On Tuesday’s 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 Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) in the studio to discuss this week’s Tennessee General Assembly agenda.
Towards the end of the second hour, Leahy and Roberts discussed Governor Lee’s recent executive order on state employee family leave which some statesmen raised eyebrows citing that it was not possible to do without going through legislation. Further on into the discussion Leahy brought up how this seemed to be a pattern with the governor noting that the specifics of the Heartbeat Bill are still up in the air.
Leahy: In the studio with our good friend all-star panelist and state Senator Kerry Roberts. It’s time now for the inside scoop about what’s really going on in the Tennessee General Assembly. What were the big issues? The big news going on up there on Capitol Hill?
Roberts: It’s been a pretty quiet week with President’s Day on Monday. So, we tried to compress it into a couple of days. But the biggest thing that happened wasn’t legislative. So the governor in his State of the State Address announced that he was going to by executive order have 12 weeks of annual paid family leave for state workers.
Leahy: And by the way, conservatives around the state are going, What? What?
Roberts: People didn’t see that coming necessarily?
Leahy: Not only that think of that small business guy who is paying for a state government employee to get that leave, and he can’t do it for himself or his employees.
Roberts: Right. I think Trump had talked about doing this and I think because Trump had floated the trial balloon they went with it. And so the problem is can you do this through executive order? And there was a belief by some legislators that said no, you have to go through the legislative process and have this approved.
Leahy: Now let me just stop for a moment. It would seem to me that this would require legislation from the body that appropriates money at the Tennessee General Assembly. That’s what it seems to me.
Roberts: And ultimately that’s what the governor agreed to do. And it’s being portrayed that he’s back peddling. I don’t think that’s fair. They thought legally they had the authority to do it by executive order and then some other people came in and argued otherwise.
Leahy: So let me just say. Before you make the announcement that you can do it by executive order, don’t you think you ought to have your staff call up the attorney general?
Roberts: Well, I suspect they did.
Roberts: I suppose that they probably did. It’s one of those things that’s a little bit murky. And, so I think the legislative attorneys made their case.
And I also think, let’s think about the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate. You’ve got a whole legislative agenda that you want to get through and if they’re sitting there saying I really think that needs to come through us. What does that say about the rest of your bills? They could just grind to a screeching halt.
Leahy: They could say, I see your agenda over there. It’s very nice. We’re going to put it up on a cupboard. (Laughs)
Roberts: And after we look at it we’re going to look at it. We’re going to admire it and when sessions over we’re going to say it’s too late. (Chuckles)
Leahy: We’re going to admire the agenda on the cupboard and then when the session is over we’ll take it off the cupboard. Then we’ll say, oh, it didn’t happen. (Laughs)
Roberts: So let me be clear. I wasn’t in the meeting speculating on how that all happened. He’s committed to the program and it’s unfortunate that some people are reporting that he is.
Leahy: See this is why you are so good in the state Senate. You said it’s unfortunate. (Roberts Chuckles) You see I would have of used a different adjective. (Leahy Laughs)
Roberts: I feel like I say this all the time, but I like Gov. Lee. I’m a personal friend and really appreciate the fact that the guy decided to run for office. You know, we have these hiccups. But part of it is when people run as an outsider that can be a very good thing. But also, there is a system in place where you have to figure out how to navigate.
Roberts: You can have some hiccups in the navigation process or maybe get some bad advice from someone who didn’t think something through and then it reflects poorly on you. And the question is how do you recover from that and how do you move on?
Well, in this case, I think the general assembly made it clear that you’re not going to do that by executive order. So he did, in my opinion, the right thing. He said ok, we’re going to run this through the Tennessee General Assembly. But it’s not back peddling.
Leahy: So there’s a pattern here that I want to talk about.
Leahy: You know what I’m talking about.
Roberts: I know what you’re going to…and I don’t disagree.
Leahy: Let me identify three things. First, in December without consulting the Tennessee General Assembly, which by the way has a lawsuit to stop refugee resettlement. Without consulting anybody the governor said, yeah, bring all those refugees in! When he could have said no. That’s point number one. Point number two is the issue that you just pointed out the executive order on family leave for state employees.
And then number three, bring us an update on this. So he announces a Heartbeat Bill, and the Heartbeat Bill he doesn’t consult with any of the players involved, but he announces the bill but doesn’t have the specifics on it. Where are we now? Do we have specifics on the Heartbeat Bill?
Roberts: Not to my knowledge. So my update is no update. But you know, (Leahy Laughs) I agree with you completely. He should have had the bill in place before he made the announcement on it. Maybe that was just a way to say we’re going to back you on this…
Leahy: Trust me.
Roberts: Don’t go file five or six other bills and let’s wait for the big one. I don’t know what it is. If this is delayed because they’re trying to get it right then more power to them. If this is delayed because they’re deep into something, and they’re not sure which way to go then it will be a mess that we sort out.
But keep this in mind. The House has passed the Heartbeat Bill and the Senate still has that bill alive. It’s not dead. It could be a vehicle by which the whole thing is changed. So we’ll see.
Roberts: This doesn’t’ need to happen a fourth time and it didn’t need to happen a third time. And we definitely don’t need it to happen a fourth time.
Leahy: But state Senator Roberts…(Laughs)
Roberts: Just call me Kerry. I’m on the radio. I’m Kerry here.
Leahy: So Kerry, you know the State of the State Address announcement came several weeks ago. So tick-tock goes the clock. And no specifics on the Heartbeat Bill yet.
Roberts: Yeah. Yeah.
Leahy: I don’t know.
Roberts: We need to have a really strong couple of weeks here. I’m saying we. Let me rephrase that. The executive branch of the government really needs to have a strong couple of weeks here.
Leahy: Kerry you really ought to run for office someday. Because you’re really good with words.
Roberts: Only when I’m with you. (Leahy Laughs) Michael Patrick Leahy. You ought to be a Supreme Court justice.
Leahy: It’s so Irish. Yes. Yes. Yes. Another long story.
Listen to the full second hour:
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