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 Mark Pody to the newsmakers line.
During the first hour, Pody discussed his news bills he would be putting forth in the Tennessee General Assembly’s legislative session citing the importance of vaccination requirements and the right to claim a religious exemption. He added later that he was committed to upholding the country and state constitutions and believed that keeping the Capitol closed from the public while bills are being decided that affect them was wrong.
Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line by our very good friend State Senator Mark Pody from Wilson County. Good morning Senator Pody.
Pody: Good morning! It’s great to be here this morning!
Leahy: Well you sound very chipper at 5:30 a.m. in the morning. What time do you usually get up Senator Pody?
Pody: It’s close to this time. So this is right in the schedule that we have. And I got a few animals that we got to take care of and such before we go into the Capitol. So it’s always good.
Leahy: I didn’t know you had animals. Do you have a farm?
Pody: Yeah, we got a small farm couple of cows, sheep things like that and chickens. And then one of my favorite things is to go out and take care of the chickens and get the eggs for the morning.
Leahy: I’ve known you for many years. I did not know that you had a small farm. We do go back a long time from the days of the Tea Party when you were a state representative and when you announced that you’re running for the state senate I was there reporting on it. And we went to the State Capitol and took a picture of you and did a story on your announcement running for state senate.
Pody: Yeah, you got a great memory that’s been a little while ago.
Leahy: It was. Hey, Senator Pody, the regular session of the Tennessee General Assembly has resumed this week today. Is today the last day that members of the Senate can put new bills in the hopper? Do you have anything that you’re going to be dropping in or have you already put all of your bills on the agenda?
Pody: Well, I’ve got a couple more I’ll be putting in. And one of them is going to be about how our constitutional rights are being stepped on and everywhere we look and they’re using this excuse of the pandemic or emergencies and then the executive orders both on the state and the federal levels. And we’re going to be trying to put some things in to put some more guardrails on what the executive orders can actually do and mean. We’re also trying to again push back against the federal government. We believe that they are strongly overreaching their authority. And I’m a strong 10th Amendment believer that if it is not given to the federal government, it stays in the states. And if we don’t stand up for that it’s going to be continued to be eroded away.
Leahy: So any particulars of these new bills you may be putting in today?
Pody: Sure. So one of them is as an example is going to be talking about vaccinations in this case. And we’ve already filed that bill. We’ll be hearing it a week from Wednesday. So won’t be next Wednesday, the following Wednesday. I think it’s gonna be in the House next week and it’s just going to say that even though we have a pandemic that’s the same religious exemptions that we have currently have.
Just because we have pandemics and I can’t take away somebody’s religious freedoms that if they don’t believe that the shot is right for them or the vaccine is right for them they don’t have to take it. It shouldn’t affect anybody who wants a shot if they want a shot they should be able to get it. And if there are 100 people 99 of them get the shots and one says no it won’t affect the 99 that got. It’s only going to affect the one that doesn’t. But we want to respect the person’s religious freedoms.
Leahy: Now, I think you were a member of the House I think was back in 2015 when the Senate and the House passed a joint resolution to sue the federal government over the resettling of refugees here in the state of Tennessee without the permission and the ascent of the state legislature putting a cost on taxpayers to pay for the social benefits of these refugees. That lawsuit that Governor Haslam never signed on to it.
Governor Lee never signed on to it. And it wound its way through the federal court system for some years. It was finally dismissed for lack of standing because the governor wouldn’t back it up. Then last year President Trump gave Governor Lee the opportunity to basically say we don’t want any more refugees. He chose not to do that and didn’t talk to anybody in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Fast forward to last week, President Biden said now this year we’ve got in the country the ceiling for refugees in fiscal 2021 is 15,000. The president said well, I’m going to make the next fiscal 125,000. And oh by the way Congress I want to raise it to 62,500 this year. That means there are going to be a lot more refugees in Tennessee. Do you see the possibility of any legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly to resurrect that 10th Amendment case against the resettlement of refugees bringing it to the governor’s attention to either sign or not sign?
