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Capitol View commentary: Friday, February 26, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 12:27 PM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 13:27:50-05

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

February 26, 2021

THE BIDEN $1.9 TRILLION COVID RELIEF BILL FACES DIFFICULTY AS CRUCIAL SENATE RULING GOES AGAINST MINIMUM WAGE HIKE; THIS WEEK SAW MORE DECLINES IN COVID-19 NUMBERS WHICH IS GOOD NEWS, BUT…; MORE PANDEMIC GOOD NEWS FOR BOTH TENNESSEE AND NASHVILLE; BACK ON THE HILL HOT BUTTON LEGISLATION STILL DOMINATES; SPEAKING OF TENNESSEE SPORTS; PHIL WILLIAMS KNOWS; ANALYZING THE REPUBLICAN CIVIL WAR ON INSIDE POLITICS

THE BIDEN $1.9 TRILLION COVID RELIEF BILL FACES DIFFICULTY AS CRUCIAL SENATE RULING GOES AGAINST MINIMUM WAGE HIKE

The next few days will tell us if President Joe Biden’s political honeymoon continues, or if it is already headed towards being over, after just over a month in office.

One of the new President’s top priorities is to a pass a large ($1.9 trillion) virus relief bill, including a $15 dollar an hour federal minimum wage. But on the eve of the House narrowly approving his plan, a ruling by the parliamentarian in the Senate has likely wrecked any possibility that the wage hike can be considered in the upper chamber. That’s because the parliamentarian has ruled the wage hike doesn’t meet the Senate’s rules to be included in a budget reconciliation bill which only needs a 51-vote majority to pass.

So, what are the President’s options now? Republicans seem united against his relief bill for a number of reasons, even though there are elements in it, they admit are needed, if they are more targeted. In some ways it may be easier for Mr. Biden to unite his Democratic Senators to support the remaining virus relief legislation. At least two of them, Senators Machin and Cinema were publicly opposed to the minimum wage hike. Will they all come together now along with Democrats in the House.

The parliamentary ruling is also likely to reignite a push to totally repeal the Senate’s filibuster rules. The House seems set to pass the administration’s virus relief bill today (Friday), but exactly how the President constructs a wining bill in the Senate is very unclear, leaving the Mr. Biden to possibility of having to deal with his first major setback.

This failure to pass a minimum wage hike is not the only major disappointment for the administration this week. His cabinet pick to head the White House of Management and Budget appears to be doomed. Fingers are being pointed at President Biden’s Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, for pushing the nomination even after it was clear it was mortally wounded.

And then there is this federal court ruling on Thursday by a Trump judicial appointee in Texas . It threatens to rip apart efforts by the Centers for Disease Control to stop evictions until the pandemic eases. That is unconstitutional says this judge. An appeal is expected. This judge is playing with fire, if even a portion of those behind on their rents nationwide, are evicted with the pandemic still underway.

THIS WEEK SAW MORE DECLINES IN COVID-19 NUMBERS WHICH IS GOOD NEWS, BUT…

Coming off the peak of the COVID-19 winter surge in January, case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths are down by close to 35%--50% nationwide. And indications are these numbers may continue to fall.

But the virus remains at levels still greater than earlier peaks back seen last spring and last summer. That means we are not out of the woods, by any means.

We seem to be in a similar position with the virus here in Tennessee and Nashville.

Another positive development this week is the new, game-changing single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine which seems ready to be approved for emergency use in the next few days (maybe as early as Friday) . This third approved vaccine will add 4 million doses next week alone to the increasing national rollout of serums to stop the disease. However, concerns continue to grow about home- grown variants from California and now New York.

There is also news this week that there are continuing efforts to tweak the existing vaccines to provide better protection from the variant strains while Pfizer says it can now allow its vaccine to be stored at a higher temperature making its transport, storage and usage much more manageable.

The vaccines are so critical and precious to our chances of beating the pandemic, that its big news when there is spoilage of the serum. That explains all the heat and national publicity Shelby County, here in Tennessee, is catching over 2,400 doses going bad through screwups by local health officials.

But even as state health officials are lowering the boom on Shelby County, Governor Bill Lee says he also expects a federal investigation into the matter.

But the Governor was sending mixed messages this week about the vaccine, telling business leaders, he thinks people taking the vaccine is “a personal choice” and should not be required.

The Governor has shown his deep, unwavering support of libertarian ideals that want to minimize governmental control, but I sure wish every time he talks about the vaccine, he would add the words, “I urge everyone to take it.” Otherwise, why is he wasting Tennessee’s and the federal taxpayers’ money offering these shots if they are optional in his mind?

