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Capitol View commentary: Friday, August 14, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 12:48 PM, Aug 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-14 13:48:39-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

August 14, 2020

VIRUS CASES GO DOWN BUT DEATHS DO NOT AS FEDERAL HEALTH OFFICIALS ISSUE ANOTHER DIRE WARNING; METRO ALTERS BAR RESTRICTIONS AS CITY REMAINS IN SERIOUS BUT STABLE CONDITION WITH COVID-19; METRO FOCUSES ON HEALTH ORDERS ENFORCEMENT; NASHVILLE TO BEGIN MASSIVE REVIEW OF METRO POLICE; MILLIONS LEFT IN THE LURCH AS VIRUS RELIEF EFFORTS IMPLODE IN WASHINGTON; THE FIELD IS SET FOR NOVEMBER; WILL THE THIRD TIME BE THE CHARM FOR THE LEGISLATURE?; 100 YEARS OF VOTES FOR WOMEN ON INSIDE POLITICS;

VIRUS CASES GO DOWN BUT DEATHS DO NOT AS FEDERAL HEALTH OFFICIALS ISSUE ANOTHER DIRE WARNING

This week, across the nation and here in Tennessee, the number of new daily coronavirus cases are down. In fact, several days this week, the number of those recovered from the virus here in the Volunteer State outnumbered those added to the sick list. However, that ended Thursday when new cases rose back over 2,000.

Deaths are not declining. In fact, going into Thursday there have been at least 1,000 deaths nationally each day for the past 17 days. National health officials are repeating the warning that if more people don’t start wearing face masks, be prepared for the worst fall season in American public health history.

Despite the drop in cases, White House health officials continue to sound the alarm. One of them told NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES that Tennessee is trending towards becoming a virus hot spot.

Interestingly, in terms of wearing masks, a survey released this week found well over 70% of Tennesseans support a mask mandate.

But don’t expect our state leaders to change their position. A sizable number of state lawmakers, back on Capitol Hill in Nashville this week, did not wear masks even though it is required for members of the public to do so to visit lawmakers’ offices or observe the legislative process.

Governor Bill Lee continues to resist a statewide mask mandate. While he has authorized the state to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollar to produce and air TV public service announcements urging the public to wear masks, he says they are not effective, even though he does allow local city and county mayors to issue such orders. In terms of effectiveness, the Governor’s position on masks seems to be in error based on a recent Vanderbilt study. It says such mandates cut down the number of virus hospitalizations.

The mixed messages from the state continue concerning students wearing masks as they return to in-person classes. The state’s education commissioner Penny Schwinn recommends middle and high school students wear masks, but despite virus outbreaks in classrooms in nearby states such as Georgia, masks are not required to be worn by state officials.

The state is posting on- line information about Tennessee school systems experiencing virus outbreaks. But if it is only likely to be updated once a week, it is unclear how much good that will do parents and the rest of the public. The opening of schools is usually a bit chaotic. This year with the virus even more so.

The state’s Public Health Commissioner says school systems are taking caution “a bit too far” in reacting to the virus so far.

Even more alarming is a new study that shows in schools and other older, less well- ventilated facilities, even 6 feet of social distancing may be enough to protect from getting the virus through air droplets.

A key member of Nashville’s Coronavirus Task Force is citing the new University of Florida study for why schools should not re-open for in person classes.

Nashville’s public schools have begun the new school year virtually until at least Labor Day. Enrollment is always a bit down the first few weeks, so school officials feel parents and students so far are not rejecting on- line instruction.

At the same time, the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Nashville have re-opened this week with in-person classes. The beginning of the new school year came along with 340 parent inquiries and 122 new students.

METRO ALTERS BAR RESTRICTIONS AS CITY REMAINS IN SERIOUS BUT STABLE CONDITION WITH COVID-19

Metro’s various metrics to measure the city’s progress against COVID-19 continue to show slow progress. Last week, Mayor Cooper diagnosed Nashville to be in a “hopeful but fragile” recovery. On Thursday, he told reporters we are in “serious but stable” condition. The new metric that has Metro in the red is cases per 100,000 population. It is now over 28. It needs to be 5 or below. Most of the metrics in yellow are hospital and ICU bed availability which is being driven by COVID-19 patients coming into Davidson County because Nashville is a regional health care center.

