Thursday, February 11

Electric vehicle battery maker Microvast establishing manufacturing facility in Clarksville (WTVF-TV Nashville) Microvast, a company that makes electric vehicle batteries, is establishing a manufacturing facility in Clarksville. Gov. Bill Lee’s Office made the announcement Wednesday, saying Microvast will invest $220 million and create 287 jobs in Montgomery County. “Tennessee is at the forefront of electric vehicle and charging infrastructure development, and we’re proud that Microvast will continue this important work in Tennessee. Clarksville’s highly-skilled workforce is well-equipped for these additional 287 jobs, and we appreciate this investment from Microvast,” Gov. Lee said in a statement. LINK

Clarksville lands $220 million Microvast plant; expected to bring 287 direct jobs (Leaf-Chronicle/USA Today Network) Another nine-digit industrial investment is coming to Clarksville, officials have confirmed, and it will locate its U.S. manufacturing headquarters here as part of the deal. American-owned-and-operated Microvast Power Solutions has decided on Clarksville as the location where it will manufacture electric vehicle batteries. The decision is expected to bring 287 new direct jobs in a $220 million investment to Montgomery County … Gov. Bill Lee: “Tennessee is at the forefront of electric vehicle and charging infrastructure development, and we’re proud that Microvast will continue this important work in Tennessee. Clarksville’s highly-skilled workforce is well-equipped for these additional 287 jobs, and we appreciate this investment from Microvast.” LINK

Electric vehicle battery maker Microvast Inc. buying Clarksville plant for $220M manufacturing operation (Nashville Business Journal) A soon-to-be-public company that makes batteries for electric vehicles will invest $220 million in Clarksville, deepening Greater Nashville’s ties to the automotive industry and its future. Microvast Inc. is buying a nearly 600,000-square-foot manufacturing plant at 780 International Blvd. and plans to employ 287 people there, according to a Wednesday announcement from company and government officials. It’s the first American plant for the Houston-based company, which also has operations in China, Germany and London … The state also is recruiting Vancouver-based ElectraMeccanica (Nasdaq: SOLO) for an electric vehicle assembly plant. LINK

Tennessee will partner with Walmart to expedite COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Gov. Bill Lee says (Tennessean) Tennessee will partner with Walmart to further distribute COVID-19 vaccines, something Gov. Bill Lee says will expedite the state’s efforts to administer more shots to curb the pandemic. “As our vaccine numbers go up, we expect to be utilizing dozens, and then hundreds, of providers to get vaccines out to people in every community in Tennessee,” Lee told reporters Wednesday, naming Walmart specifically. The retail giant made its own announcement of the new program on Tuesday, quoting Lee in a news release about Walmart being part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. LINK

Some Tennesseans Can Get Their COVID-19 Vaccinations At Walmart Starting This Week (WPLN Radio Nashville) Pharmacies at more than 100 Walmart and Sam’s Club stores across Tennessee are opening vaccination appointments this week for those eligible in the current phase. The company says the doses are coming from the U.S. Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, and they’re being allotted to give priority to areas that lack access to healthcare. Gov. Bill Lee said his “top priority” is getting as many people vaccinated as possible. “Due to the large footprint of Walmart stores across our state, we will be able to reach residents quickly and provide equitable and accessible vaccine distribution.” LINK

Gov. Lee: Teachers are ‘next’ to get vaccinated, but no exact timetable (WKRN-TV Nashville) The race to vaccinate Tennesseans is on as more people are becoming eligible for the COVID-19 shot. Teachers are next in line, but it could be a while before every Tennessee teacher is vaccinated. “My focus has been on those who are going to be sick and die from COVID-19 vaccinated first,” said Governor Bill Lee. That means teachers are going to have to wait their turn. “As vaccines increase, we will be vaccinating teachers in the first priority after the elderly,” said Lee. Some teachers have already crossed county lines to get vaccinated. LINK

