Randy McNally

New TNJ edition alert: McNally interview, Kelsey guilty plea, PAC spending roudup

Senate GOP leaders hold weekly press gaggle on Jan. 18, 2018. Senate Speaker Randy McNally is second from left. (Photo credit: Schelzig, Tennessee Journal.

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out early this week because of the holiday weekend. Here is what’s in it:

— TNJ Interview: Senate Speaker McNally talks legacy and charts course for future

— From the courts: Kelsey pleads guilty to 2 counts, state Supreme Court throws out mandatory life sentences for juveniles.

— Campaign finance update: PAC giving rose 5% compared with last election cycle.

Also: Eddie Mannis says he was “shut up” by House speaker, Jason Mumpower wonders why he has to wait at restaurants when so many people are moving to Tennessee, Andy Ogles gets fined by state for late mayoral disclosure, and a missing Joe Towns prophesy.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

New TNJ edition alert: Lee’s road plans, Senate GOP re-elects leadership team, Supreme Court opening breeds speculation about successor

Gov. Bill Lee, center, attends a budget hearing in Nashville on Nov. 9, 2022. He is joined by Finance Commissioner Jim Bryson, right, and COO Brandon Gibson. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Lee wants to make major road upgrades without new taxes, debt. Can it be done without tolls?

— Political update: Senate GOP re-elects leadership team of McNally, Johnson, Yager; Registry presses pause on auditing Gary Humble; and digital ads target state’s certificate-of-need rules.

— From the courts: Justice Sharon Lee’s retirement from Supreme Court unleashes speculation about who will apply to succeed her.

Also: Dolly Parton lands $100 million prize, Jonathan Skrmetti says level of federalist view often depends on who controls White House, watchdog files FEC complaint against Beth Harwell, and the Showboats are back in Memphis.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

McNally nominated to another two-year term as Senate speaker

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton await Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate Republican Caucus has nominated Randy McNally to another term as speaker.

McNally, a retired Oak Ridge pharmacist, first succeeded former Speaker Ron Ramsey in 2017. Some at the time saw him as a transitional figure, but he has since consolidated his leadership position in the upper chamber.

McNally served four terms in the state House before his first election to the Senate in 1986. He is a former chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

The full Senate will officially vote on the speaker in January. But with Republicans holding a 27-6 advantage, it’s largely considered a formality.

McNally PAC’s interim filing kept in separate list from other last-minute disclosures

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) wields the gavel during a floor session on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Under new campaign finance rules adopted earlier this year, candidates for state and local office now have to disclose major contributions and expenditures coming in the final days of an election. As reported in The Tennessee Journal on Friday, about a half-million dollars of last-minute expenditures were reported in advance of the Aug. 4 primary, but about the same amount again went undisclosed until the quarterly filings were submitted in October.

Included in our total were $11,700 spent by Senate Speaker Randy McNally’s PAC that didn’t appear to be included within the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance list of interim disclosures. But the McNally camp notes it emailed the disclosure to the Registry on July 27, meaning it was properly submitted. So what gives?

It turns out the Registry keeps separate lists for interim reports — those submitted electronically and those filed using paper forms. But that’s far from clear for anyone visiting the site and clicking on the campaign finance disclosures icon. Following the link to search interim campaign finance disclosure reports takes visitors to a page that collects electronically filed reports (though there is no indication there that other disclosures are stored elsewhere).

Work your way through a pulldown menu, however, and links appear for “Completed Interim Reports” and “Interim Reports – Paper Filings.” The latter contains 27 filings from the before the primary (mostly for local or judicial races), including the one from McNally’s PAC, plus three from Republican state House candidate Janet Testerman totaling more than $36,000 in expenditures for her unsuccessful bid for the GOP nomination to succeed retiring state Rep. Eddie Mannis (R-Knoxville).

