By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
May 6, 2021INSIDE POLITICS TAKES AN IN DEPTH LOOK AT THE FIRST SESSION OF THE 112th TENNESSEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY; YOU CAN’T SWEEP IT UNDER THE RUG; THE VIRUS REBOUND CONTINUES; ORACLE IS COMING BUT THE CHALLENGES OF ITS PRESENCE WILL CONTINUE; THE TENNESSEE STATE FAIR TO MOVE FROM NASHVILLE TO LEBANON AND MERGE WITH THE WILSON COUNTY FAIR; ANOTHER METRO VS. STATE FIGHT IS BREWING; NEXT WEEK
INSIDE POLITICS TAKES AN IN DEPTH LOOK AT THE FIRST SESSION OF THE 112th TENNESSEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The old saying goes.
You can take out your best silverware and china.
It’s safe now.
The first session of the 112th Tennessee General Assembly is over.
The session went a little bit longer than in recent years under Republican control, including the special session in January that focused on education.
What got accomplished?
What were the big issues?
And who were the big winners or losers on the Hill?
Finally, what is left undone until later in the year, or when lawmakers return in January 2022?
We have two guests on INSIDE POLITICS this week who can give us some terrific insights into those topics.
They covered this session in great detail these last 4-plus months.
Our guests are Natalie Allison, Legislative reporter for THE TENNESSEAN and USA TODAY- TENNESSEE and Kyle Horan for covers the General Assembly for NEWSCHANNEL5.
We thank them both for joining us.
SPOILER ALERT: Here is how one of our guests sees the session.
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YOU CAN’T SWEEP IT UNDER THE RUG
In its final hours, and playing its annual role as a misguided statewide school board, the Tennessee General Assembly approved a new law that bans the teaching of critical race theory in any public school.
The reason we must do more to teach racism in our schools can be seen from this event at East Tennessee State University that occurred last winter. It has faded from the headlines, but this story by NEWSCHANNEL5’s INVESTIGATES Chief Reporter Phil Williams shows how divided this state is over race.
THE VIRUS REBOUND CONTINUES
COVID-19 numbers continue to fall across the nation as well as here in Tennessee and Nashville. In fact, the local numbers are the lowest since last October. That is also about what the virus figures are nationwide.
The declines may continue say national health officials, but it depends on the current trends also continuing, including growing vaccination numbers.
Tennessee’s vaccination numbers are still among the lowest in the nation (35% for one shot). Nashville’s numbers are a point or two above 40% for one shot. With just over three weeks left, it might be a stretch to reach Mayor John Cooper’s goal of 50% of adults receiving one shot by the end of May. But the good news is : Having the one- shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine back is boosting numbers.
Otherwise Metro is focusing on more targeted outreach efforts to reach out to groups who have had not had easy access or have not been getting shots.
To recharge vaccination numbers nationally, President Biden is setting new goals for the nation to reach by July 4. He has had great success with setting and then exceeding his earlier targets. This time it may be harder.
The President is also changing the vaccine distribution priorities among the states. Those who want more can get more. Those who can’t use all the shots it is getting, can cancel or cut its shipments. THE DAILY MAIL reports (May 6); “Arkansas officials confirmed that they declined their entire share of vaccine doses last week and this week Iowa turned down nearly three quarters of the doses available to the state claiming demand for the shots remains weak there.”
So far, I have seen no media reports on whether Tennessee is cutting back on its vaccine supply.
There is more potential good news on vaccinations this week, with word of progress in having shots approved within the next few days for pre-and early teens as well as serum available soon for younger children.
Metro health officials say they are gearing up to quickly vaccinate young teenagers when that approval is given, perhaps as early as next week.
Some of the vaccine trials for teens and younger children are being conducted here in Nashville and they are looking for volunteers.
To deal with the many variants of the virus, the need for a COVID-19 booster shot looks more and more certain, and again early testing results look positive.
To further try to build public confidence, one vaccine maker is seeking full, not emergency, approval for its serum.
One cloud still hanging over the country and the world is another report, this time from the University of Washinton, that the number of virus deaths may actually be twice, or even more, what the official numbers say.
Worldwide the problem is rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic is a haves versus the have nots struggle. Rich and developed countries who have the vaccines are doing well. Those poorer counties who do not have easy access to the serums, are really struggling.
President Biden is joining some other developed counties in making excess vaccines in their nations available to others in need. This week the President joined another, and more controversial effort to temporarily waive the vaccines’ patents to make the serums more readily available to be manufactured around the world.
Already the issue is becoming partisan with a Republican lawmaker submitting a bill in Congress to prohibit the President from “giving away” the patent protections.
The European Union appears split on the matter.
In the meantime, India, the country that manufacturers the most kinds of vaccines in the world is now suffering perhaps the worst outbreak of COVID-19 and its variants so far during this pandemic. It appears the country leader’s and citizens let their guard down and the variants have exploded. The country has been experiencing a record number of daily cases and deaths every day for the last two weeks, and the virus surge is not over there.
More signs that people in this country believe the pandemic is ending. Metro’s capacity restrictions end next week on May 14, with both the Nashville Sounds and Vanderbilt’s defending National Champion baseball team (from 2019) opening up their games to full or near full capacity crowds. Nashville Shores is opening this weekend. Other major Nashville venues are opening up to full capacity too.
The Nashville Grand Prix is a major new event in town this summer with big plans now being announced.
