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Capitol View commentary: Friday, January 24, 2020

Posted: 12:03 PM, Jan 24, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-24 13:03:39-05
Capitol View

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
January 25, 2020

THE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL; DR. KEN PAULSON DISCUSSES THE FIRST AMENDMENT ON INSIDE POLITICS; MORE SIGNS OF LIFE IN THE TENNESSEE U.S. SENATE RACE; METRO LOVES THE STATE, METRO LOVES IT NOT; AN UPDATE ON METRO’S BUDGET WOES; ON THE HILL;

THE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL

This week the U.S. Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump got underway in earnest. By the end of today (Friday), the managers for House Democrats, bringing charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress as reasons to remove Mr. Trump from office, should have completed their opening arguments.

Actually, the arguing started well before Senators even set the rules for the trial. It took a 12- hour marathon session going into the wee hours of the morning Wednesday to finalize that. It also came only after the heated rhetoric on both sides led U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, to admonish all sides to “remember you are addressing the greatest deliberative body in the world.”

After predicting he “had the votes” to pass the rules he suggested, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell found rebellion among his own ranks over condensing opening arguments to 24 hours over just two days. That seemed likely to cause multiple marathon sessions which nobody wanted, so the time for opening arguments was extended to be spread over three days for both sides. The President’s team will begin its defense either Saturday or early next week to be followed several hours set aside for questions from Senators.

Senate Republicans did stick for now with their leadership in rejecting multiple rules amendments offered by Democrats to call new witnesses or subpoena new documents or other information for the trial. The issue could come up again after the Senate question period next week. At least four GOP Senators would have to come over to support Democrats. That appears possible if the House managers have make a strong enough presentation to persuade them to support calling new witnesses or admitting additional information. The latest national polling indicates that majorities in both parties are open to more. Among those who say they are possibly open to admitting new documents and evidence or hearing from witnesses is Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander.

But even if that happens the likelihood of there being 66 out of 100 Senators voting to remove the President remains highly unlikely.

Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn is one of President Trump’s biggest supporters. Despite her sworn duty to be a juror in the impeachment case, she must be bored and is tweeting and talking publicly about the book she is reading while the trial is underway. Senator Blackburn is also in apparent violation of Senate rules which require all 100 members to be in the chambers during the impeachment. Instead she conducted a live interview with FOX News.

THE TENNESSEAN
NASHVILLE SCENE

By the way, Senator Backburn is not alone among GOP Senators in “multitasking” during the Senate trial, leading to questions as to how much attention they are paying to the proceedings.
Meanwhile the national and international debate over the impeachment trial roars on.

THE NEW YORK POST
THE GUARDIAN
TMP
And something you wouldn’t expect.
L.A. TIMES
Who is watching what for impeachment trial coverage with the total audience at 11 million on both Day 1 and 2.
CBS NEWS

DR. KEN PAULSON DISCUSSES THE FIRST AMENDMENT ON INSIDE POLITICS

While the presidential impeachment trial in Washington is testing once again the very foundations of our governmental system, what is the status of our key freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights…more specifically the First Amendment?

I’d like to think if you read this column or watch INSIDE POLITICS you know all about what rights the First Amendment protects. But in case you don’t know, or you are uncertain (national polling says many are), we’ve invited Dr. Ken Paulson to be our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS. He is the former President of the national First Amendment Center, and he is now President of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University.

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. 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 can’t 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 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.

MORE SIGNS OF LIFE IN THE TENNESSEE U.S. SENATE RACE

With the August primary vote now only about 7 months away, the contest to replace retiring Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander has been rather quiet.

A new TV ad surfaced this week from Nashville surgeon Dr. Manny Sethi. The Republican candidate is running as an outsider, and perhaps imitating Governor Bill Lee in 2018, he is talking forthrightly about the importance of his Christian faith. You can see the ad here.

Sethi’s primary opponent and perceived frontrunner Bill Hagerty is a former Ambassador to Japan and once served as the state’s Economic & Development Commissioner. He flexed his fundraising prowess this week.

METRO LOVES THE STATE, METRO LOVES IT NOT

The ongoing love-hate political relationship between Metro and State governments was on full display this week.

Tuesday night the Metro Council overwhelmingly approved a memorializing resolution that commended Governor Bill Lee for his recent executive order to grant most state workers 12 weeks of paid family leave beginning March 1st.

The Council resolution urges Metro to do the same or better for its employees. That would require extending Metro’s current paid family leave. which is now just 6 weeks long. It would also require creating a paid family leave program for Metro schools.

Mayor John Cooper is on record supporting extending Metro’s paid family leave program but neither the Mayor nor the Council have discussed the fiscal impact of that. That concern led Councilman At Large Steve Glover to vote against the resolution with two other members abstaining. Glover said while he supports the idea of increasing paid family leave, until the city gets its budget problems under control, he can’t support it. He points out the State is in much better financial shape than Metro. That’s obvious. But state officials estimate extending paid family leave for its workers will only cost less than $1 million annually.

