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Capitol View commentary: Friday, May 29, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 1:30 PM, May 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 14:30:38-04

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
May 29, 2020

AS LEGISLATURE RECONVENES TENNESSEE LT. GOVERNOR RANDY MCNALLY IS ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE SCOPE OF LEGISLATIVE SESSION IS IN DISPUTE; FIGHTING THE VIRUS –THE STATE; FIGHTING THE VIRUS---METRO NASHVILLE; WE’RE GOOD TO GO; NASHVILLE GENERAL WILL SEE EXPANDED COVID-19 CAPACITIES; UNEMPLOYMENT HELP REQUESTS NATIONALLY NOW TOTAL WELL OVER 40 MILLION; TENNESSEE CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION STOCK DEALINGS UNDER MEDIA SPOTLIGHT; AMERICA’S ONGOING RACIAL PROBLEMS GO NATIONAL AGAIN; THE LATEST DISTRACTION FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: A TRUMP-TWITTER FIGHT; BOB MENDES PUTS HIS TAX AND BUDGET CARDS ON THE TABLE; TWO THINGS TO WATCH IN TENNESSEE COURTS NEXT WEEK; A WEEK OF HEARTBREAKING NUMBERS BUT FORTUNATELY STILL MORE KINDNESS;
AS LEGISLATURE RECONVENES TENNESSEE LT. GOVERNOR RANDY MCNALLY IS ON INSIDE POLITICS

After a few committee sessions this week, both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly reconvene in Nashville on Monday. The biggest issue facing lawmakers is how to deal with the significant loss of state tax revenues caused by the coronavirus pandemic that shut down the state’s economy for several weeks.

Our guest on INSIDE POLITICS is Lt. Governor Randy McNally. He is heading efforts in the State Senate to balance this year’s budget as well as next year’s spending plan which begins on July 1st. There are estimates Tennessee facing a billion- dollar loss in revenue over the next year or so.

We always appreciate the Lt. Governor taking time to be with us, especially now during this time of crisis.

We will also be discussing this news that broke on Thursday: In light of the significant loss of state tax revenues, the Lee administration is looking to implement a multi-year plan to cut the state budget beginning with a 12% reduction for state departments starting July 1st.

We always appreciate the Lt. Governor taking time to be with us, especially now during this time of crisis.

Watch us!

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’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.

THE SCOPE OF LEGISLATIVE SESSION IS IN DISPUTE

Lt. Governor McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton remain at odds over the scope of this session of the General Assembly.

The Senate Speaker, along with Governor Bill Lee say they want to focus strictly on the budget and other COVID-19 related issues. House Speaker Cameron wants a broader effort including moving ahead with a number of controversial issues that the Republican Super Majority on the Hill was pushing before the pandemic struck in mid-March sending lawmakers into recess for nearly two and a half months.

With House committees back in Nashville this week, working through a backlog of almost 400 bills, including several of the more controversial measures , which have now been moved ahead and are closer to floor votes by the full House.

Those bills include:

OPEN AND CONCEALED GUN CARRY WITHOUT A PERMIT
A BILL BANNING ABORTION BASED ON DETECTION OF A FETAL HEARTBEAT
REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT
AND THERE ARE LOTS OF OTHER CONTROVERSIAL BILLS THAT COULD COME BACK INTO PLAY

Some of these bills, such as the gun measure, had support from Governor Lee. While he says he thinks lawmakers should focus on the budget, he adds it is up to both houses of the Legislature to set their agendas.

Since it takes both bodies to approve legislation, it would appear Lt. Governor McNally has the upper hand in this fight, if his members stick with him. But if the full House starts passing these controversial measures, the political heat will grow on the Senate Speaker to change his mind from groups who want these bills passed.

The ongoing dispute might also sour the relationship between the houses of the Legislature which always get strained in the final days and weeks of any session, especially this year if the budget decisions the state has to make turn out to be quite difficult.

FIGHTING THE VIRUS –THE STATE

As the struggle against the virus continues, daily new virus cases in Tennessee seem to be continuing in the 300-400 range most days. There does not seem to be any alarm about a new spike coming nor any sign the reopening of the state’s economy is causing any resurgence in the disease…although it could be another week to two weeks before we see how social distancing went across Tennessee during the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

In the meantime, Governor Bill Lee on Thursday announced new guidelines to restart non-contact sports, summer camps and reopening higher education.

