Live from Music Row Thursday 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 Jack Johnson in the studio.
At the end of the second hour, Johnson described the primary goal of the Tennessee General Assembly and what may lie ahead in the summer months noting that the budget was the primary issue that has been completed before adjourning.
Leahy: We are delighted to have in studio with us my good friend and the lead bass guitarist for the Austin Brothers. (Johnson laughs) I love listening to those guys. And also the State Senate Majority Leader John [Jack] Johnson. Jack again welcome to our studios. We are delighted to have you here.
Johnson: Thanks, Michael. It’s great to be with you here in person.
Leahy: Yes. In-person.
Johnson: I’ve done this on the phone but this is my first time in person.
Leahy: It’s always more fun in person because of the non-verbal signals about when you should come in. It just works better I think in person. It’s more interesting to the listeners as well. As the majority leader of the state senate, you have a very significant responsibility. Tell us what’s happened here in terms of the final week or so of the Tennessee General Assembly which has adjourned but might come back. Tell us what’s going on.
Johnson: Sure. Well for all of us, 2020 has been such an interesting year. A challenging year. And sadly for some tragic year. We came into session the second Tuesday in January as we are constitutionally required to do every year. And when you look back at that time.
I remember Governor Lee coming and delivering his state of the state address and talking about how our revenues were exceeding expectations and Tennessee had just been voted by US News and World Report which are not a conservative outlet by the way.
Leahy: No, not at all.
Johnson: But voted us the number one fiscally managed state in the nation.
Leahy: A lot of people in the state legislature are responsible for that rating. But there is one guy who is no longer with us and who’s not always sort of the champion by conservatives but I think there is one guy who really probably was the most important person for having that happen.
And I remember having lunch with him at J. Alexanders about a year or so before he passed away. Ideologically we were a little different. I’m more conservative. He was more what you would call center-right. He brought with him reams and reams of paper and he put it on the table. And he said this is the budget! This is where we are being fiscal. He was Senator Charles Sargent. You knew who I was talking about. He was obsessed with the fiscal rating of the state.
Johnson: He was for many years. And served in the House. I think he went to the House in 1996. Don’t hold me to that. I think that’s when he first went in and very quickly was assigned to the Finance Ways and Means Committee. Became vice chairman as a Republican obviously. Democrats had controlled the state until 2011 and then he became chairman. I miss Charles for many many reasons. He was a dear friend. What I miss is being able to pick up my phone and call and he would answer and say, hello Mr. Jack in that raspy voice of his.
Leahy: He was from New York City.
Johnson: He was he was. He grew up in Manhattan.
Leahy: How could you not like somebody who is Irish and from New York says Michael Patrick Leahy from New York. (Chuckles)
Johnson: You could ask him any question about the budget and he knew it off the top of his head.
Leahy: He took those reports, he studied them. They studied them carefully. You are exactly right.
Johnson: Just an immense wealth of knowledge about that. and then obviously COVID happens and we just put everything on pause. And we knew we needed to get out of there because we didn’t know what was going to happen with this pandemic and like everyone had a lot of questions. So we very quickly turned all of our attention in early March to passing a budget because that is the one constitutional.
Leahy: That’s your job. Pass the budget.
Johnson: That’s the one thing we have to do every year. And we didn’t know if we’d be able to come back. We planned to come back. But think back in March. We didn’t know what was going to happen. So we very quickly passed a budget so the state government could continue to function.
Then we recessed until June 1. We kind of picked that date out of the AI. Our fiscal year ends June 30 so we wanted to come back before the fiscal year in the even we needed to make any revisions to the budget. And so we did. We came back on June 1. And just adjourned sine die.
Leahy: Tell the audience what adjourning sine die means. It’s a Latin phrase.
Johnson: To complete. Finish something. I can’t tell you exactly. But it means you’re done.
Leahy: Sine die.
Johnson: Sine die. The way it works is that every general assembly is two years. So we have elections on even number years. All 99 House members are up. Half of the Senate is up. Senators have four-year terms. Half are up on the gubernatorial cycle.
Half are up on the presidential cycle. But every two years we start a new general assembly and then we have two sessions of the general assembly because we do meet every year. Some states like Texas don’t. They meet every other year unless they come into special session.
So the second session which is what we just concluded we have wrapped up now the 111th General Assembly. We’ll have elections this November. And then when we reconvene in January we’ll reconvene the 112th General Assembly. So we’ll have the first session in 2021 of the 112th General Assembly. But anyway we came back and made revisions to the budget.
We can get into the details on that if you want. Took up pertinent matters and the House was a little more aggressive in terms of legislation. We wanted to consider the Senate. We took more of a top-down approach. that’s the most important thing we do. Make sure we have a goo fiscally conservative budget. Then we took up relative to COVID, economic development, and other things that we deem to be time-sensitive.
Leahy: So sine die according to the definition means, without a further meeting or hearing.
Johnson: OK. You’ve taught me something. I should know that probably.
Leahy: But, the General Assembly has no further plans. But in our constitution the governor can call a special session I think at any time.
Johnson: He can. He can.
Leahy: So what’s going on there?
Johnson: One of the issues that we did not, unfortunately, address right at the end of the session was some type of liability protection for businesses, churches, schools, and local governments relative to COVID. It stands to reason that there is probably going to be a litigious environment.
You’re probably going to see some lawsuits that come about because of COVID. What we wanted to do was get some type of liability protection for those entities that are doing the right things and that were substantially compliant with CDC guidelines. Unfortunately, we were unable to get that done but may come back into a special session to do that.
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.
Photo “Tennessee General Assembly” by Bill Lee.