special session

New TNJ edition alert: Redistricting case update, special session wrangling, AG-approved drag shows

A proposed redistricting map is shown on a screen in a House committee room on Dec. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— Redistricting case may test anyone-can-sue-government statute.

— Speakers trying to find alternatives to ‘red flag’ law in special session.

— Risqué, but OK? AG says Memphis drag shows ‘don’t even come close’ to violating law.

— Flight of the Phoenix: Sexton declines to discuss Cothren claim of alliance in speaker’s race.

Also: FBI agents raid home of Shelby County Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr., early voting underway in two of three special state House elections, and the Registry’s former home gets a rebranding.

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

Or subscribe here.

Group calling for gun reform following school shooting gains nonprofit status

Protesters hold a rally outside the state Capitol on April 3, 2023, marking one week since a fatal school shooting in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Voices for a Safer Tennessee, a group formed to advocate to gun reform following the mass shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School, has registered as a nonprofit organization and named the founding members of its board.

Here’s the full release from the group, which is also known as Safer TN:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Voices for a Safer Tennessee (Safer TN), a nonpartisan organization dedicated to prioritizing firearm safety and promoting responsible firearm ownership through bipartisan legislation, today announced that it has formally registered as a nonprofit organization under the 501(c)(4) designation of the Internal Revenue Service. Safer TN also has announced its founding board of directors and board officers, who represent a broad range of professional and political backgrounds in reflection of the organization’s objectives:

— Todd Cruse, chairman and treasurer;
— Nicole Smith, president;
— Whitney Kimerling, secretary;
— Clay Richards; and
— Jill Talbert.

“It is an honor to serve as chairman of the board for Voices for a Safer Tennessee and to have an opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the organization’s efforts to advance common-sense firearm safety legislation,” said Todd Cruse. “As a parent, gun-owner and Tennessee voter, I firmly believe that the concepts of firearm ownership and firearm safety are not mutually exclusive, and that there is a clear, bipartisan path forward to protecting our children and communities more effectively than we are doing today.”

Today’s announcement comes approximately six weeks after the volunteer-run group of parents, neighbors, friends and community members came together, and one month after Safer TN’s “Linking Arms for Change” event that garnered national and statewide media attention by bringing nearly 10,000 Tennesseans in Nashville and Knoxville together, ultimately forming a three-mile human chain in support of common-sense firearm safety legislation. Since then, Safer TN has built unprecedented momentum and support by bridging people of diverse interests, religions, political perspectives and geographies to engage in advocacy including:

● Publishing Letters of Support, championed by key Tennessee leaders, including education leaders, healthcare executives and faith leaders respectively;

● Releasing statewide, bipartisan poll results showing strong support for common-sense firearm policies from Tennessee voters with key demographics, including Republicans and households with guns;

● Meeting with United States Senators and other leaders in Washington D.C., to ask for support and have productive conversations about firearm safety;

● Coordinating nearly 100 meetings with state legislators and elected officials in less than six weeks;

● Sustaining a daily visible contingency of supporters on site at the Tennessee State Capitol and Cordell Hull buildings during the regularly scheduled state legislative session;

● Organizing a group of notable artists, including Amy Grant, Sheryl Crow, Ruby Amanfu, Will Hoge, Allison Russell and Margo Price to meet with state lawmakers about addressing firearm safety measures;

● Bringing together more than 65 notable musicians and artists, including Sheryl Crow, Kacey Musgraves, Amy Grant, Emmylou Harris, Martina McBride, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Jason Isbell and more, to support a letter addressed to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and members of the Tennessee General Assembly, asking them to put politics aside and the safety of our children above all else;

● Collecting more than 3,000 petition signatures in support of stronger firearm safety and ownership laws;

● Inspiring news coverage in more than 500 media stories across the state and the world – from local community newspapers to international television broadcasts reflecting a nonpartisan, common-ground approach to firearm safety solutions;

● Sharing timely and actionable information with supporters following Governor Bill Lee’s introduction of an order of protection bill and subsequent call for a special session of the legislature to address public safety.

“It is extraordinary what our group of volunteers has been able to accomplish in a short amount of time, and how many like-minded Tennesseans have willingly mobilized to support this cause,” Cruse continued. “By formalizing as a 501(c)(4) and creating the mechanism to raise funds, we are now in a stronger position to continue advancing the short- and long-term goals of Safer TN, including our efforts ahead of the special session that begins August 21.”

Leading up to the special session, Safer TN is continuing to advocate for:

● extreme risk laws with proven language that would allow authorities to temporarily restrict access to firearms from people who pose a risk to themselves or others,

● stronger firearm storage laws that would require firearm owners to provide safe storage and report lost or stolen firearms, and

● closing background check loopholes to keep firearms away from dangerous people.

