Tuesday, April 23, 2019

After Prolonged Debate,State House Passes Voucher Bill, Senate to Vote on Thursday

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2019 at 5:00 PM


 
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Although one more vote, on the floor of the state Senate on Thursday, will be required for its ultimate passage, Governor Bill Lee’s measure to provide private-school vouchers (termed “education savings accounts” in the lingo of the bill) narrowly passed the state House of Representatives on Tuesday by a 50-49 vote.

That resolution came after an unusual and prolonged suspension of voting in the chamber, during which supporters of the bill carried out complex negotiations that resulted in a change of vote from No to Yes by Knxoville state Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville). Zachary was said to have bargained for assurances that the bill would cease at some point to apply to Knoxville.

That change, should it actually be reflected in the final version of the bill, would be only one of several that were accomplished during weeks of consideration. Also on Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee okayed a slightly different version of the measure by a one-vote margin, keeping some aspect of suspense alive as to the bill’s ultimate fate.

As it is written now, the bill amounts to a pilot project, applying only to the counties of Shelby (Memphis) and Davidson (Nashville), a fact that drew outraged opposition from representatives of the two areas. Another disliked feature of the bill, involving compensatory payments to school districts for each student receiving voucher money from the state, was altered so as to progressively reduce the amounts of the compensatory payments year by year.

State Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville) challenged the bill’s constitutionality and its redistribution of funding “away from our children,” while Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), a veteran campaigner against any and all measures aimed at local sovereignty in education measures, speculated aloud about the lack of responsible curbs on potential fringe institutions that could receive the funds reallocated from traditional public schools.

Gov. Lee himself seemed confident that he will soon have a version of the bill on hand for his signature and issued a statement thanking the House for its action.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Democratic Litigants File Grievance to Nullify Chairmanship Election

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 6:30 PM

That election for chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party? It may not be over.

A grievance has been filed with the state Democratic Committee by several participants in the recent Shelby County Democratic Party chairmanship election, who contend that the election should be nullified.
Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman-elect Michael Harris - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman-elect Michael Harris

The litigants offer several scenarios; the point of each is that, however the number of valid voters might have been determined, the declared winner — Michael Harris — should have been gauged as falling short by at least one vote.

In that eventuality, it had previously been determined, the former chairman, Corey Strong, would have continued in office, pending calling for a new election, with newly elected candidates and a new vote.

The grievance reads as follows:  :

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Tennessee House Speaker's Free-Trip Offer to Israel

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 1:58 PM

Does the Tennessee House of Representatives conduct a foreign policy — or have a budget on hand for that purpose?

Alternatively, is the House the beneficiary of hitherto unrevealed funding from a foreign nation and/or its supporters?
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Is the state legislature mixing church and state in a manner that would be questionable, according to the Constitution?

A fourth, even more remote, possibility: Is Speaker of the House Glen Casada (R-Franklin) able to spend upwards of a quarter-million dollars of his own money to send a legislative delegation to the state of Israel this coming September, in order to present a resolution of support for that nation?

All these and other questions are relevant to an offer Casada dispatched to each member of the House in legislative mail this past week. The kernel of the offer is expressed in the following printed invitation:


And the resolution of support, passed earlier this month is as follows:


So, to summarize: If you're a Tennessee state legislator and want to take a week-long trip to Israel next fall, Speaker Casada has got you covered, to the tune of $2,500. Source of the funding? Unknown at this point.

Late on Friday, Cade Cothern, Casada’s chief of staff, called to say his boss was not the organizer of the trip, that a third party was, and that the trip itself was being offered to legislators as a “state trip,” the one such discounted annual trip that was customary for House members,especially, to take during a given year. Cothern said Casada himself had limited information on the Israel trip and wss probably not going himself. More information as it is received..

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Bill Barring Cities From Regulating Single-Use Plastic Passes House; Some Hope for Relief Next Year

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 8:00 PM

House Bill 1021 (Senate Bill 431), which prohibits local governments from regulating, prohibiting, or applying fines to single-use plastic items like straws and retail sacks, made it through the state Senate on Thursday fairly handily, by a vote of 23-7, thereby dismaying various environmental organizations who have deplored the deleterious effects of plastic litter on the natural environment.

But opponents of the bill had some hope that that relief might be on the way next year.
Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis)
  • Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis)

Among the minority of senators protesting the bill was Senator Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), who said she understood the argument for uniformity of various policies under overriding state authority. But she observed that state government had not set any policy on the matter of plastic litter disposal. And she deplored the increasing tendency of state government to “take away local control” of matters which local legislative bodies have been elected to keep a close watch on. “We shouldn't get in other people’s kitchens when we don’t know the recipe,” she said.

Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) agreed with Akbari, noting that every year the General Assembly seems to approve more “pre-emptive” measures.

Two East Tennessee Republicans added at least some moral support for Akbari and Yarbro. Senator Frank Nicely (R-Strawberry Plains) told a story about a friend in the cotton business who complained about plastic litter getting into cotton fiber and spoiling various products. “Yellow Dollar Store bags are worst of all,” he said.

And Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), calling himself a “retro guy” favoring paper products for the sundry items now using plastic, said he would not object to the current bill and promised to introduce legislation in the next session that would set a so far nonexistent state policy on the issue.

Elaborating, Briggs says he's going to consult the National Conference of State Legislators this summer for an idea as to what other states have done. He indicated he favored some sort of ban or restrictions on the use of plastics and invited the Sierra Club and other conservationist groups that opposed the bill passed on Thursday to “buy into” his proposal.

Asked about the prospect of legislation such as what Briggs suggested for next year, Senate Republican leader Jack Johnson indicated that the major issue resolved by the bill’s passage was avoidance of contradictory policies by local governments that might affect companies’ doing business in Tennessee, and that a uniform state policy on environmental issues might be worth consideration. (Briggs had said he wanted to hold businesses to their claim of favoring a uniform state policy as against scatter-shot local measures. Yarbro welcomed the statement as a counter to the Senate majority’s “hypocrisy,” but defined the main issue as being “controlling the locals vs. local control.”

Asked about Briggs’ suggestion, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, the Senate speaker, was lukewarm at best, saying that he would probably be hesitant about favoring such a state measure, on grounds that a restrictive state police on use of plastics might increase the price of items to the consumer.

In any case, for at least a year, the state ban will hold. SB 431 is identical to the House version, already passed by the other chamber.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

If It's a Thursday Night in March, There Must Be Candidate Events

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2019 at 12:15 PM

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JB
  • JB
Above: Super-District 9, Position 1 City Council competitor Cody Fletcher (2nd from right), a development officer at the University of Memphis,  greets attendees at fund-raiser/reception at the home of Leslie and Ted Townsend on Forrest Avenue.
Below: District 4 Council candidate Britney Thornton (right), teacher and director of Juice Orange Mound, schmoozes with attendees at a reception for her at the Young Avenue home of Liz Rincon (in doorway).

