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Capitol View commentary: Friday, July 3, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 1:40 PM, Jul 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-03 14:40:53-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

July 3, 2020

VIRUS SPIKE HAS METRO BACKING UP ON REOPENING; THE STATE OF TENNESSEE HAS A VIRUS SURGE TOO; THE U. S. REMAINS THE HARDEST HIT NATION IN THE WORLD FOR COVID-19; MIXED MESSAGES THIS WEEK ON THE ECONOMY; POLICE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM EFFORTS STATEWIDE AND IN NASHVILLE; THE NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST BUST FACES ANOTHER MOMENT OF DECISION; ANOTHER MARATHON SESSION LOOKS LIKELY FOR THE METRO COUNCIL; DR. JOHN VILE TALKS THE AMERICAN FLAG ON INSIDE POLITICS;

VIRUS SPIKE HAS METRO BACKING UP ON REOPENING

After experiencing the worst single week and day ever for new COVID-19 cases, along with a corresponding jump in the infection rate, Nashville/Davidson County is moving away from its Phase III reopening plan, and instead is moving back to a revised Phase II reopening plan.

The change means all bars in the city effective today (July 3) will be closed for the next two weeks, while capacity restrictions for restaurants and retail stores will be tightened again. City health officials say their contact tracing investigators have found that, particularly the bars, have become a major area for clusters of new virus cases. They also say much of this latest surge is coming from younger folks who risk not just themselves but giving to their older family members who may be at risk if they get COVID-19.

The spike in cases from bars, restaurants and retail indicate an increased “community spread” of the virus. That is different from last week when Metro was focusing on the ongoing hot spot of COVID-19 in the southeast part of Davidson County where the virus seemed to be spreading more among extended family and friends.

It appears closings this holiday weekend may have been inevitable. Within hours after the announcement of a revised Phase II plan for Nashville, several restaurants in both the Gulch and Lower Broad announced their doors are closing for a few days because employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

As we speculated might happen in last week’s Capitol View column, late Friday afternoon (June 26), the Metro Board of Health voted unanimously to implement a mandatory order requiring facial masks to be worn whenever anyone goes out in public, with some exceptions. The mask order took effect Monday.

Health officials continue to say wearing a mask is the most important thing Nashvillians can do to stop the spread of the virus, along with continued strict observance of social distancing requirements, such as washing your hands, staying at least six feet away from others, and away from crowds. However, it will a few more days, if not a week of more, before the impact of the mask mandate will be seen in the daily case numbers. Metro only began enforcing the mask requirement July 3 (today), spending this past week educating the public. Of course, the spike and the changes in the city’s plans are leading to another raft of false social media claims.

Another potential casualty of Metro’s pullback on its reopening plans are Metro Schools who hoped to be back in classrooms August 4. Schools are not sure about that now, meaning schools will revert back to on-line virtual learning. The potential change in plans came about a week after Metro officials offered parents the option to have their students on campus in class or back on-line.

Every year, educators work to overcome “the summer slide,” i.e. what students forget while they are not in class. This year it looks like the ‘slide” could be a lot worse than usual.

The Governor’s reissued emergency orders also places, at least temporarily, a hold on some of the fall sports seasons for high school students all across the state.

THE STATE OF TENNESSEE HAS A VIRUS SURGE TOO

The surge in the virus is not limited to Nashville.

The state has seen its new case numbers set records just about every day this week. The outbreak is not just in the bigger cities but also in more rural areas like Macon County. Governor Bill Lee has reissued his state of emergency orders which were due to expire June 30.

Otherwise the emergency orders reinstate many of the restrictions that have been in place for some months. One thing that not changed, despite the spike in the virus: The Governor and state health officials are again pleading, but not mandating, everyone wear a mask.

Perhaps sensing this surge will get worse before it gets better, Governor Lee is trying to fill a void left by inaction by the Tennessee General Assembly. By executive order, he is providing limited legal protection to health care providers. A bill to deal this issue died the Legislature over a fight to make the protection retroactive. The Governor plans to recall lawmakers to Nashville, but it appears that is being delayed until after the August elections and until some consensus has been reached among legislators on what to do. Therefore, the Governor is acting now.

Some Tennessee cities and counties control their own destinies in reopening, because they have their own health departments. That includes Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville, who are all now requiring their residents wear masks.

Officials in other counties are apparently asking Governor Lee what they can do to deal with their rising case counts. On Wednesday, Governor Lee told reporters state lawyers are exploring to see if mask orders are possible. Given the critical time frame now facing other cities and counties to act, you have to wonder why this legal research hasn’t already been done? If there is no local discretion, and COVID-19 cases continues to spike, will Governor Lee join other governors who are mandating a mask statewide?