No sector of the local economy has been hit harder by the economic implosion caused by the virus than our tourist and hospitality industry, especially the bars and limited (food) service restaurants downtown and all over the community. They have been pleading with Mayor Cooper for some help in reopening. Within a day of their latest protest at the Courthouse, the Mayor offered a limited proposal to allow a limited, partial reopening. The impacted bars and limited service restaurants owner are not happy with the revisions. They say the 25 person capacity is arbitrary and unfair to smaller establishments who don’t have room for the needed social distancing.

Another part of Nashville’s entertainment economy is still waiting for help. Performance venues both large and small have been closed since March. They would like the Mayor to tweak Metro’s guidelines to help them open, as other help, including assistance from Washington, does not appear on the horizon.

For Nashville’s convention and tourism industry, the financial losses are already grim and look even worse in the next few months with losses in the billion- dollar range.

Not all the economic news in the Nashville area this week was bad. Amazon is quickly becoming a bigger and bigger player in our community, from its investments downtown to new developments in adjoining communities.

Facebook is making a major investment in this area too.

METRO FOCUSES ON HEALTH ORDERS ENFORCEMENT

As a part of the city’s efforts to continue its success in fighting COVID-19, the city’s police department is beginning to issue not just warnings but citations to those refusing to follow Nashville’s mask mandates. That includes not just the lower Broad area downtown but the Gulch and mid-town areas.

Embarrassed by all the national publicity received from a recent huge house party held in our city featuring hundreds of attendees, no masks, no social distancing and no citations issued by Metro Police, the city is now lowering the legal boom on those who organized the event, including criminal warrants and arrests.

But despite the crackdown, Nashville continues to get a black eye in the national media about how it is (not) responding to the virus.

The uptick in Metro Police participation in mask mandate enforcement does seem to date directly from the appointment of John Drake as Acting Chief of Police. He replaced retiring Chief Steve Anderson, who without explanation, left his position earlier than expected last week. Did Anderson leave because of a mayoral demand to toughen up mask enforcement or was it because of budding sexual harassment and assault scandal now being probed by multiple agencies on both the state and local levels, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation?

NASHVILLE TO BEGIN MASSIVE REVIEW OF METRO POLICE

On Friday morning there was a major development in Nashville’s efforts to move ahead on police reform as it also selects a new police chief.

Mayor John Cooper announced the creation of the Metro Nashville’s Policing Policy Commission. The 41- member group will review use-of-force policies within the MNPD and develop necessary reforms to set a new national standard in policing and public safety.

The effort models a call from former President Barack Obama for mayors across the United States to commit to use-of-force reviews through a collaborative and inclusive effort.

The Policing Commission will divide its work into three committees:

Serving Nashville’s Communities

Screening, Supervision, Resources, and Recruitment

Policies, Tactics and Training.

The organization of the Commission will be handled by its Co-Chairs; former Mayor Karl Dean and Tennessee Court of Appeals Justice Richard Dinkins.

The full membership of Commission includes:

Karl Dean, Co-Chair of Police Policy Commission, Former Mayor and Public Defender of Nashville

Richard Dinkins, TN Co-Chair of Police Policy Commission, Judge, Court of Appeals, State of Tennessee

Ashlee Davis, VP, AllianceBernstein, Chair of Community Oversight Board

Phil Ponder, Former Councilmember

Beth Seigenthaler Courtney, Managing Partner, Finn Partners

Russ Pulley, Public Safety Committee Chair

Bob Fisher, Belmont University President

Whitney Washington, Political Director of Stand Up Nashville

Melissa Blackburn, Judge of Division II General Session Court

Bob Allen, SWAT Team Instructor, Fraternity of Police

David Esquivel, Founding Member, Bass Berry

Mac Huffington, Founder & Owner, Mac Productions

LeShaun Oliver, Police Captain, Vanderbilt University Police Department

Juliana Ospina Cano, Executive Director, Conexion Americas

Margie Quin, CEO, End Slavery Tennessee

Robert Sherrill, CEO & Founder, Imperial Cleaning Systems/ Impact Youth Outreach

Chris Jackson, Pastor, Pleasant Green Baptist Church

Sabina Moyhuddin, Executive Director, American Muslim Advisory Council

Phreadom Dimas, Youth Leader, Oasis Center

Darrell Talbert, President, ICON Entertainment

Larry Woods, Chairman, Wood & Woods Attorneys at Law

Jimmy Greer, Pastor, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church

Tom Turner, President & CEO Nashville Downtown Partnership

Reggie Miller, President, National Black Police Association Nashville Chapter

Nawzad Harami, Manager, Salahadeen Center

Meera Reddy Balal, Founder, Women’s Healthcare Initiative

David Fox, Financial Markets Trader, Former Chairman of Nashville Board of Public Education

