House scheduled to hear 391 bills this week, Senate none

Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) presides of the House Higher Education Subcommittee on May 26, 2020. (Screengrab: Tennessee General Assembly)

The full slate of 20 state House committees meeting this week have 391 bills on their calendars, according to a count by The Tennessean. By contrast, the Senate has none.

The two chamber are at odds about how wide the scope of their return into session should be. The upper chamber wants to focus on COVID-19 related legislation, the budget, and “time-sensitive” measures. The House wants to throw the doors open to any remaining bills, including controversial measures such as making the Bible the state’s official book, banning most abortions, and getting rid of training and background check requirements to carry handguns in public.

The lower chamber is allowing limited access to lobbyists and the public, while the Senate will remain on lockdown for all but lawmakers, staff, and the media.

The Finance Committee is the panel meeting on the Senate side this week.

Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) speaks during a House subcommittee meeting in on May 26, 2020 (Screengrab: Tennessee General Assembly)

Senate throws down marker over which bills it wants to take up in resumed session

In the ongoing fight between the House and Senate over the scope of the return to session, the upper chamber has compiled a list of bills it plans to limit itself to when lawmakers return on June 1. The House is taking a more wide-open approach.

The Senate committee agendas don’t include bills already pending floor votes.

Here’s the list:

Senate Education

1. SB1974 by Gresham

Education – As introduced, clarifies that the powers and authority of the state building commission with respect to construction or demolition projects undertaken by foundations created for the benefit of the state universities originally governed by the board of regents still apply, after the restructuring of the board of regents, to foundations created for the benefit of state universities governed by local governing boards of trustees. – Amends TCA Title 4 and Title 49.

2. SB1247 by Gresham

Education, Dept. of – As introduced, requires the department to publish the list of art supplies that are certified nontoxic by the Arts and Creative Materials Institute on the department’s website. – Amends TCA Title 49.

3. SB2160 by Johnson, Gresham

Education – As introduced, establishes various requirements relating to literacy instruction provided to students in any of the grades kindergarten through two; establishes methods of evaluating the reading proficiency of students in any of the grades kindergarten through three; establishes requirements relating to literacy instruction provided to teaching candidates; establishes various studies and review processes relating to the state’s accountability model and the licensure process for teachers. – Amends TCA Title 49.

Senate Finance, Ways & Means

1. SB 2111 by Lundberg

Public Funds and Financing – As introduced, changes from January 31 to March 1, the date by which the commissioner of economic and community development must report to the general assembly on the administration of the program allocating the state’s bond authority among governmental units having authority to issue bonds. – Amends TCA Title 3; Title 4; Title 8; Title 9 and Title 12.

2. SB2312 by Gardenhire

Hospitals and Health Care Facilities – As introduced, makes various changes to the certificate of need process for healthcare facilities and services. – Amends TCA Title 68, Chapter 11, Part 16.

3. SB2097 by Gresham

Scholarships and Financial Aid – As introduced, enacts the “Financial Aid Simplification for Tennesseans (FAST) Act.” – Amends TCA Title 12, Chapter 3; Title 49, Chapter 1 and Title 49, Chapter 4.

4. SB2677 by Johnson

Taxes, Sales – As introduced, changes, from February 1 to February 15, the date by which the department of revenue must report findings and recommendations regarding sales taxes collected on electronic nicotine delivery devices to the speakers of the senate and the house of representatives and the chairs of the respective finance, ways and means committees. – Amends TCA Title 67.

5. SB1633 by Yager

Air Pollution – As introduced, requires the department of environment and conservation to develop a plan to implement the federal affordable clean energy rule and submit the plan to the EPA for approval by June 15, 2020. – Amends TCA Title 7; Title 65; Title 68 and Chapter 478 of the Public Acts of 2015.

6. Budget package

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Tennessee State Museum gets reaccredited, wins award for food exhibition

The Tennessee State Museum has been awarded a renewed accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. The facility also won an award from the American Association for State and Local History for an exhibition titled “Let’s Eat! The Origins and Evolutions of Tennessee Food.”

Here’s the  release from the museum,

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – May 20, 2020 – The Tennessee State Museum has received prestigious recognition from two major national museum organizations. The Museum has been re-accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest national recognition signifying excellence afforded the nation’s museums. In addition, the Museum is a recipient of an Award of Excellence from The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) for its 2019-20 exhibition, Let’s Eat! Origins and Evolutions of Tennessee Food. The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in its 75th year, is the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

“Recognition like this on the national level is an achievement that the Museum and the people of Tennessee can be extremely proud of,” said Ashley Howell, executive director of the Tennessee State Museum. “It indicates that we are operating at the highest level in our service to our community and visitors, and in the presentation of our exhibitions and programs. The museum continues to serve through digital programming during our current closure.”

