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Capitol View commentary: Friday, November 19, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 11:18 AM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 12:18:24-05

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

November 19, 2021

A FIFTH WAVE?; THE BUILD BACK BETTER BILL; IF BUILD BACK BETTER BECOMES LAW, IT COULD MEAN BETTER HEALTHCARE FOR TENNESSEE’S POOR; AT THE METRO COURTHOUSE IT WAS A WEEK TO DEFER FOR THE COUNCIL; NASHVILLE AREA CHAMBER EXECUTIVE RALPH SCHULZ ON INSIDE POLITICS; NEXT WEEK;

A FIFTH WAVE?

Even as the new Tennessee COVID-19 laws go into effect, relaxing or eliminating the use of many of the proven ways to fight the virus (masks, vaccines), it appears in many parts of the nation another potential wave of the illness is emerging. The advent of the coming holiday season, along with colder weather driving people indoors, does not bode well.

Here in Tennessee the numbers are overall still well below previous high levels, with the largest increase reported primarily in Northeast Tennessee which is up 40% in the last two weeks.

Hopefully there won’t a fifth wave here, but the danger is if we do experience one, the new Tennessee COVID-19 protocols leave local and state governments, school boards, even businesses, with fewer proven methods to combat the disease.

The court fight over mask mandates continues. A federal judge in Nashville has imposed an injunction stopping the new state law banning mask mandates. While a court hearing is being held today (Friday), the pause will likely continue until after the Thanksgiving holidays. Several of the state’s major school systems, such as Memphis and Nashville, are continuing their mask requirements while others are relaxing theirs, some due to declining virus numbers in their communities, others to bow to the new state law.

Nationally, even Dr. Anthony Fauci is expressing concerns about the country facing a “double whammy” with the winter coming on, as the virus is increasing, and as the immunity of those who are already fully vaccinated is now waning without a booster shot.

Indeed, it now appears, after refusing to do so just a few weeks ago, the FDA and the CDC are ready to authorize booster shots for anyone over age 18. The FDA gave its approval this (Friday) morning with the CDC likely to follow within hours.

Some states and cities have not been waiting for the feds to act and have already authorizing boosters for all adults over 18 as a hedge against a fifth wave. Tennessee’s numbers for who is vaccinated are not among the highest in the nation, but did Governor Lee even consider authorizing boosters for all adults who have their shots? Remember this is a “leader” who has done a complete 180 on masks.

Those most at risk from COVID-19 remain the unvaccinated (only 49 % of the Tennessee adult population is fully vaccinated, 55% have one dose). A recent Texas study show those without shots are 20 times more likely to die.

This week there are moves afoot to provide a COVID-19 pill to help those infected in the early phases of the illness. Perhaps those who don’t like shots will be more willing to take a pill instead. It does seem almost anyone who has been stricken is ready to get any help they can to get well.

Pfizer says it will make its new pill available to poor countries throughout the world to fight the virus. Doing that is one of two major steps that Bill Gates believes can bring the disease under control more quickly than you think.

There is a small loophole in the new state law, allowing businesses to request permission to require a vaccine mandate for their employees, and some firms are applying to do so.

On the other hand this week, Governor Bill Lee taped a public service announcement bragging about the state’s ban on vaccine mandates. In an effort to recruit law enforcement employees being forced out of their posts in other cities and states by COVID-19 vaccine requirements, Governor Lee says “ the state (of Tennessee) won’t get in between (our) officers and their doctors.”

At the same time, faced with an increasingly difficult fight in the federal courts and elsewhere, this week the administration of President Joe Biden put a pause on the plan to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to get their workers to be vaccinated.

And so, the confusion and mixed messages continue. Is COVID-19 a disease we can now learn to live with, or is it still a pandemic that needs ongoing extraordinary measures to fight?

In the meantime, don’t forget two other related problems made worst by the pandemic, as we deal with a record number of opioid overdoses deaths and a growing mental health crisis among our young people in Tennessee.

THE BUILD BACK BETTER BILL

For most of this week, it has been anther one of uncertainty about the fate of the President Biden’s Build Back Better social spending and climate change bill.

Democrats in the House claimed they would have the votes by the end of the week to pass the bill, and a vote was then set for Thursday night, even though all the cost figures from the Congressional Budget Office were not set to be available until today (Friday).