The higher education guidelines came as the University of Tennessee-Knoxville announced its plan to reopen this fall but with a schedule, classes and other changes and restrictions that make things different.

The rules regarding non-contact sports come just in time for the state to host 132 youth baseball teams for a tournament this weekend.

The Lee administration did make another about-face concerning the release of information regarding those who test positive for having COVID-19. A few weeks back, despite a flurry of bi-partisan criticism particularly from African American lawmakers and privacy advocates, the state began sharing patients’ virus information with local law enforcement officials and first responders. Keeping those frontline workers safe was the top priority.

But suddenly this week saying those workers now had sufficient personal protective equipment, the Lee administration said it would quit sharing patient information as of Sunday and urged who have received it to destroy it after no more than 30 days.

Metro Nashville officials have also been sharing COVID patient information. They say they are “puzzled’ the state has reversed its policy. Metro says its sharing of patient information is “limited” and ‘balanced” and the city officials indicate they plan to continue to share the information to protect front line first responders and the public.

There are some members of the Metro Council expressing concern about Metro keeping this information sharing policy in effect, so expect the controversy to continue.

President Donald Trump has railed in recent weeks that churches should be declared essential and should be reopened immediately. it is not clear he has the power to do that or to force state governors to do it. In Tennessee, churches have not been ordered to close, although many have suspended holding in person services. As for re-opening, that is up to each church or denomination.

There does appear to still be some pushback about reopening larger cities like Chattanooga where the city mayor and the Hamilton County health department seem not be on the same page.

The Lee administration this week admitted it won’t reach its goal to test all the patients and staff in the state’s nursing homes and long- term care facilities by the end of May. It has been optional effort up until now. Now testing will be mandatory by June 30.

A story by NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES shows a much graver failure by both the state and Metro Nashville in dealing with a serious COVID-19 outbreak at a Nashville nursing home facility.

FIGHTING THE VIRUS---METRO NASHVILLE

On Monday, Nashville began Phase II of its Roadmap to reopening the city’s economy.
City health officials reported 95 complaints from the public over the holiday weekend (including Memorial Day itself when Phase II began). Most of the complaints concerned employees not wearing masks, although I was reported there was at least one dance floor opened in a local facility, something which is not yet allowed.

Metro is still in its public awareness and education phase of enforcement. So far, Metro health officials say there is “overwhelming support and compliance” for the reopening policies. But they warn their grace period is coming to end “within the next week or so.” Any continued violations and those who stay out of compliance will face citations and/or fines.

The daily new virus case numbers for Metro continue to vary but health officials say the overall 14 day - average for cases remains flat and manageable. The rate of spread (the number of days it would take to double current cases) is in the high 30s now after being in the 20s in recent days. It needs to be at least less than 14 days.

If all these things stay as they are, all the key metrics on the city’s dashboard are green, a move into Phase III of Metro’s Road Map to recovery could be announced perhaps sometime as soon as the end of next week. But there are no promises about that.

Here is what Phase III would involve.

WE’RE GOOD TO GO

If Nashville’s economy is to fully return, tourists, other visitors and local residents, must feel the city is safe and “good to go.” That is why the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation is joining with partners Ryman Hospitality and Vanderbilt Health, to launch what they think is a first of its kind in the nation on-line and media outreach to tell everyone Nashville is “Good to Go.”

In addition to reaching out to those who want to come (or come back) to Nashville, the Good to Go” group is beginning training for local businesses with a webinar today (Friday). Over 200 firms have already signed up to receive the seal of approval that Good to Go will offer its member groups to make everyone feel safe when they visit. Here is the group’s new web site to learn more.

NASHVILLE GENERAL WILL SEE EXPANDED COVID-19 CAPACITIES

Plans announced some weeks ago, that the Music Center would be temporarily converted into a hospital to help the city deal with a rising number of COVID-19 cases, is now on the back burner. The plan went into moth balls after the community embraced Nashville’s Safer at Home order and practiced enough social distancing to bend the curve and keep the local health care system alive.

But it appears the city will soon be receiving an expansion of its hospital bed capacity to deal with more virus cases, especially if a second wave occurs. Mayor John Cooper told reporters on Thursday the state of Tennessee will provide funding for a $4.2 million dollar renovation to add bed COVID bed capacity at Nashville’s General Hospital.

It is believed the money is coming from federal virus relief funds already sent to Tennessee. The Mayor also indicated there could be another health care capacity project or two underway in Nashville soon as well.

