The week began with the resignation of State Representative Robin Smith, a Republican from Hixson, which is in the Chattanooga area. As she resigned, it was revealed that she was entering into a plea agreement and will be cooperating with federal investigators. On Tuesday, Smith pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and will cooperate in an investigation into a scheme that says she, former House speaker Glen Casada and his once-top aide Cade Cothren created a non-existent political consulting firm and secretly pocketed proceeds from the firm. The way the scheme worked: Cothren allegedly pretended to be a political consultant named Matthew Phoenix. He had to use a fake identity because he had already been dismissed from the legislature after a racist and sexist texting scandal that he and Casada previously became embroiled in and he knew that the new leadership would not do business with him. The three then allegedly created Phoenix to do constituent and campaign work for Republican lawmakers while they kept a percentage of the payments. It remains to be seen where Smith’s cooperation will lead to for Casada and Cochran…but for Smith herself, when she is sentenced on the wire fraud charge it could carry a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to 250-thousand dollars.
Tennessee could be primed for one of the next big abortion battles in the country. Under a proposed amendment to HB2779, lawmakers as early as next week could be voting on a local version of the newly-passed Texas abortion law. That law bans most abortions except to prevent the death or substantial impairment of the pregnant woman. In addition, the new law would allow a private citizen to sue an abortion provider for performing an abortion. The amendment was scheduled to be attached to the bill in the House Health Subcommittee on Tuesday, but the committee ran out of time before the bill could be presented. It is back on the calendar for next week.
Two House Democrats offered Tennesseans a way to get some temporarily relief from the rapidly rising gas prices we are all facing. State Reps. John Ray Clemmons and Bo Mitchell, both of Nashville, are asking Governor Bill Lee to place a 90-day moratorium on Tennessee’s gas tax. Reps. Clemmons and Mitchell estimate it could put as much as 224 million dollars back in the pockets of Tennesseans…and it could take effect as early as next month. The two sent a letter to the Governor this week detailing three ways the Governor could make it happen—by adding it to his budget implementation legislation, or via a stand-along bill or even by executive order. Media outlets have reported the Governor has confirmed receiving the letter, however he reportedly says he has not yet looked at it.
A number of Democratic bills advanced this week by several Representatives—
- Leader Karen Camper’s bill-HB 2840-passed out of Insurance subcommittee and on to full committee this week. The bill would allow TennCare to create a program that would pay for EMS responses to non-life-threatening emergencies, such as a patient needing a mental health intervention instead of an emergency room or if a patient needed a non-emergency issues, such as blood pressure issues. Currently EMS responses (ambulances) are only reimbursed if someone it taken to the emergency room.
- Representative Jason Powell passed HB2278 out of the full Transportation Committee. The bill, which has received a lot of media attention, directs a study to examine the cost and feasibility of bringing passenger rail service to selected cities across the state. It goes on to the Finance, Ways and Means Committee next week.
- HB1849 by Representative Yusuf Hakeem requests that black history instruction be added to the curriculum of grades 5-8. It passed the Education Instruction Subcommittee this week and is moving on the full committee next week.
- Also moving on to the same full committee is HB2291 by Representative Harold Love. That bill proposes that financial literacy courses be added to the curriculum of grades 6 through 8.
- Representative Hakeem ended the week passing one his bills on the House Floor. HB1459 requires that a person arrested for domestic assault will have to stay away from the place where the victim lives for at least 24 hours after they are released on bail. It moves on to the Senate now.
Finally, the House Democratic Caucus offers congratulations to former State Representative London Lamar, who was sworn in on Monday as the newest member of the State Senate. Lamar represented State House District 91 for the past 3 and a half years, before being chosen by the Shelby County Commission to replace Katrina Robinson. Minority Caucus Leader Karen Camper said Lamar will represent the citizens of Senate District 33 well—calling her “a hard worker, and dedicated to the citizens of Shelby County and the State or Tennessee.” She also praised her ability to work across party lines to get things done. Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie said that Lamar will do a “fantastic job in the Senate.” He also said that he and the Caucus will now “fully support Representative Torrey Harris to become the next Representative of District 91.” Harris currently represents House District 90 but was placed in the same district with Lamar when Tennessee Republicans re-drew the district maps earlier this year. Chairman Dixie said Representative Harris has done an exemplary job serving the people of Memphis. As one of the few millennials in the Legislature, he brings a fresh perspective and a needed voice to the State Capitol and he has the full support of the entire Tennessee Democratic Caucus.
Ken Jobe is the press secretary for the State Democratic Caucus. He gives a weekly summation of bills being presented from the Democratic viewpoint.