Pody: I do. I believe that Representative Terry Lynn Weaver is actually working with some of the attorneys to find a way to resurrect that and to continue our stance on that. I also know that Bruce Griffey and I actually filed something already. And I think he’s filed another bill with Senator Joey Hensley and it’s going to say that if you’re here and you’re working for example under the table for cash and you are wiring that money back to Mexico or outside of the United States that there would be a fee on that.
Last year we lost about $15 billion that were taken out of Tennessee and sent overseas. And what we’re looking at even if we put a fee on that money transfer that at seven percent that would be hundreds of millions of dollars coming back to Tennessee. And we would want to use that for education. We want to use it for infrastructure and so forth. but the people that are working for cash and sending that money overseas, they’re not legal. We got to still support them and we’ve got to pick up their medical care and their education.
And if they have any kind of passport and if they have cars showing that they’re legal, they don’t have to pay that. But if they’re here illegally, we believe that they owe their fair share of taxes and we want to collect it. So even if the federal government or the state government is not doing what they need to do to protect our borders, we want at least be making them pay and help contribute to the tax base that we have.
Leahy: This is the second session of the Tennessee General Assembly where you’ve been operating under COVID restrictions. Last year you kind of came midway through the session. This year it started. What’s the difference between meeting as a Tennessee General Assembly under these COVID restrictions compared to what it was like working in the Tennessee General Assembly before them?
Pody: Well, I’ve got to tell you my personal opinion is we are not following the Constitution where the Constitution of the state clearly says that the public is invited to come. And by having them restricted from the Capitol having the press restricted and so forth, I don’t think that’s right. And it is not right for people not to be able to come in and talk to their legislators to let us know what’s going on and what their feelings are.
They’ve got that right and we’re going against the Constitution by closing the Capitol this way. In fact, I will tell you when they first did it I actually did a protest myself and I refused to vote on bills. I would roll call in but I would refuse to vote. If the public was not allowed in I didn’t think it was right that we could do that. I didn’t know if anybody is going to pick up a lawsuit against us or not.
But we’re still doing that underneath unique circumstances where people can come in by appointment now and talk to us. But by not having them able to clearly see what’s going on I think that’s incorrect. And I’ve heard people say well you can do it on Facebook and you can do it live but just because things are on the internet doesn’t mean you get everything that’s going on. The only thing you get is what’s being said on the camera or but you don’t get the sense of the argument that’s going good or bad for a bill.
Leahy: That’s a very interesting point. The Constitutional issue is quite fascinating. The Tennessee state Constitution says the meetings of the Tennessee General Assembly should be open to the public right?
Pody: That’s exactly right. And we are not. And therefore I don’t believe that everything we’re doing is totally correct. Now my colleagues I don’t think they concur with me. In fact, I know they don’t they believe that it’s just a thing that we need to be doing. I don’t agree with them, but it’s not uncommon for me to be at odds with them now.
Leahy: That’s a good point. That’s a good point. You really follow the Constitution to a tee. Both the state Constitution and the national Constitution. Just to follow up on that point. Who would have standing in Tennessee courts to challenge the process currently of the way the Tennessee General Assembly is meeting under these emergency COVID-19 rules?
Pody: I believe anybody can. And there’s a bill going on that would be affecting them and they’re not allowed to come to the Capitol to hear that bill or save that bill. As a citizen when there’s a bill going on affecting them they would probably have standing in there and they could take it to court to make that challenge.
I think there are people that would probably even help pay for the lawsuit to go through. I don’t believe that I would have been standing because I’m in the Senate myself and I’m gonna do this. I don’t think that I would have standing but a citizen that the bills going through that would be affecting where they didn’t have access to their the process should have standing.
Listen to the full first 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.
Background Photo “Tennessee Capitol Chamber” by Ichabod. CC BY-SA 3.0.