Safer TN encourages all Tennesseans who believe that we can find common ground to achieve these policies and protect our communities to get involved by donating, signing the petition, and following Safer TN on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for regular updates and calls to action.

About Voices for a Safer Tennessee

Voices for a Safer Tennessee (Safer TN) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition dedicated to prioritizing common-sense firearm safety laws and promoting responsible firearm ownership to make communities across our state safer. Safer TN was founded by neighbors, friends, colleagues and community members who came together with a shared desire for change following the tragic events of March 27, 2023, at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn. The organization brings voters and lawmakers together by leading conversations, sharing diverse perspectives and finding commonality to champion the bipartisan change that the majority of Tennessee voters support. Learn more at safertn.org.

Lee calls Aug. 21 special session in response to school shooting

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Lee plans to call lawmakers back into a special session on Aug. 21. Here’s the release from teh governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that he will call for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene a special legislative session on August 21, 2023, to strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights. 

“After speaking with members of the General Assembly, I am calling for a special session on August 21 to continue our important discussion about solutions to keep Tennessee communities safe and preserve the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Gov. Lee. “There is broad agreement that action is needed, and in the weeks ahead, we’ll continue to listen to Tennesseans and pursue thoughtful, practical measures that strengthen the safety of Tennesseans, preserve Second Amendment rights, prioritize due process protections, support law enforcement and address mental health.”

Starting today, Tennesseans are invited to engage in the conversation by sharing feedback here.

Gov. Lee will meet with legislators, stakeholders and Tennesseans throughout the summer to discuss practical solutions ahead of the special session. 

The Governor’s office will issue a formal call ahead of the special session. 

See you in August? Lee’s special session call faces delays

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee made a big splash by announcing the night the legislature adjourned for the year that he was going to call lawmakers back into a special session to take up his proposal to curb access to firearms by people with significant mental problems. Many expected the governor to issue the call by the middle of May.

But amid tepid support for the Lee’s proposed language, several Republicans tell The Tennessee Journal they now expect the special session won’t take place until August – or even September.

Even Lee’s backers are wary of having the measure labeled a “red flag” law, which gun rights supporters argue infringe on Second Amendment rights. Democratic President Joe Biden didn’t help matters for Tennessee Republicans when he commended Lee in the aftermath of the Covenant School shooting for expanding background checks and “calling on the Tennessee statehouse to pass a red flag law.”

GOP leaders in the House and Senate are understood to have warned Lee that calling them into session next month would result in either the bill failing outright – or enough absences to deny a quorum for proceedings to get underway.

It remains to be seen whether Lee takes heed of concerns raised by lawmakers or presses ahead with a bill even if it’s doomed to failure. Lee and his wife, Maria, were close friends of one of the teachers fatally shot at the Covenant School and may want to demonstrate they were willing to try to do something, even if lawmakers don’t go along. Some observers liken the situation to when Gov. Bill Haslam pressed ahead with his Medicaid expansion proposal in 2015 despite a widespread recognition that it was unlikely to pass.

Lee declines to sign nullification resolution passed during special session

A statue of President Andrew Jackson is seen in front of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a resolution passed during a recent special session touting the state’s purported right to pass laws to nullify federal COVID-19 vaccination and mask requirements.

The Republican governor does not appear to have transmitted a statement to lawmakers about why he is allowing the resolution to go into effect without his signature.

The Senate version passed 24-6, while the House vote was 64-17.

Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) carried the measure on behalf of House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

“The nullification theory was first broached in 1832 when Tennessee’s own Andrew Jackson was president,” Ragan said in floor comments. “The state of South Carolina began it, and President Jackson threatened to invade with federal troops to settle the issue. However, the federal government ultimately backed down.”

Ragan’s statement drew a retort from Rep. Michael Curcio (R-Dickson).

“I wanted to make sure the record was clear: the federal government didn’t back down, South Carolina quit,” said Curcio, who voted against the resolution. “But they continued in their behavior until eventually Fort Sumter was fired on, creating a tragedy for this country. I want to remind everybody that emulating such behavior is very, very serious.”

The full language of the resolution follows.

Continue reading

New TNJ edition alert: Special session post-mortem, Warner audit comes to nothing

A statue of President Andrew Jackson is seen in front of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In this week’s edition of the print edition of The Tennessee Journal:

— Business concerns brushed aside in hurry-up special session.

— Registry punts on audit of Rep. Warner’s spending with mystery vendor but proceeds with probe of PAC.

— Knox GOP’s effort to topple incumbents in Knoxville City Council elections fizzles.

Also: Kelsey turns himself (and his passport) in, Robinson has a court date for her second federal fraud trial, Terry gives the Heimlich maneuver to choking colleague, and Ragan’s revisionist history on Andrew Jackson and the nullification crisis.

