Tennessee General Assembly Returns Monday

Lawmakers will return to Nashville on Monday evening to reconvene for session and officially begin their legislative business for 2021. Typically the legislature eases into its duties over the course of the first few weeks, and that looks to be the case again this year, with the budget taking center stage in the next few weeks.  The members of the General Assembly spent the past two weeks shuffling offices and finalizing legislation for introduction in anticipation of the bill filing deadlines in both chambers, February 11th and 17th, respectively. 

Upon returning to Nashville, lawmakers will hear from Governor Bill Lee (R-Franklin) in a joint convention at the War Memorial Building for the Governor’s third annual “State of the State” address, in which Lee will assess the overall condition of the state and outline his legislative priorities for 2021, while also releasing his proposed budget.  This week, Lee provided a brief forecast for his speech, remarking “Tennesseans have faced incredible challenges this past year and the State of the State address will both reflect on this unique place in history and cast a vision for a healthy and prosperous 2021.”  In a surprising development, Tennessee’s revenues exceeded projections in the month of December 2020, showing $156 million more than originally forecast. For the past five months, year-to-date revenues were $732.8 million more than the budget estimate.  If this trend continues, the state’s general fund could result with 5% more than the previous fiscal year.  However, uncertainly remains with respect to the Lee’s spending priorities in his upcoming budget proposal and how the budget process will differ in the 2021 legislative process. 

Next Tuesday, committees in both the House and Senate will officially open, although we anticipate more of a focus on the introduction of new members and laying out each committee’s rules during session, particularly in light of the public’s limited access to the Cordell Hull Building and uncertainty with respect to legislative operations during the pandemic. Very few bills, if any, will be considered next week, with the expected focus being on the budget and budget hearings and little in the way of a legislative agenda.

Tennessee Experiences Decline in COVID-19 Cases

 This week, Tennesseans received encouraging news on the COVID-19 pandemic, with the state seeing a decline in positive cases for the first time since the fall.  Hospitalizations dropped by more than half since peaking on January 6th and remain at their lowest levels since mid-November. The Department of Health reported fewer infections statewide; however, the state’s death rate remains higher than the national average, with over 10,000 deaths resulting from the virus. The Tennessee Department of Health announced that persons 70 and older are now eligible to be vaccinated, with the state expecting to receive 93,000 doses of the vaccine this week, a 15% increase from recent allocations. Tennesseans 65 and older are expected to begin vaccinations by March. 

General Assembly to Consider COVID-19 Legislation 

Tennessee will see its fair share of COVID-19 related legislation this session, as lawmakers filed a batch of bills related to the state’s response in addressing the pandemic. The legislative measures largely reflect Tennessee’s unique response to addressing the pandemic, with the Governor refusing to issue a statewide mask mandate, opting instead to focus on local autonomy and personal choice in combatting the spread of the virus.  In the absence of a statewide mandate, many local governments put face mask mandates in place, in addition to variations of local “stay at home” orders and other business restrictions within their jurisdictions.  Senator Joey Hensley (R- Hohenwald) introduced a measure this week that prohibits private businesses from denying service to customers who do not wear a mask or receive the vaccine. The legislation deems a business  “discriminatory” if it denies goods or services to customers based upon their “use of a medical device” or “medical treatment,” i.e. masks and vaccines.  Similarly, Senator Janice Bowling (R- Tullahoma) and Rep. Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport) recently introduced a measure to prohibit state and local authorities from requiring vaccination for employment, and Representative Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin) filed a bill to prevent the state from regulating gathering sizes in homes and churches.  In 2020, Governor Lee encouraged churches to move to virtual, but Lee also issued an executive order early in the pandemic blocking local governments from limiting religious gatherings.


Looking Ahead  

          Legislation is being filed on a daily basis and will increase to a frenzy in advance of the bill filing deadlines.  The Senate’s deadline is Thursday, February 11th and the House’s deadline is Wednesday, February 17th. 

           After Governor Lee’s “State of the State” address Monday evening, we expect a flood of new bills to be filed up until the bill filing deadlines, so please expect your bill tracking reports to continue to grow.  As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions. Have a great weekend.     

