AFC’s Shaka Mitchell Discusses the Mechanics of ESA Vouchers and His Upcoming School Choice Rally

AFC’s Shaka Mitchell Discusses the Mechanics of ESA Vouchers and His Upcoming School Choice Rally

 

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 Cunningham welcomed Tennessee Director of the American Federation for Children Shaka Mitchell to the newsmakers line who explained in detail the purpose of ESA’s and how there is a large amount of parental support for the initiative. He also advised of the upcoming rally in Legislative Plaza this Thursday at 8 a.m.

Cunningham: One of the threats is the continuing erosion of parental authority in education and parents’ ability to make decisions about where they’re going to send their children and what curriculum there’s going to be taught to their children. Shaka Mitchell is with the American Federation for Children and is the state director. Shaka, good morning.

Mitchell: Hey, good morning. Thanks for having me.

Cunningham: Thank you so much for getting up early. We appreciate it. Tennessee has passed the ESA, the educational savings account legislation, but there are some threats to it coming up. There’s a hearing with the Tennessee Supreme Court coming up. Tell us about that.

Mitchell: Yeah. Thanks, Ben. So you’re absolutely right. The state legislature or General Assembly passed the Tennessee Education Savings Account pilot program back in 2019 actually.

It passed in 2019, and there are nearly 3,000 students signed up for the program. And those are students in the Metro Nashville Public School system and Shelby County School system, which are our two biggest districts in the state.

They account for about 20 percent of the state’s children just in those two districts. Well, it always polls so well that to me, that’s no surprise that parents are responding that way because when you ask parents about educational choice, always they always say, yes, we want control over how our children are educated.

Mitchell: Yeah, that’s right. And frankly, that polling has only increased over the past year. The Tennessee General Assembly was ahead of the curve because we passed that ESA law before COVID.

Imagine what happened after you have had a year of many kids in Nashville and Memphis who haven’t been in a school building in a year and a half. So you can imagine how frustrated parents are.

And, so of course, parents are saying, yeah, I’d much rather more control over where my kids learn, what they learn, and how they learn than these districts who haven’t done right by our kids for decades.

Cuningham: Tell us just about the basic mechanics of the ESA. How does it work?

Mitchell: The ESA works a little bit like a health savings account. I’m sure people are getting ever more familiar with that. I won’t bore you to death with education financing because, frankly, you need a Ph.D.

Cunningham: It’s too early in the morning. (Laughter)

Mitchell: But suffice to say, the state government put in just over $7,300 per pupil for every student who attends public school in the state of Tennessee. That’s the state portion alone, not the local, not the federal amount. $7,300.

If a family says, you know what? We want our child to find a different alternative because the zone school is not working for whatever reason, it’s not working for our kids we can take the state funds, and we can use them at a qualifying private school, which just means that there’s some accreditation.

If there’s money left over, you can use the funds for tutoring, for digital tools, like a laptop or Kindle, and that kind of thing. You can roll it over into a college savings account. You can use it for a whole host of educational expenses and you would do that at the parents’ decision.

It’s not this nine-member Pollett Bureau that we like to call the school board. It’s the parents making this decision.

Henry: Hey, Shaka, this is Grand Henry. While I’m here today in my own capacity, I do work for Americans for Prosperity and honestly, let me tell you, on behalf of the 4,600 grassroots folks that we work within Americans Prosperity, we cannot thank you enough.

And American Federation for Children for what you all do for education and particularly with this ESA bill. We had a lot to do with the fight as well, and we loved it. And all of our people love it as well.

I know there’s something coming up with Supreme Court this week on Thursday. What do you need from us? Is there a call for grassroots action? What’s the biggest point of concern? What should we be paying attention to on Thursday?

Mitchell: This is a great question, Grant. And you’re absolutely right. American Prosperity was a great partner and has been for parent choice, educational freedom across Tennessee. This Thursday, two days from now, the Tennessee Supreme Court is going to hear this case, which we’re excited about because as I mentioned, 3,000 kids had already signed up.

Well, after those kids signed up, the city of Nashville and Shelby Counties challenged Governor Lee’s program in court. They basically halted the program, which is a terrible tragedy.

But finally, this thing is up to the Tennessee state Supreme Court. We’re excited about that. So arguments are 9:00 a.m. Central time on Thursday. They will be streaming so you can catch the live stream.

It will be on YouTube. You can go to our website. We’ll have up there Schoolchoicetn.com. Grant, I bet that Americans for Prosperity can get that link out to your followers. And maybe even The Tennessee Star Report can, too. Thursday, we are having a rally downtown at Legislative Plaza. The capital is right there.

The Supreme Court building is right there because we think it’s important for the justices to know this isn’t a hypothetical case. This is the educational future for 15,000 students. This is what’s at stake

Henry: And Shaka, that rally, tell me if I’m wrong here, but it starts at 8 a.m. June 3 at Legislative Plaza.

Mitchell: Thursday, June third. That’s absolutely right. 8:00 a.m. at Legislative Plaza. There’s no need to you don’t need to register anything. Looks to be nice weather. We may get a little bit of rain tomorrow, but I think we’re going to get some nice weather. Listen, we even canceled the cicadas for everybody.

Henry: (Laughs) Was that ya’ll?

Mitchell: That was us.

Henry: We appreciate that.

Mitchell: But I think again, we’ve got to make sure the courts know, hey, this is real. And parents want to have the right to choose their schools, and we think they’ve got the constitutional right.

The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that time and time again. We just need these districts to get out of the way. If you all can’t get the job done, get out of the way and let parents have some agency.

Cunningham: Could you expand on that a little bit? Who are the people that oppose giving parents more authority? Who in the world would do that?

Mitchell: It’s a great question and without trying to call anybody any names I think, frankly, it’s the districts who are so satisfied with the status quo. They are satisfied with the status quo because if you are Metro Nashville Public School year after year, you can put out a product that fails students. Three out of four kids in Nashville don’t read on grade level. Three out of four kids.

Cunningham: 75 percent.

Henry: Wow.

Cunningham: My government school math is right.

Mitchell: That’s right. And yet, year after year, the kids keep coming back. They’re not coming back because they’re satisfied with what’s happening or because their parents are satisfied they’re coming back because there’s no other option.

And school choice has always existed for people who can afford it. And you can either afford it because you can pay for the school or you move to another area. But what about for the hundreds of thousands who can’t afford it?

Not that this show would get political or anything, but this year, we seem to be throwing money out the door. Throwing money at all types of different problems. Yet in K-12 education, I believe, because of the Teachers Unions, they have said, you know what, the status quo is still fine.

We’re giving money for PreK. We’re giving money for higher ed. We’re giving money for all different types of things and saying, hey, spend it how you want, but not for K-12. We think that’s got to change.

Henry: Shaka, obviously, with everything going on in the public school system, especially as far as it relates to Tennessee here. And we have one minute left. So I ask this question quickly. Some parents could obviously understand.

Hey, I have more of a reason now to educate my child than ever been before. But there is real statistical evidence behind this ESA being a better version of education. It’s not some animus towards public educators, correct?

Mitchell: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. I know that I’m giving the stats, right? But I’m not making up stats about the public education system. These are facts. My own kids go to a public school.

Listen, if the public school is working for you, that’s excellent. But don’t block someone else in their ability to find a school that works for their child.

Cunningham: Shaka, thanks so much for joining us this morning. It’s always too short. We really do appreciate it. Your rally is Thursday at 8 a.m. And give us your website one more time.

Mitchell: Schoolchoicetn.com.

Listen to the full 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.
Photo “Shaka Mitchell” by Shaka Mitchell.

 

 

 

 

 

State Senator Mike Bell Talks Big Tech Pushback Legislation and His Current Bill Allowing for Elected Grand Division Justices Statewide

State Senator Mike Bell Talks Big Tech Pushback Legislation and His Current Bill Allowing for Elected Grand Division Justices Statewide

 

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 State Senator Mike Bell to the studio who discussed the status of a Big Tech pushback bill in the General Assembly and the bill he is carrying that would create three statewide Chancery courts.

Leahy: We are in studio with our good friend State Senator Mike Bell represents within County and a few of the counties down that neck of the woods. Mike, you were telling me something during the break. That a guy that you’re working with a stonemason building your house listens to this program.

Bell: He listens every morning and  I want to give a shout-out to Ben Lances. My wife and I are building a home right now, and I did the stonework for us, and tile work does a great job and he listens to you. In fact, he’s probably the only one I know of there in my area because I’m three hours away who knows about your program and listens every morning. Hello, Ben. Good morning.

Leahy: Ben, thank you for listening. You obviously have good political judgment.

Bell: He does. He’s a hardcore conservative guy.

Leahy: Good. We broadcast over Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC here and 1510 on the AM band big 500 watt Clear Channel station. And the FM station just covers mostly Middle Tennessee. You can listen to us on the iHeart app, which I think great. But if all goes well, sometimes this quarter we will be syndicated to radio stations around the state of Tennesse.

Bell: Good.

Leahy: So you can listen to us from all around the state. If all goes well. We are coming into the last few weeks of the session. And as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, you are involved in a very important bill. We’ll talk about that in a second. Our listers are interested in what’s happening with the Big Tech pushback bill. Several other state legislatures have addressed that. Florida, I think, has passed a bill that involves some pushback against the Big Tech censors, Facebook, Google, et cetera. Now I understand that you are the one carrying that bill.

Bell: I am myself and Rep. Johnny Garret are carrying that.

Leahy: Johnny Garrett. The Majority Whip.

Bell: He is.

Leahy: A great baseball guy.

Bell: Oh, good.

Leahy: Johnny is the President of a Little League. I think it’s the Goodlettsville Little League. And he and I have been talking with the guys at Music City Baseball and went down and had lunch with them. And we have some ideas to help spread baseball around Tennessee because I’m a big baseball fan, too. So Johnny he’s in the House and you are in the Senate.

Bell: That’s right. And we modeled it after the Florida legislation. So we essentially copied the Florida legislation modified at Tennessee. But we did it kind of late in the session and trying to the issue with this is how do you figure out where the state authority starts and where the federal authority stops. Because most of these institutions that we want to push back against as you mentioned, Facebook, Google.

Leahy: Twitter.

Bell: Twitter. Any of those are regulated at the federal level. And what can we do in Tennessee actually put teeth into law, not just pass something for show. We could have probably passed something for show. But we are going to actually put teeth into this law to push back against Big Tech censoring conservative views. This doesn’t go both ways. If you follow social media as I do, they’re not getting complaints from the liberal side.

Leahy: Because they are not censoring them.

Bell: That’s right. It’s coming from the conservative side.

Leahy: They are amplifying liberal messages.

Bell: That’s right. In that short time, we couldn’t figure out how to pass a bill that actually put teeth into a way to, I guess, punish Big Tech for censoring. So we laid it over. We’re going to look at it this summer. In fact, I expect both the Speaker of the House and Speaker of the Senate, to name study committees that will take a serious look at what we can do to push back against Big Tech. And I expect them to name those before the session ends.

Leahy: So that may happen. The bill could be recommended over the summer study period.

Bell: That’s right.

Leahy: Then possibly reintroduce it at the beginning of the next session of the Tennessee General Assembly in January of 2022.

Bell: That’s correct. That’s what the plans are.

Leahy: And you are also our chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Bell: Yes. It is somewhat unusual being a non-attorney and being chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Leahy: How did you become chairman?

Bell: Well, I’ve been on the committee and I’m in my 11th year. And, of course, the chairman of any committee is named by the Speaker and the Speaker asked me if I’d like to do it. I think he appreciates the fact that as a non-attorney, how do I put this, sometimes attorneys may be a little hesitant to take on the judiciary because they work in that sphere. They work where they could receive retribution.

Leahy: From a judge.

Bell: I’ve got no fear of that.

Leahy: So tell us about the bill that you’re carrying, and why you think it’s important and where it stands.

Bell: Let’s take us back to last summer when we had our voting laws challenged here in the state of Tennessee. And they were heard before Chancery here in Davidson County because that’s what the state law says. Any time a state law is challenged, it’s always heard in Davidson County Chancery Court.

Leahy: Let’s just stop for a moment. How many Chancery courts are there in the state of Tennessee?

Bell: Oh, goodness. I think there are 31 judicial districts. And so there would be somewhere around that number of Chancery Courts.

Leahy: I can see where this is going. When the law was passed a long time ago, the politics in Nashville were probably not any different than the politics or the rest of the state.

Bell: Very, very similar. You got it. You know where this bill is going.

Leahy: So it didn’t make any difference 100 years ago where lawsuits against the state would be brought.

Bell: Absolutely.

Leahy: Now, common sense, since the state capital is in Nashville, you would say it would be brought into Davidson County. Except, the state of Tennessee has changed quite a bit. There are 95 counties and 92 of them are rock-rib conservative.

Bell: Absolutely.

Leahy: And two of them are far left. And Haywood County is kind of 50/50, 55/45 Democrat. Three counties, I think, went for Biden this time. And one was Shelby, which went overwhelmingly in the Memphis area. And then Davidson County went, and we’re about 65/35. But that’s it. So Davidson County is not at all representative of the state of Tennessee.

Bell: It doesn’t reflect the politics of the state of Tennessee at all. And that’s the reason for this bill. Why should a Chancery court that’s elected by the most liberal constituency in the state be deciding the cases? And I attacked when I presented this bill in committee, I attacked this argument head-on. I even mentioned Chief Justice John Roberts’s remark several months ago when he said there was any difference between an Obama judge, a Bush judge, a Clinton judge, or a Trump judge.

We all know that’s BS. That’s complete BS. (Leahy laughs) What’s the old line from Outlaw Josey Wales? Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining. Well, that’s what he was doing. And he was trying to tell us that there’s no difference between judges. Why is it a big deal every time we have a presidential election? Because we know who appoints that next Supreme Court judge and hopefully they’re going to reflect the philosophy of the party that elected the President.

And we know that at the national level. Don’t try to tell me that’s not going on here at the state level. I took it head-on that yes, I’m absolutely wanting to get cases out of a court that’s predominantly Democrat and follows a Democrat philosophy because that’s the type of people who are running for these positions. That’s the type of people who are electing these. And so why shouldn’t we…

Leahy: Far-left actually in my view.

Bell: And so what this bill does is create three statewide Chancery court positions that would be elected statewide.

Leahy: Three statewide. One for each division.

Bell: One for each division. Middle Tennessee, the East, Middle, and West. But they have to be elected statewide because of a provision in the Constitution that says they have to be elected by the people they represent. And so they would be from each grand division but they would actually run statewide. I would have preferred to have the East Tennesse judge be elected by East Tennessee people, Middle, and West.

But we can’t do that because of the language in the Constitution. So they would run statewide but then this panel of judges would hear any constitutional challenges against the state. They would hear any appeals of administrative law. But everything now that’s going to Davidson County Chancery Court would go to these three.

Leahy: Well, that’s a really great idea.

Bell: It’s a fantastic idea, and I don’t take complete credit for it. I’ve been working with our Lieutenant Governor, Speaker McNally. I’ve been working with him on this bill as well. And it’s something that came up before the decision on the voting law that I mentioned that came out of Chancellor Lyles court here in Davidson County.

Leahy: Chancellor Lyle. She has been very prominent in many decisions, few of which I agree with. (Chuckles)

Bell: Yeah, I would agree with that. But it’s modeled after our bill that passed goodness when I was still in the House 11 or 12 years ago, that allowed administrative law cases to get out of Davidson County Court and be heard in the county from where the defendant lived. And so we’re trying to move these cases out of liberal Davidson County.

Listen to the full first hour here:

– – –

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rep. Sexton Talks Cutting Strings Attached to Federal Money and Maintaining Tennessee Values in Public Schools

Rep. Sexton Talks Cutting Strings Attached to Federal Money and Maintaining Tennessee Values in Public Schools

 

Live from Music Row Monday 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 TN. (R) State Representative Jerry Sexton to the studio to discuss the Tennessee General Assembly’s intentions to control what is being taught in K12 public schools and the catch of accepting education funding from Washington.

Leahy: In studio our good friend State Representative Jerry Sexton from Bean Station, Tennessee. Jerry during the break, we were talking a little bit about education policy. There’s this real disconnect between what the Tennessee General Assembly says should be taught in schools and what actually is taught in schools. The schools’ curriculum is leaning left. Big time.

Now the Joe Biden Department of Education, I don’t know if you saw this is making grants available to teach critical race theory and The 1619 Project, which has been debunked historically. Critical race theory is an effort to divide America and to tell a false history. The concept behind critical race theory is not, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, that we should be judged by the content of our character.

But critical race theory says that everything should be seen through the lens of race. My question to you is there are apparently, some state legislators who are considering, even in the last couple of weeks of the session of introducing legislation, maybe in a caption bill, you would know better than I how it would come about, that would prohibit the teaching of either The 1619 Project or of critical race theory in Tennessee K12 public schools. If such a bill were proposed, how would you vote?

Sexton: Ha! I would vote to kill it. To kill it, kill it, kill it. And I know that I have several colleagues on the Education Committee that are fighting against this type of policy. And this is what’s ruining our public schools. It’s not about education. And I say it all the time. I was only on the education committee last session, and I talked about this all the time that it’s not about teaching, writing, arithmetic those types of things. It’s about indoctrinating our children. And we must put a stop to it. We must do that. We’ve stood up in this legislature just this past year. There was a program to come out to go into homes. And I don’t know if your people talked about that.

Leahy: Wellness checks without the approval of the parents.

Sexton: And we were livid. And it’s because of the Tennessee legislature and some conservative representatives that stood up and expose this for what it was. And we got it stopped. And, Michael, until we have the backbone to stand up and say, no, absolutely not, Washington you keep your money, you keep your values, you keep your education will keep ours in Tennessee. And I’ll be happy in five years to show the difference to Washington. They’re not teaching education. They’re teaching propaganda.

Leahy: Yeah, it’s kind of bizarre that our K12 public schools have devolved into propaganda machines. But that’s the reality of where they are now. I have this little pet idea, and I want to run it by you. So K12 public education in most States is funded by about 40 percent by local taxes, 50 percent by state taxes, about 10 percent from federal revenue. With federal revenue comes federal strings.

And usually, they come up with all these stupid ideas that if you want federal money, you’re going to have to do X, Y, or Z and all this stupid stuff. So here is my idea that I’ve kind of floated around. Why doesn’t the Tennessee General Assembly pass a bill that says we are not going to take a dime of federal money for education? You can keep your money and you can keep your regulations and we’ll do it our way. That makes some sense to me. As a legislator, what do you think of that concept?

Sexton: Well, let me veer off into another area and it deals with federal money. On my way home last Thursday, I’m getting calls from my county mayors. They’re wanting to know we had two million dollars put into the budget that would go directly to these counties for them to spend the money on infrastructure or whatever they needed. The local people and mayors…

Leahy: They know what’s needed. If the road needs fixing, they know which road needs fixing.

Sexton: I have a little Cumberland gap. It’s just a small place right there on the Kentucky border. And the Mayor told me he said, we need some roads and we’re going to get $40,000. of that money and we want our roads resurfaced. He said I’m hearing that they’re talking about not putting that in the budget because of the federal dollars.

Here’s what he said and here’s what every mayor told me. Those federal dollars come with strings. He said I can’t pave my roads. He said, I have to do one, two, three, and most of them have to do with the Green New Deal or something like that. He said I need the state money because I can do whatever I need to do for my town, for my county.

But he said if these federal dollars, he said, I have to do whatever they tell me to do. And he said I’m hearing that they’re wanting to take the $200 million out because of all the federal dollars. And I said, not in the House. The House is fighting for you. And I said it’s my understanding the governor is fighting for you. So I don’t know what the Senate is going to do. I’m not in the Senate. But that’s exactly what we’re doing with education. We need to tell Washington you keep your money, we’ll keep our money and we’ll teach our kids Tennessee values.

Leahy: Will you in the next session, introduce a bill to accomplish just that?

Sexton: I would love to accomplish that. I would love to introduce that bill. I will be glad to do that.

Leahy: All right. We’ll track it. And I say that with a smile on my face.

Sexton: Sure.

Leahy: And you know why there’s a smile on my face? Because there are huge hurdles to such a bill.

Sexton: Oh, absolutely.

Leahy: The Teacher’s Union. The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, and the Tennessee School Board. They’re all going to oppose it. All of them. Because they want the money.

Sexton: What’s most important to us? Funding the teachers union in the large infrastructure in the education Department? Or teaching our students? what’s the most important?

Leahy: I agree. And I’ve talked to a representative, Mark White, who’s a chair of the Education Administration Committee. He was favorably inclined to that idea.

Sexton: Absolutely.

Leahy: At least at the initial stages. It is a tough political battle. But we’ll see how that plays out.

Listen to the first hour here:

– – –

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tennessee State Rep. Rusty Grills on His No Mandatory Vaccines and Protecting Individual Liberties

Tennessee State Rep. Rusty Grills on His No Mandatory Vaccines and Protecting Individual Liberties

 

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 State Rep. of District 77, Rusty Grills, to the newsmakers line to discuss his bill for not mandating the COVID vaccine during a state of emergency or epidemic and protecting the liberty of Tennesseans.

Leahy: On the newsmaker line, our good friend, State Representative Rusty Grills. Rusty, before we get into the agenda that you see for the Tennessee General Assembly, just a little side comment, I keep telling my wife, I really would like to buy a little farm, little vegetable farm, apple orchard just because I think it would be fun to have it. And she says you might like to have it but you don’t really want to run it. (Laughter)

Grills: Well, I can understand that. To be completely honest with you, we have cattle and I have some mama cows and baby cows put it in layman’s terms. And my wife and I because I loved her so much and just a headache that caused her back home when I was up here if there was an issue, someone else had to take care of him. So I loved her so much that I decided to get rid of her. And actually, she pretty much said you need to get rid of them because they are too much headache. (Leahy laughs) You know how that is.

Leahy: Believe me, I understand.

Grills: Before we get started on something else, I want to tell you how much I appreciate this because I’ve only been in the legislature for a year and a half now. But I remember when I was younger that Mr. Steve Gill always has his radio show. We could pick it up over in West Tennessee, and I used to listen to him every day.

And I learned so much from those state issues that were being broadcast that I was able to keep up with what was going on in the state. And that really was a huge benefit to me because I’m a political junkie. I guess if you will. My dad started me off on Rush Limbaugh twice a day when we were younger and raising a real conservative family. But then you get to hear those world views proven over and over again.

So that kind of helped me develop just a fundamental conservative worldview with a biblical background. And because of the right people in my life, I had the opportunity to be right in having that world view. So I want to thank you for the efforts that you put out to make sure the people in the state of Tennessee realize what is going on with their legislature so they can be engaged and interact with their legislators.

Leahy: Well, I appreciate that. And it is our mission, actually, to give members of the Tennessee General Assembly and an opportunity to express their views and explain what’s going on there. So I appreciate that.

Grills: It’s so important because there are so many people that do not get involved until after the fact. And honestly, I got elected up to the County Commission in the county that I live in in 2010. And the reason I got involved is that I went to a guy one day and told him I said, if you do not quit raising our taxes, I’m going to run against you. And I was joking. I was only 26 years old and he told me, he said young man, the best thing for you to do is just pick you up petition next time, and run. So when the next election came up, I picked up a petition. I ran and I beat him.

Leahy: Way to go.

Grills: And just because I was involved, I wasn’t being a smart alec. I wasn’t trying to be smart. I was kind of tongue in cheek, just cutting up a little bit. But he kind of got me to thinking and those opportunities I had listening to Steve Gill and Rush and all the other different radio shows to pick up some things and you get tired of seeing those same paths traveled that lead to destruction, which is a more government-controlled society or progressive, more Liberal, more socialist, more Marxist. Whatever term you want to use. And I do not subscribe to that way of thinking.

Leahy: Tell me what is on your agenda for the next couple of weeks as we wrap up the Tennessee General Assembly.

Grills: Well, last week I had a bill that was very close to my heart. It prevents the governor in a state of emergency from forcing the church to shut down, which is extremely important because we see the left in California and Michigan, and New York, and they tried to pull that. And in Tennessee, I know Governor Lee never did shut the churches down, but at the same time, he won’t always be governor. So we were able to the past that last week, which is pretty close to my heart. Today I have a bill that protects school-age children from forced COVID-19 vaccines as a condition of enrollment. And that’s been somewhat fun.

Leahy: Tell us where that stands right now. Has it made it through the committee? Is it going to be on the floor?

Grills: The companion bill in the Senate is going to be voted on this morning on the Senate floor. My bill I started in Education Sub, Education full. Then they double referred me back to health. And I have been in health and two weeks ago I was in health. We wrote it a week ago and then we got in health yesterday and we spent about an hour discussing and they rolled me to the Hill up to today and we’re still discussing it.

And Lord willing, we’ll be able to get through it. Here’s the deal. I’m not one of those guys that don’t want to see individuals be vaccinated. I think vaccines serve a great purpose in our community. and I want each individual to get vaccinated if they choose to. But I do not want to see force vaccines on anyone because of these adverse effects. And if you do something, if you do something and you make the decision to do it and it turns out to be bad, then it’s your fault.

But if someone forces you to do it and you’re not necessarily crazy about it, you’ll have animosity towards that person and maybe regret, and not to mention, you could potentially have a lawsuit. So that’s my thought. And honestly, gosh, COVID-19 has been horrible but the survival rate of COVID has been high. I don’t want to be accused of being an anti-vaxxer.

Leahy: Apparently, yesterday we have a story by Corrine Murdock about your bill that Robin Smith, the state representative from Hixon, had an amendment that would sunset it after two years. Did you have a discussion with her about that? Do you agree with that or disagree with that?

Grills: I was willing to work with Representative Smith who is a great person, and she’s always shot me straight. So I appreciate that. But she didn’t do anything that was unkosher. We agreed to that amendment. We talked about it, and we worked together, and we agreed to that amendment. But the problem was that my bill also has another amendment on it that guarantees religious exemptions in the time of an emergency or an epidemic. And that’s the problem we had yesterday. That part does not sunset. So there are those that think that you do not necessarily need a religious exemption in the time of an epidemic. And then there are those that do, which I’m one of those people.

Leahy: So State Representative Sam Watson, he’s from Franklin. He actually represents the district in which I live and he opposed the bill entirely. He asserted that it constituted government overreach since it would prohibit private groups from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. Did you have a response to that?

Grills: My response is we’re not mandating anything. We are simply protecting individual liberty and the choices that God gives each American in the United States of America and the state of Tennessee. The responsibility of the government, in my opinion, is to guarantee that right. God has given you and protected those rights, not to give them back to you as they see fit. And ultimately, we have just different views of the world. Not that he’s a bad man or we’re not friends, or we can’t get along, it’s just we see things differently.

Leahy: Let us know. What do you think the odds are your bill passes and becomes law?

Grills: I think there’s a chance we get this thing through.

Leahy: That’s pretty good. If you were a betting man, that’s not a bad number.

Grills: I don’t ever want to bet against freedom.

Leahy: (Laughs) A good line.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson Discusses the Last Few Weeks of the Tennessee General Assembly’s Agenda

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson Discusses the Last Few Weeks of the Tennessee General Assembly’s Agenda

 

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.

Leahy: Absolutely.

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