State Representative Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) told The Tennessee Star Friday that he has not been contacted by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) regarding the passage of Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Accounts (ESA) legislation.
As a follow-up to a news report on Thursday by Phil Williams at NewsChannel 5 that “FBI agents have begun interviewing Tennessee lawmakers about whether any improper incentives were offered to pass Gov. Bill Lee’s school vouchers bill in the state House,” The Star asked Representative Zachary if he had been contacted by the FBI.
Not only did Representative Zachary confirm he had not been contacted by the FBI, he elaborated, “I find it ridiculous that a story is run on a rumor with absolutely zero basis of truth.”
Representative Zachary was central to the passage of the Education Savings Accounts legislation, as he was the one who broke the 49-49 tie vote on the House floor April 23. While the vote was held open for 40 minutes, Governor Lee was unsuccessful as he made phone calls to several other House lawmakers to win their vote.
Once Knox County was taken out of the bill, Representative Zachary felt he could vote for the bill. Zachary explained,
“As I’ve stated from the day I voted on the ESA, my goal was to insure I was doing my best to help Knox County. I was not offered anything by anyone. I told the Speaker and Governor that if they exempted Knox County, held us fiscally harmless and we worked to make up our anticipated BEP growth shortfall, I could vote for the bill. They agreed and so I voted yes.”
The State Senate voted on the ESA legislation two days after the House, but, with a 20-13 vote, passed a different version than that of the House.
After a Joint Conference Committee reached a compromise, the House voted on the ESA proposal again on May 1, approving the Conference Committee report with 51 Ayes and 46 Noes.
With regard to an FBI investigation, not only did Representative Zachary confirm that he had not been contacted by the FBI, he offered that none of the colleagues he had spoken to had been contacted by the FBI either.
In total, Representative Zachary estimated that he had spoken with 10 to 12 Representatives between Thursday night and Friday.
With regard to any wrong doing relative to the vote on the ESA legislation in the House, Representative Zachary told The Star, “I have not heard of any wrong doing regarding the ESA vote.”
Here is the timeline of events presented in the NewsChannel 5 article:
On Wednesday, the House Democratic Caucus asked the U.S. Attorney in Nashville to investigate allegations that Casada’s team may have engaged in illegal eavesdropping on private meetings using the system that’s intended to broadcast committee meetings.
A U.S. Attorney spokesperson said that request had been forwarded to the FBI.
State Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) is the leader of the House Democratic Caucus.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.