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Captiol View Commentary -- March 19, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 12:06 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 13:07:02-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — THE VACCINE ROLLOUT CONTINUES TO BUILD MOMENTUM WHILE ISSUES LOOM; THE FIGHT OVER THE LATEST COVID-19 RELIEF BILL CONTINUES; THE TARGETING OF ASIAN AMERICANS MUST STOP; ANOTHER BUSY WEEK ON THE HILL; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT HISTORIC 2ND AVENUE;

THE VACCINE ROLLOUT CONTINUES TO BUILD MOMENTUM WHILE ISSUES LOOM

The number of COVID-19 vaccine shots continues to rise in this country.

President Joe Biden’s goal of delivering 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office (April 30) will be passed today (Friday March 19),. That is 58 days into his term and more than a month ahead of his schedule.

Even if the 100 million goal now looks like it was really low hanging fruit, the nation is now well above delivering 1 million shots per day, as we are averaging over 1.4 million needle sticks daily.

The President has asked the 50 states, tribes and territories to make all adults under age 16 eligible to get their immunizations by May 1. It is another goal several states are already announcing they will meet.

Tennessee health officials are confident the state will meet the May 1 deadline for all adults to be eligible to get their shots.

But overall, according to this article, Tennessee continues to lag behind the rest of the nation in our vaccine rollout.

Perhaps to deal with the potential issue of vaccine going to waste because appointment slots are not filled, the state is expected to announce an expansion of vaccine eligibility to those in Phase 2a and 2b of its vaccine plan, along with anyone 55 and older. They would be eligible to begin registering for vaccination appointments.

Phase 2a includes Tennesseans employed in social services, commercial agriculture, commercial food production, corrections staff and public transit. Phase 2b includes people working in transportation, such as postal and package delivery, freight railroad, maritime cargo and commercial or cargo service apartments, as well as those employed in public infrastructure, telecommunications and utilities.

Maybe the issue is that not enough people in the Volunteer State, especially in our rural counties, want to step up and get vaccinated.

Nationally, the largest percentage of those who say they won’t take the shots tend to be Republicans who voted for President Donald Trump. Given the strong support for the former President in this state (especially in rural areas) in both the 2016 and 2020 election, is that one reason our state is lagging in vaccination numbers, compared to the rest of the country?

Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health officials asked former President Trump this week to urge his voters to get vaccinated (as he and his wife did before they left the White House). The former President did just that in a FOX News interview, although he undercut his argument by saying some of his supporters won’t get shots because of personal “freedom” issues.

This freedom of choice issue could mean reaching ‘herd immunity” to stop the virus will be impossible to achieve. Still there are GOP members in Congress who seem to be OK with that.

This reminds me of the never-ending fight in this country over wearing masks to fight COVID-19. Doing so has clearly been the most effective way to stop the spread of the virus until the vaccines came along. But some politicians (Tennessee Governor Bill Lee for example,) while urging people to wear masks, have refused to require it. They have further mixed their messages by sometimes being seen not wearing a mask in public situations, where clearly such protection would be strongly advisable.

Governor Lee did it again last week, brazenly walking around Nashville’s Lower Broad tourist area, babbling about “opening up Nashville”, but not wearing any facial protection despite the months long order in Nashville/ Davidson County to do so. His office even put up some social media postings about it.

The Governor continues to be in full re-election mode, working hard to keep from getting a conservative primary challenger running against him in the August 2022 GOP primary. But as an elected official, he also took an oath to follow the law. He gave Nashville officials the power to institute a mask mandate if they see fit. They have done so. They have scientific proof the mandate has been helpful in combatting the disease in our community. Please, Governor, when you are out in Nashville, follow your oath of office and be respectful of the local mandate. Wear a mask like the rest of us.

By the way, another mask mandate in a surrounding county to Nashville is expiring.

On the world, national and local levels, while we have seen significant decreases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the peaks back in January, those numbers remain plateaued at significantly high levels. Europe is seeing numbers going up, perhaps signaling yet another surge.

There are also continuing concerns about Spring Break, St. Patrick’s Day, and other upcoming holidays such as Passover and Easter, sparking virus increases, unless everyone keeps up their guard and follows health recommendations, or problems could come if virus restriction in states are lifted too quickly.