This month, the 112th Tennessee General Assembly convened in Nashville on January 12th to begin the 2021 legislative session, starting the first of a two-year legislative session. The first week of session is referred to as “organizational week” where the House and Senate adopt rules of order, elect leadership, and make new committee and office assignments.  However, the General Assembly held the organizational session in two days, shifting gears quickly into a short regular session at the tail end of the week.  The General Assembly reelected Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R- Oak Ridge) – who serves as Speaker of the Senate – and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) to their respective leadership posts.


Now, having a full session under his belt and with a brand new General Assembly, Speaker Sexton put his own stamp on the committee structure, with a revamped committee structure and a handful of new committee chairmen.  The House Transportation Committee will continued to be chaired by Rep. Dan Howell (R- Georgetown) and will only have one subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Sam Whitson (R- Franklin). The Senate Transportation Committee will continue to be chaired by Senator Becky Massey (R- Knoxville). Representative Patsy Hazlewood (R- Signal Mountain) will now serve as Chair to the powerful House Finance, Ways & Means Committee, with Representative Gary Hicks (R- Rogersville) chairing the subcommittee.


After the organizational week, the General Assembly rapidly completed a special legislative session the following week aimed at education matters, approving a $160 million package of bills addressing literacy, standardized testing, and other remedial measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In four days, lawmakers approved three separate bills and a separate budget bill allocating funding for the legislative proposals offered by Governor Bill Lee (R-Franklin).


Following the adjournment of the General Assembly’s special session, the legislators now stand in a two-week recess, with lawmakers returning to Nashville on February 8th to begin the regular session with Governor Lee’s annual State of the State Address. The Senate set their bill filing deadline for Thursday, February 11th, and the House set its deadline for Wednesday, February 17th.  As always, it is a pleasure to represent you at the Tennessee General Assembly. 

Guide to the Biden Administration and the 117th Congress


Please find two documents that members of our Federal Government Relations Team put together to help our clients and friends navigate the First 100 Days of the Biden Administration.

In addition to the Guide, the GR Team also prepared a Congressional Calendar for the upcoming year.

We will continue to keep you updated. If you have any questions or would like additional information, please contact a member of the Tennessee Adams and Reese Government Relations Team below.

Adams and Reese

Over the past several months, the Adams and Reese Government Relations team has sent out various alerts regarding the outbreak of COVID-19 and how it may affect the way in which you do business. We have compiled a list on our website. Click here to view the Adams and Reese Crisis Response and Preparedness webpage

Guilford F. Thornton Brad A. Lampley C. Dale Allen Clayton Byrd Holly L. McDaniel

Special Assistance Provided By Sabrina Huffman

Tennessee’s 112th General Assembly Convenes

The 112th Tennessee General Assembly convened in Nashville on Tuesday for the first week of the 2021 legislative session, beginning the first of a two-year legislative session. The legislature returns to Nashville in the midst of a tumultuous time that will not soon be forgotten. Tennessee was recently listed as one of the worst COVID hotspots in the nation, parts of the city and state are still recovering from last April’s tornadoes, and on Christmas Day the eyes of the world turned to downtown Nashville as a bombing on Second Avenue did significant damage to downtown buildings and the communications infrastructure, but miraculously – and thanks for the quick work of six Nashville police officers – did not cause any deaths other than the bomber himself. Then, just last week, FBI agents raided a number of homes and offices of legislators and legislative staff while performing an investigation, the subject of which has not yet been announced. 


The first week of session is referred to as “organizational week” where the House and Senate adopt rules of order, elect leadership, and make new committee and office assignments.  However, the General Assembly held the organizational session for two days, shifting gears quickly into a short regular session at the tail end of the week.


Shortly before the General Assembly gaveled in the 2021 session, the Senate and House announced guidelines to restrict the public’s access to the upcoming proceedings, and it appears that things will pick up in 2021 where they left off in 2020.  The Senate will prohibit in-person attendance to committee meetings or floor sessions, and access to the Senate office floor will be by appointment only.  The House remains open to the public, albeit at limited capacity.  Of note, lawmakers will not be required to wear masks during session; however, visitors and staff will be required to do so. 


One legislator, Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro), has been on a ventilator due to COVID for the better part of the last month.  Byrd was hospitalized in December and went on a ventilator shortly thereafter. While Byrd’s condition has improved, one family member acknowledged that he has a “long and tough road ahead of him.”