Gov. Bill Lee holds news conference as vaccinations continue in Tennessee (WMC-TV Memphis) Governor Bill Lee will host a news conference Wednesday morning. The conference comes days after Lee delivered his third State of the State address. It comes as the state continues to wrestle with the COVID-19 pandemic. Lee released a video hours before his State of the State address, reflecting on where the state has been over the past year. “We didn’t give up, we didn’t back down and we kept moving forward,” Lee said. “We are hard-pressed but not crushed; challenged but not defeated. Our state is still standing taller than ever before.” LINK

Tennessee governor won’t revive paid family leave push (AP) Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday he won’t revive his push from early last year to offer paid family leave for state workers. Last January, Lee announced an executive order to offer up to 12 weeks of annual paid family leave for state workers who become parents, have to care for a family member or experience other life-altering events. The policy did not, however, make it to its launch date that March. Lee received a cool reception from fellow Republicans in the GOP-supermajority Legislature and backed off the order, saying he would instead employ lawmakers to pursue some version of paid family leave through a bill, possibly scaling back what had been announced. LINK

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee: Transgender student athlete participation will ‘destroy women’s sports’ (Tennessean) Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday allowing transgender female athletes to participate in school sports under their chosen identity would “destroy women’s sports.” Lee’s comment came after a bill, which would require middle and high school student athletes to participate in school sports under their gender assigned at birth, advanced in the House on Tuesday night. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, deems it unfair for student athletes to compete with each other if they do not share the same biological sex. LINK

Lee denounces Biden executive order, says transgender athletes ‘will destroy women’s sports’ (The Center Square) Responding to a bill in the Tennessee Legislature that would ban transgender individuals from participating in girls’ middle school and high school athletics, Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday that trans participation would “destroy women’s sports.” Speaking to reporters at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Lee stopped short of voicing support for a Tennessee bill that would prohibit trans students from participating in middle and high school girls’ athletics, but he spoke to the issue. “Transgenders participating in women’s sports will destroy women’s sports,” Lee said. “It will ruin the opportunity for girls to earn scholarships. It will put a glass ceiling back over women that hasn’t been there. I think it’s bad for women and for women’s sports.” LINK

Governor: Transgender athletes will ‘destroy women’s sports’ (AP) Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday that transgender girls should be banned from playing on middle and high school sports teams or they will “destroy women’s sports.” “I do believe that transgenders participating in women’s sports will destroy women’s sports,” Lee, who is up for reelection next year, told reporters. “It will ruin the opportunity for girls to earn scholarships. It will put a glass ceiling back over women that hasn’t been there in some time. I think it’s bad for women and for women’s sports.” LINK

Gov. Bill Lee: Transgender Athletes Will ‘Destroy’ Women’s Sports (WPLN Radio Nashville) An anti-transgender measure that is making its way through the Tennessee legislature has a new backer: Gov. Bill Lee. Talking to reporters Wednesday, Lee spoke against transgender athletes, saying that he thinks their participation would put back in place a glass ceiling for women’s participation in middle and high school sports. “I do believe that transgenders participating in women’s sports will destroy women’s sports,” Lee said. The measure (HB3/SB228) would require transgender youth to play on sports teams that match the sex assigned at birth. The sponsors of the bill have not explained how many transgender athletes are in the state. Most of the testimony provided by legislators was anecdotal. LINK

Tennessee transgender sports bill reaction (WDEF-TV Chattanooga) Tennessee House Bill 3 requires that middle and high school athletes compete in either boys or girls sports based on the student’s original birth certificate. On Wednesday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee responded to a question about the proposed legislation saying transgender athletes would “destroy women’s sports” and hurt scholarship opportunities. The Human Rights Campaign slammed the Governor’s comments and called the proposed bill “hateful anti-transgender legislation.” The ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said it would jeopardize “transgender students’ mental health, physical well-being and ability to access educational opportunities compatible to their peers.” LINK