The AstraZeneca issue in Europe seems to be easing a bit late in the week,. President Biden is even making some of the drug maker’s serum available to Canada and Mexico. That is, in a way, good news for me personally. I have been in the local AstraZeneca vaccine study. I have been unblinded and know I got their vaccine. Now I just need to get it approved for use in this country. I am told the company plans to submit its serum for emergency approval by the end of this month or in April Good. I would like to have that, in case the calls to require vaccination passports gets louder.

Here in Nashville, there seems to be strong public support to get vaccinated. A mass drive-through event, with the goal of administering 10,000 shots in one day, is set at Nissan Stadium Saturday. The available appointments filled up within a couple of hours. But some folks were a little too eager, signing up more than once. That issue has been fixed and the appointment roster is likely full again.

This mass inoculation event will involve just about everything, including live entertainment. Here is what you need to know.

Mayor John Cooper says as the number of people in Nashville, who are vaccinated, rises, the city will further relax its virus- related restrictions.

It appears we have already reached the 20% vaccination goal (at least one shot) before Saturday, so the mass drive-through event at Nissan Stadium, using the one -shot Johnson & Johnson serum, ought to put Nashville even closer to the next 30% milestone. The new relaxed local rules for reaching the 20% local vaccination goal would likely go into effect by the end of March.

There remained signs this week, that both the pandemic is still among us, and that the light at the end of the tunnel is coming closer. The annual Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival has been cancelled for the second year in row. But local churches are gearing for Easter celebrations the first weekend in April. In fact, the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Nashville is reinstating the obligation that Catholic must attend Mass every Sunday beginning on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter.

As for the annual Nashville Riverfront 4th of July celebration, the Mayor says it is being planned as a live, in person event this year after being cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic.

THE FIGHT OVER THE LATEST COVID-19 RELIEF BILL CONTINUES

President Joe Biden and members of his administration took to the road this week to sell the new $1.9 trillion virus relief bill. He starts that effort way ahead in the public opinion polls with over a 70% approval rating.

But Republicans are continuing to attack the measure as being too late and not targeted enough to effectively fight the virus. Still some conservatives wonder if they blew it in their effectiveness in opposing the plan.

Meantime the Republican State Attorneys General Association is threatening legal action that a portion of the relief bill is unconstitutional.

The constitutional concerns of the GOP AGs about not being able to cut taxes under the new relief law, could be interesting here in Nashville. It appears the city’s share of the virus relief funds set aside for state and local governments, will be at least $132 million.

With local tax collections coming in higher than projected, will the local property tax rate be cut in June, after being increased 34% last June? Some in the Council might like to do that. But keep in mind, this is a countywide reappraisal year in Davidson County. The property tax rate which has to be set every year, will likely need to be cut this year regardless. That is because the increase in the fair market value of properties in Davidson County, over the four years since the last reappraisal, has surely gone up substantially. So the rate will need to be cut, so the increase, in and of itself, won’t cause a tax increase.

How much will the rate be cut? We will have to see what the reappraisal numbers show. Also remember at whatever level the Council sets the new rate, whether your property tax bill goes up or down, depends on how much your property’s value went up compared to other parts of the city.

In the meantime this week, Mayor John Cooper announced he will soon ask the Metro Council to approve a $10 million grant fund, using some of the new federal virus relief address a variety of topics to help rebound from the pandemic.

The $5 million for the Barnes Fund was first announced separately last week. It would restore monies impounded by the Mayor because of earlier budget issues in 2019. This week we learned exactly where the monies would come from to restore the cut, which remains quite controversial.

The Mayor’s grant program will also seek to address mental health issues which have worsened in the past year, during the pandemic.

This final matter is not directly involved with the virus relief funds coming from Washington, but it is likely to be very helpful to Metro Schools, as it aims toward more students being in-person classes at the beginning of the next school year in August. The federal Centers for Disease Control is expected to announce new guidance as early as today (Friday) that children in classrooms will only require 3 feet of social distancing to be safe.

That is only half the separation previously required. Most classrooms are not designed for a lot of social distancing so it will help Metro Schools better find the room it needs to handle the sizable percentage of Metro Public School students who will one day be coming back to classrooms after having stayed in virtual learning all year.

OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS AND OTHER INCIDENTS CONTINUE TO TOP THE HEADLINES IN NASHVILLE

This week saw the Metro Council approve, without debate or dissent, a $2.25 million settlement of a federal lawsuitinvolving the killing (shooting) of a black man, Daniel Hambrick, by a white, former Metro Police Officer Andrew Delke back in 2018.

While the attorneys for Hambrick family downplayed the size and sincerity of the settlement (even as they accepted it), one note of opposition to this resolution of the lawsuit surfaced at the Metro Courthouse on the morning after the Council vote, and it caused the building to be evacuated.

The Delke shootings is one of several officer-involved events, including two last Friday (March 12) that have activists calling for change in the Metro Police Department.

THE TARGETING OF ASIAN AMERICANS MUST STOP

The pandemic has brought out both the best and the worst in Americans.

One of the worst things is the harassment, bad treatment, even bodily harm, being inflicted on Asian Americans because of their race, under the delusion that COVID-19 was somehow created by or the fault of China.

The growing number of incidents across the nation came to a head this week with a mass murder of six Asian women in the Atlanta area. It is not completely clear if this horrible action will prosecuted as a hate crime, but it has raised the issue to the very top levels of leadership of the nation.

One sign of how much work needs to be done on consciousness raising on this issue is reflected by the clueless and insensitive response to the media by one of the law enforcement spokesmen involved in the case.

This spokesman is no longer allowed to talk about this matter.

The issue is also one of growing importance here in Nashville. Activists say it is something that began even before the pandemic.

ANOTHER BUSY WEEK ON THE HILL

On a day when the Tennessee State Senate easily approved a bill to allow residents to carry a gun (concealed or open carry) without a permit, a fight among Republicans is breaking out in the open about this issue.

Forces opposing the gun carry measure still face an uphill fight to stop it. But a paid media effort has been launched to build opposition.

The legislative war by elements of the Republican Super Majority against transgendered youth continues on the Hill. Now it is a bill that would restrict health care.

The GOP-led effort to challenge the jurisdiction of local Nashville judges continues to move ahead in a committee on the Hill. The bill approved in sub-committee would allow lawsuits against the state to be filed in counties across Tennessee. Right now, they must all be filed in the Capitol City.

Republican lawmakers are unhappy with a ruling by a Nashville Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle which broadened the right for citizens to vote by mail during the pandemic. They filed a joint resolution to oust her from office. That failed in committee last week. This week it was learned the state’s top election official worked closely with GOP lawmakers on the ouster effort.

Now comes this bill to take jurisdiction over lawsuits against the state away from the “blue” Nashville courts as it continues to move ahead on the Hill.

In yet another sign that Republicans in the General Assembly are unhappy about efforts to remove the controversial bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest from the State Capitol, a bill has been filed to remove all the members of the Tennessee Historical Commission.

That group recently voted overwhelmingly to move the Forrest artwork to the State Museum. Lawmakers are also waiting on an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General about whether the Commission violated the process of the law in voting to remove the bust. What might be their next step? Perhaps a direct effort by lawmakers to override the removal effort and keep the Forrest bust in place?

In the meantime, the bill to remove all the members of the Historical Commission has moved out of sub-committee in the Senate.

It will be a few more weeks before lawmakers pass a budget and wrap up their session. But one long standing money issue, that has become a real scandal in recent years, moved closer to a resolution this week.

INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT HISTORIC 2ND AVENUE

It has been almost three months since downtown, and all of Nashville, was shaken to its core by a Christmas Day bomb blast that severely damaged numerous buildings on Historic 2nd Avenue.

This week we learned from an FBI investigation that the lone bomber involved was driven by paranoia, conspiracy theories, and suicidal intentions, not by terrorism.

In typical Nashville fashion, the city has banded together to help those impacted by the bombing, and to build back 2nd Avenue even better.

But what does that mean? What will that take, and how long might it take to do that?

What is the history of 2nd Avenue? How did it become historic? And how we can keep it that way, or adapt it successfully for the future of downtown and our world class tourism and hospitality industry anchored there?

To help us address those questions, and offer their insights, our guests on INSIDE POLITICS are Dr. Carole Bucy, the city’s historian and Freddie O’Connell the 19th District Metro Councilman who represents much of the downtown area, including 2nd Avenue.

Tune us in! It is an insightful conversation.

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