UNEMPLOYMENT HELP REQUESTS NATIONALLY NOW TOTAL WELL OVER 40 MILLION

The number of requests for unemployment assistance nationally continues to rise, although the rate of increase is slowing a bit. Still as of May 23, more than 40 million have asked for help since the pandemic shutdown began. That totals to one in every four workers in the nation.

In Tennessee, the rate of increase is also declining even as the overall number of Tennesseans seeking unemployment help since mid-March is now over 558,000.

Congress remains deadlocked over what to do about passing another virus relief bill. One of the sticking points is whether to extend the extra $600 per month Congress added to unemployment payments through the end of June. Some bosses are concerned it may it hard to find or rehire workers who say they can make more money on unemployment than what they are being offered to go back to work.

House Democrats now face a further hurdle to get the Senate to pass the latest relief bill that the lower chamber just approved. Senate Democrats are not on board.

TENNESSEE CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION STOCK DEALINGS UNDER MEDIA SPOTLIGHT

Several members of the U.S. Senate have been under investigation over how they have handled their stock investments. THE TENNESSEAN and USA TODAY have done the same for Tennessee’s nine member U.S. House delegation and found some issues to be raised concerning 1st District Congressman Phil Roe. He represents Upper East Tennessee and is not seeking re-election.

Roe has responded angrily.

Here is what the newspaper found regarding the rest of the Tennessee delegation and their stock dealings.

AMERICA’S ONGOING RACIAL PROBLEMS GO NATIONAL AGAIN

It is unfortunately not unusual in recent years for our nation’s ongoing racial problems to dominate the country’s news, as it has again this week.

The death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, who died by suffocation while in police custody (and while under video surveillance) has sparked days of anger, rage and rioting in Minneapolis where the tragedy occurred. Things got so out of hand there that a police substation was torched, and a news crew was arrested while doing their job.

Outrage has sparked demonstrations all over the country including in Memphis here in Tennessee. The actions of the four policemen involved (all now fired) has brought this reaction from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.

Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson has also issued a statement deploring the officers’ actions as has the local Fraternal Order of Police

But will things change in the future? There is this reaction from a mayor in Mississippi.

But the police chief in Chattanooga is getting national attention for his message to his fellow officers.

THE LATEST DISTRACTION FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: A TRUMP-TWITTER FIGHT

During his three plus years in office, the use of Twitter has been a major element of President Donald Trump’s communication efforts to get his messages out to the public.

So it might seem surprising (or perhaps inevitable) that this week he and Twitter have gotten into quite a high-level fight over what he is posting on his account. The latest is Twitter officials hiding one of the President’s posts for glorifying violence.

Stay tuned. You know this fight is not over.

The Twitter fight came as the President pursued a number of bizarre topics on Twitter this week including reposting a video that claims “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” along with another tweet going after former congressman and now MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough over a debunked conspiracy theory about the death of a staffer.

BOB MENDES PUTS HIS TAX AND BUDGET CARDS ON THE TABLE

For the third year in a row, Metro Councilman At Large Bob Mendes is seeking to pass a property tax increase. The last two years he fell just short of getting the 21 votes needed for approval. Both times the incumbent mayor, David Briley, opposed raising taxes and taxes have never been raised without mayoral support.

This year Mayor John Cooper is proposing a 32% property tax hike. It’s a crisis budget due to the coronavirus shutdown. Mendes, as chair of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee has been studying the Cooper plan for the last several weeks. Now he has proposed his own plan, or actually, two plans. One plan calls for the same size $1.00 tax incr ease on the property tax rate as Mayor Cooper, but with some of the funding rearranged. The other plan would raise taxes as additional 6 cents on the rate or by 34%.

Here are the breakdowns in how Mayor Cooper’s plan compares with Mendes’ proposals.

Seeking to raise taxes during a pandemic and while a major economic downturn is underway, has already brought lots of criticism to Mayor Cooper So why is Bob Mendes recommending the same tax hike or even a little more?

First, he thinks it is the right thing to do. Second, I suspect he believes if you are going to raise taxes, you may as well get enough, so you can accomplish things. In this case that means restoring some of the cuts to non -profits in the Cooper budget as well as adding in more money for schools, restoring step pay raises for employees early in their careers, as well as a small 1% cost of living raise to all Metro workers in his larger tax increase plan. His higher tax plan also adds in money to help lower paid city workers make at least $15 an hour. Many of those lower paid employees work for Metro Schools.