Legislature Elects Leadership and Constitutional Officers


           On Tuesday, the first day of the legislative session, the General Assembly reelected Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R- Oak Ridge) – who serves as Speaker of the Senate – and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) to their respective leadership posts.  Both received overwhelming votes of approval, even from their colleagues across the aisle.  Indeed, McNally was re-elected to the Lt. Governor/Speaker role unanimously, while Sexton received all but one vote from the House. 


          On Wednesday, lawmakers turned their attention to electing the state’s constitutional officers, with the Secretary of State, Comptroller of the Treasury, and State Treasurer up for consideration by joint convention of the General Assembly—a proceeding that this year was held in the War Memorial Building to allow for increased spacing among members.  Tre Hargett and David Lillard were once again elected to their respective positions of Secretary of State and Treasurer.  Meanwhile, Jason Mumpower was elected Comptroller, filling the shows of his former boss, the incomparable Justin Wilson, who recently announced his retirement.  Mumpower has served as Wilson’s top lieutenant for several years, following a distinguished legislative career. 


Committee Consolidation Announced in House, Senate Sees Little Change


         Upon succeeding Glen Casada (R-Franklin) in the speaker’s role in August 2019, Sexton made few changes to the committee structure that Casada had previously adopted.  Now, having a full session under his belt and with a brand new General Assembly, Sexton has put his own stamp on the committee structure, with a revamped committee structure and a handful of new committee chairmen.  Among other things, Sexton split the Judiciary Committee (which previously had four subcommittees) into two full, standing committees: Civil Justice, and Criminal Justice.  Mike Carter (R- Ooltewah) and Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) will chair those committees, respectively. Sexton also split the Education Committee into the Education Administration Committee, chaired by Mark White (R-Memphis), and the Education Instruction Committee, chaired by Debra Moody (R- Covington).


        Representative Patsy Hazlewood (R- Signal Mountain) will now serve as Chair to the powerful House Finance, Ways & Means Committee, with Representative Gary Hicks (R- Rogersville) chairing the subcommittee. The always-influential Commerce Committee will now be chaired by Kevin Vaughan (R-Collierville), with Clark Boyd (R-Lebanon) getting the nod to chair the Utilities Subcommittee.  The Utilities Subcommittee was previously chaired by Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville), who has now ascended to Speaker Pro Tem.  Sexton also elevated Representative Sabi ‘Doc’ Kumar (R- Springfield) to Chairman of the House Insurance Committee.  Other new chairmen include Chris Todd (R-Jackson; Ag. & Nat. Resources Sub.), Clay Doggett (R-Pulaski; Crim. Justice Sub.), Kirk Haston (R-Lobelville; K-12 Sub), Justin Lafferty (R-Knoxville; Higher Ed. Sub.), Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka; Ed. Instruction Sub.), Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville; Appropriations Sub.), David Hawk (R-Greeneville; Insurance Sub.), John Holsclaw (R-Johnson City; Depts. & Agencies Sub.), Esther Helton (R-Chattanooga; Public Service Sub.), and Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville; Calendar & Rules). 


         The Senate saw minimal changes with its committee structure and composition, with the exception of replacing chairmen in the Education Committee and the State and Local Government Committee. Lt. Gov. McNally appointed Senator Brian Kelsey (R- Germantown) to chair Education, while and Richard Briggs (R- Knoxville) will now chair State & Local Government. Other than these appointments and the additions for two new members, Senator Page Walley (R- Bolivar) and Senator Heidi Campbell (D- Nashville), the Senate witnessed few changes in organizational session.


         For your review, attached please find two documents that summarize the House and Senate Committees of the 112th General Assembly.


Medicaid Block Grant Initiative Approved


By virtue of having finally received federal approval last week, Tennessee is now nearing the goal line regarding its much-discussed Medicaid block grant, with the final hurdle likely coming as soon as tomorrow morning.  On January 8, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved of a block grant that the legislature passed during the 2019 legislative session, making Tennessee the first state in the country to be approved for the new process of handling Medicaid. The block grant would cap funding for TennCare, which covers about one-fifth of Tennessee residents, instead of the federal government paying for two-thirds of the cost.


           As contemplated, if the state ends up saving money on the program, it can share in those savings provided the state keeps half to reinvest in government programs. Thus, the key is for the state to operate the program with less cost than the cap or improve quality of aid. Those savings would focus on maternal health coverage, serving additional needy population, clearing wait list for services for those with intellectual and developmental issues, and addressing state specific health issues.