Tennessee county says 975 missing vaccines likely thrown out by accident (AP) Public health officials in eastern Tennessee say 975 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that disappeared were likely thrown out by accident. The Knox County Health Department says the doses were shipped to the region last week, but local officials say they have no record of receiving them. Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan believes the box containing the doses was probably discarded by someone who thought they were throwing out dry ice. Due to security reasons, vaccine doses are shipped without readily identifiable information attached. LINK

It was a kick in the gut’: KCHD says 975 COVID-19 vaccines are believed to have been accidentally discarded (WBIR-TV Knoxville) The Knox County Health Department said Wednesday that 975 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine appeared to be missing, saying it believes the doses were mistakenly thrown away. Officials said Tennessee leaders confirmed that the doses were shipped to the Knox County Health Department. However, county health leaders said that they had no record of receiving the vaccines. KCHD Director Dr. Martha Buchanan was tearful when she announced the loss of the doses — as each one is precious in this stage of the vaccine rollout due to the limited supply and critical protection they will provide to the most at-risk. LINK

975 COVID-19 vaccines thrown away accidentally, Knox County Health Department says (WATE-TV Knoxville) Knox County Health Department has requested the state to investigate 975 second-dose Pfizer vaccines that have gone missing after the state confirmed the shipment to KCHD, but they have no record of receiving the vaccines. KCHD reports the 975 doses equal 1.7% of all vaccines distributed in the county So far more than 56,000 doses have been administered in Knox County. “This is something you certainly hope never happens, and we are working with the state to determine how it did. It is an unfortunate situation, but in the meantime, our vaccination efforts continue unabated.” LINK

Lakeland school board concerned over new state regulations (Daily Memphian) Facing new state regulations, the Lakeland School System Board of Education has joined with other municipal districts seeking a remote option for students taking the TNReady test along with reconsideration of retention metrics for third graders. The standardized testing resolution, similar to one drafted by the Germantown Board of Education, was adopted by the Lakeland board at its meeting Monday night, Feb. 8. The action emphasizes the board’s concern over the requirement for 80% participation in the testing. The percentage is for in-person testing and does not include a remote option – a significant consideration during the current pandemic. LINK

UT announces plans for in-person classes for fall 2021 (WVLT-TV Knoxville) University of Tennessee officials announced plans for in-person classes for the fall 2021 semester. The university said plans for more in-person classes coincide with increased COVID-19 vaccine availability and improving pandemic conditions in Tennessee. “Our faculty and staff have done an amazing job to make sure our students are successful,” said UT System President Randy Boyd. “The past year has been difficult for many students as they adjusted to online classes, social distancing practices and other safety measures. We want to do all we can to ensure our students are able to have a more traditional college experience this fall.” LINK

UT System promises a “normal” student experience for fall (WDEF-TV Chattanooga) The head of the UT System tried to reassure potential students for next fall. President Randy Boyd announced that University of Tennessee campuses will provide a traditional college experience for the new year. As a result, UTC is planning for the Fall 2021 semester to include normal, in-person, face-to-face instruction. Officials also promise student activities similar to pre-Covid-19 levels and the resumption of traditional campus experiences “to the extent possible.” Of course, they will continue to monitor vaccine availability and new cases into the new year. LINK

UT System universities to return to normal operations for Fall 2021 semester (WRCB-TV Chattanooga) UT System universities are set to return to normal operations for the Fall 2021 semester, President Randy Boyd announced on Wednesday. According to a UT System news release, UT campuses across the state are planning for more in-person classes as COVID-19 vaccines become more available and pandemic conditions improve. System officials said UT will continue to follow recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Tennessee Department of Health for maintaining maximum safety. LINK

