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Capitol View Commentary: April 2nd, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 12:02 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 13:02:26-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE VIRUS AND THE VACCINES RAGES ON; NASHVILLE CAN’T CATCH A BREAK ON THE WEATHER; INFRASTRUCTURE IS ACT II FOR PRESIDENT BIDEN’S LEGISLATIVE AGENDA; ON THE HILL THE GOP SUPER MAJORITY AGENDA ROLLS ON; ANOTHER METRO CHARTER VOTE MAY BE DECIDED NEXT WEEK OR HEAD TO COURT; NASHVILLE BASEBALL HISTORIAN SKIP NIPPER ON INSIDE POLITICS AS AMERICA’S PASTIME BEGINS A SECOND SEASON WITH THE PANDEMIC

THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE VIRUS AND THE VACCINES RAGES ON

This week has seen an increasing number of shots in arms nationwide, with 3 million virus vaccinations given on some days. The nation is now 15% fully vaccinated, and with almost 30% of American adults having at least one dose of serum.

That translates into 100 million Americans who have taken at least one vaccine shot. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says (on Friday), that those who are fully vaccinated, are free to travel, reversing an earlier policy.

On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic shows sign of another resurgence (a 4th wave) in many parts of the country. The development has these same national health officials using the words “impending doom” to describe it.

President Biden’s call to have the vaccines available to all adults by May looks likely to be met in almost all 50 states weeks before that deadline. In fact it is now believed 90% of all adults will have access to the virus serums by later this month.

The continuing rise in vaccinations is also jump starting the economy with the month of March seeing over 900,000 jobs being added.

Other local signs this week things are reopening: the Bonnaroo Music Festival has announced its acts for its rescheduled event in September, and movie theatres are reopening.

One dark cloud on the vaccine front cast its shadow late Wednesday. An error at a plant involved with manufacturing the one—shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine seems to have contaminated up to 15 million doses! At this point, it remains unclear how significantly this might retard the increasing rise in vaccinations. The plant where the error was made has not been approved to make the vaccine, so the issue does not impact anyone who has already received the J&J shot or any of the current serum being distributed nationwide. All the J&J vaccine in Tennessee is being produced in Europe.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has set an April 5 deadline to open vaccinations to everyone over age 16, and many counties in the state have already increased their shot availabilities to adults. That may be happening however because, in rural counties, existing vaccination appointments are not being filled due to a reluctance among residents to get the shots.

This issue is nationwide, and it seems to be more prevalent among Republicans, particularly men. It even led this week to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell making a direct personal appeal for that group to step up and get vaccinated.

The best vaccine news for Tennessee this week is that the major milestone of have one million residents fully vaccinated has been reached, but the state still ranks near the bottom nationally (47th out of 50 states) among overall vaccination rates. This group seems to be the major group that needs to be persuaded that taking the shots is the right thing to do.

What does our state’s leader, Governor Bill Lee have to say?

Well, he had to be asked by reporters if he had gotten a shot. He said yes. But unlike many in leadership across the nation Mr. Lee did not announce it on his own, or even have his staff take a picture of his inoculation to encourage other Tennesseans to step up, “volunteer” and do the same. Ironically, our governor did exactly that last year when he urged his fellow citizens to get a flu shot.

You might remember a couple of weeks ago, Governor Lee sure did not miss a chance to say “the state is open for business” while flouting Nashville’s mask mandate walking around Lower Broadway.

Ironically, his administration has spent a pot full of taxpayer money urging people to wear masks. Where are any public service ads to urge Tennesseans to get vaccinated? Health officials say, things are moving so quickly, those spots have not been produced and will not likely start airing until later in April. Come on, Tennessee state government! Get with the program. You are undermining two of the best tools available to stop the virus, vaccines and masks.

But as vaccination rates continue to rise, despite concerns from some health officials they are moving too quickly, mask mandates are moving towards an end in more counties in Tennessee. This week, Hamilton County (Chattanooga) announced its mask requirement is being extended until the end of April, but not after that.

So what about Nashville-Davidson County? At their weekly press briefing on Thursday, local health officials disclosed they are studying dropping the city’s mask requirement outdoors. but they indicated they have set no timeframe to make that decision, and any changes don’t seem likely to apply to ending the requirement for wearing masks indoor in public places. Stay tuned.

All these potential developments come as vaccination progress continues in Nashville. Mayor John Cooper announced Wednesday (March 31), that vaccine appointments for all adults, 16 years and older, will be available beginning today (Friday). It had been announced that would not begin until April 5.