Rachel Freeman, President & CEO, Sexual Assault Center

Clifton Harris, President & CEO, Urban League of Middle Tennessee

Torry Johnson, Former District Attorney of Metro Nashville and Davidson County

Demetria Kalidemos, Executive Producer, Nashville Banner

Lonnell Matthews, Juvenile Court Clerk, Davidson County Juvenile Courts

Amanda Lucas, LCSW, Criminal Justice Member, Nashville Organized for Hope and Action (NOAH)

Bruce Maxwell, Pastor, Lake Providence Baptist Church

Sharon K. Roberson, President & CEO, YWCA

Larry Turnley, Violence Interrupter, Gideon’s Army

John R. Faison, Pastor, Watson Grove Missionary Baptist Church

Manuel Delgado, Owner, Delgado Guitars

Gary Moore, Former Councilmember, Retired Nashville Fire Department, IAFF Local 140

Worrick Robinson, Member, Robinson, Regan and Young PLLC

Eli Foster, Blue Ribbon MNPS Teacher

The parameters of the study given the Commission by the Mayor are massive in scope. He is asking the group to conclude its work by the end of October so its recommendations can play a role in the selection of the new Police Chief. As the Mayor outlines the timeline in a letter sent out with the Commission’s creation.

“Your report will play an important role in the selection of the new Chief of Police. Metro HR will ask the finalists to respond in writing to your recommendations. Their responses will be shared with the interview panel, with me, and with the public at large. You are drafting the blueprint which the next Chief of Police will build upon.”

MILLIONS LEFT IN THE LURCH AS VIRUS RELIEF EFFORTS IMPLODE IN WASHINGTON

Millions of Americans are now going into their third week of no longer receiving the extra $600 per week in unemployment compensation they been receiving since losing their jobs due to the pandemic implosion of the national economy.

Concern is likely to turn soon to despair and perhaps, even worse in the days to come.

That’s because it appears our elected “leaders” in Washington are not even holding negotiations on what to do next about another virus relief bill, with both houses of Congress going home and no vote likely after Labor Day in September! For shame! What a failure of leadership, succumbing to partisanship and election year politics!

Last weekend President Donald Trump did sign an executive order and some memorandums to provide some virus aid. But nearly a week later, his efforts seemed to have created confusion and more controversy, with no prospects of those in increasing want, getting the help they need.

Particularly baffling are the President’s actions to suspend the collection of federal payroll taxes until the end of the year. Not only will the funds still need to be repaid next year, unless Congress approves this scheme, which seems unlikely. The funds are also critical to continued funding for Social Security and Medicare, and the President seems to be OK with creating that impairment permanently. Why would a President, already running behind his re-election opponent in almost every poll, pursue a policy that is bound to be wildly unpopular among the most reliable voting bloc in the American electorate, seniors?.

In the meantime, the latest weekly numbers of new requests for unemployment assistance fell below 1 million for the first time since March. That positive news should be tempered with the fact that a staggering 28 million Americans are still requesting assistance and over 56.2 million have done so in the last 5 months. Those are historic numbers.

Tennessee mirrored the national numbers in its latest weekly unemployment assistance report. At 10,000 new requests, it is the lowest number since March but with a record of over 780,000 Tennesseans requesting help in the last 5 months.

THE FIELD IS SET FOR NOVEMBER

With presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden naming U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California as his vice- presidential running mate, the field is set for this fall’s campaign.

The choice is not just historic. Harris is the first woman of color to be on a national ticket. Her selection is also one of the few things that came down as expected in 2020. The Senator had been the rumored front runner for weeks.

How do access the Harris choice with voters? In terms of campaign contributions, it reportedly generated more than a $1 million an hour for the Biden Harris campaign in the first day after she was named, with many of those giving being first time contributors.

As for reaction by President Trump, he was predictable, using language he has frequently used to denigrate women.