It appears for now, there remains enough health care capacity, in terms of ICU and regular hospital beds, along with personal protective equipment, to keep the overall health care system from being overwhelmed. But this is a fragile situation, subject to change perhaps quickly, depending on where virus spikes occur. NEWSCHANNEL5’s Phil Williams says hospitalizations have already doubled statewide in the last month.

The Number One uncertainty remains this: How many folks across Nashville and across the state will take personal responsibility to wear a mask , and follow all the other social distancing requirements health officials are asking everyone to follow, even as the 4th of July holiday weekend begins, and virus fatigue continues.

In the meantime, Tennessee’s COVID-19 numbers are so bad, the northeast states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, recovering from being the epicenter of the pandemic in this country a few months ago, are now banning any Tennesseans, along with those from 15 other states, from visiting, unless they quarantine for 14 days after they arrive.

And the travel restrictions are spreading. Late Thursday, Chicago officials announced a similar 14-day quarantine requirements for travelers coming from states with high COVD-19 cases, including Tennessee.

The nation’s virus numbers are so bad, Americans are not allowed to travel to European countries as of this week (July 1). We did it to them back in the spring, when those countries were hard hit. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

THE U. S. REMAINS THE HARDEST HIT NATION IN THE WORLD FOR COVID-19

Last week, the most respected infectious disease doctor in the nation, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress the United States had two weeks to deal with this new virus surge.

A week later, it appears time is running out. Dr. Fauci on Tuesday told a Senate panel we can expect the daily number of new COVID-19 cases nationally to soon be as high as 100,000. We’ve been setting daily records all this week in the 40,000 range, before hitting 50,000 for the first time Wednesday and again on Thursday and likely today (Friday) as well.

If Doctor Fauci is right, our national daily case count is about to DOUBLE again.

Of course, the naysayers in the Senate, are attacking Dr. Fauci saying he needs to provide “more optimism.”

It is not just Dr. Fauci who is issuing warnings. President Trump’s Health & Human Services secretary says “the window to act” is closing.

This discussion on the national level, about what to do about COVID-19 these days, quickly gets down to wearing a mask. President Trump has strongly resisted doing so, making the issue a partisan one. But some Republicans are beginning to speak out in favor of mask-wearing , including Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander.

Even President Trump is moving closer to saying nice things about wearing masks. Kind of.

But there are still those in Congress who want the national coronavirus task force disbanded.

It appears not wearing masks is another issue that is not working for the President and his re-election campaign. Mr. Trump says he is fine running as a challenger which is how he ran and won in 2016. But now for the last two months and in this past quarter, his would-be Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden is raising more money than the President.

Here is another issue that at least one poll indicates is not working for the President against Joe Biden: Stamina.

For up to date world virus numbers go here.

For U.S. COVID-19 numbers go here.

Metro’s numbers are updated daily at 9:30 A.M. (scroll down)

The state numbers for Tennessee are updated daily at 2:00 p.m. CDT.

Finally, this may be the stupidest thing I have seen this week, or ever, in reaction to the virus. Completely thoughtless and irresponsible.

MIXED MESSAGES THIS WEEK ON THE ECONOMY

On Thursday, the federal government released quite a bit of new information about how quickly the country is recovering from the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus.

Like everything dealing with this pandemic, the messages are mixed.

First, the government figures showed 4.8 million new jobs were created last month, the most ever. Combined with the stock market having it best quarter in over 20 years, President Trump found cause to celebrate.

But economists are not so sure. The government jobs report was conducted so early in June it came before the most recent surge in virus cases, that is now causing new economic pullbacks in some states and additional layoffs. That means, while unemployment went down to just over 11%, it could now be trending back up. Government figures also show an increase in the number of earlier layoffs becoming permanent.

Similar to the unemployment numbers for June still being in double digits, the weekly report of applications for unemployment benefits, while going down, are doing so slowly and remain well above historical highs.

In Tennessee, the number of new claims for unemployment ticked up this week.

With the extra $600 a week in unemployment assistance going away on July 25, there is renewed talk and interest from both parties in Washington for approving a new virus relief bill. But with Congress on recess for the next two weeks, it looks increasingly likely nothing will be approved before the extra unemployment funds run out.

POLICE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS EFFORTS STATEWIDE AND IN NASHVILLE

Joining dozens of officials nationwide in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody over a month ago, Governor Bill Lee this week announced a joint effort by all statewide law enforcement agencies to review law enforcement policies and training standards in Tennessee, including the use of force and officers intervening if they see improper activities being engaged in by colleagues or others.

In Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk announced his office will no longer prosecute marijuana cases if the possession is a half an ounce of less. The previous Metro Council tried to decriminalize being arrested with that small amount of pop, but it got all kinds of pushback, with the legislature even passing a law to nullify it. Now the D.A. says pursing such cases is not worth it, especially given how it has unfairly impacted people of color.

