have the right players, but those players’ talents also need to be deployed effectively. Our Senate team is an effective team. I am humbled once again to have been chosen to help lead this great group of leaders.”

Leader Johnson said, “I am grateful for the support of this group of senators who are deeply committed to serving the people of their districts.  Tennesseans have spoken clearly that they want to continue conservative management of our state budget, and to implement policies to encourage growth, and reduce burdens on small businesses and working families.  The stability in our leadership team positions us to move seamlessly into the 2021 legislative session during these difficult times as we unite to focus on policies that will create opportunities and improve the lives of Tennesseans.”

Chairman Yager said, “I am honored and humbled to serve again as caucus chairman to such a hardworking, talented and committed group of individuals.   We have many challenging issues that await us in the 2021 legislative session. This caucus embraces challenges and will chart a bold, conservative path to support economic recovery efforts, improve education, and provide quality health care services, making Tennessee the best place in the nation to live work and raise a family.”

“Our Senate Republican majority has been placing conservative ideas into action over the past decade with great success,” McNally added.  “We reformed education, reclaimed our AAA bond rating and cut taxes while shrinking government. This past year has been a difficult one. Our majority has been tested by fire. Our state has weathered this adversity better than any other state in the union. The reason for this was preparation and leadership. I am proud of the job we have done as well as the job we will do. I am looking forward to getting to work with our outstanding membership to build upon our success.”

Caucus members also voted to nominate Senator Yager, Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), and Senator Paul Rose (R-Covington) to serve on the Joint Fiscal Review Committee.  The committee conducts a continuing review of the financial operations of state government.   The nominees will be confirmed by a resolution of the full Senate when the General Assembly convenes.   

The meeting was held as lawmakers prepare to open the first session of the 112th General Assembly on January 12.  Senate Republicans hold a 27-6 super majority, providing direct member representation to citizens in all 95 counties in Tennessee. 

GOP ad hits Trump in attack on Dickerson rival

An attack ad paid for by the political action committee of state Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) takes a swipe at an unusual target: President Donald Trump.

“Are you tired of rude politicians who don’t treat others with respect?” the narrator says to open the ad while images of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Trump flash on the screen.

The ad then moves on to a video of former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell raising her voice at someone during a Board of Commissioners meeting and threatening to have the person removed. The context of the encounter is not made clear in the ad.

Campbell is challenging state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) in next week’s election.

The ad also alleges Campbell has been arrested three times, including twice for drunken driving. The spot calls her “disrespectful, unhinged Heidi Campbell.”

Tennessee Equality Project rescinds Dickerson endorsement over Senate speaker’s ad

The Tennessee Equality Project has rescinded its endorsement of Republican state Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville over an ad being run on his behalf by the Senate Speaker Randy McNally’s political action committee.

The ad targets Dickerson’s Democratic challenger, Heidi Campbell, for saying supportive things about Gideon’s Army, which the spot describes as an extremist group calling for “revolutionary changes to our way of life.” Democrats have pushed back against the ad presenting Gideon’s Army as supporting rioting. They point to the group’s efforts to mentor young people and de-escalate violence in predominantly black North Nashville. The organization was also heavily involved in cleanup efforts after a tornado wrought heavy damage in the neighborhood in March. The Tennessee Equality Project denounced the spot as a “disgusting, racist ad.”

“Although he has an exemplary record on LGBTQ rights in the Legislature, elected officials are called to speak out against racism in politics,” TEP executive director Chris Sanders said in a blog post.

Here’s the ad:

The decision to withdraw the Dickerson endorsement means the group is now backing just one Republican candidate for the General Assembly: Knoxville businessman Eddie Mannis, who is running to succeed retiring state Rep. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville).

Here’s how much federal relief money is flowing to Tennessee counties

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

A total of $13 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money is flowing to Tennessee, and a new interactive state website allows users to break down how much is headed specific counties.

In a meeting of the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group on Monday, Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) asked whether the amounts can be broken out on a per-capita basis to ensure smaller counties weren’t getting less than the likes of Metro Nashville and Shelby County. Gov. Bill Lee’s administration didn’t have those figures at their fingertips, so the Tennessee Journal has crunched the numbers. Here are the top 10 per-capita recipients of federal aid (Anderson County, where McNally lives, comes in at No. 12):

  1. Jackson, $7,126
  2. Cheatham, $4,363
  3. Davidson, $3,931
  4. Carroll, $3,380
  5. Smith, 3,738
  6. Fayette, $3,525
  7. Cannon, $3,056
  8. Carter, $2,643
  9. Giles, $2,643
  10. Bledsoe, $2,557

The full per-capita breakdown follows:

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