JB
  • JB
Another reception was held on Thursday night for Chase Carlisle, also a candidate for a District 9 council position. And 8th District Congressman David Kustoff was the beneficiary of a fund-raiser as well.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Mulroy to Read from New Book on Election Reform

Posted By on Mon, Mar 18, 2019 at 3:47 PM

Author, attorney, and founding father cosplayer, Steve Mulroy
  • Author, attorney, and founding father cosplayer, Steve Mulroy
Former Counrty Commissioner and mayoral candidate Steve Mulroy (here rocking a period wig and mugging the camera) is not a Founding Father. He just plays one (James Wilson, by name) in the  Tony-winning musical, 1776, now playing at Theatre Memphis though March 31. Mulroy, whose day job is that of law professor at the University of Memphis, is also the author of Unskewing the System: Rethinking U.S. Election Law, which he will read from and discuss at Novel Bookstore on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

As the title suggests, he book treats any number of proposals — including Instant Runoff Voting — for making the American electoral system fairer and more accessible.

Attendees will have the opportunity to acquire a volume by means of a special author’s discount.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Tennessee General Assembly Honors John Kilzer

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2019 at 8:20 PM

In what was the last legislative act of last week in the Tennessee General Assembly, state Representative Bo Mirtchell (D-Nashville) offered the following resolution of tribute and commemoration in honor of the late John Kilzer of Memohis, whose death was announced during the week. It was approved unanimously by the chamber:
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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Day of Judgment at the Election Registry

Whether it's thumbs-up or thumbs-down, the human element is always a part of the proceedings.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2019 at 5:05 PM





Members of the Registry Board at work - JB
  • JB
  • Members of the Registry Board at work

The members of the Tennessee State Election Registry board are a chatty bunch, and their meetings often dissolve (superficially at least) into a gag-fest of sorts — as did the one on Wednesday, March 13, held to consider penalties for violators of financial disclosure requirements for political candidates.

Republican member Tom Lawless of Nashville inquired when the name of Memphis state Representative Joe Towns came up, “Have we ever not had Joe?”

(It is a reliable staple of Tennessee political news that at any given time Towns either a) is delinquent on his financial disclosures; or b) is having a significant fine (usually $10,000) levied on him for a fresh delinquency.

Former state Representative Henry Fincher, a Democrat, who was plugged into Wednesday’s Registry meeting by speakerphone from his Cookeville office, joked that Towns would be showing up a some point with “bags of cash.”

Lawless topped that with a jest that the Memphis Democrat — a frequent offender on the Registry’s books, as the conversation suggested — might “break the Democratic caucus.”
Getting down to the sober side of the matter, Drew Rawlins, the executive director of the Registry, noted that no disclosures had been filed by Towns since the first quarter of 2018.

A few more jokes were passed, including Fincher’s suggestion, greeted by appreciative chuckles, that if Rawlins should retire, Towns would be the appropriate replacement, given his unparalleled experience with the Registry.

And finally, getting down to business, the Registry’s four members — besides Lawless and Fincher, they were William (Paz) Haines of Nashville, a Democratic appointee, and Tom Morton of Bristol, a Republican appointee — agreed to assess Towns with a $10,000 civil penalty, yet another in a series of big-ticket sums levied on him over the years. Towns has somehow been able to pay his fines (just how remains one of the legislature’s mysteries), or he would not have been able to run successively for reelection, as he has.

The four members of the Registry board (six is the required number, but at present there are two vacancies) must alway concur on a decision, or it cannot be enforced. This is one explanation for the group’s obvious camaraderie. One way or another, they find the common denominator, and this — as much as any native bonhomie — explains the more or less nonstop banter.

They always find a way to agree on a solution, or, if not, on an agreement to defer the issue.

There was no dissent, for example, on the matter of how to handle the case of former Nashville state Senator Thelma Harper, who retired without turning in her final disclosures. She has had some health problems, Rawlins explained, and her daughter is now doing what she can to take care of her mother’s affairs. The Registry board members expressed the requisite sympathy, seemingly sincerely, and voted to take no action.

Even more obvious was their burst of compassion for a delinquent candidate, a loser in his election, who is apparently suffering from late-stage cancer. “Leave him alone. The poor man already has too much to worry about,” suggested a visibly moved Lawless, and the others concurred.

On the other hand, Lawless, the source of much of the nonstop bonhomie, can come down hard on offenders — “deadbeats,” he referred to them frankly — who owe disclosures and are contemptuous about complying with the Registry or, worse, make promises of compliance and then disregard them. The others tend to agree on such persons, who tend to draw the maximum fines.

One of the more vexing cases on Wednesday was that of another Memphis state representative, the irrepressible G.A. Hardaway, who answered a demand for a corrected disclosure recently by sending a substitute form, signed and dated correctly, but including no figures at all.

“He filed a piece of paper,” Rawlins summed it up.

After some genuine uncertainty about how to respond (“whatever we do will have to be nonpartisan,” Fincher said, by way of reminder), the group finally coalesced on a strategy of putting Hardaway on notice but scheduling a come-to-Jesus moment for him in June, well after the end of the current legislative session.

The bottom line of it all is that the Registry board members are dead serious about their duties and hard on scofflaws but ever willing to cut some slack to offenders willing to offer compliance. Or thought to be, with proper encouragement. It didn’t hurt Hardaway’s predicament that he is regarded fondly by several of the members, was well-acquainted with Lawless, and had been a suite-mate of Fincher’s during the latter’s legislative days.

The human element is, for better or for worse, always in evidence at a meeting of the Registry board.

Legislature Mulling Change in Sheriff's Office

Bill would restore privileges and obligations that were erased with charter changes of 20088.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2019 at 11:51 AM


Back in 2008, Shelby County government found itself about to lose several major offices — those of Sheriff, Trustee, Assessor, County Clerk, and Register, 
Rep. Joe Towns - JB
  • JB
  • Rep. Joe Towns
and had to make several changes to bring those offices within the purview of the county charter, redefining the terms, means of election, duties, and functionings of those offices.

The problem arose because of a judicial finding the previous year in Knox County that several offices in that county were not, as had been supposed, covered by the state constitution. The ruling was adjudged applicable to Shelby County as well. The upshot was that Knox and Shelby Counties were forced to redefine the affected offices as charter, rather than constitutional, offices.

In the case of Knox, the switch of jurisdictions was largely pro forma. In the case of Shelby, the County Commissioners of that time took advantage of the legal dilemma to make amendments in the rights, privileges, and obligations of various offices.

Legislation is now afoot in Nashville that would abolish the changes of 2008 as they affected the office of Sheriff and restore the governing definitions of that office to the circumstances before the changeover from constitutional to charter status.