Mayor Cooper says that with a nearly 28% vaccination rate as of last week, Nashville is first among all the major cities in the South. The state is in the lows 20s in terms of percentage. The Mayor thinks our city can lead the nation and hopes we can hit the 50% level for first vaccinations by May 1.

Studies about the effectiveness of the vaccines continue to be released, including in real world conditions.

How long one vaccine protects and how it does against some variants.

Use of the vaccines by pregnant women.

Studies about COVID-19 vaccines for children.

Nashville’s role in the testing of children’s vaccines.

One very sobering report from the Centers for Disease Control indicates again just how deadly this pandemic has been, with the nationwide toll now exceeding 550,000 people.

Finally as more and more people are fully vaccinated, there is more and more talk about “vaccine passports,”including a unified national effort coming out of the Biden White House.

Republicans are not at all on board.

There are already groups demonstrating in Nashville opposing vaccine mandates. They support a bill in the General Assembly to prohibit any mandates by state or local government requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.

The bill the protestors want advanced in the General Assembly along with other legislation to allow a religious exemption from taking the vaccine.

Finally, while there has been a national moratorium on evictions over nearly a year, this NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES shows there are still folks getting kicked out of their rental property homes under disturbing circumstances.

NASHVILLE CAN’T CATCH A BREAK ON THE WEATHER

When I interviewed Nashville Mayor John Cooper on INSIDE POLITICS last week, I began our conversation asking him about the strong storms that struck the city a few days before.

Looking back over the year 2000 with its deadly tornado, a damaging derecho, several widespread power outages, a difficult winter storm (and the list goes on), I said, it seems we can’t catch a break from Mother Nature.

Little did we know that the worst flooding in Nashville since the Great Flood of May 2010 would strike the area less than 24 hours later (Saturday) with over 7 inches of rain and taking the lives of 7 people here in Nashville and across Tennessee. We again made national headlines for all the wrong reasons.

With significant rainfall continuing into Wednesday, high water blocked roads and even created the need for more car rescues.

As always, the community responded with help for those impacted. It is what the slogan NASHVILLE STRONG means. Here is another great example of people coming together to help those in need after the flood.

Of course, challenges remain. The recent storms found Nashville’s newly redone tornado warning system still does not work.

Metro Parks facilities also took a significant hit.

With two of those who lost their lives in the Nashville flooding being a part of the homeless community, the city was already trying to do more to help even as more rain hit later this week.

And there are more efforts to help underway, while homeless activists think the city needs a better severe weather flood plan.

Of course, the geniuses in the Legislature have a brilliant idea. Let’s criminalize being homeless and make it a crime to build a tent city and camp out on any public property or right of way. Bill sponsors say it is for public safety. Some homeless advocate groups are already pushing back in opposition.

Springtime flooding is nothing new for our area. One of the first big stories I covered when I came to Channel 5, back in March 1975 (46 years ago), was the significant flooding that stretched throughout Middle Tennessee, including the city of Carthage and for the first (but not the last) time the Opryland area, including the theme park that was there at that time. By the way, March 1975 is the rainiest March ever in our city’s history. March 2021 came less than a tenth of an inch from breaking that record.

Predictions about global climate change, indicate this periodic, but very significant, issue is likely to get worse in the years to come for the Nashville area. We will need to do more to prepare.

One step in that direction (at least to lessen flash flooding) could be a new Metro tree ordinance. It was just recently approved by the Metro Council and signed into law by Mayor John Cooper.

INFRASTRUCTURE IS ACT II FOR PRESIDENT BIDEN’S LEGISLATIVE AGENDA

After being pressured to go next to gun control measures or immigration reform, President Joe Biden is sticking to his original agenda and is moving ahead on what will be a massive, two part, multi-trillion infrastructure bill that he began to unveil this week.

The proposal will raise taxes by repealing some of the corporate tax cuts approved under the Trump administration. That will make it hard again to get Republican support (he got none for his virus relief act). But the administration is still hoping at least some GOP Senate members will agree to support something on an issue where there has long been bi-partisan agreement that something needs to be done.

So far, the GOP response has been negative, meaning again using the budget reconciliation process (which requires only 51 votes to pass the Senate) is the only way to go for passage. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is already working on a plan using an obscure parliamentary maneuver to get it through the upper chamber, even with no GOP votes. But will all the Senate Democrats sign on? Otherwise, modifying or repealing the filibuster might back on the table for discussion.