There are three other budget and tax alternatives from councilmembers. One is a 37- cent property tax hike suggested by Germantown council member Freddie O’Connell. But he funds much of the rest of his budget though a federal loan program which Metro finance officials say Metro don’t qualify to participate. If that remains true, O’Connell has indicated he would possibly support one of the Mendes plans.

First year Councilmember Emily Benedict is proposing a property tax hike even higher than Mayor Cooper or Mendes. She wants the extra money to pay for long promised raises to teachers and other school employees.

The fourth and final tax alternative to Mayor’s is from At Large Councilman Steve Glover. He is proposing a 20% or less property tax hike with city departments seeing budget cuts, furloughs, and maybe some layoffs. Glover says with local residents and businesses having to cut back and struggle through hard times, it is not right for Metro to balance its budget on the backs of financially hard- pressed property owners.

The public gets its chance to sound off on all the tax plans and budgets Tuesday night June 2 when the full Council holds a virtual public hearing at 6:30 p.m. You can watch the hearing on the Metro Nashville Network or call in to participate at 629-255-1931.

There already a vigorous op-ed discussion underway about Metro’s budget and taxes. TENNESSEAN columnist Alex Hubbard says the city has no choice but to raise taxes. Another op-ed writer, former radio talk show host Ralph Bristol says Mayor Cooper’s budget is based on flawed assumptions.

By law the Council must adopt a budget by June 30 or the mayor’s plan and tax hike go into effect automatically.

TWO THINGS TO WATCH IN TENNESSEE COURTS NEXT WEEK

Due to the virus, Tennessee courts remain more or less closed to the public through the end of July.

But there will be two very important matters where potentially significant developments could occur regarding pending legal actions this coming week.

VOTE BY MAIL IN TENNESSEE
EVICTION PROCESS TO RESUME

A WEEK OF HEARTBREAKING NUMBERS BUT FORTUNATELY STILL MORE KINDNESS

This week the coronavirus pandemic saw over 5.8 million confirmed cases (3,048,000 still active) worldwide, with 360,000 dead from the illness and fortunately 2.4 million people recovered.

In the U.S. we now have 1,758,00 confirmed cases (1,276 ,000 million active) with 102,000+ dead from the virus and fortunately 378,566 persons.

The 100,000 plus death total is the highest in the world and amounts to all the Americans in all our wars since World War II combined. The deaths have come in just about 4 months of time.

STATE OF TENNESSEE

State COVID-19 numbers are updated daily at 2:00 p.m. CDT

METRO NASHVILLE/DAVIDSON COUNTY

Metro Public Health Department officials announced today (Friday May 29, 2020) a total number of 5,210 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nashville/Davidson County, an increase of 63 in the past 24 hours.

The confirmed cases range in age from 1 month to 100 years.

An additional death was reported in Davidson County, a 90-year-old woman. It is currently unknown if she had any underlying health conditions.

A total of fifty-nine (59) people have died after a confirmed case of COVID-19. 3,947 individuals have recovered from the virus.

Available hospital beds: 22 percent
Available ICU beds: 20 percent
The MPHD COVID-19 Hotline received 179 calls on Thursday, May 28, 2020.
Total number of cases: 5,210

Cases reported in the past 24 hours: 63
Cases by sex
Male: 2,775
Female: 2,262
Unknown: 173

Total Cases by age
Unknown 11
0-10 198
11-20 446
21-30 1,279
31-40 1,119
41-50 848
51-60 654
61-70 393
71-80 176
81+ 86

Total 5,210
Recovered 3,947
Deaths 59

Total active cases 1,204

Total number of tests administered Total positive results Total negative results Positive results as percentage of total
56,369 5,210 51,159 9.2%

THE KINDNESS CONTINUES

THISTLE FARMS SAYS THANK YOU
A COVID-19 SUPPORT LINE FOR HEALTH CARE AND FRONT- LINE WORKERS
FUND SET UP TO ASSIST LOCAL MUSICIANS IMPACTED BY COVID-19
NASHVILLE ALWAYS NEEDS A SONG, LISTEN AND VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE HERE BY 5:00 PM TODAY

It remains a confusing time.

More businesses and attractions have or are close to re-opening such as Cheekwood and the Nashville Zoo.

Even Disney World this week set a date to begin phased in operations.

But other longtime events such as the Boston Marathon (124 years) and Nashville’s Swan Ball (58 years) have been cancelled for the first time in their history.

Stay well!

Stay safe!

Be patient and kind!

See you next week.