Wish Lists 

Local leaders petition state legislators in Zoom meeting.

As expected, the Biden-Harris ticket was an easy winner in Democratic-dominated Shelby County last week; also unsurprising was the overwhelming support enjoyed by the Trump-Pence Republican ticket in Tennessee at large.

To the extent that there was any kind of suspense factor, it was in a pair of local races. Even as Democrats nationally made serious inroads on previously Republican suburban areas, the contests for House District 83 and House District 96, both on the suburban fringe, were unusually tight. Republican state Representative Mark White was able to hold off a stout challenge by Democrat Jerri Green, by a margin of 17,682 to 15,063, and the GOP's John Gillespie had an even closer margin over Democratic candidate Gabby Salinas, 14,697 to 14,212.

click to enlarge House Speaker Cameron Sexton - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • House Speaker Cameron Sexton

Gillespie, who won the open seat vacated by former Representative Jim Coley, was one of two new members of the Shelby County delegation. The other was Democrat Torrey Harris, who easily won over longtime incumbent John DeBerry, forced to run this year as an independent, in House District 90.

Both Gillespie and Harris were on hand on Monday and Tuesday for the Shelby County legislative delegation's annual legislative retreat, this year conducted virtually as a Zoom meeting.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, a first-day speaker, said he wants CLERB, the city's independent civilian review board, to have subpoena powers of its own so that it need not go through the city council in probing accusations of police misconduct. The mayor also wants Memphis to have equity with Nashville in state funding received for mental health services. "We have many more mental health patients than Nashville, but Nashville gets more," he said Monday.

The annual retreat, at which spokespersons for major local interests state their wish lists for the coming legislative session in Nashville, is normally held in January, just before the session begins, but got a bit of a jump-start this year.

Among the other desiderata on Monday, the first day of the two-day virtual session:

Patrice J. Robinson, chair of the Memphis City Council, asked the legislators to pass a bill banning payday lenders. She also wanted to see the decriminalization of medical marijuana and a continuation of the COVID-era expedient of allowing sales-to-go of alcoholic beverages from storefronts.

Robinson endorsed as well a bill that state Senator Brian Kelsey (R-District 31) said he would introduce increasing the local portion of the state sales tax — this as a means of recouping some of the financial loss to cities from the pending elimination of the state Hall income tax on dividends and investments.

Memphis Police Department director Michael Rallings focused on the gun problem, maintaining that increased prevalence of firearms was the main reason for a rise in certain categories of crime. "Thank goodness permitless carry was not passed," Rallings said, musing on the last legislative session. Rallings also noted for the lawmakers that he considers Memphis to be "490 to 700 officers down" from an optimum roster number.

The headliner on day two, Tuesday, was state Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, Republican of Crossville, who promised the legislators that the General Assembly's calendar would be flexed with the uncertainties of COVID-19 in mind so that, as one example, they would have a little "extra time for filing their bills."

Asked about his attitude toward marijuana legislation, Sexton said he would feel more comfortable with efforts to legalize medical marijuana if the federal government removed its status as a Schedule 1 drug. Sexton said he was in favor of local jurisdictions making decisions about such issues as school openings and guns on school property. He also said, apropos the dormant Memphis megasite, "We've gone too far to pull back."

During his appearance before the legislators, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris noted his concern about skeptical statements made by Governor Bill Lee and state Attorney General Herbert Slatery regarding the results of the presidential election won by President-elect Joe Biden. That was one of the few times during the two-day session that partisanship as such became a subject of discussion.

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