Randy McNally

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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War of words erupts over failure to pass bill to ban COVID-19 lawsuits

Everyone thought the deal was done. But then it wasn’t. The General Assembly adjourned in the predawn hours of Friday without passing either a bill to provide businesses immunity from most COVID-19 lawsuits or another measure to set insurance reimbursement standards for telemedicine appointments.

That’s when a war of words began to erupt between the Republican leaders of both chambers. Senate Speaker Randy McNally blamed House Majority Leader William Lamberth and House Judiciary Chairman Michael Curcio for torpedoing the lawsuit bill.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, normally a McNally ally, shot back that “finger pointing on social media … is not a productive way to arrive at an effective solution.”

Talk immediately turned to whether Gov. Bill Lee might call a special session to try to fix the damage. But first, the two chambers would have to come together on an agreement — something that has proven elusive so far.

The sticking point over the lawsuit liability has been over whether it be backdated to the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate has argued it should, while the House has pointed out that retroactive legislation is banned by the state constitution. Business interests appeared to have been willing to back off the retroactive language in the interest of getting at least something passed this session, but those discussions evaporated after the word was put out the two chambers had agreed to pass the original forms of both the liability and telemedicine bills.

It turned out rank-and-file members of the House weren’t on board with such an arrangement. The vote to adopt the Senate version including the retroactive language was 46-36. It takes 50 votes for bills to be approved in the House.

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Sales tax holiday a likely victim of dire Tennessee budget picture

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)

While state House committees go through the motions of advancing pricey legislative proposals, the Senate has been pinpointing spending items likely to to be axed amid a dire state budget outlook. Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) tells WBIR-TV that one such item may be the popular back-to-school sales tax holiday.

“Depending on what their estimates are, I’m pretty sure we’re going to face some difficult times as far as revenue,” McNally said.

This year’s sales tax holiday, which exempts clothing and school supplies costing less than $100 and computers up to $1,500, is scheduled for July 31 through Aug. 2. The state generally forgoes about $10 million in sales tax revenue during the annual event.