Randy McNally

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.”

Flirting with trouble? Roberts calls for special session on COVID-19 mandates

Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Sprinfield) speak on the Senate floor on Jan. 10, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) is calling on Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) to join the House in calling for a special session on COVID-19 mandates.

Roberts recently got a talking to from McNally for allowing his Government Operations Committee to veer into discussions about dissolving the state Department of Health and considering livestock dewormer ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.

McNally has been resistant to holding a special session while the pandemic is worsening and has been skeptical of calls to limit private businesses’ options when it comes to their employees and customers.

Roberts is no stranger to going against leadership — sometimes to his own peril. After word got to then-Speaker Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) in 2011 that the freshman lawmaker was raising questions about whether the chamber needed a new leader, Roberts ended up finding himself drawn out of his district the following year in favor of controversial Sen. Jim Summerville (R-Dickson). Roberts defeated Summerville in the 2014 primary to return to the chamber.

Here’s the release from Roberts:

Nashville, Tennessee (September 15, 2021) – On Tuesday, State Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) sent a letter to Lt. Governor Randy McNally requesting a special session take place of the Tennessee General Assembly. Roberts’ letter explains that numerous constituents have reached out requesting a special session.

In the letter, Roberts lays out six topics he suggests to be considered during a special session:

1. Prohibiting mask mandates in public buildings, schools, and universities

2. Recognizing acquired immunity or immunity from monoclonal antibodies as satisfying vaccine mandates

3. Prohibiting Bridgestone Arena and other venues receiving government funding from implementing vaccine requirements, mask mandates, or segregating attendees according to vaccination status

4. Placing the county health departments of Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan counties under the direct oversight of the General Assembly

5. Challenging federal overreach exercised by President Joe Biden related to vaccine mandates

5. Requiring Executive Orders issued during a State of Emergency lasting over 90 days to be reviewed by the Joint Committee for Government Operations for a positive or negative recommendation

A special session of the legislature is held in the interim between regular sessions. It is called for a specific number of days by the governor or upon petition of two-thirds of the members elected to each house. It is restricted to matters specifically enumerated in the call.

UPDATE: Similar letters have been written by Sens. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro), and Paul Rose (R-Covington).

McNally to holdout school districts: So you *want* a special session?

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

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Nashville) was one of the leading opponents of House Republican calls to hold a special session to ban schools from imposing mask mandates. Under a compromise, Gov. Bill Lee on Monday issued an executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of mask requirements. But Shelby County and Nashville school districts have slow-walked the order so far, saying they want to look into the legal specifics. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk also announced he wouldn’t bring charges against teachers or district officials who violate the order.

McNally doesn’t appear pleased that the order isn’t being immediately complied with. Here’s his statement released on Tuesday afternoon:

“I am extremely appalled and alarmed at the response to Governor Lee’s executive order from Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools. This order was a compromise that still allows school boards to ensure the health and safety of their students while recognizing the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children. The Governor and the General Assembly cannot and will not allow lawful orders to be defied. If these systems persist in resisting the order, we will have no choice but to exercise other remedial options.”

In other words, if the opt-out provision isn’t implemented, McNally likely won’t stand in the way of renewed calls for a special session in which all bets could be off.

16 of 27 Senate Republicans agree: Get vaccinated

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

Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Majority Leader Jack Johnson, and Caucus Chair Ken Yager are among a group of 16 Republicans in the state Senate signing onto letter urging Tennesseans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“This should not be political,” the senators say in the letter.

Others signing the missive are Sens. Richard Briggs, Todd Gardenhire, Ferrell Haile, Ed Jackson, Jon Lundberg, Becky Massey, Bill Powers, Shane Reeves, Paul Rose, Art Swann, Page Walley, Dawn White, and Bo Watson.

Eleven Republicans declined to sign on. They are Sens. Paul Bailey. Mike Bell, Janice Bowling, Rusty Crowe, Joey Hensley, Brian Kelsey, Frank Niceley, Mark Pody, Kerry Roberts, Steve Southerland, and John Stevens.

The Senate’s six Democrats were not asked to participate.

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Tennesseans,

Although we have made progress, COVID-19 is not over. There has been a recent spike in the number of cases, which includes the virus’s more contagious delta variant. A strong majority of these cases are among those who are not vaccinated. And virtually all of those currently hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated.