           Critics worry that the program will not provide enough funding for participants if there is a surge of enrollees. However, there is a sliding scale of federal funds if enrollment were to increase in TennCare. As the debate began on the issue, Democrats constantly questioned the urgency with approving the waiver. Republicans argued it made sense to pass the resolution under the current federal administration.


           Now that the federal government has given its final approval, lawmakers are currently in the process of considering the final plans regarding the waiver, which is the final step before the plan can take effect. While a final legislative approval along party lines could come as early as Friday morning, there is a chance that the program may be short lived. The in-coming Biden administration can reverse the block grant plan before it takes effect, which could take months. While Governor Lee does not expect the Biden administration to do so, opponents of the plan say otherwise.    



Special Session on the Horizon


           In December, Governor Bill Lee (R-Franklin) called a special session to begin Tuesday, January 19 where lawmakers will consider various education bills related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The special session will focus on 5 key issues: learning loss, funding, accountability, literacy and teacher pay–important initiatives of the Lee administration, which were put on hold due to the pandemic last year. Governor Lee called the session to ensure these issues get resolved before the end of the academic year, with the vocal support of leadership in the General Assembly. Governor Lee remarked “even before the virus hit, and despite years of improvement, too many of our state’s students were still unable to read on grade level. I’m calling on the legislature to join us in addressing these serious issues so we can equip our hardworking educators and districts with the resources and supports they need to set our students on the path to success.” The special session was widely applauded by legislative leadership, and the session is only expected to last one week.   


FBI Raid Causes Commotion, Speculation, Uncertainty


           Early last Friday morning, FBI agents raided the homes and legislative offices of a number of prominent legislators and staff members, including former Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixon), leaving with boxes full of items. Newly-elected representative Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) also had his home searched, as did Casada’s former Chief of Staff.  While speculation has been high, details and solid information have been slow to come. Officials have only revealed that there is an ongoing FBI investigation, but the nature of the investigation and the expected timeline have not been revealed.  Speaker Sexton has placed those legislative staff members that were subject to search warrants under administrative leave, and reminded the public that the raid was “just the start of the investigation and the process, and not the end. Today does not necessarily imply guilt.”  Governor Lee characterized the situation as “certainly very concerning.  I know very little about that.  There’s been no FBI outreach to us but I am confident that Speaker Sexton is on top of this situation as it unfolds.” 


Looking Ahead


           The General Assembly quickly wrapped up their organizational session this week and transitioned into regular session to take up, consider, and pass legislation, with a focus on the anticipated approval of legislation involving Tennessee’s Medicaid block grant waiver.  Next week, the General Assembly will conduct business under the call of the special session and is expected to conclude their work by the end of next week. It is anticipated that the General Assembly will recess for two weeks and reconvene for regular session the week of February 8th. As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions. Have a great weekend.    


In December, Governor Bill Lee announced a special session at the Tennessee General Assembly, which will being on January 19th and deal with education. Lawmakers of the 112th General Assembly will return to Nashville to address urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the General Assembly convenes in 2021, the legislature will welcome two new freshman members in the Senate and ten new freshman members in the House. Bills considered during a special session are limited to the subjects outlined in Governor’s call for it, meaning that matters outside of the topic of education will not be considered at that time. 


As of now, the timeline for the regular legislative session is up in the air, although there is speculation that lawmakers could meet in organization session for a period of time and recess for six weeks to give time for vaccines to be distributed and for COVID-19 numbers to decrease. However, the timing of the special session makes the feasibility of a recess thereafter unclear and perhaps less likely. At this time, we anticipate the timeline for the regular session to proceed normally after the special session ends, and for the protocols imposed on the public and lobbyists attending the proceedings to remain the same, with different rules applying in the Senate and the House. We will keep you updated on further developments on this front. It is our pleasure to represent you at the Tennessee General Assembly and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to let us know.

In November, the general election in Tennessee lacked much of the drama experienced in other states, as the Republicans generally maintained dominance on election night. Bill Hagerty scored a landslide victory in the race to replace the retiring U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander with more than 62% of the vote, and political newcomer Diana Harshbarger will now head to Washington as the representative for Tennessee’s first congressional district, taking 75% of the vote in a runaway. The state legislature will remain a Republican supermajority with Republicans only dropping one seat in the Senate, and maintaining their 47 seat advantage in the House. Tennessee mirrored many other states in experiencing a high voter turnout and a record number of early voters. Through early voting, just over 2 million Tennesseans voted and over 200,000 absentee ballots were cast.