So McNally and Testerman appear to have done everything right in their reporting. The confusion could be eliminated if the law was updated to require the interim reports to be filed electronically. But it also wouldn’t take much for the Registry to make it more clear it is keeping two sets of books.

McNally, Sexton name task force to study crime, punishment

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton await Gov. Bill Lee’s arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

After a spate of high profile slayings in Memphis, Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and his House counterpart, Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), are assembling a special committee to review the adequacy of criminal sentencing in Tennessee.

Here’s the letter from the speakers to Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey and House Clerk Tammy Letzler:

Dear Ms. Clerk and Mr. Clerk:

As Speaker of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 112th General Assembly, we hereby create the Joint Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Adequacy of the Supervision, Investigation, and Release of Criminal Defendants. The Committee is authorized and directed to undertake a review of all information relevant to the supervision, investigation, and release of individuals who commit crimes in this state. The Committee is directed to recommend whether there is a need for legislative action to provide additional safeguards to protect the public from those who repeatedly violate criminal laws.

The Committee may consult with the District Attorneys General Conference to ensure that any pending criminal prosecutions will not be jeopardized by any actions taken by the Committee. The Committee may also consult with groups that represent the interests of victims of crime.

To the extent that the Committee is authorized to review any records that are confidential under existing law, the Committee is directed to take appropriate action to maintain the confidentiality of such records.

The Office of Legal Services shall provide legal services to the Committee, and the Attorney General and Reporter, the Department of Correction, and the District Attorneys General Conference shall assist the Committee and the Office of Legal Services upon request.

Senate members appointed to the Committee are: Senator Ed Jackson (co-chair), Senator Richard Briggs, Senator Todd Gardenhire, Senator Bill Powers, and Senator Jeff Yarbro.

House members appointed to the Committee are: Representative Bud Hulsey (co-chair), Representative Clay Doggett, Representative Andrew Farmer, Representative William Lamberth, Representative Antonio Parkinson, and Representative Lowell Russell.

Sincerely,

/signed/

Lt. Governor Randy McNally

Speaker Cameron Sexton

Lee declines signature on ‘truth in sentencing’ bill

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters in Gainsboro on July 8. 2021. (Image credit: State of Tennessee)

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a “truth in sentencing” bill championed by legislative Republicans to require people convicted of violent crimes to serve all of their sentences behind bars, The Tennessee Journal has learned.

Under the final version of the bill sponsored by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), 100% of sentences would have to be served for nine categories of crimes, including murder, vehicular homicide, and carjacking. Seventeen other violent offenses — such as aggravated assault, reckless homicide, or possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony — would allow prisoners to qualify for release after serving 85% of their sentences.

“Data does not support the basic premise of the legislation,” Lee wrote to the speakers. “Similar legislation has been enacted before and resulted in significant operational and financial strain, with no reduction in crime. Widespread evidence suggests that this policy will result in more victims, higher recidivism, increased crime, and prison overcrowding, all with an increased cost to taxpayers. For these reasons, I have chosen not to sign the bill.”

The bill passed the House on a vote of 86-9 and 20-7 in the Senate. It will become law without Lee’s signature.

Here’s a statement from Sexton in response:

You can protect criminals or you can protect victims.  I stand with victims, as do members of law enforcement, our district attorneys, and criminal judges across Tennessee. In 2020, the U.S. Sentencing Commission published a study stating stronger sentencing has a statistically significant deterrent effect by reducing crime and lowering recidivism. That’s why Tennessee’s law enforcement community stood behind us and supported this legislation.

Sometimes we need to use common-sense approaches; more violent criminals in jail for longer periods means less crime and fewer victims. Softer sentences mean more crime and more victims.

Our job is to keep our communities safe, protect our families, and support law enforcement.  If we need to build more prisons, we can. Either we value life or we don’t; this legislation was about the most violent crimes committed in our state.  It’s hard to stand with victims and law enforcement by going easy on criminals.

