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Capitol View commentary: Friday, May 28, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 1:20 PM, May 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-28 14:20:58-04

Capitol View

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

May 28, 2021

FORMER GOVERNOR BILL HASLAM DISCUSSES HIS NEW BOOK ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE VIRUS CONTINUES TO RETREAT WHILE VACCINATIONS CONTINUE TO RISE; WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE WORLD?; THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY IS GONE BUT BOTH ITS PROMISE FOR THE FUTURE AND THE DAMAGE LAWMAKERS LEFT REMAINS; WILL JUSTICE BE DONE? HOW WILL METRO SPEND ITS AMERICAN RESCUE FUNDS? NEXT WEEK:

FORMER GOVERNOR BILL HASLAM DISCUSSES HIS NEW BOOK ON INSIDE POLITICS

The role of faith and religion in our American government has been a source of ongoing controversy since before the First Amendment and the U.S. Constitution were approved back in the late 1700s.

One prominent Tennessean, who throughout his public life, has grappled with this issue, is former Tennessee Governor and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam.

He has written a book on the subject. It is entitled: FAITHFUL PRESENCE: THE PROMISE AND THE PERIL OF FAITH IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE.

Bill Haslam is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

We welcome the Governor back to the program.

We are honored to have him with us.

NSIDE 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 own Facebook page, usually on the Monday or Tuesday after the show airs.

THE VIRUS CONTINUES TO RETREAT WHILE VACCINATIONS CONTINUE TO RISE

This week at least 10 states have reached the goal of the Biden administration for 70% or more of its residents to have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot.

The date to reach that goal nationally is the July 4th holiday.

With at least 25 states and the District of Columbia now at or above 50% its adults fully vaccinated, the percentage of the 50 states reaching the 70% goal seems likely to continue to rise. In fact, the whole nation this week reached 505 of its adult population having at least one shot.

But in Tennessee, with its population still in the mid- 30s in terms of fully vaccinated folks and just edging into the 40s for those with one shot, it seems highly unlikely Tennessee will make it. A fact with potential consequences underscored by President Biden recently.

But this week, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee hosted his fellow GOP chief executives in Nashville, where he bragged about where our state is in terms of the pandemic.

There was immediate pushback from local doctors about the Governor’s comments about masks and schools.

Nobody is talking about it, but you have to wonder in the months to come, if the virus begins surging again in areas that have low vaccination rates, will it hurt those states’ ability to compete for new jobs, industries and investment?

Nothing like that has happened during the pandemic so far. Tennessee’s low tax and pro-business environment has continued to attract jobs and capital.

Here in Nashville, the city is still trying to reach a goal of at least one inoculation for our residents. In recent weeks, the focus has shifted to following the crowds, going to events where folks are already turning out. The results have been hit and miss.

As for the state, despite the seeming success of other states in offering incentives for people to get a shot, Tennessee is still not going that way. In fact, in recent weeks, state health officials are only ordering 10% of the amount of serums being offered for use from Washington to inoculate Tennesseans. And has anyone seen the long talked about public service announcement the state has been promising to air soon, urging people to get vaccinated? Maybe I am missing it, but I haven’t seen it.

Will vaccine reluctance continue as we move into the post pandemic world, even as pockets of the virus continue where inoculations stay low? For now, COVID-19 case numbers and deaths continue to decline nationally, statewide and locally to levels not seen in over a year or the early days of the pandemic in March 2020.

Meanwhile as the Memorial Holiday weekend begins, the travel season is taking off, new filings for unemployment assistance are the lowest since before the pandemic began, and filings for new businesses in the state are at a record level.

WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE WORLD?

If we have learned anything during the pandemic, it is that the virus respects no borders, no demographics.

It’s not just India that is seeing rising cases of COVID-19. While the virus eases in the U.S. and other developed countries, the number of cases worldwide in 2021 is already more than 2020.

Obviously, the vaccines are the answer, but the effort, not just to share doses but the other resources needed to inoculate the world, is the only way to make the world safe again. The U.S. is leading the world in vaccine donations. But we are not close to being where we need to be.

Questions continue to arise over how the COVID-19 virus originated worldwide. The claim that it was somehow a product of a lab in China (strongly backed by former President Donald Trump) came back to the front of media conversations this week, bringing a seeming split among American intelligence officials, and a plea from President Biden to look into the matter, more urgently.

Finally, back in Tennessee, while the “public health emergency” that is COVID-19 is over, says Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, so far, that development has not meant the end of no-bid purchases made by his administration including ones done that seemed to be based on political connections. The total involved is a half billion in tax dollars.

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY IS GONE BUT BOTH ITS PROMISE FOR THE FUTURE AND THE DAMAGE LAWMAKERS LEFT REMAINS

The Tennessee General Assembly has been gone from Nashville for weeks. But while lawmakers and Governor Bill Lee continue to congratulate themselves on how much the recent session achieved, the damage left from some of its actions continue to manifest itself.

On the positive side, Governor Lee this week signed into law a trio of criminal justice reform measures he believes will make a major positive difference for Tennessee. The Governor also plans to propose even more bills next year, including sentencing reform.

At this point, these efforts are eliciting something of a mixed response of optimism and frustration.

Also this week, while it took a while for Governor Lee to sign the measure, there was really little doubt he would approve a bill quickly approved by the Republican Super Majority in the session’s waning day, that restricts teaching racism and bias in Tennessee schools. The Volunteer State joins a growing list of fellow red states in approving such measures.