Tennessee Democrats achieved a notable victory on election night, with Heidi Campbell defeating incumbent Republican Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) by four points to take control of the sole remaining Nashville Senate seat that had been in the GOP column. Campbell’s win came in what was perhaps the most watched election in the General Assembly. Campbell is the former mayor of Oak Hill, a satellite city of Nashville. She will be one of two new faces in the state Senate next session, with the other being Page Walley, a Republican from Bolivar, who won the race to replace the retiring Dolores Gresham. Walley is far from a newcomer to Nashville, having previously served five terms as a State Representative.


There were even fewer surprises in the state House elections, as the Republican supermajority will stay exactly the same. That represented a significant accomplishment for Republicans, who had grown concerned about several districts they had dominated in the past, but which had experienced an increase in Democratic influence. Republicans pushed money into the races of open seats created by the departures of Representative Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) and Representative Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville). Ultimately, those seats remained in GOP control, with Eddie Maness prevailing in the Knoxville race and John Gillespie edging out Democratic challenger Gabby Salinas in Memphis. Other Republicans, such as Charlie Baum (R-Murfreesboro) and Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna), withstood tough challenges, as did House Education Chairman Mark White (R-Memphis), who scored an 8 point win over Democratic challenger Jerri Green in the suburbs of Memphis. Also, in Memphis, Representative John DeBerry (D-Memphis), an incumbent who has served 26 years in his seat, suffered a landslide defeat at the hands of Democratic challenger Torrey Harris. DeBerry had been removed from the Democratic ticket and was forced to run as an Independent. This week, Governor Bill Lee announced that Deberry will join his administration as a senior advisor.


The 112th General Assembly will convene on January 12, 2021. It is unclear at this moment how the legislature will conduct business with COVID-19 remaining an ongoing concern. The legislature held caucus elections in November, with Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R- Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R- Crossville) keeping their top-ranking positions. In the House, current Majority Leader William Lamberth (R- Portland) also secured his leadership post. On behalf of the Tennessee Government Relations Team of Adams and Reese, it remains our honor to represent you at the Tennessee General Assembly. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.


In October, Tennessee lawmakers and candidates alike continued to fundraise in anticipation of the November election. President Donald Trump and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty remain frontrunners in the Volunteer State and are expected to win by hefty margins. All 99 House seats are up for re-election this year, as are half of the Senate seats, given that Representatives serve two-year terms and Senators serve four-year terms. However, we anticipate that the makeup of the General Assembly will not be significantly impacted in the general election. 


The race for District 20 in suburban Nashville continues to garner the most attention at the state-level, as incumbent Republican Senator Steve Dickerson faces off against the former Democratic mayor of Oak Hill, Heidi Campbell. Similarly, the District 10 seat held by Republican Senator Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga is receiving increased attention, as Gardenhire faces off against Democratic police chief Glenn Scruggs. 


In October, two members of Governor Bill Lee’s cabinet announced their departures for the private sector, Commissioner Danielle Barnes of the Department of Human Services and Commissioner Hogden Mainda of the Department of Commerce and Insurance.  We will keep you updated with future developments on the election front. As always, it is a pleasure to represent you at the Tennessee General Assembly. 

This month, lawmakers at the Tennessee General Assembly worked and campaigned from their districts and continued fundraising. In November, half of the Senators and all of the Representatives are up for reelection. In September, Governor Lee (R-Franklin) announced an extension of the state of emergency, indicating that such a measure would stay in place as long as President Donald Trump’s administration keeps its declaration in place. In the same announcement, Governor Lee also lifted all coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and gatherings in 89 counties of the state; however, county health departments in Tennessee’s six largest cities will continue to be able to set their own regulations.

Adams and Reese LLP, along with the Tennessee Trucking Association, sponsored two major fundraising events in September, a dinner for House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R- Crossville) on September 14th and another dinner for House Assistant Majority Leader Ron Gant (R- Rossville) on September 29th. Both events, which took place at Giovanni West in Belle Meade, were a great success and provided the group with the chance to discuss important emerging topics with legislative leadership at the General Assembly. As always, it is a pleasure to represent you at the legislature.  