In terms of bi-partisan support, it is quite interesting to hear Leader McConnell’s comment that the only way he could see any infrastructure bill passing would be to include a bridge project he wants in Kentucky.

Might we see the return of earmarks for pet projects to get support for lawmakers on this and other bills at least in the House? It appears there is more of a debate about restoring that practice in the Senate.

But before the infrastructure bill even gets to the Senate, it may have a SALT problem with Democrats in the House. Click here to learn what that means. Back in the Senate, some progressives are unhappy some of the projects and issues they want addressed, are being relegated to Part II of the Biden administration infrastructure legislation.

Despite this potentially thorny issue, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she plans to have the full House approve an infrastructure bill by the July 4 congressional recess.

The White House has a longer time frame to get final approval of its first infrastructure bill, not anticipating approval until summer.

There could obviously be changes to the proposal, but for now, one of its projects includes bringing back AMTRAK service from Nashville to Atlanta.

ON THE HILL THE GOP SUPER MAJORITY AGENDA ROLLS ON

As the Tennessee General Assembly moves into what may be the final month of this year’s regular session, the Republican Super Majority, which runs the Hill, continues to pass its conservative agenda. That includes another bill also at the top of Governor Bill Lee’s legislative list.

That is the so-called “constitutional carry” bill. It allows almost any adult over age 20 to carry a hand- gun (open or concealed) without needing any training or a permit from the state to do so. It would not be a session of the General Assembly without a new gun rights bill being passed. But this measure is one that gun advocates have wanted to put on the books for years. Now with Governor Lee’s signature about to be added to the final bill, it will become part of Tennessee Code Annotated on July 1st.

There was a late, futile effort to stop the bill. Gun control advocates, emergency room doctors and nearly 800 pastors and faith-based leaders stood together calling on Governor Bill Lee to veto the measure. Some Sheriffs and lawmakers have also expressed concerns but could not generate the votes to stop the measure.

The oft-discussed, and once vetoed bill to make the Holy Bible the official book of Tennessee, easily passed the state House and it looks possible it could pass the Senate again as well, although there is some high level opposition from Lt. Governor Randy McNally.

The General Assembly also continues to exert its priorities in terms of what guidelines are to be followed during a pandemic. Under a bill passed by both houses, businesses can choose what they want to do if the state guidelines are different (less restrictive) from what local authorities want (more restrictive). It has been a major issue throughout the last year for businesses in cities like Nashville versus the guidelines state sets the for most Tennessee counties.

With major business groups pushing the bill, the measure got bi-partisan support including from Democratic lawmakers from Nashville.

Speaking of Nashville, efforts to toughen safety rules on local construction sites seems to have blocked by a new law passed by the Republican Legislature.

It’s been somewhat simmering behind the scenes, but now a dispute between House Speaker Cameron Sexton and a maverick state Republican lawmaker, has seen the member stripped of his committee assignments, a very rare, even unprecedented, move on the Hill. This will bear watching in the weeks and maybe months to come.

ANOTHER METRO CHARTER VOTE MAY BE DECIDED NEXT WEEK OR HEAD TO COURT

The latest effort to make significant (and some claim illegal and damaging) changes to the Metro Charter, may be decided this coming week.

A newly reconstituted Metro Election Commission will meet on Tuesday to decide if there are enough signatures on a petition to call a special election later this year (June?).

The Election Coordinator says those who gathered the signatures do not have enough to call the vote. Petition organizers say they do. Therefore, it appears no matter what the Election Commission decides, a lawsuit is quite possible.

The reappointments or changes in county election commissions happen at this time, every two years. the 5 members serve as Republicans (3 seats) and Democrats (2 seats). Not surprisingly, it is a body that can be political, even partisan. It appears this charter petition effort is being influenced by that.

NASHVILLE BASEBALL HISTORIAN SKIP NIPPER ON INSIDE POLITICS AS AMERICA’S PASTIME BEGINS A SECOND SEASON WITH THE PANDEMIC

The month of April means springtime.

It also means the beginning of baseball season, especially for the Major Leagues.

Like the rest of the country, this is the second time around for baseball during the pandemic.

What has our national pastime learned from last season and from the virus?

How will the game continue to change its rules to make the sport safer and more marketable to fans?

And what is Nashville’s baseball future, after being a part of the game and its history, dating back to at least the Civil War over 160 years ago?

There is no better guest to discuss these topics than Nashville baseball historian, Skip Nipper.

He is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

We welcome Skip back to the program.

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