Originally accredited in 2003, the Tennessee State Museum’s re-accreditation comes more than a year-and-a-half after the Museum opened in its new location at Rosa L. Parks Blvd and Jefferson St, at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Nashville. From October, 2018 through February, 2020, some 275,439 visitors came to the Museum and Military Branch of the Museum, including 56,257 students and adults through field trips and group tours. In addition to its permanent exhibitions, the Museum opened and closed four temporary exhibitions in that time, including Let’s Eat! Origins and Evolutions of Tennessee Food. It is readying its latest, Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right to Vote, for when the Museum reopens to the public. Complementing its exhibitions, it has hosted dozens of events, lectures, panel discussions and film screenings. Through its statewide education outreach, the Museum offers schools and cultural organizations throughout the state access to its Traveling Trunks program and traveling exhibitions. In its first year in its new location, 55,307 students were served through the Traveling Trunks program.

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A look at preparations for Tennessee lawmakers’ return amid the coronavirus pandemic

The state House and Senate are still at odds about the scope of the upcoming return into session, but that’s not stopping them from getting the Cordell Hull Building prepped for lawmakers’ return.

Here’s a look at some of the changes being made to the legislative office complex:

Plexiglass barriers have been installed in the main House committee room on May 19, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Signs remind visitors to keep a six-foot distance outside the elevator bank in the Cordell Hull Building on May 19, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Taped arrows show the path to the cafeteria in the Cordell Hull Building on May 19, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Audience seats are covered and witness and member chairs are separated in the main Senate committee room on May 19, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Plexiglass barriers were being installed in the main House committee room on May 19, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Plexiglass slides can be pulled back to shield lawmakers when they are sitting in the committee room, as seen on May 19, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A bench in the entryway of the Cordell Hull Building is taped off on May 19, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Audience seats are covered and witness and member chairs are separated in the main Senate committee room on May 19, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A middle urinal is taped off in the Cordell Hull Building in the interest of social distancing on May 19, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

COVID-19 overflow treatment center completed at former Commercial Appeal building

An overflow coronavirus treatment center has been completed within the building that until recently housed the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis.

Here’s the full release from Gov. Bill Lee’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and a delegation of Shelby County leaders and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers service members will mark the completion of a significant project in Tennessee’s COVID-19 efforts with a joint review of the equipping and readying of the Mid-South region’s COVID-19 alternate care site at 495 Union Ave., in Memphis, Tenn.

“Our work in Shelby County represents an effective local, state, and federal partnership effort to put in place a critical need in our COVID-19 efforts,” Gov. Lee said.  “These relationships are vital as we balance and evaluate the state’s short- and long-term COVID-19 response, and tailor health care planning efforts to local needs.”

The Memphis alternate care site provides an additional 401, individual bed spaces to treat COVID-19 patients if area hospitals begin to exceed their bed capacity, and is set up with only base supplies currently, such as beds, chairs, tables, and IV poles,

Medical equipment and supplies will be put in place if the site is activated to receive and treat patients who test positive for COVID-19 and experience symptoms requiring low-acuity hospital care.

“The facility has the advantage of being located in close proximity to numerous Memphis hospitals and came with infrastructure in place that facilitated rapid and safe conversion as an alternate care site,” said Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP, Tennessee Department of Health. “Our hope is we never need it; however the facility is ready and will remain on standby until TDH and Shelby County officials determine the capacity is needed to treat COVID-19 patients.”

Under a Mission Assignment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, USACE coordinated and managed the construction contractors during the facility’s renovation phase, and the Governor’s Unified Command Group has secured the wrap-around services for the ongoing maintenance and operation of the facility.

These wrap-around services, which will only be put in place if the site is activated, include biomedical, food, ice and water, internal and external security, internet access, janitorial, linen, medical oxygen, office supplies, pest control, pharmacy, and radiological and X-rays.

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis will provide medical direction for the care of patients if the facility is occupied.

Quick Facts about the Memphis Alternate Care Site

  • The Memphis care site is located at 495 Union Ave. and occupies four floors of a five-story, 125,000 square-foot building that is the former home for The Commercial Appeal.
  • The facility can accommodate 401 patients, with 33 beds set aside for higher-acuity care, and is equipped with 22 nursing stations, and 30 storage rooms.
  • As of May 16, USACE members and 16 USACE-contracted Memphis companies had devoted more than 193,000 hours of work into renovating the facility, for an average of 275 people on-site, around-the-clock, for one month.
  • nexAir, an industrial gas equipment supplier, installed the facility’s oxygen supply system and tanks, with a main tank that will hold 6,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and a 3,000-gallon back-up tank.
  • Fifty-six service members of the Tennessee National Guard transported all of the basic supplies currently at the facility.

The award of a Major Disaster Declaration to Tennessee on April 2, 2020, made funding assistance available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the State for costs associated with implementing COVID-19 emergency protective measures, such as establishing alternate care sites to increase hospital bed capacity.