In near lock step, the Tennessee Republican Super Majority in the General Assembly is quickly moving forward on legislation that would ban employees being forced to get vaccinated. However, lawmakers did have a second thought in committee that hospitals and other health care facilities should be exempted.

Here is what this double talk about vaccines causes. It’s a continuing reluctance of at least one-third of the country to get their shots, which undermines the program’s overall effectiveness.

In other pandemic related legislation, state lawmakers are moving ahead on a bill that would allow local school boards, not health officials, to have the power to open and close schools during a state of emergency. The bill, which passed the Senate this week, also gives the Governor the right to override school officials to open and close schools if he sees fit to do so during an emergency. And who is the best and most qualified to follow the science in all this?

MORE PANDEMIC GOOD NEWS FOR BOTH TENNESSEE AND NASHVILLE

After now vaccinating all the state’s residents and staff in every nursing home and long care facility, Tennessee’s months long ban on visitation will end on Sunday.

But even with virus deaths for those in nursing home and long term care facilities down 66% in recent weeks, do not expect to get to visit your older friends and relatives as quickly as this weekend due to continuing federal regulations.

The state’s COVID numbers, including active cases, continues to improve as do Metro Nashville’s. For the first time since October, all of Metro’s key virus indexes are in the green. As a result, city officials are now further increasing capacity and the hours of operation for bars and restaurants effective March 1, as well as increasing capacities for weddings and other events.

This move will likely further help the city’s hard hit tourism industry. It also comes at a time when Nashville has been recognized as only one of only two cities in the nation (along with Lake Tahoe) as a “safe travels” destination.

Another positive move forward, the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament here in Nashville will be able to have a limited number of fans when it tips off next month. The 20% capacity number (about 3,400 fans per session) is similar to what the Nashville Predators NHL hockey team are hosting for their games in March at Bridgestone Arena, which is also where the SEC roundball tourney will be played. SEC tickets will not be sold to the public. They will be available only through the 14 member schools.

Finally, Nashville will begin vaccinating residents 65 and older to get their COVID-19 shots as of today (Friday). The state, including many surrounding counties, had begun doing that earlier this month.

Maybe the news was too good for Nashville. The city’s on -line vaccination scheduling system crashed Friday morning just as those 65 and older got the chance to sign up for an appointment. I am told the system has been fixed.

Even in a week when the Biden administration announced another increase in the weekly supply of vaccines being sent out to states, there are still shortages, one that even led to the cancellation of vaccination appointments for some Williamson County teachers.

But it is interesting to note that after such a slow start to rollout the vaccines, the Biden administration celebrated 50 million vaccinations since the President took office January 20. That is halfway towards a goal of 100 million in the President’s first 100 days in office. In Tennessee we are approaching 11% of the population having at least one shot. Our state like all 49 others, are struggling in particular with getting shots in the arms of communities of color.

In Metro, it appears one group , in an unlikely facility, the security officers at the Metro Jail, have done such a good job staying safe and getting their shots, Sheriff Daron Hall thinks they may be approaching herd immunity and one national infectious disease expert thinks he is right.

BACK ON THE HILL HOT BUTTON LEGISLATION STILL DOMINATES

State lawmakers are once again trying to save Tennesseans from gays and transsexuals students.

A couple of years ago, it was a fight over who could use public bathrooms.

A similar bill that became law in North Carolina at that time, led to a national backlash that cost NC several sports events and meetings totaling tens of millions of dollars in losses in taxes and business revenues.

That was threatened in Tennessee on its bathroom bill but the bill didn’t pass.

Now the issue is transsexuals in grade K-12 in Tennessee playing sports, in particular children born as boys playing sports.

Nobody knows exactly how large (or likely, minute) the issue is. Governor Bill Lee is convinced if the state does not act it to ban transsexuals in sports, it will kill girls K-12 sports in the state. Such a bill is moving quickly and its part of a nationwide push by Republicans.

The bill is now headed towards final votes soon in both houses.

There is a continuing pushback, including the first openly gay member of the Tennessee General Assembly and a TENNESSEAN sports columnist.

As for legal action or a national backlash if the Tennessee transgendered sports bill or other anti-LGBTQ proposal pass, it is a possibility activists say.

In Washington, this issue is going in a completely opposite direction with the Democratic U.S. House of Representatives passing a strong LGTBQ rights bill this week. Even with three Republican Congressmen voting for it in the lower chamber, don’t expect the Senate to follow suit where it will take 60 votes (10 Republicans) for it to pass.

SPEAKING OF TENNESSEE SPORTS

Recently the members of the men’s basketball team at East Tennessee State University took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem before a game.