McNally dials it back a bit:

Truth in Sentencing is vital legislation that not only offers justice and transparency to victims but also acts as a critical deterrent against violent offenders. The costs associated with the legislation are well worth the peace of mind offered to victims and the overall boost to public safety. While I disagree with Governor Lee’s critique of the bill, I appreciate his willingness to work with Speaker Sexton and I to get the bill in a posture to avoid a veto. I am grateful this bill is now the law of the land in Tennessee.”

McNally hits back at ‘blatant untruths’ about campaign finance overhaul

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) is hitting back at what he calls “blatant untruths” being spread about a the campaign finance and ethics overhaul advancing in the General Assembly.

McNally said efforts to get nonprofit “dark money” groups to disclose how much they are spending has caused the most pushback, including over what he called the false narrative that lawmakers are trying to force them to identify their donors.

“It is amazing that various seemingly ‘legitimate‘ groups are resorting to such disingenuous tactics to oppose it,” he said. “Is it because they are spending so much that Tennesseans would be appalled if they knew? Or is it that they spend so little that they fear they would be exposed as political grifters working to enrich only themselves?”

Here’s McNally’s full statement:

There are many blatant untruths circulating regarding the ethics reform bill Speaker Sexton and I have introduced.

The bill in question does not censor or otherwise curtail conservative activism or free speech in any way. Anything conservative groups can do now, they can still do under this bill. The legislation does not restrict their activity at all. The only additional requirement is disclosure.

Openness and transparency in the political process are prerequisites for freedom. For too long liberals, big corporations and corrupt political actors have been allowed to exploit loopholes in our system and operate in darkness.

The original Senate version as well as the current house version does not affect donors at all, just expenditures. It is simply a lie to say otherwise.

This bill is aimed at bad actors like the fictitious Matthew Phoenix and the various shell companies and shadowy PACs used by certain legislators to line their own pockets.

It is amazing that various seemingly “legitimate” groups are resorting to such disingenuous tactics to oppose it.

Is it because they are spending so much that Tennesseans would be appalled if they knew? Or is it that they spend so little that they fear they would be exposed as political grifters working to enrich only themselves?

If you are working to influence the outcome of an election, the voters deserve to know who you are and what you are doing. What could possibly be wrong with that? The fact this is even in question demonstrates the need for the legislation.

CPAC organizer pans Tennessee’s ‘truth-in-sentencing’ bill

Lawmakers attend Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address in Nashville on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The American Conservative Union is speaking out against legislation pending in the Tennessee General Assembly to make people convicted of violent crimes serve 100% of their sentences without the possibility of parole. The measure has been championed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), but appears to fly in the face of Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s criminal justice reform efforts.

Lawmakers are expected to include the sentencing measure in the annual state spending plan they intend to pass later this week.

Legislative analysts have projected a $28 million annual cost increase for making the change, while the state Department of Correction puts the number at $90 million.

“It would be one thing to spend massive sums on prisons if the proposal was based on evidence that requiring criminals to serve 100% of their sentences would increase public safety,” according to the letter. “However, there is no such data.”

The ACU “strongly opposes” the bill and urges lawmakers to reject it. Voting in favor will adversely affect annual lawmaker rankings, the group said.

Here’s the letter sent to McNally and Senate Finance Chair Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga):

Dear Lt. Governor McNally and Chairman Watson:

The American Conservative Union (“ACU”) is the nation’s oldest grassroots advocacy organization. Founded in 1964 by William F. Buckley, we have a 50-plus-year track record of advancing policies that reduce the size and scope of government, advance liberty, and reduce burdens on families.

Historically, Tennessee has been a beacon of conservative principles and leadership. With an overall rating of 74% all-time from our sister organization, the American Conservative Union Foundation, Tennessee stands head and shoulders above other state legislatures in its conservative voting record. But we find ourselves very concerned about a particular proposal making its way through the legislature: House Bill 2656/Senate Bill 2248.