Gov. Lee established the UCG on March 23, 2020, to streamline the COVIG-19 emergency response coordination between the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, the Tennessee Department of Health, and the Tennessee Department of Military.

State Funding Board meeting canceled

A meeting of the State Funding Board scheduled for this week has been canceled.

The panel comprised of the comptroller, treasurer, secretary of state, and finance commissioner is tasked with coming up with the state’s revenue estimates and approving incentive deals for economic development projects.

Gov. Bill Lee told reporters over the weekend the State Funding Board would be meeting to discuss the fiscal “metrics” the state’s spending plan will have to be adjusted to.

A State Funding Board spokesman says this week’s meeting was canceled because there were no items on the agenda to discuss. Revenue projections could be discussed at a future date, though nothing has been scheduled.

State lawmakers plan to return to the Capitol complex next week to start laying the groundwork for their return into session on June 1.

(This post has been updated with comments from a spokesman for the State Funding Board)

Humphrey on Walley-Templeton matchup: Flip a coin

A welcome sight for those keeping a keen eye on the TNJ: On the Hill comment section this morning: Blog founder Tom Humphrey has waded in to give his two cents on the only open race for the state Senate.

Former Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton is squaring off against former state Rep. Page Walley for the Republican nomination to succeed state Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) in District 26.

Here’s Old Tom’s assessment of the race:

Knew Page Walley when he was a state rep and he was an honest, smart and amiable gentleman, striving to avoid fights whenever possible but willing to scrabble when things got testy. Do not know Templeton personally, but his reputation among those whose judgment I respect is that he is an honest, smart and amiable gentleman, striving to avoid fights whenever possible but willing to scrabble when things get testy.

Both, I suspect, are pretty much dead center moderates in the Bill Haslam/Lamar Alexander mode insofar as the GOP spectrum goes. In other words, you’ve got two peas in a pod. Either would represent the rural district as well, maybe better, than the average Senate district in our fair state represents its constituency.

Which makes the campaign a very interesting spectacle for those of us who enjoy politics as a spectator sport. It’s a game between their paid managers — Bob Davis versus Tommy Hopper, picking the two most prominent names. Both of those fellows are shrewd political operatives, absolutely willing to go negative if the polling situation warrants or to stay cool with warm fuzzy ads if not.

Prediction: Flip a coin. And, of course, money is a major matter.

Newspaper to local lawmaker: ‘Answer the question’ on no-bid contract

Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), standing,, confers with colleagues as they await Gov. Bill Lee arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Johnson City Press is taking state Rep. Micah Van Huss to task for refusing to answer its reporter’s questions about a no-bid facemask contract.

The state spent $8 million for North Carolina sock maker Renfro Corp. to produce the masks. The see-through material used for the masks has raised questions about their effectiveness in preventing the transmission of COVID-19.

The Jonesborough Republican instead cast Republican Bill Lee as the victim of negative news coverage. Van Huss said the Johnson City Press should spend its time “reporting on news that gives Tennesseans hope in our humanity instead of dividing them with a political hit on Governor Lee.”

Van Huss then boasted about his response on social media. According to the paper’s editorial:

If Van Huss actually read this newspaper, he would know that we have published numerous articles about “hope in our humanity” during this crisis. Our reporters repeatedly have written about relief projects, volunteers, creative coping efforts and inspiring people amid this pandemic.

State Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) said he supports granting the governor some latitude during times of emergency.

“During a pandemic, we have expectations that things will need to happen that won’t have that usual check and balance of bids, submissions, requests for comment, requests for quotes in that process,” Lundberg told the paper.

 

Tennessee Supreme Court to livestream oral arguments

The Tennessee Supreme Court plans to livestream oral arguments for the first time on Tuesday. While audio and video of proceedings have been posted online in the past, it was with a delay of up to two days.

Because of limitations on in-person attendance in the courtroom due to COVID-19, the state’s highest court is now broadcasting the hearings on its YouTube page in real time.

Here’s the release from the courts:

The Tennessee Supreme Court remains committed to keeping Tennessee courts open while protecting the health and safety of all parties.  Due to the continued concerns regarding COVID-19, the cases set for the May 19, 2020 docket will be heard by livestream video conferencing.  This is one of the many efforts the Court has taken during the COVID-19 pandemic to prioritize the health and well-being of all litigants, attorneys, judges, and employees of the court system. 

(Details of the cases after the jump)

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Lee: ‘Metrics’ will be available for lawmakers to plan budget cuts

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at an event in Nashville on April 2, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee says lawmakers will have the revenue data available to plan for further budget cuts when they return into session on June 1.

While the full set of tax collection information usually isn’t released until the middle of the month, the General Assembly won’t have to wait that long to make adjustments to the state’s annual spending plan, the governor told the Daily Memphian over the weekend.

“It’s a challenge to project, but there are metrics which you use to make projections,” Lee said.

The governor said several state economists are assembling data and the State Funding Board will meet again to make recommendations before the legislative session resumes.