The final CBO numbers actually came out Thursday. The numbers did not set off a revolt among moderate Democrats that could delay or scuttle the bill. But any chance to vote late Thursday was sabotaged by GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy.

He must have gotten confused which chamber he serves in. Ala the Senate, McCarthy took to the House floor and spoke filibuster style for more than eight and a half hours trying to stop the spending bill. About the only impact McCarthy’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” stunt did was delay all the House members from starting their Thanksgiving recess. McCarthy’s speech may have been a message to Trump supporters that he doing what he can to block the Biden agenda.

The debate on the House floor leading to a final vote on Build Back began at 8:00 A.M. EST this morning (Friday) and within a couple of hours was passed along a party line vote.

This “hurry up and wait” process to pass legislation is far from unusual in Washington, but it has been a constant in getting the Biden agenda approved.

Even with Build Back Better passed in the House, it must also be approved by the Senate, where all 50 Democratic Senators must be in support. That seems highly unlikely even if the upper chamber votes on the bill by Christmas as Democratic leaders say will happen. The most likely scenario is Senate Democrats passed their version of Build Back Better and the matter goes to a conference committee of both houses to work a compromise.

The Biden legislative agenda continues to create a major fight in the Republican Party. Even though Build Back Better is being passed under budget reconciliation rules, requiring no Republican support, (and it doesn’t seem to have any), former President Donald Trump this week sent out a broadside attacking any GOP lawmaker who supports the bill.

What really seems to stick in the former President’s craw are the 32 Republicans in both houses that voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill that President Biden signed into law this week. Several GOP members in the House are mad too. They are threatening to censure their colleagues and strip them of their committee assignments over their votes for the infrastructure measure. I have seen no movement to do that among Senate Republicans.

What is particularly strange about what is happening in the House is that one Republican congressman was censured and stripped of his committee assignments this week by the full House and almost no Republican House members supported that. Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona posted an anime video on- line showing him killing a Democratic colleague and attacking President Biden.

A censure like this happens very rarely in the House and shows the growing and troubling friction between Democratic and Republican members of the House. One of the main sponsors of the resolution to censure and strip Congressman Gosar of his committee assignments was Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper.

“Rep. Gosar’s actions are despicable, and he crossed the line. Congressional censure is entirely appropriate; anywhere else in America he would be fired or worse,” Rep. Cooper said. “It’s a sad day for Congress and I don’t know what’s worse. The fact that Rep. Gosar has still yet to apologize or see any issue with his actions, or that almost all of his Republican colleagues are refusing to speak out and are looking the other way.”

IF BUILD BACK BETTER BECOMES LAW, IT COULD MEAN BETTER HEALTHCARE FOR TENNESSEE’S POOR

Ever since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, expanding Tennessee’s Medicaid (Tenncare) program has by stymied by Republicans in the General Assembly who have never liked the program. The state has lost hundreds of millions of dollars of in federal funds. Many of Tennessee’s poorest have been left without insurance coverage.

But now if the Build Back Better Act is approved, there is a provision in the Act that will provide care to the poorest of Tennesseans and it can happen without approval by the Legislature.

If Build Back Better does pass, I can already hear the wailing and grinding of teeth on Capitol Hill here in Nashville amid more cries of government overreach.

AT THE METRO COURTHOUSE IT WAS A WEEK TO DEFER FOR THE COUNCIL

Several major pieces of legislation were deferred at the Courthouse this week by the Metro Council.

One bill to spend $1.9 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds was deferred for a second time. The monies would be used to manage the homeless encampments in town and specifically the renovation and repair of Brookmeade Park in West Nashville.

But the bill also allocated significant funds to buy a bulldozer, surveillance cameras and fencing that concerned several council members. Even after an amendment was added to forbid that equipment being used to disturb or remove those living in the camp, there still was not enough support to pass the bill. The feeling is the bill doesn’t address the problems of homelessness. Some also just don’t like how the bill itself is drafted.

The matter will be back on the agenda on December 7 after the Council further studies what to do in some special committee meetings.

The Council also deferred a resolution to end the city’s nearly 40- year-old car emissions program. The Environmental Protection Agency now says Nashville and the state now meets clean air standards and car emissions program in every county in Tennessee will end in early January. But even with 23 co-sponsors, a bill to end the emissions inspection program in Davidson County was deferred until January 4 to give the private operator more time to prepare its employees for the change. A couple of council members also want to be sure city health officials are comfortable with this.