Both of these local and state efforts seem to be small steps towards adopting the agenda of the Black Lives Matter and other groups. Representatives of the Nashville People’s Budget Coalition reacted to Wednesday's policy update, telling NEWSCHANNEL5 that General Funk’s decision could be a beginning of meaningful change, but they want to see more.

"While the district attorney is attempting to show good effort, we also want to go further," said Erica Perry, with the coalition. "Can you decriminalize and stop prosecuting sex workers? Can you stop prosecuting any amount of drugs? That is important."

One West Tennessee state representative John Stevens (R-Huntingdon) is outraged:

“To District Attorney Funk and any other assistant district attorney, who does not wish to prosecute the law as constitutionally enacted, the honorable thing to do is resign your office.

Run for the General Assembly and make your policy argument and convince a constitutional majority of the correctness your position. Discretion to not prosecute an individual case because the facts are weak or there is an issue with the stop etc...is one thing, a blanket policy to not enforce the law is dereliction of duty and a subversive act akin to treason. The determination that marijuana possession is a “minor” offense is a policy judgment out of the power and authority of the elected District Attorney. Either do your job or resign."

Another criminal justice reform effort being revived in Nashville is taking the operations of one of the city’s major correction institutions away from a private company and letting Sheriff Daron Hall operate it. A bill to move in that direction has been stalled for months in the Metro Council due to cost concerns. But the measure may come up for debate again Tuesday night after Sherriff Hall announced he can run the facility with no additional costs to the taxpayers (compared to the private corrections CoreCivic company), except for $5 million dollars to transition the facility.

THE NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST BUST FACES ANOTHER MOMENT OF DECISION

The future of Civil War statutes and other monuments nationwide have been the subject of controversy for weeks following the George Floyd killing. During its most recent session, the Tennessee General Assembly again rebuffed efforts to remove the long controversial bust of Confederate General and former KKK grand wizard, Nathan Bedford Forrest, from the hallway outside the State House and Senate chambers.

Governor Bill Lee announced this week he has an undisclosed plan to deal with the controversy. He intends to convene the Capitol Commission this week to vote on what to do. Vacancies and new positions on Capitol Commission are expected to be filled by the time the group meets on July 9. The Capitol Commission one of two state boards that must approve any changes to state buildings, statutes and monuments. The State Historical Commission must also ratify whatever changes the Capitol Commission approves. The Governor himself has had quite an evolving position on the Forrest bust. When he ran for office in 2018, he opposed moving it, then later said he wanted the bust to stay, but with historical context added to the area around the artwork. Last week the Governor told reporters that “symbols matter.” That has led to speculation he now would support to removing the bust. I guess we will find out for sure when he unveils his plan, or when it leaks out in the media.

A number of protestors have occupied an area outside the Capitol for almost three weeks. They have demanded to see the Governor and say they will not leave until they meet with Mr. Lee or the Forrest bust is removed. After some tense moments with State Troopers the protestors and their belongings have been removed several times and around 40 of them were arrested this week without seeing the Governor. They appear determined to stay.

We will find out the chances of whether the Forrest bust is leaving on Thursday.

ANOTHER MARATHON SESSION LOOKS LIKELY FOR THE METRO COUNCIL

After two weeks off, the Metro Council is back in session Tuesday night.

While there were hopes all 40 members would be back live and in person, the state and local spike in virus cases and Metro moving back a Phase in its reopening , that is not happening. Therefore, it is back to meeting on line again.

The 40-member body faces a 31-plus page agenda with more than 7 pages of land use rezoning bills.

Another night of burning the midnight oil seems likely, especially as the Council must choice between multiple candidates to temporarily fill the Metro School Board seat of the late Ann Shepard.

Another bill likely to create debate is one up for final approval to legalize and set rules and regulations for home businesses in Nashville neighborhoods. The bill has been on the Council’s agenda since before the pandemic hit, surviving multiple public hearings, amendments and deferrals.

The final debate Tuesday night is likely to see even more changes offered, and voted up or down. The third reading measure is on Page 24 of the agenda. That indicates unless the measure is brought up early, a final decision is not likely to come until well into the evening or possibly the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

DR. JOHN VILE TALKS THE AMERICAN FLAG ON INSIDE POLITICS

As we celebrate our nation’ s 244th birthday this weekend, nothing has united, and sometimes divided the United States, like our flag. The Stars and Stripes has created a long and rich history which is captured in a recently published book. It is an encyclopedia compiled by Dr. John Vile, a professor of political science and dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University.

In an encore presentation, Dr. Vile is our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS to discuss his work and give us a taste of what you will find in THE AMERICAN FLAG: AN ENCYLOPEDIA OF THE STARS AND STRIPES IN U.S. HISTORY, CULTURE AND LAW.

Dr. Vile is a frequent guest on INSIDE POLITICS. We always appreciate him joining us to share his wisdom and insights.

INSIDE POLITICS airs 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 can not 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.