Wednesday, January 9

Grand Divisions Episode 35: Gov. Bill Haslam grants Cyntoia Brown clemency and a chat with Democratic leaders (Tennessean) On the eve of the first gathering of the 111th General Assembly, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he was granting clemency to Cyntoia Brown. The 30-year-old Brown, who will be released Aug. 7, was seeking clemency for the 2004 murder of Nashville real estate Johnny Allen. Brown said she was forced into prostitution and scared for her life when she shot Allen. Haslam’s announcement, which was quickly met with praise from Democrats, comes less than two weeks before he exits office. He is also in the midst of weighing a possible bid for the U.S. Senate in 2020. In this episode of Grand Divisions, we discuss Haslam’s decision to grant clemency to Brown with justice reporter Adam Tamburin. LINK

Cyntoia Brown clemency decision sparks praise, political questions (AP) The Tennessee governor’s decision to grant clemency to a woman who killed a man when she was 16 had the potential to pit political interests against widespread support for her cause. Yet the governor says the decision came down to doing the “right thing.” Outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday quietly issued his decision on Cyntoia Brown, who says she was a sex-trafficking victim. However, the news quickly spread, thrilling criminal justice advocates, celebrities and other supporters who had been fighting for years to help Brown, 30. LINK

Tennessee gov.-elect appoints judge to be senior adviser (AP) Gov.-elect Bill Lee has announced he’s appointed Tennessee’s only female Court of Appeals judge to serve as one of his senior advisers. Lee’s transition team announced Tuesday that he’s tapped Brandon Gibson to work in the Cabinet-level position. Gibson is the first woman the newly elected Republican has added to his team of senior advisers since winning the governor’s seat in November. Gibson is currently the Tennessee Court of Appeals judge for the state’s western section. Previously, she was a partner at Pentecost and Glenn law firm in Jackson. Lee’s transition team says Gibson will focus on long-term initiatives, such as criminal justice reform and prioritizing the needs of rural communities. LINK

Gov.-elect Bill Lee appoints only female court of appeals judge to senior adviser position (Tennessean) Gov.-elect Bill Lee has appointed the state’s only female Court of Appeals judge to a Cabinet-level senior adviser position. Brandon Gibson, of Crockett County, currently serves as Tennessee Court of Appeals judge for the state’s western section. As one of Lee’s senior advisers — also the only woman so far in such a role — Gibson will be tasked with working on long-term initiatives like criminal justice reform rural development, his transition team reported. Prior to her position as judge, Gibson was a partner at Pentecost & Glenn law firm in Jackson. LINK

Lee picks appeals judge to be senior advisor (Nashville Post) Governor-elect Bill Lee has chosen a Tennessee Court of Appeals judge to be a senior advisor in his office and focus on longer-term initiatives such as criminal justice reform and rural communities. Brandon Gibson’s new role is a cabinet-level position in the incoming administration. Gibson, of Crockett County, serves on the Western section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals and is the only woman in that role. She was appointed by outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam and assumed office in September 2014, replacing the retiring David Farmer, and was re-elected two years later. LINK

Bill Lee inauguration events: free party on Broadway, prayer service and tours (Tennessean) No matter how you voted in the Tennessee governor’s race, everyone in the state is invited to the inaugural events Jan. 18-20. Not only can you see our new governor, Bill Lee, take his oath of office, but on inauguration weekend, you can tour the state Capitol, attend a big party on Broadway, go to a star-studded prayer service at the Ryman Auditorium and enjoy an open house at the governor’s mansion, where you can meet the governor and first lady. And it’s all free. The only events of the weekend that cost are the Jan. 19 dinner and inaugural ball at Music City Center. LINK

UT lights torch sculpture at newly-opened Student Union, welcomes students back to campus (News Sentinel) The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, welcomed students back and continued opening phase two of the Student Union on Tuesday night with a torch lighting ceremony. The torch glass sculpture, made by Knoxville’s Pretentious Glass Company artist Matthew Cummings, was unveiled and lit on Tuesday night. The nearly 400,000 square foot Student Union opened last week and features new restaurants, office and meeting space and a recreation area. LINK

Why don’t cities change controversial street names? UT study says it’s about convenience, economics (News Sentinel) Two University of Tennessee researchers have spent the last two years looking at how governments handle requests to rename streets that honor white supremacists and other controversial figures. Geography professor Derek Alderman and geography Ph.D. candidate Jordan Brasher found that cities can tend to prioritize practicality and economic development over acknowledging sometimes painful pasts. Alderman said this can include streets or areas named for white supremacists or nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, Confederate generals and slave owners. Brasher and Alderman studied a street renaming in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that sparked controversy for the bulk of their research paper. LINK

