special session

For real this time? Lawmakers adjourn

Speaker Cameron Sexton presides over a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The General Assembly concluded a three-day special session Wednesday evening to complete unfinished business dating back to its a blowup between House and Senate Republicans at the end of the regular session in June.

The agenda included Covid-19 lawsuit protections for businesses and schools, a telehealth bill, and a sweeping effort to crack down on protest that have raged around the Capitol for weeks.

According to The Tennessean:

Unlike when the legislature adjourned its regular session in June, when the legislative chambers traded barbs while House Democrats urged reforms on policing and race, internal fireworks during the special session were minimal. The most significant confrontations during the relatively pain-free special session came when protesters repeatedly blocked lawmakers’ access out of their office building. 

The Daily Mempian reported:

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat, said she wants to make sure it doesn’t protect “bad actors” that might put up signs prohibiting masks or refuse to clean their facilities […] Bell contended those types of cases would be decided in court if a business is “grossly negligent” by refusing to follow safety guidelines. He argued, nevertheless, the legislation would offer protection to large businesses statewide, including Amazon and Nissan, as well as a bakery in tiny Eagleville and schools.

And the AP summed it up as follows:

Efforts to increase law enforcement oversight were rebuffed by the GOP-dominant Statehouse. Instead, the majority white General Assembly chose to focus their attention on the ongoing protests that have been led by mostly young Black activists outside the Capitol, who have been calling for racial justice reforms for the past two months.

Here are your special House committees

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to the House Republican Caucus after winning their nomination for speaker on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton has appointed special committees to handle each of three subjects being taken up in the special session. The Senate, meanwhile, is sticking with its regular standing committees.

Here are the House panels for the special session:

COVID Related Liability Committee

  • Chair-Curcio, R
  • Vice Chair-Howell, R
  • Boyd, R
  • Bricken, R
  • Byrd, R
  • Camper, D
  • Carr, R
  • Cochran, R
  • DeBerry, D
  • Freeman, D
  • Gant, R
  • Grills, R
  • Halford, R
  • Keisling, R
  • Lamberth R
  • Love, D
  • Marsh, R
  • Potts, D
  • Rudder, R
  • Sherrell, R
  • Thompson, D
  • Tilis, R
  • Travis , R
  • Whitson, R
  • Windle, D

Electronic Delivery of Healthcare Committee

  • Chair- Terry, R
  • Vice Chair- Baum, R
  • Carter, R
  • Casada, R
  • Chism, D
  • Clemmons, D
  • Dixie, D
  • Dunn, R
  • Faison, R
  • Hardaway, D
  • Hawk, R
  • Hill, Timothy, R
  • Johnson, Gloria, D
  • Kumar, R
  • Leatherwood, R
  • Mitchell, D
  • Moon, R
  • Parkinson, D
  • Ragan, R
  • Ramsey, R
  • Smith, R
  • Sparks, R
  • Vaughan, R
  • White, R
  • Williams, R

Public Safety Committee

  • Chair- Farmer, R
  • Vice Chair- Hurt, R
  • Beck, D
  • Calfee, R
  • Cepicky, R
  • Cooper, D
  • Crawford, R
  • Griffey, R
  • Garrett, R
  • Hakeem, D
  • Hodges, D
  • Hulsey, R
  • Lafferty, R
  • Littleton, R
  • Miller, D
  • Moody, R
  • Ogles, R
  • Reedy, R
  • Rudd, R
  • Russell, R
  • Staples, D
  • Todd, R
  • Van Huss, R
  • Weaver, R

Finance Committee

  • Chair- Lynn, R
  • Vice Chair- Hicks, R
  • Camper, D
  • Coley, R
  • Daniel, R
  • Doggett, R
  • Eldridge, R
  • Hall, R
  • Haston, R
  • Hazlewood, R
  • Helton, R
  • Hill, Matthew, R
  • Holsclaw, R
  • Holt, R
  • Jernigan, D
  • Johnson, Curtis, R
  • Lamar, D
  • Lamberth, R
  • Powell, D
  • Powers, R
  • Sexton, Jerry, R
  • Shaw, D
  • Stewart, D
  • Towns, D
  • Wright, R
  • Zachary, R

(Additions to the Finance panel compared with the regular session are Daniel, Eldridge, Hall, Haston, Helton, Holsclaw, Jernigan, Johnson, Lamar, Powell, Powers, Sexton, Stewart, Towns, and Wright. Subtractions are Republicans Baum, Crawford, Faison, Gant, Hawk, Ogles, Reedy, Tillis, Todd, Whitson, and Williams, along with Democrats DeBerry, Miller, Staples, and Windle.)

It’s special session time in Tennessee (again)

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

Lawmakers are back in Nashville on Monday for a special session, this time to complete unfinished business from when they couldn’t agree back in June over COVID-19 liability protections and a telehealth bill.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) got in under the wire on a fundraising blackout on Monday morning by collecting checks from donors at the Hermitage Hotel. Sens. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) had their own fundraisers at Puckett’s restaurant and Nissan Stadium, respectively.

The House Republican Caucus picked up where it left off by holding a closed-door meeting before the start of the first floor session.

Legislative historian Eddie Weeks has combed through the records to find some interesting facts about his special session:

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GOP bill would give Tennessee AG power to prosecute criminal cases

A man scrubs graffiti off of a building following protests in downtown Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)\

Among the bills proposed for next week’s special legislative session is a measure to for the first time give the state attorney general the power to prosecute criminal cases. The bill sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) is aimed at giving the AG jurisdiction over cases related to protests.