The bill is HB1423, sponsored by Rep. Joe Towns (D-Mempnis), doubling as SB 501 by Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), and the relevant wording of it follows:

(c) No charter, whether existing or adopted after the effective date of this act,
may be interpreted or amended to alter, amend, or reduce the duties, qualifications, or
privileges of the constitutional county offices of sheriff, register, county clerk, assessor of
property, or trustee in a manner inconsistent with the laws of this state; provided, that a
charter may increase the duties of such offices in a manner consistent with the laws of
this state.


From a legalistic point of view, the bill merely restores the mandates for Shelby County Sheriff to the those incumbent on Sheriffs in the state’s other 94 counties. From a practical point of view, it would alter the fiscal and power relationships between the Office of Sheriff and the County Commission, and that alteration is very much desired by current Sheriff Floyd Bonner and other members of his staff, according to the Department’s legislative liaison, Nelia Dempsey..

Before 2008, the Sheriff’s Department could not only set its own budget (as it still does under terms adopted for the charter), but it was empowered to sue in court if the Commission declined to endow the Department with its desired allocations. The charter reconstruction of the office placed jurisdiction of the fiscal issue in the hands of the Commission rather than those of a judge. HB1423/SB501 would restore the Department’s right to seek legal redress.

Similarly, the bill would restore the right of the Sheriff to petition for a legal change in the salary levels approved by the Commission. The other major changes imposed by the charter changes of 2008 had to do with limiting a Sheriff’s terms of service to two and requiring that candidates for Sheriff pass Peace Officer’s Service and Training (POST) standards.

As of this week, the bill had passed through two preliminary hoops in the state Senate. Action in the House Cities and Counties subcommittee was deferred for one week on Tuesday by House sponsor Towns.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Leaving the Blanks Unfilled on the State of West Tennessee

Governor Lee, in "State of West Tennessee" speech, skirts regional issues.

Posted By on Sat, Mar 9, 2019 at 11:48 AM

Governor Lee
  • Governor Lee
Some time in the fall of 2017, when his gubernatorial candidacy was newish and his name identification across Tennessee was still in the birthing phase, Bill Lee issued what he billed as a 10-point “Commitment to Memphis and Shelby County.”

The points tended to the abstract rather than the concrete. Examples:

“— I commit that Memphis and Shelby County will play a significant role in our efforts to improve education, economic development, and enhancing public safety across West Tennessee.”

“— I commit to working with local leaders to find tailored solutions for the challenges of Memphis and Shelby County.”

“— I commit to a regional approach for economic development that ensures West Tennessee is competitive with Arkansas & Mississippi.”

Obviously, these — and others like them in the list of 10 — were fine objectives; just as obviously, they were nonspecific in the extreme, not the detailed and localized prescriptions that the Franklin businessman’s campaign billed them as.

The week of “State of the State” addresses just completed by Lee, now the governor, appears to reinforce the same impression of blanks needing to be filled in.

A case in point was the last of the three, billed as a “State of West Tennessee” address in a ballroom at the University of Memphis on Thursday evening, in the wake of the governor’s traditional “State of the State” address at the Capitol on Monday and a “State of East Tennessee” address in Knoxville on Tuesday.
Assuming the Knoxville speech followed the same outlines as the one in Memphis, it would have been more accurate to characterize the two outlier occasions as mere repetitions of the Monday night address in Knoxville and Memphis. In any case, the latter contained no new content and no expressly localized references at all, unless one counts Lee’s courtesy acknowledgements of dignitaries present before he settled into his remarks. (And even these acknowledgements, with few exceptions, were highly generalized within a request that “all elected officials” stand and be recognized.)

What followed the small talk and a brief statement of commiseration with area victims of flooding from the nonstop recent rains, was the same recollection of mountain-climbing in the Grand Tetons with daughter Jessica that had begun the speech to the gathered legislators and the state broadcasting networks on Monday.

The speech ended the same way as well, with a rumination on the moment that Lee and his daughter were inching their way along a mountain ledge high above an abyss below, with an intense awareness that looking back or looking down would be perilous in the extreme and potentially ruinous. As in Nashville, and presumably in Knoxville as well, this became a metaphorical exhortation for the state’s citizens and its government leaders as their exemplars to keep their attention focused, not on doubts or misgivings, but on the end goal of the climb upward — in Tennessee's case, to lead the nation, as Lee would have it.
And that goal — or, rather, those goals were the same ones enumerated in the State of the State on Monday — worthy ones, for the most part, though the governor’s somewhat Trumpian pledge to be “unapologetic” regarding “American exceptionalism” doesn’t sound any less jingoistic or worrisome on second or third hearing.

The heart of the “State of West Tennessee” address was as word-for-word with the Nashville original as can be imagined — though a mite condensed here and there. The same points and the same categories were recapped — an educational system featuring parental “choice” and synchronization with the needs of “job creators;” a criminal justice system balancing “swift and severe” punishment for the violent and unredeemable with compassion and re-entry assistance for the non-violent; “high quality health care” (without need for Medicaid expansion, though that aspect remained unspoken); and a cost-effective government.

As before the GOP supermajority in the Capitol, the speech was punctuated with designated applause points — “designated” in the literal sense that a member of the governor’s entourage would get them started (or try to) by extra-loud clapping from the back of the hall in case, say, the Memphis attendees did not grasp on their own, the promised glory of there coming to pass a state rainy-day fund of $1.1 billion, “highest in the state’s history.”

All these deja-vu aspects were noted by the frustrated members of a local media queue as they awaited the governor’s appearance, post-address, in a side room of the ballroom floor. Surely, they reasoned, this was the time to pin him down.

And try they did. First question was a wonky one inquiring about the mechanics of Lee’s proposals for stepping up the role of charter schools. Could he elaborate? “We’re looking to create an authorization — a state authorization that would make it easier to open up good charter schools and easier to close those that are not performing,” said Lee, which was close to his exact words in the speech.

Earlier on the very day of his speech, the state House had passed the controversial “fetal heartbeat” bill. Would he sign it? “I have said and would continue to say that I would support legislation that lowers the number of abortions in the state.”

How, in the absence of Medicaid expansion, could the state ensure the solvency of its hospitals and the accessibility of medical care? “The best way to insure the quality of health care is to lower costs.” And a few more words to that effect.

One reporter was puzzled that a speech purporting to discuss the state of things in West Tennessee, had failed to make a single mention of the sprawling and (some thought scandalously) incomplete 174-acre industrial mega-site along the borders of Haywood and Fayette counties. Just under $200 million in state funds had been expended on the site so far, with an estimated $100 million yet to come. And no serious nibbles to date from potential “job creators” of the big-ticket variety or otherwise. What were the governor’s thoughts?

“I have a lot of thoughts about it. I have met with the folks in that region a couple of times now, and at our cabinet level we are focused on how we can best utilize the mega-site. I believe we ought to have it ready, we need to pursue a tenant for it, and that will be a focus and a priority of ours.”

Why has he taken a position against decriminalization of marijuana? “I think that would not be good for our state.”
What did he have to say about the state’s numerous potentially divisive racial issues? “There’s more that unites us than divides us.”