Tennessee Insurance Head McPeak Talks Leading NAIC, Priorities Under New Gov (Insurance Journal) Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak’s tenure as president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) may have come to an end, but her work as an insurance regulator will continue for some time thanks to her recent reappointment by Governor-Elect Bill Lee, who takes office next week. McPeak, who was first appointed to head the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance by outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam in January 2011, says she is thankful for the opportunity to lead the NAIC in 2018, and is ready to continue her work with the association and the state of Tennessee’s new administration. LINK

Glen Casada elected House speaker as 111th Tennessee General Assembly convenes (Tennessean) The Tennessee House of Representatives officially voted in Williamson County Republican Glen Casada as its next speaker Tuesday, marking the start of the 111th General Assembly. Casada’s ascension was among the highlights of the first legislative day that included more than 30 new lawmakers officially taking office, at least two protests and a newly formed group calling for Gov.-elect Bill Lee to reject a school voucher program that he could include in his legislative agenda. Casada is the first new speaker of the House in eight years. In the Senate, members voted to keep Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, in his leadership position. LINK

New era begins in Tenn. House with election of Rep. Glen Casada as speaker (WKRN-TV) The Tennessee House began a new era Tuesday with the election of its first new speaker in eight years. In front of speakers from decades past, Rep. Glen Casada took over the gavel from retiring Speaker Beth Harwell who was the first woman to hold the position. “Today I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship,” said Casada. While making that pledge, and even getting a few Democrat votes, Casada told House members they will aim to have increased say and sway over budget spending that affects schools, roads and public safety, and also involve a new governor and the 33-member Senate. LINK

Photo gallery of House action as Casada elected speaker (TN Journal) Here’s a look at some of the action surrounding the election of Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) as House speaker on Tuesday. LINK

Photo Gallery: Opening Day of the 111th Legislative Assembly (Tennessean) LINK

On His First Day As House Speaker, Glen Casada Calls For Bipartisanship (WPLN Radio) The Tennessee House of Representatives officially elected Glen Casada, of Franklin, as speaker. With his parents and loved ones in the House chamber, Casada called on Democrats and Republicans to work in a bipartisan way throughout the new legislative session.  He promised he’ll work with both parties to pass legislation. “Today I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship,” Casada said. The Republican used the legislation passed last year that addressed issues with the state standardized test TNReady as an example of how both chambers can work together. LINK

House selects Republican Casada as speaker with Democrat DeBerry’s backing (Daily Memphian) The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly elected Republican Glen Casada as House speaker on Tuesday, the first day of the 111th General Assembly, with Memphis Democratic Rep. John DeBerry backing his ascension. DeBerry was among three Democrats who bucked the 26-member House Democratic Caucus and voted for Casada as he won the powerful post in a 75-22 vote over House Minority Leader Karen Camper. The others were Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar and Rep. John Mark Windle of Livingston. Rep. Darren Jernigan, a Nashville Democrat, passed on the vote. DeBerry said he will follow Camper during the session and voted for Casada for other reasons. LINK

As House Speaker, Glen Casada Says He’ll Pursue Sexual Misconduct Allegations With Caution (WPLN Radio) One of the roles of presumed House Speaker Glen Casada will be to conduct investigations when a member is accused of wrongdoing. Outgoing speaker Beth Harwell asked legislators to step down three times in the last three years. But Casada said he’ll be more cautious in the role. Casada recognizes this is something he’ll likely have to deal with as the top leader of the House. “There are allegations made all the time and in our political environment,” Casada said. “False allegations are made with the hope that a leader would cave and take an allegation over truth.” Casada himself was accused of an affair in 2016, but he denied the allegations. He says he believes that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. In fact, he supported Representative David Byrd during his re-election. Byrd was accused of sexual misconduct with girls in the 80s and was asked to step down by Beth Harwell. LINK

Casada sworn in as new speaker (Nashville Post) The Tennessee House of Representatives on Tuesday elected Franklin Republican Glen Casada as speaker, formalizing a pick made by the Republican caucus in November. Casada succeeds fellow Republican Beth Harwell of Nashville, who retired to run for governor and who bested Casada for the job eight years ago. The election was among the first actions of the new House, to which dozens of new members were elected in November. Casada will oversee the largest group of freshmen representatives in decades. Upon taking the gavel from Harwell, Casada thanked the retiring lawmaker. “For the last 30 years, she has served our state with integrity and distinction,” Casada said. “Few people can match her record of accomplishments, the impact she has had on our state and upon my life.” LINK