Commonly referred to as “Truth in Sentencing,” the proposal under consideration would require individuals convicted of certain crimes to serve 100 percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for release. While this sounds tough on crime and reasonable on its face, there are many factors that go into the effectiveness and long-term consequences of such policy changes. More than 90% of those in Tennessee’s prisons will pay their debts to society and return to their communities. Our goal is to have them return as better versions of themselves by completing their education, addressing addiction, and participating in mental health counseling and other proven anti-recidivism programs. Offering prisoners time off for good behavior is a key incentive that makes this possible, and in turn makes Tennessee safer.

Of course, no one is arguing that people should be given a pass for wrongdoing. Those who break the law must be held accountable for their actions. The counter is that if we fail to provide incentives, prisons will remain mere warehouses of humanity. Those returning will be no better than when they went in. And this means that Tennessee communities will forgo public safety benefits that would otherwise be available.

Adding to the concerns around the public safety impact of this bill is the tremendous uncertainty around its true fiscal impact. While the fiscal note indicates this bill will create $27.7 million in increased expenditures, TDOC data reflects costs much closer to $90 million. One report reflects that increasing aggravated burglary offenses alone to 100 percent will cost taxpayers $38.7 million per year, including $8.7 million of that absorbed locally.

As eye-opening as these numbers are (especially for a state that prides itself on fiscal conservativism), this legislation could cost taxpayers far more. According to TDOC testimony before the Senate Judiciary, cost projections around this bill do not account for the possibility that new prison facilities might be necessary to accommodate the prison population growth that would result from the passage of this bill. With Tennessee’s prisons are already operating at 92% capacity, there would become a much higher likelihood TDOC will either have to build new prisons or contract for more capacity. Either option is likely to run into the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in new government spending.

It would be one thing to spend massive sums on prisons if the proposal was based on evidence that requiring criminals to serve 100% of their sentences would increase public safety. However, there is no such data. But there is analysis from the United States Sentencing Commission that indicates that early releases of drug offenders had no adverse impact on crime. In fact, there was a marginal reduction in recidivism for those who were granted early release.

Finally, we would note that eliminating time off for good behavior in the Truth in Sentencing package under consideration would endanger the safety of Tennessee’s corrections officers. Stated simply, those who have nothing to lose have no reason to follow the rules. And this has proven true in other states.

After Arizona enacted its own version of Truth In Sentencing, rules infractions in facilities increased by 50 percent, education program enrollment dropped by20 percent, and the three-year reincarceration rates rose by over 7 percentage points(a nearly 40 percent increase). Unfortunately, this trio of negative results also cost the Arizona taxpayers millions of dollars, while furthering the damage to already broken communities and families.

Accordingly, we view House Bill 2656 and Senate Bill 2248 as proposals that cost too much, do too little to make Tennessee communities safer, and endanger correctional staff along the way.

Accordingly, ACU strongly opposes this legislation and urges you to reject it. We have also recommended to our colleagues at the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Legislative Accountability (Ratings) that they rate a vote to approve HB 2656/SB2248 negatively in our 2022 ratings.

Should you have any questions regarding this matter, please feel free to contact me […].

Respectfully,

Patrick Plein

American Conservative Union

Senate to take up Robinson ethics case, potential ouster on Feb. 2

State Sen. Katrina Robinson confers with Rep. G.A. Hardaway (both D-Memphis) after the Sente Ethics Committee recommended Robinson’s expulsion on Jan. 20, 20222. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) says the full chamber will take up the ethics case against Sen. Katrina Robinson on Feb. 2. The Senate Ethics Committee last week recommended the Memphis Democrat’s expulsion over federal fraud charges related to her nursing school.

Robinson is awaiting sentencing after a jury found her guilty of two charges of misspending federal grant money intended for the school. She has also agreed to pre-trial diversion on separate case in which the government alleged she and two codefendants conspired to cheat a man out of $14,470 by falsely claiming the money was needed to cover tuition for a student at her school.