Nationally, Broadway tickets went on sale in New York City this week, even though the shows (at full capacity) don’t begin September.
One unexpected development in the rebound, while unemployment aid requests are now the lowest since the pandemic began, overall unemployment and new job creation has not followed suit.
ORACLE IS COMING BUT THE CHALLENGES OF ITS PRESENCE WILL CONTINUE
A unanimous 40-0 vote on a major, high profile piece of legislation is rare in the Metro Council.
But that is what happened Tuesday night.
The largest ever $1.2 billion dollar investment in Nashville along with 8,500 new high paying jobs coming from the Oracle technology firm, a Fortune 100 company, is being touted as a “game changer” “transformational” and a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.
It definitely seems to be all of that, and maybe more.
The move also presents ongoing challenges that the development doesn’t compound Nashville’s existing lack of affordable housing, its rising gentrification and the concern that Nashville is being even further divided into a “haves vs. have-nots” community.
One change certain to come is a major, and perhaps the most significant expansion, of Nashville’s Downtown ever or, at least during my lifetime of nearly 70 years.
The new Oracle business campus seems likely to extend Nashville’s Central Business District permanently across the Cumberland River to the north portion of the East Bank. It will give people many more reasons to work, shop, play and live in that area.
But while the Oracle development is being brought to town with the city not having to spend a lot of taxpayer money or go further into bonded debt, what else we make of Oracle’s presence in our community will make all the difference.
Will our schools create the tech-trained workers Oracle will need to fill many of its new jobs? Will Oracle be a major player in creating job opportunities, internships and mentoring programs for locals? Will the company be a major source for local philanthropy?
While Metro Councilmembers are eager to use (but not dedicate) the tax monies Oracle will generate from its new campus to help with the city’s affordable housing efforts, will Oracle set an example by including an affordable housing component into its new mixed- use project? Will the company reach out to the local community to include them into their campus design process? Will they be transparent in their property rezoning and do what they can to be mindful of making those who presently work and live in the area feel heard and included, not just “gentrified” out of the area?
I have read, seen and heard many media stories this week indicating the Oracle project has received its final approval. That is in many ways true. But the challenges still lie ahead.
THE TENNESSEE STATE FAIR TO MOVE FROM NASHVILLE TO LEBANON AND MERGE WITH THE WILSON COUNTY FAIR
115 years of history is leaving Nashville this summer.
The Tennessee State Fair, which has been held since 1906 at the Historic Fairgrounds property on Wedgewood Avenue in South Nashville, is moving its operations to Lebanon and merging with the very successful Wilson County Fair.
The move is another sign of how Nashville is changing. The Fair, in many ways, was more of a reflection of this city and the surrounding area, when it was agricultural and rural. With the Nashville Speedway now being revitalized and NASCAR racing returning, and with the new MLS Soccer stadium being built on the Fairgrounds property, there is not enough land and space for the Fair to grow and prosper anymore.
But for many of my generation, the memories remain. The Fair was a week of magic with a free ticket and a holiday from school to enjoy it. Decades ago, I had relatives in my mother’s family who won awards for the best vegetables at the annual competition at the Fair. I even performed with a singing group (Sing Out South) at the State Fair for a couple of years back in the mid-1960s (1966 & ‘67).
Now, a relatively short drive to Lebanon will be in order to attend the new Tennessee State Fair.
As for the Nashville Fairgrounds, the Flea Market is returning this month on a limited basis.
ANOTHER METRO VS. STATE FIGHT IS BREWING
Several times in recent years, new laws enacted in Nashville by the Metro Council have been preempted by laws approved by the Tennessee General Assembly.
Now it seems ready to happen again over workplace safety and workers’ rights.
Concerned about the tragic death of a young teenager working at a local construction site, as well as the way some contractors are treating employees, members of Metro Council put together a bill that would seek to address those issues, at least for any contractor who does business with Metro.
But lawmakers in the General Assembly acted first, passing a bill that would nullify the changes councilmembers wanted.
Tuesday night, with the local bill up for final approval and 23 out of 40 members as co-sponsors, the lawmakers were warned about the state pre-exemption. Emboldened, rather than cowed, the full Council approved the bill on third and final reading on a unanimous vote.
It is unclear if the new Metro ordinance will become law. One of Mayor Cooper’s top aides, Mike Jamison told the Council he would urge his boss not to sign the bill and that the Metro Legal Department is likely to tell city agencies not to enforce it.
Ironically it is does become law and gets into court, the new state law that has set up a three member panel of judges to hear all cases challenging the constitutionally of state law passed by the Legislature.
If so, for Metro, it could be checkmate again in this ongoing fight with the state.
No column next week.
I am still catching up on the things I couldn’t do during the pandemic.
Look for my next Capitol View column on Friday May 21, 2021.
Next week’s INSIDE POLITICS show will be an encore presentation of my conversation with Nashville baseball historian, Skip Nipper.
We talked the first week of April as the new MLB season began.
One thing we did not discuss is MLB moving the All -Star game from Atlanta in protest of Georgia’s new voting law. It had not been announced when we spoke.
We did discuss Nashville’s effort to land MLB team by relocation or expansion. While there remain no active plans for baseball owners to do anything, there is this recent media report that says the franchise fee just to get a club will be a very large round $$ number.
This FOX SPORTS article from April 14 has Nashville #1 on the MLB list.