August was a busy month in the primary season in Tennessee and with the special legislative session called by Governor Lee.  In a U.S. Senate primary race, Bill Hagerty scored a surprisingly resounding victory over challenger Manny Sethi, in the race for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Senator Lamar Alexander.  While the U.S. Senate primary garnered much of the national attention, the race to fill the seat vacated by the retiring Congressman Phil Roe also drew its share of the spotlight.  Out of a crowded field that included prominent state legislators such as Sen. Rusty Crowe (R- Johnson City), and Reps. Timothy Hill (R- Blountville) and David Hawk (R- Greeneville), as well as several mayors, Kingsport pharmacist and political newcomer Diana Harshbarger prevailed with 19% of the vote, edging out Hill by just over two points and Crowe by three.


            Despite having all of the state House seats and half of the Senate seats up for reelection, most incumbents enjoyed an uneventful evening, having gone unchallenged in their August primaries. As is always the case however, there were a few notable exceptions. Heading into the evening, House GOP leadership was focused primarily on five races: those of incumbents Matthew Hill (R- Jonesborough), Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta),  Rick Tillis (R- Lewisburg), and Micah Van Huss (R- Jonesborough), as well as the race in Knoxville to fill the seat vacated by Martin Daniel (R- Knoxville), who chose not to seek re-election.  Out of the four aforementioned incumbents, only Sherrell prevailed in his race, earning 48% of the vote in a three-way field. Tillis lost to Todd Warner by an 8-point margin, Van Huss suffered a 15-point loss to Hicks, and Hill — a former Deputy Speaker and 16 year veteran of the General Assembly — lost to Rebecca Alexander in a 27 point landslide. Meanwhile, in the Knoxville race, Eddie Mannis edged Gina Oster by 99 votes, which amounted to just over one percentage point.  In the race to fill the District 3 seat vacated when Timothy Hill decided to run for Congress, Scotty Campbell prevailed over Neal Kerney by a 73-26 margin. Rick Staples (D- Knoxville) was the only incumbent Democrat to lose, he took third in the primary with Sam McKenzie winning 39.5% of the votes.


            On the Senate side, two races drew most of the attention: a Republican race in West Tennessee to fill the vacated seat in District 26, and the Democratic race in suburban Nashville’s District 20. The West Tennessee race pitted former state Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton against former state representative and current Bolivar Vice Mayor Page Walley.  While Templeton received an endorsement from the seat’s previous occupant, Dolores Gresham (R- Somerville), Walley won the race, prevailing 53 to 47.  In the Nashville race, Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell prevailed over Kimi Abernathy 51 to 49.  Campbell now looks to take on the incumbent, Steve Dickerson (R- Nashville) in November.


          In August, the 111th Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up a three-day special session, passing the legislation that Governor Lee called them to pass relative to COVID liability, telemedicine, and increasing penalties for violations of state law relating to destruction of public property and camping on Capitol grounds. Overall, the brief and businesslike session lacked the fireworks between the House and Senate that punctuated the end of the regular session; however, it was not completely devoid of drama, especially relative to the activities of the protesters that have remained at the Capitol all summer.


         The COVID-19 liability legislation applies to claims filed against businesses, schools and other nonprofits, and raises the legal bar for a claimant alleging loss, damage, injury or death from the coronavirus, requiring the claimant to demonstrate “gross negligence or willful misconduct” to recover damages in a COVID-19 related lawsuit. The bill only applies to lawsuits filed on or after August 3rd, 2020, the day that Governor Lee called the special session, meaning that lawsuits filed before this date will not be subject to the higher legal standard. The new law will remain in effect until July of 2022.  Attached please find the final version of this legislation for your review.


            Lawmakers also passed legislation making telehealth services more readily available to Tennesseans and more financially viable for medical professionals in the state.  Finally, lawmakers also saw a need this week to address the acts of public vandalism and camping that have accompanied some of the protests this summer.  The General Assembly approved measures to increase criminal penalties for vandalizing state property, camping on state property, and assaulting law enforcement officers, while also adding mandatory minimum sentencing for rioting. 