Two other bills addressing the operations of tourist entertainment vehicles were also on the agenda, both on the first of three readings. One bill, to establish a permit system to allow a bring your own beer process on the vehicles, was passed.

First reading approval of bills is usually routine. But the second bill regarding tourist entertainment vehicles was bumped from the calendar. That bill would set up hours of operations and specific streets where the vehicles are allowed to go downtown.

The bill is sponsored At Large Councilman Steve Glover. It was objected by downtown Councilman Freddie O’Connell. There is a rare obscure, rarely used Council rule that allows district councilmembers to defer a bill sponsored by an At-Large member if the matter concerns his or her district. It has happened once before this year when another district councilmember had a resolution to honor the downtown Frist Art Museum on its 20th anniversary. The member had not consulted with O’Connell, and it seems, did not consult with Frist officials either in advance. The resolution was pulled, and once all the ducks were in a row, the congratulatory bill was unanimously passed.

Finally Tuesday night, there was another late resolution that never made it to a vote. Under the bill, the Council would accept a $1 million dollar grant from Amazon to spark “compact, higher density mixed use development projects” being built within walking distance of a transit facility.

Thinking that fits well with his Donelson district, Councilman Jeff Syracuse wanted to amend his area into the bill. Amending a late bill that takes unanimous consent for the Council to even consider, gets kind of complicated, so the sponsor of the Amazon pulled it to work out some better for the next Council meeting in December.

Another issue also came from a community group. The concern is a that Metro employee would be paid with the funds. Might that give Amazon undue influence? Just more reason for a deferral.

It was that kind of night.

One other note from the Metro Courthouse this week: Mayor John Cooper named Diana Alarcon director of the city’s newly created Department of Transportation, effective January 10.

Alarcon has served as director of transportation and mobility for the City of Tucson - the second-most populated city in Arizona – since 2018. Prior, she was transportation and mobility director for the City of Fort Lauderdale (2011-2018), where she launched Fort Lauderdale’s then-new department of transportation.

““For the first time, Nashville has a practical, workable Metro Transportation Plan and a department directly accountable for delivering it,” Mayor Cooper said. “Nashville is growing and attracting more investment than ever. To be a city that works – and works for everyone – we must keep prioritizing neighborhood transportation improvements and major infrastructure projects that serve us all.”

From her resume, it seems the first NDOT director has experience with heading a new department. That may come in handy. The Nashville DOT is actually operating under a 2-year Letter of Agreement (approved by the Metro Council) between the city’s Public Works Department and Metro Water Services. Water took over the city’s solid waste and trash collection duties while the new Nashville Transportation Department took over all the roads and infrastructure work previously handled by Public Works. It is thought to make these new arrangements permanent, there will need to be an amendment to the Metro Charter approved by both to a 2/3 vote of the Council and by city voters.

Mayor Cooper is already pushing the advantages coming from having a Department of Transportation. That includes Metro already procuring nearly $14 million in state and federal grants to fund transportation projects and being positioned to leverage additional grant dollars to pay for up to 60 percent of the Transportation Plan recently approved by the Council. The new federal infrastructure law will provide more direct transportation funding, including the chance for Nashville to compete with other cities for more federal grants.

NASHVILLE AREA CHAMBER EXECUTIVE RALPH SCHULZ ON INSIDE POLITICS

As the Nashville area approaches the final weeks of 2021, how did we do this year in terms of our economy?

What have been the successes and the challenges?

What’s the outlook for 2022?

How have we handled the pandemic and how will that continue and/or change as we enter a new year?

Nobody can speak to these questions better than Ralph Schulz, the President and CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

We are happy to have Ralph back as our guest on INSIDE POLITICS.

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. on Saturday.

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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.

NEXT WEEK

The happiest of Thanksgiving holidays to all!

There will be no Capitol View column next week and our INSIDE POLITICS program will be an encore presentation of my interview with Gray Sasser, Executive Director of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and Democracy.

That group is interested in maintaining and rebuilding the foundations of a civil society in our American democracy. It’s an issue of increasing importance so I hope you will watch if you didn’t see the program when it first aired in late October.

Look for the next Capitol View on Friday December 3.