You remember the General Assembly? Legislators were down in Nashville passing laws and such before they adjourned and the law was replaced by executive orders. Legislators are coming back at the end of the month, though there is some question what will happen then.
The new normal includes how to get legislators from their offices and committee rooms in the Cordell Hull building to the Capitol for session. Social distancing would mean one person in an elevator at a time and over 100 trips. It may be that legislators will have to avail themselves of Nashville’s sidewalks.
There is one school of thought that session will last one week, then adjourn. There doesn’t appear to be any vetoes to overturn, so it could be a matter of hearing how bad the revenue estimates are and what cuts will have to be made, sign off and go home. Assuming committees already have a budget set for approval.
But given how cumbersome the legislative process can be (thank goodness it’s hard to pass a bill sometimes) it will likely take at least two weeks to run through the process in the House.
That assumes that everyone agrees on which millions will be cut and which millions will be included. There may be some disagreement between the administration and legislators. Like whether the final budget will include $40 million to implement Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher program in Nashville and Memphis while there is a possibility of layoffs of state employees or unpaid furloughs.
The heavy lifting on the budget will be limited to the Senate and House finance committees working with the administration’s projections. Since the legislature went into hibernation the administration has a new Finance and Administration commissioner. Butch Eley has replaced Stuart McWhorter. McWhorter has been heading up the conronavirus task force. Eley has a history of working for Democrats, like former Nashville Mayor and U.S. Rep. Bill Boner. Don’t know how that will play with the Republican super majority, though Eley has been working in the governor’s office as chief of staff.
The Senate is likely to focus on the budget and try to go home. The House may have other ideas.
Legislators cannot hold fundraisers or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session. Except. In even numbered years, the ones in which elections are held, they can accept contributions after May 15. So, when they convene in Nashville June 1, with all the lobbyists and legislators in one place, campaign contributions are legal.
Chances are good most legislators will accept whatever the administration and the finance committees put before them and go home. Even if the House wants to take up gun bills, abortion bills or anything else of serious import the Senate has to go along. If there is controversy, look for changes in the governor’s emergency powers, the issue of two sets of laws, one for big cities with health departments and one for the 89 counties under the governor’s jurisdiction, and some compromises on what gets cut and what is restored in order to get a quick vote.
The June 1 restart is six weeks away from early voting in the Republican primary. Every week in Nashville puts them one week less campaigning.
It’s starting: I recently wrote a column suggesting that the pandemic causing declining football revenue should result in pay cuts for athletic directors and overpaid football coaches. An internet survey reveals that 14 universities in the Power Five conferences have cut salaries to make up current deficits, most of them 10% reductions. It’s likely lost football revenues for the coming year will require more draconian cuts for more schools or else begin shutting down non-revenue sports.
To no one’s surprise the SEC has the smallest number of cuts. Exactly one. The University of Missouri’s Eliah Drinkwitz. No big-name coaches have had pay cuts, unless you count Les Miles at Kansas. You might recognize Greg Schiano at Rutgers who was almost the Vols coach.
The ACC has four schools reducing pay: Louisville, Syracuse, Virginia and Wake Forest. The Big Ten: Minnesota and Rutgers. The Big 12: Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State. The PAC12: Colorado, Oregon, USC and Washington State.
We will know when colleges get serious when pay cuts are announced for Nick Saban at Alabama and Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M and Dabo Swinney at Clemson.
Or multi-millionaire Phillip Fulmer at UT.
Everybody has a theory: I have a theory, for what it’s worth, about the coronavirus. It seems to me that the hot spots with the greatest number of cases occur in cities with international airports. In Tennessee look at the contrast in victims in Memphis and Nashville, with international airports, and Knoxville. Then there’s the hot spots of New York, New Jersey and New Orleans.
Two things I don’t understand. Since the pandemic started it has been said over and over that the most vulnerable are old people with preexisting conditions. And Lee just announced that the state will just now be getting around to testing the people in state nursing homes? Good grief.
Second, the airlines have announced that they will just now start requiring masks for passengers. What? Have you CEOs had your heads up your alimentary canals for the last two months?
Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.