Stockard on the Stump: Bible resolution sponsor incredulous with McNally

By: - April 10, 2021 4:00 am
Members of the Tennessee General Assembly on the floor of the House of Representatives. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly on the floor of the House of Representatives. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Rep. Jerry Sexton is questioning the motivation and maybe even the spirituality of Lt. Gov. Randy McNally in picking up his legislation to make the Bible Tennessee’s state book, a move that could kill the resolution if McNally decides to sit on it, which he appears ready to do.

McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican, reiterated Thursday he doesn’t think the Bible should be put on par with other state symbols and noted he needs to review it again “to see what it looks like.” McNally picked up the House joint resolution last week, a couple of days after the House passed it 55-28 with seven members present not voting. 

“I sponsored it to look at it very carefully and see whether it actually belonged as a state symbol with some of the things like the state salamander and the state ladybug and other type things,” McNally said Thursday as he emerged from the Senate chamber.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, photographed at the Tennessee Capitol on March 18, 2020 by John Partipilo.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, photographed at the Tennessee Capitol on March 18, 2020 by John Partipilo.

The resolution was referred to the State and Local Committee. But McNally hasn’t requested it be placed on a calendar, and don’t hold your breath waiting.

Most House members go searching for Senate sponsors to carry their legislation in the upper chamber. Apparently, Sexton neglected to do that this year, potentially a fatal mistake. Five years ago, he was able to push a Bible bill through the General Assembly, but then-Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed it, and the House couldn’t find enough votes to override.

Asked Thursday if he is worried McNally might sit on the resolution and let it die this session, Sexton, a Bean Station Republican and minister, said he is “concerned” but noted he hasn’t spoken to the lieutenant governor about the matter and couldn’t speculate on his intention.

Told about McNally’s view of the resolution, Sexton said it’s not the first time he’s heard that argument.

“But if you believe the word as it’s written, God made those things. God made the salamander, largemouth bass. God created the dolphin. So to say that, it brings him down on that level as an affront to an assault on the very existence of God. So that argument doesn’t hold up,” Sexton said.

The Tennessee State Salamander, the cave salamander. Should it be on the same level as the Bible, asks one state leader? (Photo: tn.gov)
The Tennessee State Salamander, the cave salamander. Should it be on the same level as the Bible, asks one state leader? (Photo: tn.gov)

McNally might beg to differ, especially with Sexton taking that view.

Sexton carried his argument further, saying it is “totally wrong” for one person to “hijack” the will of 55 House members and the 3.5 million people they represent, as well as sidestepping the Legislature’s committee system.

Of course, Sexton couldn’t end the interview outside the House chamber without a bit of confrontation, requesting that every word he uttered be used for this story, lest he be taken out of context and made to look as if he and McNally are in some sort of fight.

Though I tried to honor his request, that’s not exactly how it works. Even though cyberspace is a vast, unexplored wilderness (created by God, according to Sexton’s views, since God created man and man created the Internet), there isn’t enough space in cyberspace for every word our state lawmakers invoke, even if they’re designed for the betterment of the people of the great state of Tennessee, from Mountain City to Memphis.

Sexton requested that every word he uttered be used for this story, lest he be taken out of context and made to look as if he and McNally are in some sort of fight.

(Lord, please forgive me for getting ready to kill a little more cyberspace.)

Show me the money

Speaking of circumventing the committee system, the Senate amended legislation Thursday with a provision enabling senators to double their donations from political action committees by re-upping their collections with every two-year election cycle rather than a four-year cycle.

The amendment was brought by Sen. Ken Yager, a Kingston Republican who chairs the Senate Republican Caucus. He pointed out the move merely synchronizes Senate fundraising with the House.

Democratic Sen. Sara Kyle of Memphis argued that the bill should go back to a committee where such a substantial amendment could be fully debated. The amendment was not brought before the Judiciary Committee. But Yager refused her request, and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro, deferred to Yager, who holds a bit of sway in the chamber. 

Render to Caesar his due: the Senate amended legislation Thursday with a provision enabling senators to double their donations from political action committees

Her colleague, Senator Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro of Nashville contended the Senate already has higher individual limits on PAC contributions and pointed out senators will be able to raise $500,000 from PACs, doubling their take. 

Shockingly, the bill passed 25-6, with only Democrats opposing, because we all want to give to Caesar what is due. House members, though, have not looked kindly on similar measures, and it could face a tougher road there.

Germantown, wherefore art thou?

Speaking of circumventing the committee system – or have I said that already? – it appears some bills can be resurrected just hours after they die.

It happened Wednesday when the Senate Education Committee voted 5-4 against legislation allowing transfer of three Germantown schools from the Shelby County Schools system to the city of Germantown. They have overlapping boundaries resulting from creation of municipal school districts in Shelby County in 2011, but had no agreement for transferring the operation of those schools. A school in Millington could be affected too.

Shelby County Schools lobbyist Tony Thompson said the matter was negotiated years ago, and he surmised that it sounded more like a real estate deal than a move to help the students at the Germantown schools. Initially, Germantown did not want to educate the children in those schools when the municipal school system opened.