U of M unveils design of $41 million Herff STEM Research building (Daily Memphian) By this time next year, the University of Memphis expects to break ground on its STEM Research and Classroom building, a 65,000-square-foot addition to Herff College of Engineering designed for research. It will include space for researchers from computer science and the College of Arts and Sciences, allowing them to collaborate. “For engineering, all facilities we have were completed 50 years ago,” said Rick Sweigard, dean of the Herff College. “At that time, we really weren’t doing much research. This was pretty much an instructional institution. LINK

U of M unveils design for $41M STEM facility (Memphis Business Journal) Built in 1971, the University of Memphis’ current engineering complex, explained Rick Sweigard, dean of the Herff College of Engineering, looks like his high school — not exactly what you want when you’re trying to attract top faculty, recruit more students, and help your organization be named a top research university by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. So, it’s no wonder that when MBJ asked what excites him about U of M’s new $41 million STEM building, he mentioned the aesthetic. “Just having a facility that looks like the 21st century,” he said. This, he noted, is just one bonus. Recently, U of M unveiled the design of its planned 65,000-square-foot STEM facility — set to break ground at the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022. LINK

FedEx is committing $5 million to area HBCUs. Here’s what it will be used for. (Tennessean) FedEx has pledged to commit $5 million total to four historically Black colleges and universities in Tennessee and Mississippi, the Memphis-based company announced Wednesday. The HBCUs involved are: LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis; Tennessee State University in Nashville; Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi; and Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Mississippi. LINK

$1 million gifted to Tennessee State University as part of HBCU initiative (WSMV-TV Nashville) Tennessee State University (TSU) is receiving $1 million from FedEx Corporation to enhance student success during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is an awesome gift from the FedEx Corporation that will assist TSU in addressing some of the unique challenges our institution is facing directly and indirectly because of COVID-19,” said Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover. “This partnership is a great example of public and private entities collaborating to enhance the higher education experience for African-American students.” LINK

Tennesseans struggle to get by in a pandemic economy (WTVF-TV Nashville) Hannah Ferdinand planned to move closer to family at some point, but then she says the decision was practically made for her. At one point the 37-year-old enjoyed her job as a field producer for an international television series airing from Nashville. In November came the call we all dread … The Tennessee Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development tells us the state has 80,000 pending unemployment claims still waiting for review as of last week. On Jan. 21, they estimated there were 90,000 pending claims. 25,000 of which they believe were duplicate claims created in the chaos of when a new unemployment program took effect this year. LINK

Study shows region’s increased dependence on income from government sources (WJHL-TV Johnson City) A new report by King University shows our region’s economy has become more dependent on government-based income and less dependent on earned income from wages. According to the study, in Northeast Tennessee, “government transfer payments” as a percent of earned income increased from 37% in 2004 to 50.7% in 2019. In Southwest Virginia, government-based income increased from 48.3% to 73.1% during that same time period. The national average went from 20.3% in 2004 to 26.2% in 2019. LINK

Creating hope: New approaches seek to stem domestic violence (Daily Memphian) When police showed up at their door at midnight, it marked a terrible end to a lousy day. The married couple had started fighting that morning, over their daughter’s birthday party, and by evening, a mundane argument over who would cook dinner exploded. According to arrest records, the wife said her husband followed her into the bedroom and “grabbed her with one hand around her neck and began choking her.’’ He tells a different story: He only grabbed his childhood sweetheart by the wrists. Theirs was simply a verbal altercation, he said. LINK

Efforts to stop spread of Asian carp continue as East Tennessee marks year without invasive fish (WATE-TV Knoxville) The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency reminded the public this week to be on the look out for the invasive Asian carp. There have been no reported sightings in East Tennessee since an angler caught a silver carp at Lake Chickamauga more than a year ago. We heard from Joe McCaul at his Tellico Village home last summer. He shared his fear that, if the fish made their way into East Tennessee, they would threaten water recreation, home values, and the local economy. That fear still exists. LINK

