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Lawmakers plan new look at Tennessee's no-bid COVID spending in 2022

Latest NC5 estimate puts total at $500 million
tennessee capitol hill
Posted at 12:59 PM, Dec 17, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — One of the big issues for Tennessee in 2021 will again capture lawmakers' attention as we head into a new year.

Legislative leaders say they want to take a closer look at the lessons learned from all of your money that went to companies, sometimes with no experience, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We need to come up with a process — and that's the keyword, process — to where all these contracts somebody has to look over the shoulder of somebody else and say, 'Well, that sounds reasonable considering what we're under now," state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Gardenhire heads the legislature's Fiscal Review Committee, which watches over no-bid spending.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, lawmakers have taken notice as our NewsChannel 5 investigation has dogged hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid COVID spending.

That spending, according to our most recent estimate, now totals nearly $500 million.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Gardenhire, "Do you feel like the legislature has a good handle on how much has been spent and where it has been spent?"

"No," the Republican chairman admitted.

Because of the COVID state of emergency, the Fiscal Review Committee had very little oversight over that spending.

Gardenhire described the unprecedented pressure faced by state officials.

"Why don't we have this? We ought to have more of those. And how come you hadn't done this? And you weren't geared up to do that, you were geared up to do your basic business," he said.

Gardenhire just told the Fiscal Review Committee that he plans in the coming weeks for them to take a hard look at what kinds of checks and balances can be put into place.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell has asked Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk to investigate.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Campbell, "Do you think laws have been broken?"

"You know I don't know," she acknowledged, "but I do think there has been financial malfeasance."

The Nashville Democrat said she's concerned that a Republican legislature may not be willing to aggressively pursue questions about a Republican governor.

"My reasoning behind going to the D.A., which is not necessarily the normal course of things, is because frankly I'm a Democrat and this is the only way that I can probably get somebody to take a look at it," Campbell added.

Funk says he's conferring with his staff on the best way to follow up on Campbell's request.

Special Section: COVID Investigations