As people across our state are exposed to the spread of this deadly virus, we strongly urge Tennesseans who do not have a religious objection or a legitimate medical issue to get vaccinated.

The vaccines have been found to be safe and effective against COVID-19. If they had been available from the start and widely used, over 600,000 American families that are mourning the loss of a loved one, along with tens of thousands of people who are awaiting lung transplants, or trying to learn to walk again, would have avoided that heartache.

Vaccines have been saving lives for over a century. As a result, polio and smallpox have been eradicated and measles, mumps and rubella are rare. Building on these 20th century medical breakthroughs, the COVID-19 vaccines were developed utilizing high standards and the best medical technology available.

Even the new mRNA technology, which has caused some people to be vaccine hesitant, has been around for decades. The mRNA vaccines teach your body how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response, without using a live virus. This technology is found in essentially every pharmacy, medical office and laboratory. Recombinant DNA technology has almost completely replaced insulin obtained from animal sources for the treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes with great success for over 30 years.

We are well beyond the COVID-19 vaccine trial stage. Nearly 338 million doses of the vaccines have been administered in the U.S. with few adverse effects. Please compare the very rare instances of side effects with the more than 600,000 deaths in the U.S. which have occurred due to COVID-19. The facts are clear — the benefits of the vaccines far outweigh the risks.

Under no circumstances will the state of Tennessee require mandatory vaccines or vaccine passports for adults or children. We recognize this is a personal choice. However, we urge every Tennessean to consider the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine and talk to your doctor about their recommendations on the best way to protect yourself and your family against COVID-19.

Unfortunately, efforts to get more people vaccinated have been hampered by politicization of COVID-19. This should not be political. Tennesseans need factual information to make educated decisions regarding their health. Please consider looking at the facts which are presented by Vanderbilt University Medical Center or the New England Journal of Medicine, both which are among the most respected health resources worldwide.

Every life lost to this virus is tragic. The COVID-19 vaccines save lives. Again, we strongly urge all Tennesseans to study the facts, talk to your doctor and get vaccinated.

Signed,

Randy McNally, Jack Johnson, Ken Yager, Ferrell Haile, Richard Briggs, Todd Gardenhire, Ed Jackson, Jon Lundberg, Becky Massey, Bill Powers, Shane Reeves, Paul Rose, Art Swann, Page Walley, Dawn White, Bo Watson

Gov. Lee responds to critics of free airfare program

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

Gov. Bill Lee spoke to reporters for the first time late last week about his program to give away $250 flight vouchers to tourists who book two-night stays in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.

Here is what he said:

Q: Why is this program necessary?

Lee: The tourism industry in this state is the second-largest generator of tax revenue for Tennessee. It’s an enormous industry in our state. And it’s suffered tremendously through the pandemic, arguably as much as any other industry in the state. An effective marketing campaign is the strategy there. We accomplished that. I’m committed to the tourism industry and will continue to be. That was a relatively small financial commitment, that particular campaign. But we have plans for commitment and investment in recruiting folks to Tennessee, especially to rural counties and to places that are not traditionally where they come. But need to invest in tourism. I’m glad we did it.

Q: Lt. Gov. Randy McNally has been critical, saying he thought more areas should be involved. And some people are critical over the ad. How do you respond?

Lee: Always a lot of critics. But that comes with politics. But what we’re committed on is creating opportunity and jobs in this state and a return on investment. And that was a marketing campaign that will have a great return on investment. It will help support a very important industry in this state. And it is one of a comprehensive approach we will take in tourism investment over the year.

Q: Some of the Republicans in the Senate particularly felt blindsided. Have you spoken to the Lt. Gov. or finance chairs to allay some of those concerns?

Lee: I’ve spoken to the lieutenant governor a couple times, but not on that issue. The lieutenant governor and I have a very good relationship and very strong working relationship. We don’t agree on everything, but we work together for a lot. I actually haven’t talked to him about that issue. As I said, it’s one of many investments in tourism development that we will make. It’s a return on investment.

Q: So you intend to continue with the Tennessee On Me campaign?

Lee: Yeah. It’s already rolled out. It’s out there. We’re fortunate that we had a global music guy in Brad Paisley willing to push that out through his channel. It was a message sent out to millions of people across America that Tennessee is a place to think about coming to.

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.