          Now that the legislature has finally adjourned for the year, lawmakers will return to their districts to continue fundraising, which they are prohibited from doing during the special session. While half of the Senators and all of the Representatives are up for reelection this year, in many cases the November general elections are anticlimactic given the deep red or deep blue composition of many legislative districts, with a few notable exceptions.  That dynamic also virtually assures that the legislative balance of power will remain heavily weighted in favor of the GOP.  As always, it is a pleasure to represent you at the Tennessee General Assembly. 


                Adams and Reese LLP, along with the Tennessee Trucking Association, will sponsor two major fundraising events in September, a dinner for House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R- Crossville) on September 14th and another dinner for House Assistant Majority Leader Ron Gant (R- Rossville) on September 29th. The reception for both events will take place at 6 p.m. CDT, with a 6:30 p.m. dinner to follow at Giovanni West in Belle Meade. Thank you for your support of TruckPAC, without which, neither event could take place. 


In late June, Governor Bill Lee announced that he will call a special legislative session to take up a legislative measure to protect Tennessee businesses and schools from lawsuits associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. On the last day of session, the General Assembly failed to pass a comprehensive COVID-19 immunity bill, with the effort stalling in the House, after the chambers sparred over a retroactivity provision in the competing versions of the bill. Despite the appointment of a conference committee to resolve the differences between the versions, the chambers were unable to agree on a compromise, with House leadership voicing a number of concerns about the retroactivity aspect of the Senate bill, a component that many in the House believed could render the bill unconstitutional. 


There are also rumblings of other potential topics for the special legislative session including a telemedicine bill, consideration of the scope of Governor’s emergency powers, and issues relating to statues and monuments, however, as of now, the scope and timeline and the special session remain unclear. As of late July, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the legislature among lawmakers and staffs remains at 10, and this total, combined with statewide numbers, will play into the timeline and feasibility of calling the special legislative session, and whether there is agreement amongst the chambers on the COVID-19 liability bill. If it occurs, observers anticipate a date in August after the upcoming primary elections on August 6th. 


This month, Governor Lee also issued Executive Order No. 55, which incorporates recently issued federal waivers regarding commercial driver licenses in Tennessee. We will keep you updated on further developments. As always, please do not hesitate to contact us if we can further serve you in any way.  


The 111th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned sine die just after 3 a.m. on June 19th with
agreements on the budget, but the two chambers failed to come to terms on major legislative initiatives
such as COVID-19 protection for businesses, certificate of need legislation, and telemedicine. This
month’s adjournment lacked much of the pomp and circumstance typically associated with sine die,
perhaps a fitting end to a session that began with a new Governor and a considerable amount of new
members, and would ultimately experience two different House Speakers, a tornado, a pandemic, three
separate budgets in two years, and an uncharacteristic level of sparring between the two chambers
regarding both the scope of legislation to be deliberated and — in several cases — the content of that
legislation. Lawmakers also grappled with an unprecedented budget situation and frequent protests.

Gone was much of Governor Bill Lee’s once-ambitious legislative agenda, voluntarily shelved by the
Governor in the interest of focusing on managing a budget situation that was greatly affected by the
pandemic. In the end, legislators passed a $39.5 billion budget that barely resembled the one that the
Governor proposed to the General Assembly during his State of the State Address in early February.
Both the budget and the legislative process were greatly impacted by COVID-19, especially since the
Legislature recessed from March 18 to June 1 to stay at home for the pandemic.

Taken as a whole, the final budget largely addresses a $500 billion shortfall in the current year budget
and a $1 billion deficit in the budget that begins on July. Highlights include a $25 million sales tax
holiday, $210.5 million for cities and counties (including raising the cap on the amount allocated to
Memphis and Nashville to $10 million each), and $100 million to the rainy day fund. The budget
eliminates the pay raises for teachers, state employees, and higher education that had been previously
promised. Originally, the fund for cities and counties was set at $100 million and reserved for a one-time
expense relative to capital maintenance, utility upgrades, public safety projects, or road projects.
However, given the pandemic and storms that hit the state, cities and counties will be given flexibility on
the use of the funds. The final budget managed to preserve most of Governor Lee’s reductions, and
critical items emerged unscathed, including commitments to fully fund the Basic Education Program
(BEP), Pensions & Health Insurance, debt service requirements.

