Antsy lawmakers could force Legislature to adjourn early

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 16, 2020 1:55 PM CT | Published: March 15, 2020 3:48 PM CT

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

Amid growing concern about the coronavirus, House Republican leaders are meeting Sunday, March 15, to determine how quickly they can pass a budget and adjourn for the year.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Karen Camper has requested a Monday briefing by key departments to see what course of action the state is taking to respond to the national pandemic.

<strong>Karen Camper</strong>

Karen Camper

But as speculation spread Sunday about the possibility the Legislature could wrap up by the end of this week, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said it will likely take two to three weeks for the General Assembly to finish its work.

Governor closes State Capitol to tours, visitors

The Capitol and Cordell Hull Building are to be closed to the public, including lobbyists, as the Legislature resumes work Monday.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison said Sunday he has been inundated with phone calls from legislators getting antsy about the virus and whether their voice will be heard if the Legislature adjourns earlier than expected.

Memphis’ second COVID-19 case is hospital employee

The COVID-19 has produced 39 positive cases statewide, 17 in Davidson County and 14 in Williamson County. Only two have been reported in Shelby County.

“There are a lot of discussions going on right now and looking at it from every angle. I think the most important thing we do is make sure our members are safe and the people of Tennessee are safe. So leadership is meeting tonight, and I think we’ll devise a plan moving forward,” said Faison of Cosby in East Tennessee.

Faison said House leaders will communicate their decision to Senate leaders. But he doesn’t believe the Legislature can complete its work in one week “without major mistakes.”

Legislation dealing with abortion, permit-less carry, pay raises, early childhood literacy and paid family medical leave could affect the budget and need to be resolved, he said.

McNally confirmed on Sunday that Senate leaders have been consulting with Attorney General Herbert Slatery to make sure the General Assembly will be operating legally if it conducts business without the public allowed to attend meetings.

Concerns stem from a 2001 case, Mayhew v. Wilder, brought by news organizations in which an appeals court determined the Legislature can hold secret meetings to discuss its budget plan.

McNally said he believes the Legislature’s proceedings will be open, though, without allowing visitors and lobbyists. Media will be allowed access, while the public can watch livestreaming and makes phone calls or send emails, he said.

“I think the House would like to do it in two (weeks). But if we say two, it ends up being three. That’s not too far ahead of our schedule. The main thing is getting the governor’s amendment to the appropriations bill,” said McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican.

Besides the timeline for adjournment, House Minority Leader Camper sent a letter Friday to House Speaker Cameron Sexton asking for briefings from commissioners of the Departments of Health, Human Services and Labor and Workforce Development to discuss how they’re responding to the threat of the coronavirus.

“Every corner of our state is being impacted by this unprecedented event. Our members – on both sides of the aisle – are receiving questions as to how the state is dealing with the virus,” Camper wrote.

Camper’s letter seeks an explanation from the Department of Health on how county health departments are reacting, including the gathering of epidemiological information and instructing residents on how to prevent the virus’ spread.

In addition, the letter asks how the Department of Human Services, which runs programs such as Temporary Aid for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is handling the needs of tornado victims and economic casualties of the virus.

Likewise, Camper’s letter states she wants a report from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which is likely to see an increase in unemployment claims and small business problems as events are canceled or postponed and travel to the state is reduced.

Large gatherings and sports events across the state and nation have been canceled to stem the spread of the virus, and numerous groups have already canceled conferences in Nashville, which could cost the city and state millions in tax revenue.

McNally predicted the governor’s revenue projections for the fiscal 2020-21 budget will be reduced.


Jeremy Faison Randy McNally Karen Camper
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.


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