Tennessee’s coldest state park is popular in winter (Johnson City Press) There is no other state park in Tennessee that has a winter quite like Roan Mountain State Park. This is a place where temperatures fall below freezing and stay there for lengthy periods of time, where snow stubbornly refuses to melt and the place where cross country skiers and snowshoers go to enjoy their favorite season. “Roan Mountain is an all-season park,” Park Ranger Marcianne O’Day said. “We have a lot of people who love winter who come here to camp and enjoy the winter.” Still there are times when there is too much winter weather even for Roan Mountain. O’Day said there are road closures until the snow plow can reopen things. LINK

Knoxville legislator files sales tax capture bill that could help fund sports stadium (WATE-TV Knoxville) State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) has filed legislation that would help fund the proposed multimillion dollar sports stadium in downtown Knoxville. The bill, if signed into law, would allow local governments in counties with population greater than 400,000 people to capture state and local sales tax collected within a quarter-mile area around a stadium. For example, for the stadium proposed by Randy Boyd, owner of the Tennessee Smokies, the zone would run roughly from the east edge of the Old City through much of the area by Hall of Fame Drive east to First Creek. LINK

Bill allowing local school board, governor authority to open schools advances in Senate (Tennessean/USA Today TN Network) A bill giving local school boards the exclusive authority to open or close schools during a state of emergency cleared the Senate Education Committee Wednesday night, marking a first victory for supporters of the legislation. Under SB103, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, school board members could consult local or state health departments but would have the final say on the opening or closing of schools during an emergency declared by the governor. LINK

‘It’s time!’ says Tennessee Senate leader as bill advances to get Memphis students back in classrooms (Chalkbeat) A key legislative committee advanced a bill Wednesday aimed at getting Tennessee’s largest and last completely remote school district to reopen its campuses to Memphis students who want to learn in person. Following a tense exchange between two Memphis-area lawmakers, the Senate Education Committee voted 8-1 for a measure that would ensure Gov. Bill Lee could legally force Shelby County Schools to offer an in-person learning option. “It’s time!” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, who sponsored the bill. LINK

Shelby County teachers union responds to senator pushing bill to reopen SCS (WMC-TV Memphis) A bill that could force Shelby County Schools to reopen for in-person learning has advanced after a vote in the Senate education committee on Wednesday. The bill is backed by state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. The president of the United Education Association of Shelby County, Danette Stokes, says getting students back in class is going to require some trust. “Successfully getting our kids back requires the trust and confidence of families, educators and the community in the decision to open schools,” said Stokes. LINK

TN bill seeks to prevent police from being required to enforce certain executive orders (WJHL-TV Johnson City) State and local government leaders have issued executive orders throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A bill filed by a Kingsport lawmaker seeks to prevent law enforcement from being required to enforce certain kinds of executive orders that might restrict private businesses, peaceful assembly, and travel. The bill from Rep. Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport) was introduced in the House on Tuesday and was filed for introduction in the Senate on Wednesday. Hulsey said he believes requiring police to carry out certain executive orders is wrong. LINK

Tennessee lawmaker proposes bill targeting solicitors, camping on state highways (WZTV-TV Nashville) A Tennessee lawmaker wants to clear state highways of campers and solicitors by creating fines and community service requirements for those who violate the proposed law. State Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) is sponsoring HB978 in the Tennessee General Assembly. Under the proposed law, it would be unlawful for a person to solicit from the roadway, shoulder, berm, or right-of-way of a highway, including entry and exit ramps.It would also be illegal for a person to camp in these areas along with under bridges, overpasses, or within an underpass of a state or interstate highway. LINK

Tri-Cities lawmaker pushes to legalize liquor and wine sales on more holidays (WJHL-TV Johnson City) Right now, retailers in Tennessee can’t sell booze on Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Sen. Jon Lundberg (R- Bristol) is leading the charge with Senate Bill 0266. He says this law is all about fairness since you can drink wine and liquor on those holidays in a restaurant but you can’t buy it at a store. “We have a policy that really is in conflict with itself,” said Lundberg. “You can’t open a liquor store and grocery stores can’t sell wine on Thanksgiving but you can go into a restaurant and order wine. I don’t see the clarity in that. It doesn’t make sense.” And Lundberg says its not about the money. LINK