FOX News was even more strident in the network’s attacks on the VP nominee.

In response, FOX says the mainstream media is presenting a “coordinated effort” to boost Harris.

The Biden-Harris ticket went on the offensive Thursday calling on President Trump to impose a nationwide mask mandate for the next three months to control the coronavirus. The President is ridiculing the suggestion.

WILL THE THIRD TIME BE THE CHARM FOR THE LEGISLATURE?

For the third time, the 111th Tennessee General Assembly has finished its business and gone home for the year.

The first time, lawmakers left in haste back in March, all but chased out of town by the coronavirus pandemic.

When they returned to Nashville in June, they cut the state budget to deal with the financial chaos created by from the severe economic dislocations caused by the virus.

That was supposed to be the sole focus of the recessed legislative session, but in the dead of night with the public not allowed inside, Senate lawmakers passed what they claimed is the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. That measure is still not in force, as a federal judge stopped it moments after Governor Bill Lee signed the measure. That is due to a pending lawsuit claiming the abortion restrictions are unconstitutional.

So why did lawmakers come back to town this past week? Governor Lee called them into special session to deal with three items. One is to put into the law, the telehealth measures the Governor permitted by executive order during the pandemic. The matter passed easily, perhaps in part, because it doesn’t (and legally can’t) address the issue of requiring insurance companies to pay for such services.

The second measure approved by lawmakers gives legal protections to businesses, health care workers, and other groups sued “frivolously” over their following of health care orders under the pandemic. Such a bill angrily divided both houses of the General Assembly in June. Some Democrats claim the measure allows those who blatantly violate health orders to go unpunished, while some other lawmakers expressed concerns over back dating the legal protections provided.

While lawmakers go home, and back to the campaign trial, the new legal protections may well be challenged in the courts, as will a third and final measure approved by lawmakers that some say will criminalize protests.

Indeed even as the restrictions passed, making some protest activities such as camping on state property, a felony, protestors, who have already been on Capitol Hill for over 60 days, showed their disdain for the new measures. They used handcuffs and lots of masking tape to attach themselves to a metal fence at the Capitol, leading to their arrests.

Interestingly, protestors were not present in front of the Capitol on Thursday after the new law was passed. However, in perhaps a sign of battles to come, a request by the state and the district attorney to ban one of the activists from Capitol Hill did not go well in court.

Protestors have said for months now they will not leave until they talk with Governor Lee and see the bust of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest removed from the Capitol. Those things do not seem likely to happen anytime soon with this new law likely only increasing tensions and creating more legal battles.

Already Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper is speaking out, posting on Facebook:

“This is an embarrassment to our state. Weeks after burying the late John Lewis and CT Vivian, and during the month we are celebrating the anniversary of women’s suffrage, the Tennessee GOP is criminalizing peaceful protest.

Neither women, nor Black people, would have the right to vote without protests. All our legislature is doing is buying themselves a First Amendment lawsuit which they seem sure to lose because they are so clearly trying to criminalize free speech.”

But I suspect lawmakers and Governor Lee see this new bill as necessary for “law and order” especially those going back on the campaign trail. Meanwhile an analysis by NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES of the new law, comparing it to the penalties for other crimes on the books, uncovered some disturbing things that should give us pause.

This TENNESSEAN story outlines the debate on the Hill and (towards the end of the article) the various provisions (and legal penalties) in new law. They are both sobering and troubling, to say the least.

100 YEARS OF VOTES FOR WOMEN ON INSIDE POLITICS

One hundred years ago in August 1920, the eyes of the nation, even the world, were on Nashville and the State of Tennessee.

Over seven decades of hard work to extend the right to vote to women came down to a decision in the Tennessee General Assembly.

After weeks of intense lobbying and debate on our Capitol Hill, Tennessee became the Perfect 36, the final state needed to approve the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the suffrage.

How did it all happen?

How is Nashville celebrating this special moment in American history?

And what does what occurred in Nashville on August 18, 1920 mean today and for our future?

Our guest on INSIDE POLITICS is Jeanie Nelson of the group Votes for Women, an organization that is playing a big role in this centennial celebration.

Watch us!

INSIDE POLITICS will air several times over the weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:

7:00 p.m. Friday.

5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.

1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who cannot see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted early in the week after the program airs.

Finally, I am now posting a link to the show each week on my Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday.