Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson to the newsmakers line to clarify and outline how a new bill set to pass would set guardrails on critical race theory being taught in public schools.
Leahy: We have State Senator Jack Johnson on the newsmaker line. Welcome and good morning Jack Johnson.
Johnson: Good morning, Michael and Crom. It’s great to be back with you guys.
Leahy: Well, State Senator Johnson, I sent you a text last night late. It was passed by bedtime, but it was important. I said, well, the Tennessee House has passed the bill banning critical race theory from K-12 public schools and it looks like a pretty good bill. It addresses the 11 specific tenants of critical race theory. It didn’t specifically say critical race theory.
Then I got a text from a grassroots group saying, oh, no, the state Senate didn’t pass it. There’s trouble in paradise. (Johnson laughs) To which I said, Jack, what’s up? And then you provided an explanation and share that with our audience, if you would, please.
Johnson: Sure. And thank you for the opportunity to do it, because I realized whenever we cast that procedural vote that it might be perceived last night that we were voting against the ban on teaching critical race theory in public schools. And that’s not the case at all. Because of our legislative process, we’re using a vehicle.
We’re using a bill that deals with another subject matter. But the caption of the bill, which is the way we work in Tennessee, the caption will hold the necessary language that we want to pass to ban the teaching of critical race theory. The Senate had already passed that bill, which, by the way, is sponsored by my friend Mike Bell, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and serves on the Education Committee.
And he’s very passionate about this issue. And he’s kind of taken the lead along with Brian Kelsey, who’s chairman of the Education Committee. And so the House put a mandatory language on the bill that we had already passed. When a bill has passed differently in each Chamber, then it has to go back to the other Chamber for that Chamber to either concur or non-concur with the action of the other Chamber.
When that bill came over, we had some language worked out with the House. But the stakeholders decided they wanted to make it even stronger. They want to make the language to ban critical race theory or the teaching of those tenants, as you say, even stronger longer than was originally drafted. And the only way procedurally to do that is to go to a conference committee.
Now that language has been worked out, you will see it. It will be made public later today because we’ll have that conference committee today. It’s going to add a couple of elements to what was passed by the House. And again, we are working collaboratively with the House on this. There is almost universal agreement among the Republican supermajorities that we want to get this passed in the best manner possible.
So we’ll have a conference committee today. The conference committee report will be taken out by each Chamber. It will pass overwhelmingly. We’re going to send it to the governor, and he will sign it.
Leahy: The conference committee makes the strengthening additions to the bill today. Does it go before the House for a vote in the Senate today or tomorrow?
Johnson: Today. That is correct. Let’s say that the House and again, it’s not the case with this bill, but it’s just procedurally, the only way we can get to where we want to go. But if you have a bill and the House and Senate have different versions and each Chamber is resolute in their version of the bill and the other side will not concur to the changes of the other Chamber, then you end up going to a conference committee.
And that’s where you sit down and negotiate and work it out. And if you can come to an agreement, that committee adopts a conference committee report and it’s signed off on by the members of the conference committee and then the bill is brought back to each Chamber, and you adopt that conference committee report just as if it was a brand new bill. And that’s what we’re going to do today. So we can get the strongest language possible past relative to critical race theory.
Leahy: So we’re talking with State Senator Jack Johnson, the majority leader in the state Senate. So it sounds to me, Jack, like our headline tonight at midnight, when we publish each day’s news stories at The Tennessee Star will be something like Tennessee General Assembly Passes Strongest Anti-Critical Race Theory Bill in America.
Johnson: That’s what I expect to be the case, and that’s what we want to do. Tennessee is a leader. We want to be a leader on this particular issue. But let me say something else, Michael, if I could as well. And I’ve had as you might imagine, dozens, if not hundreds of great conversations with constituents, moms, and dads whose children have been exposed to some of this material in Williamson County.
Public education is a partnership between the state and the local level we created. Many many years ago we created school districts, political subdivisions that act as school districts with local school boards for a reason. And that’s because teaching kids in inner-city Memphis is going to be different than Hancock County. And so you need local authority.
It’s still incredibly important, no matter what language we passed today and send to the governor to become law, that people are still engaged with their local school boards. And that is certainly happening in Williamson County and it’s happening all over the state. So this battle to stop this does not stop or end when we pass this legislation.
Because if there is a school system out there somewhere in Tennessee that is intent on teaching this propaganda to our kids, they’ll find a way to do it. So we’re going to set these guardrails and these parameters. And I think when you see the language we pass today, it’s very thorough, but it’s still critically important that people be engaged with their local school boards.
Carmichael: Senator, I’ve got a question for you. In the bigger cities, the teachers’ unions have such immense power, and the teachers’ unions essentially control the school boards. What can the state do about that? Because I understand what you’re saying. And it’s a nice idea that the local school board actually cares about the students.
It’s a nice idea. But in the bigger cities, the school board cares more about the union and the bureaucracy. And the result is that the education and many of our government-run schools, especially for Black and Hispanic children is just inadequate. It’s just terrible. What can be done about that where you just have these special interests that spend enormous amounts of money to get their people on the school board and control those giant budgets for their own interests?
Johnson: No, you’re exactly right, Crom. The teachers’ unions do have enormous power, especially in the larger cities. And they have significant influence over the election of school board members. We’ve made progress at the state level, but there’s more to do. Michael will remember, you may as well Crom, several years ago when I carried the legislation to end collective bargaining.
At one time, you think it’s bad now, at one time, school districts were required under state law to engage in collective bargaining with the local teachers union to pass raises, salaries, all kinds of things, working conditions, and so forth. And we did finally get that legislation passed to revert. It was the only instance in Tennessee where there was state-mandated collective bargaining with the union. So we did away with that, which was a significant step. But there is more to do.
Carmichael: Does the state have the authority to just do away with teachers’ unions in the state of Tennessee?
Johnson: No. It’s an interesting legal question. If people want to be part of an organization, then they can under state law. You hit the nail on the head, though, Crom. The problem comes in when they get so engaged and virtually are Kingmakers, if you will, relative to the local school board and the people who serve on the school board. So if the union doesn’t sign off or endorse you, in some instances, you can’t get elected.
So defacto they do have control over the body. What the state can do, and we know that we have serious issues in, particularly in Memphis and Nashville, relative to public education the governor and our Education Department is focused like a laser on those particular districts. We fund roughly two-thirds of their budget, so we have significant influence over them. But statutorily you do have a school board that has control over local decisions.
Leahy: Jack, later today, after the state Senate and the state House pass this strengthened anti-critical race theory bill, do you have any indication from the governor’s office as to his attitude about signing this particular bill?
Johnson: So I’ve not asked him specifically, but I know that the stakeholders, the chair of the Education Committee from both the Senate and the House have been in conversations with him as well. And I never speak for the governor or commit for him, but I feel quite confident that he will receive this legislation favorably and sign it. I’d be surprised if he didn’t.
Leahy: Well, sometimes there’s bad news we talk about politically. This sounds like it’s very good news.
Listen to the full second hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson to the newsmakers line to talk about the lingering priorities of the Tennessee General Assembly before the close of session, revisiting Big Tech legislation, and woke corporations.
Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line, our very good friends, State Senator Majority Leader Jack Johnson. Good morning, Jack. How are you?
Johnson: I’m good, Michael. Good to be with you this morning.
Leahy: You are a hard-working man because it’s 5:33 a.m. and you are at work. You’re talking with me about the closing weeks of the Tennessee General Assembly. How much sleep do you get during the last few weeks of the Tennessee General Assembly Jack?
Johnson: Well, I try to get a good night’s sleep. If not, I start to get cranky, and I might start making bad decisions.
Leahy: I can relate.
Johnson: I’m an early riser so I do like to get up early. But I also try to go to bed early and think I’m going to bed with the fourth graders at nine o’clock.
Leahy: That’s a good way to go. What’s still on the docket for the Tennessee General Assembly? What additional business has to be done?
Johnson: As you know, Michael, we’ve talked about it before. We have one constitutional responsibility every year, and that is to pass a balanced budget. It’s the most important thing we do. And it typically is one of the last things we do. And it’s not because we’re procrastinating it’s because that budget must encompass and address any legislation that was filed that either generates money for the state or cost the state any money.
For example, as we are doing, we are increasing penalties on people who commit crimes with guns and extending those prison sentences. We have to pay for those additional prison beds. So this week and next week, we’ll be putting the finishing touches on the state budget and getting that passed. And we should be drawing to a close here in the next couple of weeks.
Leahy: Is there any business that you hoped the Tennessee General Assembly would have gotten to that you didn’t get to?
Johnson: No. And in fact, I probably tend to err on the side as some of my colleagues as well, to say sometimes the less we do, the better.
Leahy: (Chuckles) Now, that’s a good point.
Johnson: (Laughs) But I will say because people will say, how come you guys file so many bills? And we will typically file 1,500 to 2,000 bills. Maybe three or 400 of those will be acted upon and actually pass. But I always point out to people it takes a bill to take something out of the code. In other words, if it’s an unnecessary regulation or some type of law, you have to file a bill in order to get that out of the code.
And that’s what a lot of our legislation does. And then obviously, there are bills to address things that have come up that need to be addressed. So no, I think we’ve had a very good, productive legislative session. I’m very proud of the fact that we passed constitutional carry and permitless carry in the state of Tennessee, and that was the administration bill.
And I was proud to be the sponsor of that. We’ve continued to look at our business climate and economy to identify ways. And I think that the evidence is quite clear, businesses are wanting to come to Tennessee or expand in Tennessee. So we’ve created a great business climate as we continue to recover from the pandemic. I’m proud of the year we’ve had so far.
Leahy: Compared to other years and other sessions of the Tennessee General Assembly, would you say that in this session, the state Senate and the state House, the leadership because you’re part of the leadership in the state Senate, has it worked more smoothly or about the same as in the past? Because it seems to me that is working whatever the agenda is, there seems to be pretty good coordination between the state Senate and state House.
Johnson: There has been and in fact, really the only as a result of COVID when we first started, we had limited access to the Capitol. Whether it’s constituents that want to come to see you, groups, Chamber groups, and Rotary Club groups, and the Plumbers Club. And whatever the case might be, they all have their day on the Hill and will come and visit you in your office, which is wonderful.
We love to see people coming and petitioning their legislature and coming to the capitol and seeing us there. Obviously, when they first started back in January, that was restricted and it’s loosened up now as the numbers have come down. And so we’re starting to see more people come and visit the Capitol and the Cordell Hull Building, which is where our offices are.
And so I’m glad to see that. But while I was disappointed that a lot of those people did not come to see us, one of the benefits of that, I suppose, is that it did free up our schedules quite a bit. And so I think that has enabled us to work more on some of our legislative initiatives, and it has helped. But given the choice, I’d still much rather see Tennesseans coming to their capital, visiting their legislatures, and seeing the process and understanding of what we do. So I’m anxious to get back to normal.
Leahy: I had a couple of little pet bills, shall we say, our favorite bills, and I haven’t tracked their status. I wonder if you might be familiar with where they are. There was some talk of filing anti-Big Tech legislation along the lines of what a couple of other states have passed. Is that moving towards a possible vote in either Chamber or is it sort of stalled?
Johnson: It is still alive unless it has been moved to next year. And I’m glad you brought this up Michael because this is an incredibly important conversation to have because we are all very concerned, very annoyed with Big Tech and their censorship. The fact that they have some federal protections which, of course, we can’t do anything about it at the state level but yet they’re acting as editors and choosing what people see and censoring certain and things on their platforms.
And there also continues to be. And this is really unrelated to the election or COVID or anything else but there continue to be grave concerns about privacy issues related to those companies and how they use your data and your personal information when you utilize their platforms. Senator Mike Bell had filed legislation on that and truthfully, Michael, I’m not sure specifically where it is in the House in the Senate.
As you know, Governor DeSantis in Florida has done some things by executive order as well. And I don’t know if Governor Lee is contemplating that or not. You get into some very prickly issues relative to interstate commerce when you’re talking about some of these companies. But I think that what Florida has looked at and in other states have as well, is very innovative in terms of holding these companies accountable at the state level.
Leahy: Yes, we are trying to get Senator Bell on. I think we will at some point in the next week or so because it is a very interesting issue and one that I personally think ought to be something that states across the country and state legislatures really exercise their sovereign authority and push back against these usurpations of Big Tech. Speaking about usurpations, this is not directly on point with the current agenda, but what do you make of this trend of woke Fortune 500 companies and Major League Baseball trying to virtue signal based on ignorance about various laws passed by state legislatures?
Of course, I’m talking about the number one that comes to mind is a common-sense election reform bill in Georgia. Now, every time you turn around, there’s a Fortune 500 company deciding to pull business from a particular state as they’ve done in Georgia. It seems to me, Senator Johnson, that is a very, very dangerous trend.
Johnson: It’s a dangerous trend and you used a very important word in there, Michael, when you said ignorance because it was quite apparent to me and many others that when some of these companies came out and criticized the state of Georgia, they had no idea what they were talking about. They really had no idea even about what the legislation does.
And I will tell you that what Georgia passed, for the most part, Tennessee has been doing for many, many years. So Georgia did not pass anything radical or certainly anything that would infringe upon anyone’s right to vote. They passed good common-sense election reform. And dadgummit, they needed it right? They had all kinds of issues in Georgia.
So I’m very proud of the Georgia Republican-controlled legislature for taking action about that. Here’s how I approach that and I’m getting lots of calls and emails about it. I am elected, Michael, by the voters in my district. I’m not elected by anyone’s board of directors or anyone’s shareholders. And these businesses need to understand that.
Whether it’s Georgia, Tennessee, California, it doesn’t matter. The people who represent the people of a state or city or a county, or at the federal level, are elected by voters, not businesses. Now, businesses choose to weigh in, or maybe have thoughts, and certainly, there are business organizations who lobby us on business legislation and things.
And more times than not, their advice is good. And they can give us great feedback about the practical implications of legislation that we pass. But when a company like Coca-Cola or Delta Airlines starts sticking their nose into election reform then, in my view, the company has overstepped its bounds and, quite frankly, I’m proud of the backlash that they’re getting. And they are getting significant backlash.
Listen to the full first hour:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.