Those were the kernels of the governor’s responses. In fairness, he expanded on a few of them but not to any degree of real elaboration. Over and over, he would beg a question, or ignore it, or find a way to restate it. This has, rather famously, been the pattern as well of his interchanges with Capitol Hill reporters.

It was also the manner of his gubernatorial campaign. As was the case then, Lee has adopted a policy as governor of letting bromides, generalities, and talking points do his speaking for him. That was a helpful tactic during the campaign, when all he needed to do was to be the last man standing. It is arguably less so now, when he is the only one left to guide the state across the treacherous mountain ledge of its future.

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Thursday, March 7, 2019

Tami Sawyer Announces Mayoral Candidacy

Posted By on Thu, Mar 7, 2019 at 9:26 AM

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer
  • Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer


Confirming weeks of rumors, Tami Sawyer, well-known progressive activist and member of the Shelby County Commission, announced this morning that she is, as much advance speculation had it, running for mayor of Memphis.

In an online post, Sawyer says, “I’m running to be the next Mayor of Memphis. On our 200th anniversary as a city, we can’t wait any longer for equity and opportunity to be the values that drive our city forward. Let’s do this together, Memphis.

She then attaches a “launch video to hear why we can’t wait”:




A native Memphian, Sawyer has in recent years become a major force in civic and political affairs as an activist leader who spearheaded a grass roots movement to remove Memphis' downtown Confederate monuments as improper images for the future of the city as she and others saw it.

Her ever-mounting influence and reputation among progressives became the platform from which she launched and won a campaign for the District 7 seat on the Shelby County Commission in 2016.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Text of Governor Bill Lee's State of the State Address

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2019 at 3:02 PM

Governor Bill Lee, giving the State of the State Address - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Governor Bill Lee, giving the State of the State Address
On Monday evening, March 4, Governor Bill Lee delivered his first State of the State address in the chamber of the state House of Representatives in Nashville. Below is the complete text of his remarks:


Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Casada, Speaker Pro Tem Haile, Speaker Pro Tem Dunn, Members of the 111th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, friends, guests, fellow Tennesseans:

Tennessee's voters and its constitution have given me the responsibility of delivering this address evaluating where we are as a state and recommending action to make us even better.

I am grateful for this opportunity to serve, and it is my high honor to be here tonight.

There's a scripture that encourages us to consider others as more important than ourselves.
Before I begin tonight, I'd like to acknowledge the woman in my life who embodies that most, my wife and the first Lady of Tennessee, Maria.

You and I have a First Lady who is deeply committed to serving this state purposefully and she challenges me every day to likewise govern with purpose.

Thank you, Maria. I love you.

And let me say welcome and thank you to my Cabinet, and my staff; you're doing an excellent job and you make us all proud.

The year my oldest daughter Jessica turned 16, she and I took a father-daughter trip for her birthday. We had both been through some very personal and tragic struggles and we decided to do something that would be "overcoming."

We travelled to Wyoming to the Grand Teton National Park to climb one of the tallest mountains in the United States.

We travelled to Wyoming to the Grand Teton National Park to climb one of the tallest mountains in the United States.

It's a difficult and technical climb, and we spent months preparing both physically and mentally.

The apex of our trip would carry us to 14,000 feet above sea level. Our first day we hiked up to 11,000 feet to make our camp for the night.

As we neared the basecamp, our guide, probably sensing my nervousness, pulled me aside and said something very important.

He said, "You need to make a decision that you're going to make this climb before you get to the base camp.

"Because when you get there you're going to look up at the Grand Teton, and it'll look like a massive granite spire that sticks straight up higher than you ever imagined, and you'll feel very intimidated.

"If you have the tiniest doubt in your mind that you can do it as you're hiking up there today, then once you stand at the base camp tonight and look up, you'll be convinced that you can't possibly climb that thing."

He told me I needed to decide right then and there whether I was going to finish the climb.
I did decide, and we did finish and let me tell you, like everything that's difficult, the view from the top was well worth the climb.

As a state, our challenges, too, are difficult, and the climb will require great effort, but Tennessee is a remarkable place, with remarkable people.

Now, I think we can all agree that while important things happen in the halls of government it is actually what happens outside these walls that makes Tennessee truly great.
Nearly every Friday since we took office, Maria and I have left this building to meet Tennesseans in their communities to learn more about what makes our state work.

We met a soybean farmer in Lauderdale County who navigates the Mississippi floodwaters to pull in a harvest and carry on our proud agricultural tradition.

We met a third-grade teacher in North Nashville who works over time to ensure their students are reading at grade level and continue to be the fastest improving students in the nation.

We met a small business owner in Jamestown who employs fellow neighbors and keeps the backbone of the Tennessee economy running strong.

And so, as a lifelong Tennessean, when I reflect on our state, I see her people and I am filled with pride.

To our elected leaders in this room and the many Tennesseans watching from their homes, I am proud to report after seeing with my own eyes: the state of our state is hopeful, prosperous, and strong.

God has truly blessed us — our economy is growing, our schools are improving, our natural resources are abundant and beautiful; indeed, we are the envy of many states.
But while our prosperity should be celebrated, it should not be taken for granted, for it was not granted to us.

Our prosperity has been hard won. From the first settlers in the 1790's to the leaders of past and present, many have contributed to the success we now enjoy.

Our military veterans living, and remembered, deserve the most honored place among those we thank for serving.

We recognize the service of our heroes, and I'd like to talk about one family in particular who has embodied that service and sacrifice.

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Richard C. "Tito" Lannom of Union City was reported missing as of March 1, 1968 during the Vietnam War.

The Obion County native was assigned to Attack Squadron Three Five aboard the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier and was on an A-6A aircraft on a night mission over North Vietnam.

Like many, he did not come back.

Lannom and the pilot were declared missing after a search and rescue mission failed to locate their plane.

He was 27-years old.

In 2017, the Vietnamese excavated a crash site on Tra Ban Island and were ultimately able to identify Lannom in September of last year.

This past weekend, our state had a memorial service for him.

After more than 50 years, Lieutenant Lannom's final resting place is home, on Tennessee soil, where he belongs.

Please join me in pausing to remember Lt. Lannom and the sacrifice he and so many others have made for our country.

Now, please join me in recognizing the family of Lt. Tito Lannom who has come from across Tennessee to be with us — thank you all for the sacrifices you've made and for being here tonight.

Indeed, this is a remarkable state with remarkable people, but past success should not be taken for granted and future success should not be assumed.

We can be glad for the things we've done that have brought us to this point, but we must also recognize that new accomplishments will be required from the leaders of today if we are to reach our full potential tomorrow.

Maybe the key question before us is whether we will stand here and enjoy the view from this far up the mountain or push ahead to new heights and new prosperity.

My encouragement to you — to all of us — is that we press higher.