In emotional farewell, Beth Harwell ends 8-year tenure as Tennessee House speaker (Tennessean) Beth Harwell kicked off her heels behind the speaker’s dais Tuesday as she presided over Tennessee’s House of Representatives for the last time. Harwell, R-Nashville, who eight years ago made history as the state’s first female speaker of the House, bid farewell to her colleagues — many of whom are new members she never served with — to make way for a new speaker: Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin. Having served as speaker since 2011 and three decades in the chamber, Harwell, 61, the longest-serving member of Nashville’s legislative delegation, effectively retired to launch an unsuccessful bid for governor in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary. LINK

Tennessee lawmakers sworn in, elect top leaders (AP) Tennessee lawmakers have officially voted in their top legislative leaders to oversee the House and Senate for the next two years. On Tuesday, House Republicans and a small handful of Democrats elected Rep. Glen Casada as the chamber’s next speaker. He replaces outgoing Speaker Beth Harwell. Casada says it’s his goal to make the House more involved in the state’s budget-setting process. Over in the Senate, Randy McNally was elected as speaker. The Oak Ridge lawmaker first became speaker in 2017. By statute, the Speaker of the Senate holds the title of Lieutenant Governor. Former Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris — who is now a federal judge in Memphis — swore in McNally as speaker and the members who were voted in last election. LINK

Lawmakers convene for wide-ranging session (Daily Memphian) The 111th General Assembly convened Tuesday with about 30 new members, the next governor and myriad issues to deal with in 2019, touching on everything from criminal justice reform to health care, education and sports betting. The House and Senate opened the session with the oath of office, and House members elected Republican Glen Casada of Franklin as House speaker. He replaces Beth Harwell, who stepped away from the Legislature to run for governor. The House Democratic Caucus had named Minority Leader Karen Camper as its nominee for House speaker. Committee assignments are to be made later this week, marking crucial decisions by House and Senate speakers each two years. Legislators also will go through ethics and sexual harassment training later this week. Senate committee appointments are expected to be made Jan. 18, the day before Gov.-elect Bill Lee’s Jan. 19 inauguration. LINK

Medical cannabis, legalized sport gambling bills on tap as Tennessee Legislature convenes (WTVF-TV) Tennessee lawmakers will kick off the 111th General Assembly, ushering with it a new governor and a freshman class poised to tackle the state’s most high-profile issues while also setting the budget. The new house leadership includes House Speaker Beth Harwell who will transfer her authority to Glen Casada. Casada was elected to the position in caucus elections in 2018. There are a large number of freshmen lawmakers who are also sworn in. Though it won’t happen Tuesday, Governor-elect Bill Lee will be inaugurated on Jan. 19, replacing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. We know of several bills that lawmakers either plan to file or have already filed for consideration. Once again, a medical cannabis bill will be written and submitted by Senator Steve Dickerson. LINK

Disability doctors: Tennessee lawmakers call for independent review (Tennessean) Tennessee lawmakers are calling for an independent review of the state’s Disability Determination Services after a Tennessean investigation revealed some doctors are getting big paydays by speeding through applications from Tennesseans who are too sick to work. Most of those applications are denied. Current and former employees, and state contractors, told The Tennessean they wanted an independent audit of the department. They claim some doctors treated the job as a “cash register” in a system where they are paid a flat fee each case they analyze. Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Howenwald, who is a physician, said he fully supports such a review. His office receives two or three calls each week from constituents who believe they were wrongly denied disability benefits, he said. LINK

Council ponders fine print of sports betting bills (Daily Memphian) Memphis City Council members are on record as supporting “state legislative efforts” to legalize sports gambling and specifically legalizing it in the Beale Street Entertainment District. But before approving a resolution meant to show support for such legislation in the Tennessee Legislature, council members had a lot of questions about the fine print of that legislation. That includes how revenue from sports gaming is divided between the state and local governments where voters approve such gaming in a referendum. LINK

Sen. Pody sets priorities for 2019 legislative session (Cannon Courier) State Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon)recently talked about his priorities for the 2019 legislative session as the General Assembly prepares to convene, with passage of a fiscally conservative budget topping the list. The legislature meets to organize the 111th General Assembly on Tuesday when Pody and 17 other senators who were elected in November will take the oath of office as the first order of business. “Tennessee is ranked among the top financially managed states in the nation,” said Pody. “Conservative budgeting and a healthy Rainy Day Fund, which is the state’s savings account in case of a downturn in the economy, is a big part of that success. Our healthy financial status has also been a key contributing factor to helping us recruit industry and jobs to Tennessee. LINK