Under longtime practice in Tennessee, popularly elected district attorneys general have authority over all criminal prosecutions, while the state attorney general, who is appointed by the state Supreme Court, can file civil lawsuits and is responsible for defending the state in criminal appeals.

Under new legislation, if the AG decides to bring criminal charges related to protests, the office would have “the authority to exercise all of the powers and perform all of the duties before any court or grand jury with respect to such prosecution that the appropriate district attorney general would otherwise be authorized or required by law to exercise or perform.”

The bill also seeks to require local prosecutors to “fully cooperate” with the AG in any from requested.

The bill would take effect on Oct. 1.

UPDATE 1: To say not everyone is impressed would be an understatement.

UPDATE 2: Word emanating from the corridors of power is that this is a caption bill — in other words one containing placeholder language until the final version can be put together. Whether that was the original intent or in response to criticism is not immediately clear.

 

Lee calling lawmakers into special session next week

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee plans to call lawmakers into a special session to take up bills to provide legal immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits, establish reimbursement rates for telemedicine appointments, and increase penalties for property damaged in protests, The Tennessee Journal has learned. Similar measures fell apart among inter-chamber discord during the final hours of the regular session in June.

It could turn out to be a bit of a lame duck session for incumbents who aren’t running again and those who lose their primaries on Thursday (if any). They remain in office until the November general election.

UPDATE: The official announcement follows.

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Resolution to oust Byrd won’t be on calendar. But is one even needed?

Embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Education Committee meeting in Nashville on March 28, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison reports that a resolution seeking to oust state Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) over sexual misconduct allegations dating back to when he was a girls’ high school basketball coach in the 1980s won’t be placed on the House calendar for this week’s special session.

If Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) wants her resolution to be taken up, it would require a two-thirds majority to suspend the rules — the same margin required to oust a sitting member.

But there’s a fairly obvious workaround, if past experience with the ouster of then-Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) is any guide. During the 2016 special session to undo a drunken driving bill that threatened $60 million in highway funds for running afoul of federal guidelines, Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) stood to announce a motion to oust Durham over the sexual misconduct allegations laid out in a state attorney general’s report.

There was no accompanying resolution for the successful effort to remove Durham, which rankled the former lawmaker’s few supporters in the chamber. They included then-Rep. Rick Womick (R-Murfreesboro), who likened the House to a “banana republic” if any member could just stand and make a motion to oust another.

But Joe McCord, the House clerk at the time, cited the following provision in the Tennessee Constitution outlining the power to remove members:

Section 12. Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offense; and shall have all other powers necessary for a branch of the Legislature of a free state.

While the General Assembly is required to stay within the governor’s call for the special session, which are to pass updates to court rules that didn’t get taken up during this spring’s regular session, internal housekeeping matters like leadership elections are also allowed.

Byrd, who was recorded by one of the now-adult women apologizing for unspecified sins in the past, has been urged by Lee not to seek re-election next year.

Lee sets special session for Aug. 23

Gov. Bill Lee has scheduled the special session to replace House Speaker Glen Casada for Aug. 23.

The House Republican Caucus is scheduled to meet on July 24 to nominate the next speaker.

Several House Republicans want earlier Casada exit

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) speaks to reporters in the House chamber in Nashville on April 17, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Several House Republicans are calling for embattled House Speaker Glen Casada to step aside sooner than his planned Aug. 2 exit date.

“I definitely think he needs to go sooner. He can resign. We have a speaker pro tem who can step in until we could have an election at whatever time is appropriate,” Rep. Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain) told Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) is the speaker pro tem.

“I definitely think (Casada) doesn’t have the confidence of the legislature, that’s clear,” Hazlewood added. “I think he doesn’t have the confidence of the governor and other people across the state.”

Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) said he’s worried about extending Casada’s power to make key appointments to boards and commissions, including the panel tasked with overseeing the state’s new online sports gaming law.

“If he’d given me some reason, that might have helped me to try and understand it,” said Carter, a candidate to succeed Casada. “But now with all these appointments and things coming, I’m just concerned about it. The bleeding continues.”

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Casada to step down as speaker Aug. 2, requests successor vote be held same day

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), right, meets with colleagues on the Senate floor on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Glen Casada plans to step down as House speaker on Aug 2. He is asking Gov. Bill Lee to call a  special session to elect a new leader of the chamber that same day.

Casada began holding talks about the timetable for his resignation following his return from a European vacation on Monday. The House Republican Caucus had voted 45-24 last month to approve a resolution declaring lost confidence in the speaker over a text message scandal and his heavy-handed leadership style.

Here’s the text of Casada’s letter to colleagues on Tuesday:

June 4th, 2019

House Members of the 111th General Assembly:

I resign from my position as Speaker of the House of Representatives, effective Friday, August 2nd at 8:00 am. I also request that Governor Bill Lee call the General Assembly into a special session for legislative business on that day. During the special session, the House may take up the procedural matter of electing a new Speaker to lead the chamber.

/signed/

Glen Casada

State Representative, District 63

State Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini criticized the delay in Casada’s planned resignation:

Every day that Glen Casada is in office is a slap in the face to to women, communities of color, and all Tennesseans who expect real work and not lines of coke to be done at the state capitol. Democrats have been sounding the alarm since Casada’s corruption began, and we’ll continue to fight to restore accountability and decency to the Tennessee legislature.