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

Chamber to offer seminars on trying to comply with conflicting COVID-19 rules

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

With federal guidance handed down this week requiring companies with 100 employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, the state Chamber of Commerce is offering seminars on how to try to comply with that rule while trying not to run afoul of a state bill passed in a special legislative session last week to outlaw most vaccine mandates in Tennessee.

One method may be a federal provision allowing regular testing instead of vaccines. The state bill did not address the question of tests.

The Chamber opposes all vaccination, masking, and testing mandates, but businesses still have to try to follow the law.

“We understand that recent federal orders and state legislation can result in confusion and costly litigation,” Chamber CEO Bradley Jackson said in a release. “Employers have to know how to comply.”

Here’s the release from the Chamber:

Nashville, TN The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry announced it will be hosting a series of free compliance seminars to assist all businesses with navigating compliance of Tennessee‘s newly passed COVID-19 requirements for employers. The essential seminars are intended to assist all employers by providing clarity as they attempt to maintain compliance with both state and federal COVID-19 mandates. “We are working to get the word out across Tennessee to all employers and assist every business that needs guidance to steer through the complexities of both state and federal policies. It is our obligation to ensure all employers understand their requirements under law. We understand that recent federal orders and state legislation can result in confusion and costly litigation. Employers have to know how to comply,” said Chamber President and CEO Bradley Jackson. The Tennessee Chamber has expressed opposition to both federal and state mandates relative to vaccination, masking and testing mandates for businesses. 

The first compliance seminar will be held at 10 AM CST on Tuesday, November 9. The virtual meeting series is free to attend and will have no registration expense or limit. Legal experts will be on hand to step through the complexities of the measures and address questions of employers. This recently enacted legislation could be effective as late as November 13th and Tennessee businesses of all sizes and sectors across our great state who are not in compliance are subject to penalties and litigation exposure. “The compliance curve on this particular mandate is extremely steep. We want to make sure there is no business in Tennessee that doesn’t fully understand their obligations and options.” noted Jackson.

The Tennessee Chamber will be hosting a subsequent seminar on November 17 to focus on the exemption process for qualified employers. In addition a final compliance seminar will take a closer look at expected OSHA emergency rules. 

To register, visit www.tnchamber.org/complianceseminar  

Funk revels in GOP attacks

Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk appears undaunted by becoming a target of Republican lawmakers during last week’s special session. The prosecutor’s supporters placed placards at tables at last weekend’s annul state Democratic Party fundraiser touting Funk’s record and reveling in negative comments made about him from GOP figures like Gov. Bill Lee, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

Republican lawmakers last week passed legislation calling for a special prosecutor to be appointed if a local DA refuses to prosecute certain crimes. Funk has drawn the ire of lawmakers for saying he wouldn’t bring charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana. He’s also said he won’t prosecute a state law requiring businesses owners to post warnings that they allow transgender people to use bathrooms of their choice.

Funk is up for re-election to another eight-year term in August.

Here are images of Funk’s placard:

All hail Tennessee’s new COVID czar, Jason Mumpower

Jason Mumpower presents a report to lawmakers in Nashville on Jan. 30, 2018. At left is then-Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Amid heavy pushback from the business and education sectors about Republican lawmakers’ efforts to ban COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employees, the final version of the bill allows companies to apply for waivers in the event their federal funding might be jeopardized by following the new law.

To do so, they will have to submit applications to state Comptroller Jason Mumpower, who is empowered to set his own guidelines for what evidence will have to be handed in to make their case for an exemption.

Mumpower, incidentally, is a former state House Republican leader who is appointed by a joint convention of the General Assembly.

Here’s the language of the provision:

A provision of chapter 2 of this title does not apply to a private business, governmental entity, school, or employer that submits notice in writing to the comptroller of the treasury that compliance with a provision chapter 2 of this title would result in a loss of federal funding, to the extent such an exemption is necessary to conform to federally awarded or amended contracts, subcontracts, or postsecondary grants as a condition to receipt of federal funds. The comptroller of the treasury shall create guidelines as to what information is required in the notice. The comptroller shall review a notice submitted by a private business, governmental entity, school, or employer and, if the comptroller finds that compliance would result in a loss of federal funding, then the comptroller shall notify the private business, governmental entity, school, or employer in writing of its exemption.

Supporters said Mumpower’s office is a logical choice because it already handles a variety of contract issues. Opponents argue that at best the move creates another layer of red tape, and at worst gives lawmakers another chance to meddle in businesses’ internal workings.

Either way, Mumpower was quickly dubbed the COVID Czar.