This month, the General Assembly passed legislation (SB2667/HB2842) to allow the Tennessee Trucking
Association Foundation to hold its annual raffle in December which benefits numerous charities and
educational programs. Additionally, the General Assembly passed the Tennessee Trucking Association’s
bill (SB1608/HB1594) dealing the drop deck length distance from the king pin to rear of the trailer, a
measure that expands, from 50 to 52 feet from the point of attachment to the tractor, the length a
truck-tractor and semitrailer or trailer combination that may operate over the federal and state highway
system in Tennessee.

Now that the General Assembly’s flag has been lowered from the Capitol cupola, thus
signaling adjournment, legislators’ attention turns toward re-election — with all House seats and half of
the Senate seats on the slate for the August primaries and November general election. Lawmakers will
now return to their districts, begin fundraising – something they are prohibited from doing while
legislature is in session — and immediately prepare for the August 6 primaries, with only one month
remaining until early voting begins.


On behalf of the Tennessee Government Relations Team at Adams and Reese, it is an honor and a
privilege to serve you before the Tennessee General Assembly, and we wish you and yours good health
and a relaxing summer. As always, please do not hesitate to contact us if we can further serve you in
any way.

The Cordell Hull Building came back to life in May as lawmakers reconvened in Nashville for committee meetings in advance of this week’s floor session.  In late May, the House was particularly busy, kicking things off with subcommittee meetings last week, following the long Memorial Day weekend.  Each of the House subcommittees generally took up where things left off prior to the March adjournment, working on a lengthy slate of bills – and sometimes working well into the evening – with the goal being to wrap up all subcommittee work by the end of this week.  Meanwhile the Senate only returned in May for a Finance Committee meeting, consistent with the Senate’s stated objective of only considering “time sensitive” and “mission critical” bills, and items related to the budget and the coronavirus pandemic. 

The differing approaches of the two chambers highlighted one of the more intriguing rifts that have taken place this session, as the bodies have remained at odds regarding the scope of the legislation that would be deliberated once the legislature returned to Nashville for the scheduled June 1 resumption of session.  While both Governor Lee and the Senate preferred a more focused approach in light of the COVID pandemic and the massive blow to Tennessee’s economy, the House advocated for a much broader scope, arguing that if the legislature is in session, it needs to be deliberating policy.  The two bodies have remained in a bit of a standoff, and the end result has been a lack of a consensus on which bills would be considered.  Indeed, a vast majority of the 391 bills calendared and debated the last week of May in House subcommittees and committees are not likely to be taken up by the Senate.

There was even a lack of consensus between the House and Senate on access to the Cordell Hull building, which is made clearly obvious as soon as visitors walk up the steps to the hearing rooms on the first floor.  The South end of the first floor – containing the House committee rooms — remained open to the public, albeit with temperature checks, mandatory masks, controlled attendance, mandatory social distancing and the installment of plexiglass “screens” around each member’s seat.  Meanwhile, velvet ropes cordoned off the North end of the first floor, which contains the Senate hearing rooms, with only legislators and staff allowed to pass. Lobbyists and the public have been encouraged to schedule meetings remotely and via teleconference, and in-person meetings, if absolutely necessary, must be scheduled one day in advance in the Senate, with members of the public being escorted to the meeting and asked to leave once the meeting is finished.  Testimony in committee hearings was discouraged as well.  In light of these protocols, attendance at the Cordell Hull Building was sparse in May, with only a handful of lobbyists and members of the public attending or testifying in committee meetings.  

The General Assembly will meet in the House and Senate chambers in June, with the House set to take up bills that were set to be discussed before the recess. Both bodies will take up committee calendars, with some more packed than others.  What is not clear is whether any of the bills that are passed in the House but are not on any Senate “lists” will later be considered in the Senate, or whether the Senate will remain steadfastly committed to quickly addressing budget and other matters it deems mission critical and adjourning in short order. If the latter remains the case, it is conceivable that the General Assembly could adjourn sine die in mid-June, if not sooner.  Also note that this is the final year of the 111th General Assembly. As such, no bill carries over to the 2021 session.  The legislative slate of all bills that do not pass this year are automatically wiped clean, and sponsors that wish to pursue them in the 2021 session must draft and file them as a new bill, starting the legislative process from scratch.  We are continuing to pursue the drop deck length legislation for the TTA and are actively working with our sponsors and TDOT on the effort for the remainder of session.

We will remain on top of this evolving and fluid situation at the Tennessee General Assembly.  Please let us know if you have any questions.