Tennessee Legislative Recap: Lee Highlights Transportation, Energy in Inaugural Address; Senate Gets Underway
Governor Bill Lee Sworn In for Second and Final Term
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee took the oath of office for his second and final four-year term on January 21, featuring a day that began with a star-studded worship service and ended with a black-tie ball. More than 1,500 people were slated to attend Gov. Lee’s inauguration, held outside at Legislative Plaza under sunny skies, a welcomed departure from his last inauguration which was forced inside due to rain. In his inaugural address, Lee praised Tennessee’s virtues as leading the nation in economic development and fiscal stewardship while touting the need for civility, a gesture likely aimed at encouraging nonpartisan efforts among lawmakers. He laid out his vision for the remainder of his time in office, including developing the transportation and energy strategy his administration first unveiled earlier this month, enhancing conservation efforts, and improving the state’s foster care and adoption system to better protect children. Earlier this month, Governor Lee introduced the Transportation Modernization Act, his administration’s infrastructure plan to address the state’s exponential growth and resulting traffic congestion. Lee emphasized his ongoing commitment to Tennesseans to not take on any debt or raise taxes, but shared his intention to make “strategic transportation investments that prepare rural and urban communities for increased economic advantages and improved mobility in the years ahead.” Through the use of choice lanes, increased private investment in urban roadways, and efforts toward quicker delivery on road projects, Lee’s proposal seeks to solve current and future mobility challenges.
Supreme Court Vacancy
Governor Lee is tasked with nominating the next Tennessee Supreme Court judge from three finalists to replace Justice Sharon Lee’s vacated seat when she retires August 31. This will be Governor Lee’s second appointment, and makes all five Supreme Court Justices Republican appointments. On the list for the Governor’s consideration:
- Kristi Davis of Knoxville; Davis currently serves as a judge on the Tennessee Court of Appeals, having previously served as a judge in Knox County Circuit Court, Division 1 and 14 years in private practice.
- Tom Greenholtz of Ooltewah; Greenholtz is an Eastern Section judge of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
- Dwight E. Tarwater of Knoxville; Tarwater has practiced law since 1980 and previously served as a partner at Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers LLP. He also served as general counsel to former Governor Bill Haslam between 2014-2018.
Following the Governor’s nomination, the General Assembly must confirm the appointment.
Special Election for House District 86
By a wide margin, Justin J. Pearson (D-Memphis) won the Tennessee House District 86 special election to fill the seat formerly held by late Representative Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis). Pearson easily defeated nine other candidates, including Rep. Cooper’s daughter, Tanya Cooper. Rep. Cooper served in the General Assembly for more than 25 years and was the oldest serving lawmaker in Tennessee recorded history. There was no Republican candidate for the seat, so Pearson will take office February 1. Pearson is a community activist in Memphis that is best known for leading efforts against a pipeline that would have run near a water aquifer and through poor, predominantly black neighborhoods in Memphis.
While the Senate got underway last week, the House remained adjourned, as members continue to get settled into new offices and complete organizational tasks. The Senate largely devoted its week to introductions and presentations.
Both chambers will be in session this week, signaling the end of the organizational period. With that, legislative activity will start picking up over the next couple of weeks, marked by a flurry of filing activity early next week in advance of Tuesday’s House bill filing deadline. The Senate deadline is two days later, on Thursday, February 2. We expect committee calendars to begin filling up two to three weeks from now.
Governor Lee’s State of the State address is scheduled for February 6, where he will mark the state’s accomplishments and outline his legislative priorities for the year.