A stronger education system; a better prepared workforce; a system of justice that lives up to its name; and safe neighborhoods across our state.

These and more goals are within our reach if we unite behind a common vision.

In addition to delivering this address, I have the task of proposing to you a state budget.
By God's favor our state is in a strong financial position, and I believe my proposed budget reflects that.

Managing a budget is one of the most important jobs of government and proposing a fiscally responsible budget is one of the most important jobs of a governor.

And as a conservative businessman, I know a good budget needs to pay for what is needed, take on zero long-term debt, and, perhaps most importantly, save for a rainy day.

As our state continues to grow, we are committed to remaining among the most fiscally sound and best managed states in America.

We live in prosperous days, but it's precisely during these times when we must build up our storehouses for when times may not be as good.

For that reason, I am particularly proud of this: in my budget, we are making the largest single contribution to our Rainy Day Fund in the state's history.

When this budget is implemented, our Rainy Day Fund will be $1.1 billion — the largest it has ever been in both real dollars and as a percentage of our overall revenue.

This budget is fiscally conservative and stays within the Copeland Cap, which as you in this room know is in our state's constitution as a guardrail against out-of-control government spending.

I have said many times that Tennessee can and should lead the nation, and this budget will help us do that.

In particular, there are four things in my budget and legislative agenda that I believe we must do if that goal to lead the nation is to become a reality.

First, Tennessee must deliver a world class education and that education must be aligned with the needs of the job creators of today and tomorrow.

To accomplish that, our students need more guidance, our teachers and principals need more support, and our parents need more choices.

I've spoken often about the four out of ten students will not attend college.

For them, we must vastly strengthen our vocational, technical, and agricultural offerings to make sure they are career-ready.

After 35 years in the private sector, I know the job market can change quickly and education must stay in sync with industry.

When companies like Google, Apple, and IBM no longer require a college degree for many high-skilled jobs, we know we need to think differently about how we approach preparing our kids for careers.

Elementary and middle schools need to begin skills training earlier and, from top to bottom, high school needs to look a lot different.

In that spirit, I'm proposing the Governor's Investment in Vocational Education — the GIVE Act.

The GIVE Act is a $25 million investment to increase the number of young adults earning an industry certification and entering a career within one year of high school graduation.

Another one of our goals is to put Tennessee in the top half of states for technology sector job creation by 2022.

To that end, I recently announced the Future Workforce Initiative, a $4 million effort to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — training in K-12 schools.
The Future Workforce Initiative will add 100 new CTE programs, grow the number of teachers qualified to teach work-based learning and computer science classes, and expand access to AP courses and early postsecondary options for high schoolers.

We are also investing in agricultural education by allocating new recurring funding for both FFA and 4-H youth programs.

These programs and others like them are so important, and it takes the work of dedicated teachers and principals to make sure our students are being well prepared.

One such teacher is Dan Smith from Dyer County and he's an example of the thousands of dedicated teachers we are fortunate to have in this state.

Dan, a horticulture and agriculture teacher at Dyer County High School and is a former agriculture Teacher of the Year, because of his exemplary work with students.

He has coordinated massive plant sales, integrated master gardeners and landscaped his entire school, and that's just the beginning.

He's a pillar in his community. He embodies the term — Agricultural Education.

He is with us here today, and please join me in thanking him for his years of dedicated work to improve the lives of the students of Tennessee.

Many students will go to college, and for that group we want to provide world-class higher education options across our state.

We must continue to invest in our outcomes-focused approach to funding higher education, which is why we've set aside $34 million new dollars in this budget to fully fund our higher education institutions.

We will also invest more than $12 million dollars in financial aid to add nearly 7,000 students in need to those we help attend college or obtain a certificate here in Tennessee.

We are also adding resources to help prepare disadvantaged students for college, so they can best take advantage of the opportunities they earn.

We're making CTE a major priority, but we also want to do other things well.

I fundamentally believe that every child ought to have access to a great, traditional public school.

And so even as we consider expanding options in this state, we must re-double our efforts to make sure that public schools in Tennessee are well-resourced and that Tennessee teachers and principals are the best and most celebrated in the business.

First and foremost, we are fully funding the Basic Education Program and recommending $71 million for a well-deserved 2.5% pay raise for teachers.

Additionally, to support educators and school leaders, we are proposing investments in the professional development of rural principals and expansion of the Rural Principal Network.
In response to the increasing needs of our lowest-performing 5% of schools, we are investing $5 million into improving student and teacher support in our priority schools.

Across our state, we have qualified educators and leaders who are making the sacrifice to serve on local school boards and bring their ideas to the table.

Later this month, I will send a letter to every school board member and superintendent in this state, seeking their input on what is working and what should still be done to make Tennessee the home of the best public schools in America.

To those of you listening today, please know I look forward to personally reading your responses.

In my budget, I propose a three-year pilot program to provide critical student support services to high school students in our 15 distressed counties.

These funds will be matched by private donations and will allow us to provide meaningful support while also measuring the positive effects of this pilot program.

I've often said that education is about more than a test score, but test scores can provide valuable data to both teachers and students when used properly.

Later this month, tens of thousands of students will be completing their end of course testing to help ensure that they are receiving the quality education they deserve.

There has been lots of frustration around the administration of the state test in recent years, and I share in that frustration.

My Commissioner of Education is working tirelessly to prepare for this year's test, but more importantly to finalize the procurement process for selecting a new test vendor for next year and beyond.

But while the execution must get better, we must remain committed to the notion that you can't improve what you don't measure.

Going forward, our focus will be on executing a testing regimen that is trustworthy, helpful, and on time.

Whatever else happens in the classroom, the safety of our children and teachers is paramount for my administration and for all of our elected leaders.

For that reason, I am asking the legislature to join with me to fund an additional $30 million investment in our school safety fund and to prioritize the districts with schools who currently have no school resource officers on duty.

Together, we can make sure every school is a safer place for our children.

In my inaugural address, I said that Tennesseans would have to be bold, courageous, and strong in the face of today's biggest challenges.

One of those challenges is closing the gap between the quality of education offered to students regardless of their zip code.

Tennessee has led the nation with important K-12 education reforms over the last decade, and we have seen the payoff: our student outcomes have been among the fastest improving.

But sustained improvement requires constant innovation, and we must keep looking for the next game-changer.

Parents need more choices with respect to the education of their children and those options should be well-funded and highly accountable.

Students have different needs and abilities, and our education system should mirror that diversity as best as possible.

I believe highly accountable public charter schools are a great model for expanding choice without sacrificing quality, and I've seen firsthand how they can dramatically impact the life and trajectory of a student.

In my budget, we are doubling the amount of public charter school facility funding and I will support legislation this year that makes it easier to open good charter schools and easier to close bad ones.

But we should do even more.

Nearly one in three students born into poverty does not finish high school, and a student that doesn't finish high school is much more likely to stay in poverty.