Meanwhile if Metro leaders like the state for extending paid family leave, they dislike a bill approved by the Legislature last week. The measure says adoption agencies will not be required to participate in a child placement if doing so would "violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies," such as working with a same-sex couple.

The Council thinks the bill legalizes discrimination and joins with the American Civil Liberties Union in urging Governor Lee to veto the measure. A veto seems unlikely as the Governor supports the measure as a means of defending religious liberty, even though some fear the new law will lead to businesses and other groups boycotting the state to hold meetings or other events, and perhaps even cancelling current or future investments here.

This culture fight also rages as some Nashville corporate citizens are getting high marks for their LGBTQ inclusion.

While one of Nashville’s newest corporate citizens, AllianceBerstein, is getting high marks for its LGBTQ inclusion efforts, it is also getting $3 million more in incentive money from the state for creating 200 more jobs in Nashville. It seems corporate community outreach policies are at least sometimes not an impediment to doing business with the state, which may have some different views about inclusion efforts, or the lack thereof.

In another area of difference with the state, Mayor John Cooper joined with big city mayors across the state to ask Governor Lee and the Legislature to distribute approximately $79 million in federal childcare development funds (CCDF). Tennessee is only one of two states to not spend its CCDF allocation, having sent back a minimum of $72.3 million since 2015. The current $79 million distribution is set to expire soon.

From a mayoral news release: ““Insufficient and inadequate childcare is a major problem for working families in Nashville, and the Child Care Development Funds are too valuable of a resource for the state to simply return to the federal government,” said Mayor Cooper. “As most parents can attest to, finding quality childcare, let alone affordable childcare, in Nashville is a tremendously difficult task, with waiting lists that create awful burdens on families. The $79 million the state current has in childcare funds will go a long way in helping local governments across Tennessee, including Nashville, address these challenges.

In Davidson County, the number of childcare centers has decreased by 16 percent while the population has grown by 21 percent, according to The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. Research by the Center for American Progress found that 48 percent of the state of Tennessee is a childcare desert − an area that has three times as many children as licensed childcare spots − including all four major Tennessee cities. And 98 percent of Tennessee parents of children age 5 or younger said that inadequate childcare services hurt their work productivity or limited career opportunities, according to a study by Tennesseans for Quality Early Education.”

State lawmakers are grappling with and expressing concern about the unspent federal day care funds. What they will do remains unclear.

The state is also dealing with issues surrounding the stockpiling of another huge surplus, in terms of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Families First money, to assist the needy. The never-ending conflict between state and local governments continues widened and fester.

AN UPDATE ON METRO’S BUDGET WOES

One small element of fixing the city’s $40 million dollar budget shortfall got shelved this week in the Metro Council. A resolution was withdrawn to appropriate $587,900 from the city’s reserve funds to allow the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office house up to 100 federal prisoners. It had been anticipated that the housing of the additional federal prisoners would result in $1,104,100 in new revenue, for a net revenue gain to the general fund of $516,200.

But concerns in the Council that federal ICE prisoners would be among the inmates held by the Sheriff led, at least in part, to the legislation being dropped. Council sources tell me the Sheriff’s Office believes it can generate enough savings in its other parts of its operations to come up with an extra half million dollars to help patch Metro’s budget.

Meantime another Metro budget fight looms over the city’s ongoing use of private prison companies to house both adult and juvenile inmates. Legislation is pending in the Council in two weeks that would end all Metro contracts with private corrections firms as of June 30, 2022.

That’s more than two years from now, but the cost to make the transition away from private corrections help is reported to be in the millions of dollars annually. Supporters of the bill say it will be worth it because they feel it’s not morally right for the city to contract with private firms to run its correctional facilities. News reports like this concerning the state prison system fuel support to move away from private corrections.

Another sign of Metro’s tight school funding surfaced this week with the Chairman of the School Board issuing a plea to the public to make contributions to pay off the system’s school lunch debt that calculates into the tens of thousands of dollars. The School Board needs help because it struggling to pay off the debt itself.

Metro Schools is also now taking steps to clean up a conflict of interest scandal uncovered by NEWSCHANNEL5. It involves a top administrator.

Another budget related NEWSCHANNEL5 investigation is causing the City of Nashville to no longer approve new valet parking stands downtown. The moratorium comes after NEWSCHANNEL 5 found Metro has been dramatically undercharging valet parking operators for years.

Nashville is no longer approving new valet parking stands downtown. The moratorium follows a NewsChannel 5 Investigation that revealed Metro has been dramatically undercharging valet parking operators for years.