‘Evelyn’s Law’ advances in Tennessee General Assembly (WJHL-TV Johnson City) Tennessee lawmakers advanced a proposal that would penalize parents who don’t report a child missing in a timely manner. House Bill 384 and Senate Bill 327 were passed on second reading in both chambers on Wednesday. If passed and signed into law, the proposal would create “Evelyn Boswell’s Law,” named after the Sullivan County toddler who was reported missing before investigators eventually found her body on a family member’s property last year. Boswell was reported missing in February but authorities said she hadn’t been seen since December. Her body found was located in March. Evelyn’s mother, Megan Boswell, is facing multiple charges, including felony murder, in connection with her daughter’s death. LINK

Bill Targeting Trans Athletes Advances (WPLN Radio Nashville) As the Tennessee General Assembly returns to the Capitol, so too does the state’s annual assault on its LGBTQ population. The 2021 edition of the “slate of hate” includes bills aimed at transgender youth, with members of the state House and Senate debating a bill that would bar trans athletes from competing on teams consistent with their gender identity. (Or as the bill puts it, a student’s gender “for purposes of participation” in school sports will “be determined by the student’s sex at the time of the student’s birth.”) LINK

Tennessee: FBI raid no excuse for not filing campaign report (AP) Campaign finance officials offered little sympathy Wednesday to a Tennessee Republican lawmaker who said he was unable to complete a recent election finance report due the FBI confiscating all his campaign files. Newly sworn-in Republican Rep. Todd Warner was one of several state lawmakers whose homes and legislative offices were searched by federal agents earlier this year. Warner eventually sent an email to the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance Ethics Commission that he could not complete his most recent campaign finance report because he did not have access to key documents. LINK

Warner a no-show at Registry hearing over failure to file disclosures due to FBI raid (TN Journal) Freshman Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) was a no-show at Wednesday’s meeting of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance to take up his request to waive his campaign finance disclosure requirement due to an FBI raid on his home and office. Executive Director Bill Young said Warner had indicated he or his attorney would attend the meeting. But nobody appeared on his behalf. “The FBI confiscated all files and documents related to my campaign including check copies from donations and checking account ledgers,” Warner said in last month’s email first reported by The Tennessee Journal. “They also took all computers and back ups for the campaign and my business.” LINK

Audit accuses Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron of 13 new campaign finance violations (Tennessean) Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron faces a third hearing on an audit accusing him of 13 campaign finance violations for his mayor campaign account, state officials decided Wednesday. “There’s certainly enough there to proceed to a show-cause hearing,” said Bill Young, executive director for the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. The Registry agreed in December to hold two other hearings on audit findings of violations for Ketron’s Tennessee Senate and Quest PAC campaign accounts. The group will take up all three audits for a combined hearing on April 14. LINK

New audit raises more questions about Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron’s campaign spending (WTVF-TV Nashville) A new audit raises even more questions about how Rutherford County mayor Bill Ketron spent his campaign money. The latest financial inquiry ordered by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance looked at Ketron’s spending in 2018 and early 2019 from his campaign account during his successful run for mayor of Rutherford County. The board received the audit findings at their meeting Wednesday. LINK

U.S. Attorney Mike Dunavant announces resignation – move was expected due to Biden transition (Commercial Appeal) U.S. Attorney Mike Dunavant, the top federal prosecutor in west Tennessee, on Wednesday announced his resignation from office. The move was expected — top federal prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president. Dunavant was nominated by former President Donald Trump in June 2017 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate later that year. President Biden’s administration is expected to name another top prosecutor for the area. A statement from Dunavant’s office says he will serve until Feb. 28. LINK