Low-income students deserve the same opportunities as other kids, and we need a bold plan that will help level the playing field.

We need to change the status quo, increase competition, and not slow down until every student in Tennessee has access to a great education.

We're not going get big results in our struggling schools by nibbling around the edges.
That is why we need Education Savings Accounts in Tennessee, this year.

ESAs will enable low-income students from the most under-performing school districts to attend an independent school of their choice at no cost to their family.

I know there's concern that programs like this will take money away from public schools, but my ESA plan will invest at least $25 million new dollars in public schools in the first year to fill the gap when a student transfers to another school.

My ESA plan will strengthen public schools and provide choices for parents at the same time.
Creating competition will provide a new incentive for schools to improve and provide new opportunities for thousands of students.

Members of the legislature: now is the time.

Let's make this the year that every student in Tennessee has a chance at a great education, no matter where they live.

Another important issue in education is curriculum.

We should continue to root out the influence of Common Core in our state, but there's another issue we should be mindful of as well.

During the past two years of traveling on the campaign trail, an issue I was constantly asked about was civics and character education.

At face value, this may seem like a small issue.

However, in the last year it was reported that young people between the ages of 18 and 29 in this country have a more favorable view of socialism than capitalism.

And last week I read about a recent study that said in 49 of 50 states a majority of residents would fail the U.S. citizenship test.

I can't help but feel that these two statistics are somehow connected.

President Reagan said that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.

This demands answering an obvious question; how will our children know of our cherished American values if we do not teach them?

We all desire a more perfect union, but we cannot expect future generations to build upon the incredible progress our country has made if we fail to teach them the history and values that made it possible.

So, let me say this: whatever may be going on in other states or in our nation's Capital, in this state, our children will be taught civics education, character formation, and unapologetic American exceptionalism.

We are beginning that effort by creating the governor's civics instructional seal which will recognize schools that excel at teaching civics education.

I said there are four things we must do if we want to lead the nation. First, we must build a better education system. Second, we must build a criminal justice system that is tough, smart, and above all, just.

For decades, this country has been too willing to fight crime on the surface alone — "lock 'em up and throw away the key."

Now, in more ways than one, we're paying the price for that.

Tennessee is currently incarcerating more people for longer than we ever have and the population in our county jails is growing daily.

In fact, at the bottom of this hill begins the most incarcerated zip code in America.
Incarceration can have a generational impact.

Children with an incarcerated parent are at greater risk of being incarcerated themselves.

And besides the human cost, there's the actual cost.

Incarcerating an adult in Tennessee costs $28,000 taxpayer dollars per year.

Incarcerating a juvenile for a year can cost many times more than that.

And for all the trouble and cost, what are our criminal justice outcomes?

Violent crime is up. Recidivism is high. Jails are struggling to make ends meet.
Let me be clear, the punishmment for violent crime must be swift and severe, but we must also get better at helping those who will be released prepare to re-enter society, not re-enter prison.

It's past time that our state's elected leaders speak with one voice on this important issue: when it comes to reforming our state's justice system, the cost of doing nothing isn't zero.
Crime victims pay the price. Families pay the price. And taxpayers pay the price.

In my proposal to the legislature this year, I recommend a series of smart reforms that will make a big difference.

One area of reform my administration will address is our use of community supervision for low-risk offenders.

Community supervision allows us to provide the corrections oversight necessary to hold someone accountable for their crime without incurring the economic and social cost of incarceration.

It costs about 20 times more to incarcerate someone than to put them under community supervision, and the latter leads to better outcomes.

One of the first things we will do is add funds to the Electronic Monitoring Indigency Fund and add the use of GPS monitoring so that low-risk, non-violent individuals can keep their jobs and provide for their families instead of spending unnecessary time in jail.

Of those who are incarcerated, 95% are not serving a life sentence and will eventually come out and we need to be sure they are prepared for that.

Why? Because every successful reentry means one less crime, and one less victim.
My commitment to having fewer crime victims in this state is reflected in a proposed expansion of education and re-entry counselling opportunities in our prisons.

Educational attainment for incarcerated people can reduce their risk of recidivism by up to 43%.
Another important part of successful re-entry is stable employment.

For that reason, we have introduced a bill eliminating the expungement fees for those already eligible under the law to alleviate the cost burden of getting back on their feet.

We must also take bold steps to stop the scourge of drugs illegally trafficked into our state.
I pledged to make Tennessee a state that drug traffickers fear, and I will make sure that our prosecutors and our law enforcement have the tools they need to make that a reality.

We are increasing the penalties on dangerous drugs like fentanyl and making it clear that we will have no leniency on high level drug dealers who target the residents of this state.

And we need more than just strong laws to keep our communities safe; we also need strong law enforcement.

It is no secret that Tennessee lags other states on law enforcement and corrections pay, which impacts our hiring and retention rates.

We are increasing investments in correctional officer pay and training opportunities, and this budget calls for new investments in our law enforcement capacity, improving the in-service training pay supplement, and provide new funding to support the increased demands of our Drug Overdose and Violent Crime Task Forces.

Furthermore, tomorrow morning, I will sign an Executive Order creating a task force to address the growing fiscal and social costs of incarceration.

I appreciate the focus placed on these issues by members of the General Assembly and our Supreme Court in recent years, and it is time to move forward in a comprehensive way.

This task force will be led by Judge Brandon Gibson from my office and will include crime victims and their families, members of the general assembly, state agencies, law enforcement, community and faith based programs, and, yes, even former inmates.

Fundamentally, this task force will recommend legislative and budgetary changes that will help reduce recidivism, make our communities safer and save tax dollars.
I know we can do things differently, because I've been involved with groups who have made a difference.

Nonprofits like Men of Valor in Nashville are helping those who enter prison be better prepared to reenter society.

The recidivism rate of Men of Valor's program graduates is less than one of third of the statewide average.

One person who benefited from this group is a man named Marcus Martin.

Marcus was incarcerated for five years.

By his own admission, he was on a quick path back to prison, until he got involved with Men of Valor.

Now, on the outside for 16 years, Marcus is a full-time prison minister, helping and making a huge impact on those still on the inside.

Marcus Martin is here with us tonight — Marcus, please stand and be recognized.

Marcus, thanks for what you're doing.

My fellow Tennesseans, this is a story of redemption, this is a story of Tennesseans helping other Tennesseans.

It's also a story of fiscal responsibility . and common sense.

We need more of these stories, and when we get them, it won't be surprising to see that our crime and recidivism rates start going down.

And my administration will do more than talk about how important we think these issues are.
We intend to be national innovators and leaders in showing how people throughout our state — the volunteer state — are willing to partner together to serve one another.

Tonight, I'm proud to announce that we are launching the Volunteer Mentorship Initiative to equip Tennesseans throughout our state to mentor fellow Tennesseans who are currently in prison.

And I'm signing up tonight as the first volunteer.