How they voted: House COVID bill limps across finish line

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

After much chest-beating and saber-rattling, the House backed off on several provisions of its bill aimed at blocking COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements. When the final vote was taken at 1:15 a.m. Saturday, the measure received the support of just 57 Republicans — a significant drop from the unanimous 73 who signed on to the petition to hold the the special session.

The House started out with an effort to create a near-universal ban on businesses imposing mask or vaccine mandates on either customers or employees — a rule that would have even extended to people hired to provide home care in private residences. The final version of the bill retained the ability of sports and entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or a negative test, restored the power of private citizens to set requirements for their homes, and allowed all private businesses to require masks.

Also exempt from the vaccine mandate ban are health care facilities and companies or institutions that can show their federal funding would be imperiled by noncompliance.

The bill does impose a ban on mask mandates at all public (but not private) schools. But the issue has been the subject of litigation ever since Gov. Bill Lee issued an executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of mask mandates. (A separate bill to fine local officials up to $10,000 for ignoring executive orders (as was done in Shelby County and Nashville) failed in the Senate.)

Business groups will be parsing through the final language of the omnibus measure to see whether their concerns about increased litigation and conflicting state and federal rules have been addressed.

Read the Tennessean and Associated Press accounts for the full rundown.

In the end, 57 Republicans and one Democrat, John Mark Windle of Livingston, voted in favor of the bill. Thirteen Democrats and nine Republicans voted against. Nineteen members were either absent or abstained.

Here’s the breakdown:

Alexander, RebeccaRAbsent or abstained
Baum, CharlieRNo
Beck, BillDNo
Boyd, ClarkRYes
Bricken, RushRAbsent or abstained
Byrd, DavidRYes
Calfee, KentRYes
Campbell, ScottyRYes
Camper, Karen D.DNo
Carr, DaleRYes
Carringer, MicheleRYes
Casada, GlenRYes
Cepicky, ScottRAbsent or abstained
Chism, JesseDAbsent or abstained
Clemmons, John RayDNo
Cochran, MarkRYes
Cooper, BarbaraDAbsent or abstained
Crawford, JohnRAbsent or abstained
Curcio, Michael G.RNo
Darby, TandyRYes
Dixie, VincentDAbsent or abstained
Doggett, ClayRYes
Eldridge, RickRYes
Faison, JeremyRYes
Farmer, AndrewRYes
Freeman, BobDNo
Gant, Ron M.RYes
Garrett, JohnnyRNo
Gillespie, JohnRYes
Griffey, BruceRYes
Grills, RustyRYes
Hakeem, YusufDAbsent or abstained
Halford, CurtisRYes
Hall, MarkRYes
Hardaway, G. A.DNo
Harris, Torrey C.DNo
Haston, KirkRYes
Hawk, DavidRYes
Hazlewood, PatsyRNo
Helton, EstherRYes
Hicks, GaryRYes
Hicks, TimRYes
Hodges, JasonDNo
Holsclaw, Jr., John B.RYes
Howell, DanRYes
Hulsey, BudRYes
Hurt, ChrisRYes
Jernigan, DarrenDAbsent or abstained
Johnson, CurtisRYes
Johnson, GloriaDNo
Keisling, KellyRYes
Kumar, Sabi ‘Doc’RNo
Lafferty, JustinRYes
Lamar, LondonDNo
Lamberth, WilliamRYes
Leatherwood, TomRYes
Littleton, MaryRYes
Love, Harold M., Jr.DAbsent or abstained
Lynn, SusanRYes
Mannis, EddieRNo
Marsh, PatRYes
McKenzie, SamDAbsent or abstained
Miller, Larry J.DAbsent or abstained
Mitchell, BoDNo
Moody, DebraRYes
Moon, JeromeRAbsent or abstained
Ogles, BrandonRYes
Parkinson, AntonioDAbsent or abstained
Potts, JasonDAbsent or abstained
Powell, JasonDNo
Powers, DennisRYes
Ragan, JohnRYes
Ramsey, BobRAbsent or abstained
Reedy, Jay D.RYes
Rudd, TimRYes
Rudder, IrisRYes
Russell, LowellRYes
Sexton, CameronRYes
Sexton, JerryRAbsent or abstained
Shaw, JohnnyDNo
Sherrell, PaulRYes
Smith, RobinRYes
Sparks, MikeRYes
Stewart, MikeDNo
Terry, BryanRYes
Thompson, DwayneDAbsent or abstained
Todd, ChrisRYes
Towns, Joe, Jr.DAbsent or abstained
Travis, RonRNo
Vaughan, KevinRYes
Vital, GregRYes
Warner, ToddRYes
Weaver, Terri LynnRNo
White, MarkRYes
Whitson, SamRNo
Williams, RyanRYes
Windle, John MarkDYes
Wright, DaveRYes
Zachary, JasonRYes


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