Among some educators and other critics of the measure, their feeling is the law is an open invitation to literally whitewash history.

Another new law set to take effect July 1st climaxes a session-long war waged by Tennessee Republicans against the state’s LGBTQ community. This final measure, to require businesses to post signs on any bathroom facilities available to transgender people, is “hate” says Nashville/ Davidson County District Attorney General Glenn Funk and his office will not enforce it.

Not surprisingly there was a quick retort to Funk from a GOP lawmaker who says the D.A.’s remarks are “offensive.” Frankly, I am not sure a governmental concept is capable of being “marginally offended,” while it is pretty clear the state’s Republican lawmakers have had no qualms insulting an entire population of one group of people, just because they are different, and their GOP base doesn’t like them.

There are District Attorneys all across Tennessee. Will any of them join Glenn Funk publicly in his stance? Even if they say nothing, will they enforce this new law, which is the first of its kind in the nation?

WILL JUSTICE BE DONE?

There is a story in the news this week in Nashville concerning a man being arrested for murder in a 20-year old case, even though someone else has been serving time for the crime for quite a while.

That man, still in jail, will hopefully soon be exonerated and released (and receive monetary restitution for how he was wronged).

But the real question in this case in my mind, is will those in the city’s police department and the district attorney’s office, who seemed to have known for years there was DNA evidence to blow up their conviction, yet did nothing about it. Will they face any charges or repercussions for their behavior in this matter?

Read the story for yourself.

TENNESSEAN EDITORIAL

In a week when the nation marked the one- year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement, there are growing questions about whether the U.S. Senate will approve a police reform measure. Many bills proposed by the Biden administration and passed by the House of Representatives, are on hold in the upper chamber. Now, some Republican Senators say action should be taken on the police bill before the next congressional recess in late June.

On the state and local level, there is this overview by WPLN of what has happened in the past year concerning the demands and controversies created by the Floyd murder, and which led to many marches and protests, involving race and community-police relations.

Back on the national level, it always gets harder, the closer you get to the mid-term elections, to get Congress to do anything. Maybe our Senators need to act on a whole variety of bills to move the country forward? Increasingly the Democrats think so.

In that regard, and with mass shootings continuing to be on the rise, there is at least a glimmer of hope, a bi-partisan bill could be passed, to close some loopholes in the federal background check requirements on gun purchases.

For now, GOP Senate leaders also have to decide whether to appease former President Donald Trump and kill an effort to create a bi-partisan commission to study the January 6 attack on the Capitol. It looks like GOP Senators will block that effort in a procedural vote today. But the alternative to that may be to see Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appoint her own select committee.

There are signs as well of potential progress in negotiating a bi-partisan deal on a long overdue infrastructure package. Both sides have offered counter proposals. But Republicans and the White House remain a trillion dollars apart. In a partisan, deadlocked Washington, is that still a bridge too far?

The GOP counteroffer does not contain much new money. Instead, it uses unspent virus relief funds which Democrats say is still needed for what it has been appropriated to do. There remains a belief among Democrats that this counter proposal is not really serious (that it does not have information on how the costs will covered) and is really a just a way to delay the whole process.

Finally, there is the ongoing class clown of the U.S. House, Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. Her latest comments brought scorn from leaders of her own party in both houses. But no moves to discipline her. Maybe the GOP hopes this latest controversy will die down over the upcoming recess, or maybe they fear former President Donald Trump, a fan of the Congresswoman, will speak out in her defense, further complicating the matter. But it is not over. She will speak out again. And that is what haunts the GOP in Congress.

HOW WILL METRO SPEND ITS AMERICAN RESCUE FUNDS?

While the Metro Council holds a public hearing next Tuesday night on next year’s budget and property tax rate, it will also begin to move ahead on how the city will spend its latest round of federal virus relief monies under the American Rescue Act.

Metro is poised to receive close to $260 million. The monies are to aid in Nashville’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. By comparison, the CARES Act funds Nashville received in 2020 totaled about $120 million.

The American Rescue Funds can be used for the following: Supporting public health expenditures, addressing negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic replacing lost public sector revenue, to the extent the local government experienced a net reduction in revenue due to the pandemic, providing premium pay for essential workers, and investing in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

Half the funds will be available this month, with the rest in July 2022. Under a bill before the Council Tuesday night, a nine- member committee, six members appointed by the Mayor, and three members by the Vice Mayor, will review suggestions on how the funds will be spent, and make recommendations to the Council.

The full 40-member Council will give a final OK on the funds after it approves an overall plan on how spend it. The America Rescue dollars are available through 2025. The resolution before the Council does allocate about $3 million in American Rescue Funds to the Farmers Market, Municipal Auditorium, Fairgrounds Nashville, the State Trial Courts for an increase in jury trials, the Health Department for a behavioral health pilot program with the North and Hermitage police precincts, and for an electronic records system, also for the Health Department.

Stay tuned.

NEXT WEEK

No Capitol View column next week.

I am still catching up on some things I could not do during the height of the pandemic.

The next Capitol View will out Friday June 11, 2021.

I will have a new INSIDE POLTICS program airing the weekend of June 4-5, 2021.

My guest is Vanderbilt political science and history professor Dr. Thomas Schwartz.

Our topic will foreign policy issues in the Biden administration. That includes a upcoming summit, announced this week, between the President Joe Biden and Russian President Valdimir Putin.