This initiative will begin by working with Tennessee-based non-profits to pair degree-seeking inmates with mentors on the outside as they seek better opportunities for themselves during their time in prison and their first days back in their communities.

I am pleased to announce that Senator Mike Bell and Representative Michael Curcio have graciously agreed to be the honorary co-chairs of the Volunteer Mentorship Initiative.

And I am even more proud that every member of my senior staff has enthusiastically agreed to join this program as our first batch of new mentors.

Tonight, I'm asking members of our General Assembly and every Tennessean who desires to prayerfully consider volunteering to join this effort.

As our state has shown before, we can change the course of history and the destiny of people when we step up, volunteer, and serve one another.

The challenge ahead of us is great, but the urgency of the situation is greater, and I know we will rise to meet the challenge.

For this issue, the admonition to we public servants is clear: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.

First, education. Second, justice. And third, every Tennessean should have access to high-quality health care they can afford.

This is an ambitious goal that no state has accomplished, and Tennessee will not accomplish it overnight.

We will work with patients, providers, and payers to establish Tennessee as a world-class health care market for our people using transparency and competition.

To begin this process, I have asked our Finance and Administration Commissioner, Stuart McWhorter, to chair a Healthcare Modernization Task Force that will work closely with private sector stakeholders, policymakers, and communities across the state to develop a list of reforms and critical investments.

In the short-term, there are several things we can do to move Tennessee toward having better health outcomes.

So that more uninsured Tennesseans have access to quality primary and preventative-care services, we are providing additional funding to our health care safety net which supports community and faith-based care centers serving those who do not have health insurance coverage.

We will continue to work with the General Assembly and with Washington to look for waiver opportunities that help us increase insurance coverage without big government strings attached.

We will also be exploring ways to build off the important efforts of the Trump administration to promote price transparency.

Another way to lower health care cost is to combat Medicaid fraud.

Tackling fraud in Medicaid is particularly important as we work to prevent the fraudulent distribution of opioid medications.

To support that effort, we are creating 24 new positions in the state's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

Together these efforts will place downward pressure on the cost of coverage.

I am also committed to working with our rural communities to ensure that they have quality healthcare that meets their current and future needs.

Despite the closure of rural hospitals across the state and country, there are many opportunities to transform care in these communities through smart reforms, increased innovation, and a new business model.

Addressing these challenges requires a long-term approach, and we have already taken steps that will deliver real progress this year.

For one, I'm proposing $20 million to boost broadband accessibility which will make technology like telemedicine more accessible and practical.

We are increasing, by as much as $8.6 million, funding for graduate medical education at Tennessee's medical schools and critical incentive programs that provide financial support to resident physicians who commit to living and working in our rural communities.

By increasing the supply of care that reflects the needs of rural communities we will be driving down the overall cost of care.

Our focus on economic development and vocational education will also drive better health outcomes as individuals are increasingly able to get higher paying jobs that provide greater stability and access to coverage.

Too often, the conversation around health care focuses exclusively on physical health.

Physical well-being is important, but a national conversation around mental and behavioral health is long overdue.

Nearly 300,000 Tennesseans are facing serious mental health challenges, and far too many are slipping through the cracks.

I made a vow on the campaign trail to strengthen the mental health safety net and I intend to do just that.

In this budget, I am recommending an increase of $11 million in recurring funds to our Behavioral Health Safety Net and our Regional Mental Health Institutes.

These investments will help us serve thousands more of our most vulnerable Tennesseans, most of which do not currently have health insurance.

Tennessee's suicide rate is 20% higher than the national average.

For that reason, I'm proposing a $1.1 million investment that will expand the state's partnership with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network to establish a new regional outreach model and increase the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services' efforts.

To truly be champions of mental and behavioral health, we must put everything we have behind defeating the opioid crisis in Tennessee once and for all.

We must continue to make progress in preventing addiction, and I will defend the smart limits on prescriptions passed by this legislature.

In this budget, we'll also work to address the other victims of the opioid crisis — the dependent children of those addicted.

We recommend expanding our investment in the Safe Baby Courts initiative to support vulnerable infants and are including $5 million dollars in new funding to address a rising caseload in our Department of Children's Services.

Also, as we begin to see an increasing rise of students entering kindergarten facing challenges from prenatal drug exposure, I recommend that we invest an additional $6 million dollars in our Early Intervention Services for schools.

These investments will make Tennessee a healthier state, and when we're healthier it's good for Tennesseans and it's good for the bottom line.

Fourth and finally, when we have accomplished these and many other goals, what remains expected of us is that government be operated with integrity, effectiveness, and as little cost as possible.

Fundamentally, we believe government exists to protect our liberties — not to grant favors, not to build kingdoms, and not to needlessly interfere with the lives of our citizens.

To be sure, the voters did not send us here to create more government.

No, they sent us here to protect their freedoms and protect their hard-earned money.
I've long believed that Tennessee's most precious natural resource is our people.

Many of our people can be found at non-profits in this state who are doing, with excellence, jobs that government cannot or should not do.

So, to help protect taxpayer dollars and to engage some of our under-utilized citizens, one announcement I am particularly excited to make is the Governor's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

This office will leverage the non-profit community and help us unleash the potential of all Tennesseans to get involved to not only make lives better for their fellow citizens but to reduce the responsibilities and ultimately the size of government.

I'd like to close tonight with two short stories.

This last month we have seen record rainfall across our state.

Many areas have flooded, others have dealt with mudslides, water treatment plants have failed, and some of our neighbors have lost loved ones.

Our hearts are with those hurting families, and with all others who are still cleaning up, even tonight.

And we're grateful to the first responders, state employees, and everyday citizens who were there during the storms and who are supporting that clean up.

A few weeks ago, amid some scary moments, one state employee jumped in to help.
When the flooding started in Dickson County Lt. Travis Plotzer of the Tennessee Highway Patrol was at a flooded roadway on Highway 48.

He went in to chest deep water to help rescue motorists stranded on top of their vehicles.
He didn't hesitate to be the first one to help.

He showed what it really means to be a public servant; he showed what it really means to be a leader.

Please join me in recognizing Lt. Travis Plotzer from Dickson County.

For 35 years prior to becoming governor, I worked in a family-owned company that I led for 20 of those years.

Last month, for the first time in 35 years, I missed our annual, all-employee gathering.
I'll be honest with you — it was bittersweet.

But that same day, Maria and I had the privilege to host at our new home the Governor's Excellence in Service Award winners from each of Tennessee's 23 departments.

We went around the room and listened as each one introduced themselves and explained their jobs but what struck me most was not what they did, but the passion with which they did it.

Those dedicated individuals and others like them that I've met since remind me that government itself is not a solution to our problems; "we the people" must solve our own problems.

And while our state government is far from perfect, one thing I have learned during my first two months in office is that Tennessee has the most committed, hard-working group of state employees in the country and I am proud to be serving alongside them.