Otis Sanford On The New Tennessee Legislature (WATN-TV) Local 24 political analyst and commentator Otis Sanford shares his point of view as the Tennessee legislature convenes. There are plenty of changes in store at the state capitol as the Tennessee legislature convenes today for its 111th General Assembly. Many familiar faces will be missing, including longtime Senate Majority leader Mark Norris of Collierville who is now a federal judge. Others who won’t be there include outgoing House speaker Beth Harwell, and former House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh. In all, there will be 31 new lawmakers when the session begins; 27 in the House alone. More new members will be added later following special elections. And let’s not forget that in 11 days, a new Governor will be sworn in to office. LINK

Tennessee House Republicans to close caucus meetings as legislature convenes for new session (Tennessean) Minutes before the 111th Tennessee General Assembly convened for the first time, the 73-member House Republican caucus told members of the Capitol Hill Press Corps that they plan to exclude media from some future caucus meetings. In a marked shift from recent years, House GOP Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said Tuesday the group of Republicans would operate under the presumption that all caucus meetings were closed. He said members of the media would be notified if they were allowed in a caucus meeting. Although the move is a break from the past — the vast majority of House GOP caucus meetings in recent years have been open to media — Sexton defended the decision by downplaying the frequency of closed meetings. LINK

Dickson lobbyist’s firm renamed, reflects female ownership (Tennessean) Nearly 20 years ago, Dickson County’s Meagan Frazier didn’t see herself owning an influential lobbying firm in the state’s Capital. Definitely, she didn’t anticipate her name on one of the oldest firms in Nashville. “I was so enamored to just be working here,” Frazier said. Frazier is now co-owner of the firm, which was renamed Harris Frazier Government Relations in recent days. The co-owner is Estie Harris, who joined the firm in 1994 and has been a partner since 1996. Describing itself as “Nashville’s oldest lobbying firm,” the business started out as Smith & Johnson in 1980, then became Smith Harris & Carr, and now is the only all-female-owned, multi-lobbyist firm in the city, according to Frazier. LINK

James Mackler announces Democratic bid for Lamar Alexander’s US Senate seat (Tennessean) James Mackler, who ditched a Democratic run for U.S. Senate in Tennessee last year, says he’s now running in 2020, becoming the first candidate in either major party to declare a candidacy for the seat to be vacated by the retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander. Mackler, a 46-year-old Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran, announced his campaign in an online video Tuesday, looking to clear a Democratic lane still neraly two years out from the election. “I’m James Mackler, and after 9/11 I joined the 101st Airborne Division, because I felt it was my duty to serve the country I love,” he says in the video. “Now I’m running for U.S. Senate, and it’s my duty to tell the truth about Donald Trump. LINK

Nashville attorney announces bid for Alexander’s Senate seat (WTVF-TV) Democratic Nashville attorney and former Army helicopter pilot James Mackler is the first candidate to announce a 2020 bid for the seat Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander will leave after his term. Mackler told the AP Tuesday about his Senate bid plans. In an announcement video, the 46-year-old says he’s not a politician and President Donald Trump is making life harder across Tennessee, citing health care, the tax law and the trade war. LINK

Mackler announces Dem bid for Tennessee’s open Senate seat (AP) Democratic Nashville attorney and former Army helicopter pilot James Mackler is the first candidate to announce a 2020 bid for the seat Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander will leave after his term. Mackler told the AP Tuesday about his Senate bid plans. In an announcement video, the 46-year-old says he’s not a politician and President Donald Trump is making life harder across Tennessee, citing health care, the tax law and the trade war. LINK

Democrat Mackler announces U.S. Senate bid (Nashville Post) Nashville attorney James Mackler announced Tuesday that he would run for U.S. Senate in 2020. The Democrat and Army veteran first launched a campaign for Senate in 2017, when he sought to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. After Corker decided not to seek re-election and former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen got in the race, Mackler dropped out. Bredesen ultimately lost that race to Republican Marsha Blackburn, who was sworn in to the Senate last week. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander announced last month he would not seek re-election in 2020, kicking off speculation about who could succeed him. LINK

Funding cut off to local nonprofit serving families and children due to government shutdown (WKRN-TV) Three weeks into the government shutdown and nonprofits like Family and Children’s Service are starting to feel its impact. “If this continues, what are we gonna do?” asked T. Allen Morgan, Vice President of Advancement for the agency. “If this doesn’t get resolved, that’s when we’re gonna start seeing problems.” The nonprofit provides counseling to victims of crime, ranging from domestic violence to child abuse. Morgan says the services are partially paid for using federal money through the Victims of Crime Act. Money he says they haven’t gotten since the shutdown started in December. “We don’t have big lumps of cash sitting around somewhere,” Morgan said. Family and Children’s Service is one of dozens of local agencies that received an email Monday, explaining that their monthly invoices can’t be processed due to the shutdown. LINK