There is also the question about what the city will do about funding needed capital projects. A nearly 100- year old building housing a health clinic in Woodbine is described as “obsolete” and “unsafe.”

Metro School officials say they need to move ahead with several infrastructure projects, including building the new Bellevue High School, a project which Mayor Cooper endorsed as a candidate. This is the time of year the Mayor and Council tell Metro Schools what it plans to fund. This year there has been no such announcement.

My sources tell me the Cooper administration plans to bring a “small” capital package to the Council before it submits a new proposed operating budget by the end of March, but that is a move that seems likely to leave so many capital needs unmet it could make Council think further about the need for more revenues (a tax increase).

As announced earlier, the Metro budget process has been moved up a full month earlier this year to accommodate state review. That means budget review activities will be underway in the Council by late next month (February).

The controversial and expensive Metro Police body cam system remains in the news. Representative John Ray Clemmons is sponsoring legislation on the Hill to place a date certain (February, 2021) by which Metro must fully deploy its long-planned police body cam system, even as uncertainty remains about its full costs estimated at over $36 million annually.

The Mayor’s office brought in some national law enforcement officials this week who are considered experts in the area of police body cameras. Their meetings with local leaders were held behind closed doors. A time to meet with and have a dialogue with the public is expected to be scheduled when the experts return to Nashville in the future.

Getting back to the Metro Council, a non-budget related controversy looms in two weeks over a bill requiring landlords give a 90-day written notice to tenants concerning any rent increases. I understand state law requires just a 30-day notice. This could have a major impact in Nashville. I have seen estimates that up to 46% of Nashville-area residents are renters.

Yet another controversial Council bill has been indefinitely deferred. The proposal would have made it unlawful for a stopped or parked motor vehicle to idle for more than three minutes, or less than one minute in a school zone, has brought a firestorm of criticism and confusion before it even got to the Council floor for debate.

Supporters say the goal of the legislation is improve air quality, but with criticism that such a law is all but completely unenforceable, it was decided to try and educate the public before legislating on the matter.

ON THE HILL

Into the second week of session, lawmakers are looking at a bill that could impact local governments’ budgets, in particular, Nashville. The proposal would limit property tax increase to no more than 5% in a given fiscal year unless voters approved more by referendum.

If the measures is approved, it could create immediate challenges if the Council seeks a property tax hike again this spring, as it has tried to do unsuccessfully the last two years. Former Mayor David Briley and current Mayor John Cooper have opposed a property tax hike and Councilman At Large Steve Glover is trying to galvanize community forces in general opposition to a tax hike again in 2020.

Elsewhere on the Hill, lawmakers are seeking to allow Tennessee college athletes to be paid and accept endorsement deals. It is a move they say is only fair and long overdue.
NASHVILLE SCENE

Even in matters of sports, a culture war hot button issue has emerged with another bill being proposed that students must play sports under the gender they were identified at birth.

Moving to health care, a story that continues to raise questions this week is the resignation of the state’s Tenncare director announced last Friday. The move comes as the state has begun negotiations with the Trump administration in Washington to change the multi-billion $$ health care program for the working poor, into a first of its kind in the nation program funded by a block grant. Health advocates are skeptical, but The Governor believes the change will provide better care and save the state and the feds money. Mr. Lee says he hopes to have the deal negotiated with Washington later in 2020 but that was before the top official at Tenncare decided to return to a job in the private sector.

As the state continues to schedule execution dates for Tennessee death row inmates during 2020, some defense lawyers see hope in how Governor Bill Lee has changed the process for prisoners to seek pardons and clemency in death cases and other matters. Some see the changes coming about because of the Governor’s strong desire for criminal justice reform even though he has yet to intervene in any of the state’s recent executions since he took office a year ago.

Last year Republicans were split on the divisive issue of increasing regulations on abortion, particularly whether to approve a bill that would prohibit an abortion after a heartbeat has been detected, which could be as early as six weeks into pregnancy. This session Governor Lee is backing comprehensive abortion legislation that includes the heartbeat bill. The package seems to already have significant GOP support including House Speaker Cameron Sexton, and this year, Lt. Governor Randy McNally.

Governor Lee believes his omnibus abortion bill would provide the legal case that could lead the U.S. Supreme Court to make abortion illegal. But opponents in the Legislature and pro-choice groups in Tennessee say all that will be accomplished by the legislation is to run a big legal bill for taxpayers as the new law is challenged in the courts.

In yet another never ending, hot-button controversy on the Hill, the State Capitol Commission when it meets next month will NOT vote on the issue of what to do with the bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest that resides just outside the State Senate & House chambers. It appears there is a need for more time and input.

Finally, he’s gone but not forgotten on the Hill. In fact, ousted former Williamson County Representative Jeremy Durham, kicked out of office a couple of years ago because of charges of sexual harassment and assault, reportedly remains under federal investigation related to campaign finance issues.