Another zombie bill arises, having circumvented the committee system: Sen. Brian Kelsey brought an amendment that contained language that had just been defeated in another bill.

Thompson testified that funds were to be withheld if Shelby County didn’t transfer the schools to Germantown. He said questions remain, though, about the future of students who would go to those schools, disrupting the “family process and school choice.” 

When the committee returned from a break, Sen. Brian Kelsey brought forward an amendment to another bill containing some of the same language on transferring the Germantown schools.

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

Education Vice Chairman Jon Lundberg said he thought the amendment went “outside the scope” of the legislation, but allowed it to be voted on. It passed 6-3 the second time around.

Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, admitted he was taking portions of the defeated bill and adding it to another piece of legislation. The measure no longer contained the threat of withholding funds.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat, objected to the move and said in a statement later: “If the three G’s are ripped away from Shelby County Schools, the theft started in the Tennessee Senate. The bill authorizing this forced land transfer was dead and then resurrected under controversial circumstances.”

The upshot is that Memphis and Shelby County students zoned for the elementary, middle and high schools could be forced to attend other schools already at capacity, Akbari said.

Heathens on the rise?

Legislation prohibiting the governor from putting restrictions on church services during a state of emergency stalled in the House recently when lawmakers raised questions about the potential for churches being super spreaders of diseases such as COVID-19. Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, offered to postpone consideration during floor debate with Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis.

The bill is one of several that seem to undermine the governor’s authority during a state of emergency, although Gov. Bill Lee never put any prohibitions on churches at the height of the 2020 pandemic. He simply urged them to follow certain protocols, and most did – wisely. Let’s face it, with all the handshaking, singing and spewing of spittle, churches are the best place in the world to catch a virus – except maybe the Cordell Hull Building.

Here’s the catch. Sen. Janice Bowling’s version of the bill was sent to summer study this week by the Senate State and Local Government Committee. That’s usually a graveyard for legislation. But lo and behold, just like the Germantown schools deal, it has been resurrected. 

Apparently, a legislative rule has been suspended and the bill is to be heard again April 13 in the same Senate committee. Is anyone starting to see a religious theme here?

At last, you can carry without a permit

The birth right of all Tennesseans is here at last. Anyone eligible to carry a handgun can wield it now without going through a modicum of training and getting a state permit. 

Gov. Lee signed the permit-less carry bill into law this week, without much fanfare.  

Gun rights lobbyists were not satisfied with the legislation, and they went to a good deal of trouble to hammer some of the lawmakers who ferried this bill through the Legislature at the governor’s request. It applies mainly to those 21 and above, not the magic 18 mark, which angered a lot of people. It’s almost like the drinking age. 

(Photo taken Feb. 3, 2021 in Memphis, Tennessee, by Karen Pulfer Focht.)
Permitless gun carry: guns for all! (Photo: Karen Pulfer Focht)

But while you can go to war, fight and die without being allowed to drink a beer, you can get some military exceptions to this. For instance, those serving in the National Guard and military reserves can carry without a permit, as if that service, while noble, guarantees a person is stable enough to pack a handgun. 

Despite hand-wringing from people who think this is a bad idea, and there are a lot of those wandering the Volunteer State, this was a foregone conclusion in the Legislature. 

It seems to have been so expected that the governor didn’t even bother making mention of it when he put his signature on it this week.

This is getting predictable

Anti-abortion forces continued their efforts this week to put women in the unenviable position of having to choose between burial and cremation for fetal remains when they have an abortion. It’s an odd situation for someone who clearly doesn’t want to carry through with the pregnancy.

Nevertheless, bills passed key committees this week in the House and Senate, where once again those in support of the legislation – women who said they previously worked in abortion clinics – described the gruesome job of piecing together fetal parts from abortion procedures to make sure women didn’t have anything remaining the womb.

Again, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi complained that those testifying overdramatized a procedure that is, yes, pretty brutal, just like many surgeries. The group still contends women, not the state, should be making these types of decisions.

It’s an argument that will go on for years.

Betting folks, though, would say this bill is going to pass, no matter what. The question is whether this is a tax or whether abortion clinics that have these remains incinerated are already paying for the cremations.

Get a job at Burger King

House Republican leaders said Thursday they are backing legislation that would reduce unemployment benefits dramatically, cutting them to 12 weeks from 26 weeks when the jobless rate is at 5.5% or less. The bill now provides a meager $5 increase for weekly payments, pushing it to $280 for tens of thousands of people out of work at any given time, still far below what most other states pay.

The idea is to keep the Unemployment Trust Fund alive, even during crazy events such as the 2020 pandemic when thousands of businesses across the state were forced to shut down, causing people to lose jobs suddenly.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison said Thursday it’s time for people to quit collecting unemployment when employers are begging people to work for $15 to $18 an hour, about $31,000 to $37,000 a year. That’s not exactly Belle Meade money, but it’s probably enough to get by in some places.

Faison, though, gave the example that a Burger King in Tennessee had to close because it couldn’t find enough people to work. The question remains, though, whether nobody wanted to work for fast-food pay or whether nobody wanted to eat the food. The Whopper ain’t exactly what it used to be. And the breakfast? Don’t ask.

 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

MORE FROM AUTHOR