And all 26 Republicans in the State Senate took offense.

They say while the players have their First Amendment rights as individuals, those do not apply when they are representing their school and acting as ambassadors for the state.

The letter GOP Senators sent went to every state- owned college and university is urging that something like this never happens again, and players should be punished if it does. By the way, another state basketball team, the U.T. Lady Vols have knelt or stayed in the locker room during the Anthem.

It is not clear what punishment lawmakers have in mind or if their interpretation of the First Amendment would be upheld in the courts. Based on past squabbles with higher education officials(i.e., the University of Tennessee-Knoxville gender diversity efforts and Sex Week activities), if lawmakers must impose punishment, it might be budget cuts.

The ETSU team is getting some support on its campus.

These days in college basketball, this controversy may be played out more in players entering the transfer portal to leave Tennessee schools and play elsewhere rather than hiring a lawyer and filing a suit. But that is possible too as another hot button MAGA issue dominates what’s important in the minds of our elected representatives.

And lawmakers playing to the Republican base, are going beyond just filing regular bills. Nate Rau of TENNESSEE LOOKOUT reports on Twitter State Representative Tim Rudd and many others in the House Republican Super Majority has filed a resolution to oust well-respected Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle from the bench. They want her out because she ruled last year that the pandemic was an adequate excuse to vote by mail.

Her decision was ultimately overturned by the State Supreme Court, but not before the state conceded that those with pre-existing conditions should be allowed to vote by mail. Judge Lyle’s ruling is not a legal basis to oust her, except perhaps in the minds of conspiracy theorists and other “the election was stolen’” zealots. Such a move is just shameful political pandering in my book.

PHIL WILLIAMS KNOWS

The issue and question that has quietly dominated this session since it began back in January is: What was that FBI raid in January on several GOP members offices and homes, all about? The consensus has focused on a dark campaign money laundering scheme.

But leave it to NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES’ Chief Reporter Phil Williams to smoke out the rest of the story. The probe may also involve a matter speculated on for months, i.e.., potential bribes being offered when lawmakers approved the controversial school voucher plan involving Memphis and Nashville schools.

The voucher plan, backed by Governor Bill Lee, has been ruled unconstitutional by both a Nashville Chancery court and the state Court of Appeals. But now the Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to review the case, meaning if the state high court rules in its favor, the voucher program could be revived and be put into effect, even as this FBI investigation continues.

ANALYZING THE REPUBLICAN CIVIL WAR ON INSIDE POLITICS

Whenever one of the major political parties loses the White House or control of the Congress, there is always a period of introspection on who and how party leaders should proceed in the future.

But this year, it feels like more than that for the Republican Party in the wake of President Donald Trump losing re-election and the GOP losing its control of the U.S. Senate.

There’s also the second impeachment of Mr. Trump and his subsequent acquittal by the Senate, even though those who opposed the President in both houses included some Republicans. In turn, those who voted against the former President have faced censure votes by their state parties.

To delve into these topics, as well as how Democrats are handling being in nominal control in Washington, we have invited back to our program, two of the best political analysts in our area, Republican Bill Phillips and Democrat Larry Woods.

We thank both these gentlemen for joining us again on INSIDE POLITICS

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each 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. We are also back on DISH TV with the rest of the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

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.

METRO COUNCIL ASKED TO MOVE TOWARDS A CITY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION BY CHANGING WHO PICKS UP THE TRASH AND RECYCLING

It is a puzzlement.

Metro has been discussing for years the idea of creating a Department of Transportation. But next Tuesday night, the Metro Council will be asked to take the first steps towards doing that, by approving a resolution moving the duties to handle solid waste and picking up the garbage and recycling from Metro Pubic Works, to the city’s Water Services Department.

The resolution approves a memorandum of understanding of an indefinite term between the departments. It would take effect July 1. But the agreement can also be cancelled with 90 days- notice by either party. The Public Works employees would become Water Services employees. All this sounds like several issues that could lead this proposal being deferred for more study.

Why this move is a good first step towards creating a Department of Transportation is a little beyond me. I am told the ultimate goal is to make Public Works the new Department of Transportation and the resolution is to move non-transportation services in Public Works somewhere. It also appears to make this change permanent it will likely take amending the Metro Charter.

As for right now, I know some council members are not happy with Water Services’ new in lieu of tax payment and they want to repeal it. That is on the Council’s agenda again Tuesday night. I know other council members have been unhappy with the regularity of weekly trash pickups. It is a problem that likely did not improve at all during last week’s winter storms.

Stay tuned!