McNally has called on Robinson to resign before the matter comes before the full Senate. Democrats called the move premature because Robinson hasn’t been sentenced yet.

Here is the Senate Ethics Committee’s report to the chamber:

The Senate Ethics Committee held a public meeting on January 20, 2021 after the Committee voted 4-0 in a private hearing on January 10, 2021 that probable cause existed that Senator Katrina Robinson violated the law or the Senate Code of Ethics. The committee made this determination based on Senator Robinson’s actions that resulted in a jury conviction in federal court on September 30, 2021 for wire fraud (counts 11 and 12 of her indictment) and for actions which led to a pretrial diversion agreement with the United States that was filed with the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on December 17, 2021.

Complaint 1: A jury conviction in federal court on September 30, 2021 for wire fraud (counts 11 and 12 of her indictment); and

Complaint 2: A pretrial diversion agreement with the United States that was filed with the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on December 17,2021.

The following public court documents were submitted to the committee as exhibits and are attached to this report:

Exhibit 1: The Superseding Indictment from January 14, 2021 in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, Criminal No. 2:20-cr-20148-SHL

Exhibit 2: The Jury Instructions in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, Cr. No. 20-20148- SHL

Exhibit 3: The Jury’s Verdict in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, Cr. No. 20-20148- SHL

Exhibit 4: Order Denying Defendant’s Motion for Judgment of Acquittal as to Counts 11 and 12; Granting Defendant’s Motion for Judgment of Acquittal as to Counts 19 and 20; and Denying Defendant’s Motion for New Trial in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, No. 2:20-cr-20148-SHL

Exhibit 5: Criminal Complaint in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, Katie Ayers, Brooke Boudreaux Case No. 21-cr-20003-MSN/tmp

Exhibit 6: Motion to Dismiss Indictment without Prejudice and the Pretrial Diversion Agreement in United States of America v. Katrina Robinson, Katie Ayers, Brooke Boudreaux Crim. No. 2:21-cr-20003-SHL

Chairman Ferrell Haile explained the complaints and submitted the court documents that support the information in the complaints. The committee had some discussion and some questions from Senator Robinson.

Senator Jack Johnson made a motion that Sen. Robinson’s actions in the two matters that were articulated by Chairman Haile do constitute a violation of the Code of Ethics of the Senate. The committee voted 4-1 in support of the motion.

A second motion was made by Senator Jack Johnson that should the senate find that the actions that have been laid forth do constitute a violation of the Senate Code of Ethics that this committee in compliance with Article 11, Section 12 of the Constitution of Tennessee recommend that Sen. Robinson be expelled from the body. The committee voted 4-1 in support of the motion.

Therefore, the Senate ethics committee finds that Senator Robinson’s actions in the two complaints do constitute a violation of the Code of Ethics of the Senate and that if the Senate makes that same finding, further recommends the Senate, in compliance with Article II, Section 12 of the Constitution of the state of Tennessee, expel Senator Robinson from the body.

/signed/

Chairman Ferrell Haile

Sen. Jack Johnson

Sen. Steve Southerland

Sen. John Stevens

Lawmakers scramble to raise money before high-noon deadline

Lawmakers are scrambling to collect last-minute campaign donations as a fundraising ban looms. The blackout begins once the gavel falls on the start of the regular session at noon on Tuesday. It will last until the General Assembly adjourns for the year — or May 15 if they can’t complete their business before then.

As Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) had an event to raise money for his PAC on Monday at the Nashville City Club, while his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), held an event at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse .

Sexton spokesman Doug Kufner told the paper “the practice of hosting fundraisers on the day before the start of a legislative session is not uncommon and has occurred regularly among members of both parties in recent years.

Raising money will be all the more crucial for lawmakers facing potential primary challenges under this year’s newly drawn political maps.