Government shutdown closes Land Between the Lakes, leaving volunteers to handle cleanup (Leaf Chronicle) Impacts of the government shutdown may feel few and far between in middle Tennessee, unless you had planned a trip to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Visitors there now are greeted by locked doors in the visitor’s center and other facilities, and closed gates with signs informing people that the recreation area isn’t open due to the lapse in federal government funding. Staff are no longer reporting for work, having been furloughed as the shutdown drags into its third week. An area supervisor informed The Leaf-Chronicle that all facilities at Land Between the Lakes are closed, which includes all campgrounds and visitor’s centers. LINK

Government shutdown impacts East Tennessee air traffic controllers (WATE-TV) Moving into nearly three weeks, the government shutdown is affecting thousands of federal employees. Some of those in East Tennessee work for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, others work for TSA or as air traffic controllers. One air traffic controller says the hope for him: End the shutdown fast. “Staffing and hiring has been frozen. There’s no pipeline for new controllers. Locally, training classes have been shutdown as well which slows down the training process,” said David Harness, an air traffic controller who works at McGhee Tyson Airport. LINK

Partial government shutdown could impact thousands of SNAP recipients in Northeast Tennessee (WJHL-TV) The partial shutdown could impact thousands of people who rely on food stamps in Northeast Tennessee. More than 70,000 people in our region of Tennessee rely on food from the federal government, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Human Services. Sky Arnold, spokesperson from the Tennessee Department of Human Services, said its department is keeping an eye on how the partial shutdown could impact SNAP recipients. “We are continuing to work with our federal partners during the shutdown and have sufficient funding for SNAP benefits through the month of January,” Arnold said. “No determination has been made beyond then.” Rhonda Chafin, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank in Northeast Tennessee, said it’s a concern. LINK

Government shutdown could impact local brewery soon, owner says (WMC-TV) Breweries nationwide are seeing the effects of the government shutdown. The agency responsible for approving labels and processing permits is closed. A local brewery said if the shutdown continues, it would impact your beer. If there’s one thing Clark Ortkiese knows, it’s beer. Since opening Crosstown Brewing Company last year, they’ve made about a dozen types of beer. But as Ortkiese looks to his next rollout come spring and summer, the government shutdown is also in the mix. “I need the government to operate so they can function to do the things I need them to do to run my business,” Ortkiese said. “As a business owner that’s the biggest frustration. If we can get our stuff together why can’t they?” LINK

Shutdown in the States: ‘We Need to Start Taking This Seriously’ (Stateline) President Donald Trump’s warning that the partial federal government shutdown could last “for months or even years” has states, cities and businesses increasingly nervous. States depend on federal money to pay for food stamps, welfare and programs such as the Child Care and Development Fund Plan, the National Flood Insurance Program and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects. Marcia Howard, the executive director of the nonprofit Federal Funds Information for States, said states have enough leftover federal dollars, plus money of their own, to keep key programs going for several weeks — but any period longer than that would create significant problems. The longest previous shutdown was for 21 days, in 1995-1996. LINK


TN Reps. Ron Gant and William Lamberth: New Republican House leadership prepares to write next chapter in Tennessee’s success story (Tennessean) A new year brings a renewed energy and excitement within our Tennessee General Assembly and our House Republican Caucus. The focus of this energy and excitement is a shared leadership vision that is tasked with enhancing Tennessee’s status as a national leader in innovation. Under Republican leadership, the Volunteer State has become the envy of all others. Tennessee has the lowest debt and lowest overall taxes, a AAA bond rating, and the average median household income is growing at the second fastest rate in the entire southeast. LINK

Guest column: Tennessee legislators must protect disabled from profit scams (Tennessean) The Social Security Disability program provides monetary benefits and insurance to our country’s most vulnerable citizens. Unfortunately, in Tennessee, it appears that the state has gone substantially off course in protecting the disabled. The USA TODAY NETWORK Tennessee recently published a troubling investigative report demonstrating that Tennessee’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) has adopted a practice of incentivizing its consulting physicians to deny disability claims. Even more disturbing is that the General Assembly’s oversight committee, once charged with legislative oversight of DDS, was disbanded almost a decade ago, leaving DDS with little political accountability and leaving few politicians with the kind of systemic understanding of the disability system that this committee promoted. LINK


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