Dunavant to resign as U.S. Attorney (Daily Memphian) U.S. Attorney Michael Dunavant announced Wednesday, Feb. 10, that he will resign his position as the top federal prosecutor for the Western District of Tennessee, which includes Memphis, effective Feb. 28. Dunavant, 50, was appointed in 2017 by then-President Donald Trump. His resignation has been expected with a new presidential administration. Effective March 1, he will be succeeded by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Murphy as Acting U.S. attorney. “Nearly three and a half years ago, I was provided the professional honor of a lifetime,” Dunavant said in a statement. LINK

OPINION

Editorial: Cockfighting should be a felony (Johnson City Press) A Bristol lawmaker is continuing his efforts to put some teeth into Tennessee’s notoriously weak law against cockfighting. Jon Lundberg is sponsoring Senate Bill 0168 to change the penalties for cockfighting from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony. Tennessee legislators have routinely declined to get tough on cockfighting. Some have even defended this hideous practice as part of the tradition and culture of many rural communities since Colonial times. Over the years, these misguided supporters of animal fighting have argued that the father of this country, George Washington, was himself a cockfighting enthusiast. We would point out to those people that Washington was also a firm believer in bloodletting, a medical practice of the 18th century that some historians believe contributed to his death. LINK

Guest column: Tennessee must fund, use research to curb gun violence (News Sentinel/USA Today TN Network) Gun violence was an argument between cable news commentators until I experienced it firsthand in a circle of shocked neighbors. Gun violence was an issue that politicians used to rile their supporters until I learned it’s a sobbing grandmother, whispering “sorry” under her breath. Gun violence was a statistic on a glossy chart until I learned it’s two young men lying in a pool of blood. The night before Thanksgiving, two of my neighbors were fatally shot in their home. When their bodies were found the next day, a chill swept through our mostly quiet neighborhood. Here in Nashville, their deaths were two of 109 homicides in 2020, nearly all of them a result of gun violence. LINK

Otis Sanford: Two years in, Gov. Lee is still pandering rather than leading (Daily Memphian) After two years in office, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has yet to demonstrate an ability to be a unifying government leader. But when it comes to serving up political red meat – in both coded and straightforward language – to far right conservatives, Lee has perfected that nicely. When he was running for governor in 2018, Lee sold himself as a genteel political outsider. It’s the first thing you see when you go to his still-active campaign website. “I’m not a politician,” he writes. “I am a cattle farmer, a businessman, a father and grandfather, and a seventh generation Tennessean” who ran for governor to make life better for others in the state. LINK

Column: Call in the National Guard — or FedEx: Memphis’ vaccination efforts need a leader (Daily Memphian) Memphis needs help. Now. Overwhelmed and lacking strong leadership, Memphis desperately needs help with the vaccine rollout. Our region, in the middle of the largest, most urgent logistical deployment in our history, is struggling as we try to get people vaccinated. The county’s beleaguered Health Department – already taxed trying to manage and track a pandemic – simply cannot also effectively manage the monumental effort needed to effectively disseminate vaccines. LINK

Betty Bean: Cliff Rodgers – Local Republican leaves GOP (KnoxTNToday.com) When lifelong Republican Cliff Rodgers resigned as Knox County elections administrator last spring, he said he was worn out with partisan politics. He’d held the job for nine years, pretty much ever since Republicans took control of the General Assembly, and was the first Republican appointed to run the operation after decades of Democratic Party domination. It was a contentious time, and he got off to a bumpy start when he moved the 16th Ward from Belle Morris School (lots of parking) to Larry Cox Rec Center (not so much). It’s traditionally a heavily Democratic ward. But he gradually won over critics by running an office that was a model of fairness and efficiency despite serving during interesting times – like the tie vote between candidates Harry Tindell and Amelia Parker in a city council primary election. LINK

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