As my daughter and I neared the end of our climb up the Grand Teton, we came to a place famous for its very narrow ledge.

To make it worse, there's a section in part of the ledge that has a 1,000-foot "exposure," which is evidently climber-speak for a 1,000-foot fall if you mess a step.

The point is, the only way to get across it was to set your face forward against the mountain and step sideways across the gap — and whatever you do, don't look down.

As a state, we find ourselves in a very strong position, with a very nice view.

We can choose to sit here and enjoy it, or we can choose to step across the ledge and move to higher, better ground.

But if we decide to go higher and farther, we must resolve to not look back, and not look down.

If we lead Tennessee well, Tennessee may well lead the nation.

My prayer is that we will all work together to do just that.

May God bless you, and may God bless the great state of Tennessee.

Thank you and good night.

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Monday, March 4, 2019

Mixed Messages on Gambling Legislation

Bill allowing sports books gets tentative look-see, but Memphian's measures on casinos, impact study are warned off.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 10:50 AM

gambling.jpg

Although a bill that would allow betting through sports-books in Tennessee  advanced in the state House Departments and Agencies subcommittee last week, other measures to liberalize gambling were headed off, two of them via pressure from Governor Bill Lee, according to a Memphis legislator.

As a direct response by an alleged intervention by Lee, two bills that were to be heard in a House committee on Wednesday, both sponsored by state Representative Larry Miller, were delayed, and one, HB 130, proposing a Constitutional Amendment to allow the legislature to authorize casinos, was taken off notice.

The other Miller measure, HJR 142, which would authorize the state comptroller to conduct a study of the financial impact on Tennessee of legalized gambling in adjacent states, was “rolled” a week, and is scheduled to be taken up at the subcommittee’s meeting this coming Wednesday.

Asked about the two bills, Miller said essentially that he'd been warned off by a liaison person from Lee's office, who visited him last Tuesday on the governor's behalf, "flagged" the Constitutional Amendment (which is to say, warned him off); Miller says that he intends to bring the Constitutional Amendment bill back, but only after some serious organizing of support.

Miller says his decision to delay HJR 142, calling for the impact study, was also related to the word he’d received from the governor’s emissary.

“It just seemed to me that this was not a good moment to be asking for a decision on measures involving gambling. I’m going to try to build up some more momentum,” said Miller, who indicated that he intends to bring back a version of HJR 130 at some point and to go ahead, as indicated, with consideration next week of the financial-impact measure.

Apropos Miller’s foreboding about timing, Representative Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) got a turndown on Wednesday in the Department and Agencies subcommittee on another bill for a Constitutional amendment to allow bingo games for charity (HJR 102).That measure was turned down on voice vote after Griffey received an admonition from subcommittee chairman Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) that legal bingo had a “tragic history” in Tennessee and that a former Secretary of State [Gentry Crowell] had committed suicide [in 1959] at a time when his office was under investigation for corruption in relation to regulation of bingo games.

Sanderson identified the scandal as being “Tennessee Waltz,” but that FBI sting came later. The one in 1959 was designated “Operation Rocky Top.”

Griffey asked for a roll-call vote on the subcommittee, but Sanderson ruled that his gavel had already come down and that the matter could not be renewed.

There was no indication that Griffey’s experience was in any way related to gubernatorial intervention, but it did perhaps underscore the climate for such bills right now and Miller’s reluctance to put his bills up for grabs.

A spokesperson for the governor was unable to confirm that Governor Lee had intervened with Miller concerning either of his measures.

Meanwhile, HB 1, the aforementioned sports betting measure allowing sports-books and online sports betting received a tentative okay in the Departments and Agencies subcommittee and was passed along to the full State Committee. The bill would allow local-option voting on the creation of sports books and would allocate some proceeds to vo-tech education.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lee to Spread Out State of the State Addresses

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2019 at 3:42 PM

Governor Lee
  • Governor Lee
As follow-ups to his scheduled State of the State address in Nashville on Monday, Governor Bill Lee announced plans to give regional addresses in Memphis and Knoxville next week.

The Governor’s Memphis speech, billed as “State of West Tennessee,” will be given at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 7, in the University Center Ballroom at the University of Memphis. His “State of the State” address will have taken place at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 4, in the House Chamber of the state Capitol in Nashville. Lee will present a “State of East Tennessee” address at 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 5, in the Clarence Brown Theatre at UT-Knoxville.

All three events are free and open to the public but require tickets, which are available at https://www.tn.gov/governor/sots.

Block Grants Bill Advances Despite Memphians’ Protest

Measure would require Governor to insist on state control of Medicaid funding, give legislature ultimate approval.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2019 at 3:11 PM

Dwayne Thompson musing during block grant hearing - JB
  • JB
  • Dwayne Thompson musing during block grant hearing
NASHVILLE — Two Memphis Democrats, state Reps. Dwayne Thompson and Larry Miller, did their best on Wednesday to put the brakes on a proposal, emanating from the Republican leadership of the General Assembly, insisting that federal Medicaid funding to Tennessee be in the form of block grants.

But, like it or not, and there is no indication that Gov. Bill Lee is opposed to the concept, HB1280, which requires that the governor request the state’s Medicaid funding via block grants, advanced a step closer to him on Wednesday in newly strengthened form.

The bill was amended in the TennCare Subcommittee on Wednesday by voice vote and is on its way to the full House Insurance Committee with an amendment from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Timothy Hill ( R-Blountville), requiring legislative approval of any block-grant arrangement reached with the federal government. Meanwhile, SB1428, the Senate version sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), is pending before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

In the TennCare Subcommittee, Reps. Thompson and Miller objected to the amendment and then to the bill as amended. Thompson had asked sponsor Hill how many other states received their Medicaid funding via block grants and when Hill professed not to know, Thompson supplied the answer: “I understand that it’s zero.” He then asked why Hill was proposing that the state pursue the “experiment” of block grants.

Hill alluded to the state’s volunteer tradition. “It’s the Tennessee way,” he answered. “Why not?”

Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) responded similarly. “Let’s be the first. Let’s be the precedent,” he said.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) then indulged himself in what he himself branded as a “joke” by saying, “Chairman Hill, this is a great bill!” He went on to express enthusiasm that Tennessee, “known for innovation,” could by passing the bill, escape the “fetters of federal intervention” and maintain control of Medicaid spending at the state level.

In a brief question-and-answer session with reporters afterward, Hill exulted that his measure had passed its “first hurdle” and was presumably on its way to full passage. He acknowledged that there was some opposition to the bill, to be expected “whenever you’re proposing something that’s cutting edge.”

Asked whether there was polling to suggest popular support for his bill, Hill said he hadn’t conducted any. But he expressed confidence that the bill has “broad support...certainly with this supermajority” and would pick up more support “as we go along.”

He said he had “sat down” with TennCare officials but could not say what their opinion on the measure was. He acknowledged that the terms of the bill could alter the way TennCare operates but did not elaborate.

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