Live from Music Row Wednesday 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 House Speaker Cameron Sexton to the newsmaker line to discuss the topics that will be addressed in the upcoming special session.
Leahy: Our good friend, the Speaker of the Tennessee House Cam Sexton. Speaker Sexton, the big question for you is have two-thirds of the members of the state Senate and two-thirds of the members of the state House communicated to you and speaker of the state Senate, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally that they want a second special session of the Tennessee General Assembly?
Sexton: Well, I mean, the letter that the House since several weeks ago, we had 73 signatures. The House has already said that they want to go in. What I have been doing with the lieutenant governor the last couple of days.
And we’re going to continue to talk today. He’s in agreement to go in, and he’s listening to his senators on what items that they would like to have in the call.
I’ve had a call yesterday with some of my members, and there are some coming by today to talk about things that they want in the call.
And so he and I are working on the call and we hope to have something to send out to members very soon to get the signatures to call the special session sometime after the Ford Motor Company.
Leahy: Lieutenant Governor McNally is also working in the state Senate to get those two third signatures for a special session on topics other than Ford Motor Company?
Sexton: Yeah, he is. I’ve had some great conversations with him. He has agreed to go into a second special session. And so he and I are just working it through. And we talked yesterday.
We talked the day before and talked over the weekend, and we just want to make sure that we’re hearing from our members and the issues that they want to bring.
We’re trying to get everything in the call so we can address them. I think it’s going to be a lot broader than what most people think it’s going to be.
Leahy: When you say the call. Does that mean that you and Lieutenant Governor McNally will have a call with the governor to discuss this?
Sexton: No. We don’t have to talk to the governor. If we do a legislative call, we’ve had discussions with him. I think he understands where the House and the Senate are.
And this is just a call between the House and Senate with two-thirds of each. And then when we get that number, then we send it to the governor.
Leahy: Got it, got it. So there will be for sure one special session called by the governor to address one topic. And that is whether or not the state will provide $500 million to Ford Motor Company to help them come and build an electric car and related plant in the Memphis Regional mega-site that is scheduled for October 18th. What do you expect that special session will be like?
Sexton: We haven’t seen the language yet. My understanding is that we should get the language of the bills to our Majority Leader William Lamberth by the end of the week. And we’ll have a better idea of all the things they want to do.
It looks like it’s mostly appropriation, but also looks like in the call, they want to create a new authority around the mega-site. And so we’re just going to have to wait and see what that legislation looks like.
I would think that we should be out of there by three days, three and a half days at most on that first call. The second call may take us longer than a week. It may be a longer call.
Leahy: The special session is scheduled to begin October 18th?
Sexton: October 18th. And it should be done by the 20th, 21st, somewhere in there. That would be my estimation.
Leahy: News reports indicate that the governor wants to and I’m not sure if this is the right word, provide $500 million of aid to Ford Motor Company. Have you seen what that $500 million entails?
Sexton: We have not. We haven’t yet. We don’t have the appropriation bill and him asking for the 500 million. We know it’s 500 million.
We also know that they want to build TCAT like facility on site. And we also know there’s a lot of infrastructure going in, but we don’t know what that 500 million entails at this point.
Leahy: Why should Tennessee taxpayers give $500 million to Ford Motor Company? Why shouldn’t they just come here? Because we’re such a great state, to begin with. Why do we have to give them $500 million?
Sexton: Well, unfortunately, you’re competing with other states. And I would say years ago, we were having to give away a whole lot more than $500 million to get businesses this year. What we have been offering incentives has been a lot less over the last six years than previously.
We also put in callbacks, which we’ve had to use a couple of times. But the callbacks allow us if they don’t meet the goals or the number of jobs that is in the contract between the state and them on what they say they’re going to do, then we can get that money back.
And so it’s one of those things where you’re protected on both sides. To get 5,700 jobs in West Tennessee is huge for West Tennessee, especially since they’ve lost over 125,000 people in the last 10 years on the census.
And then we’re also looking at the return on investment. We’re asking ECD and the administration how long will it take us to recoup that $500 million?
And so that’s part of what we’re asking as well. We’re asking different questions than maybe we’re being asked over a decade ago.
Leahy: Do you anticipate some Conservatives in the House and the state Senate will object to this $500 million going to Ford?
Sexton: There has been a little discussion and pockets of people saying that, you know, about the $500 million. It’s not so much the $500 million. I think they were frustrated that they are going to come in and vote on something for Ford Motor Company, which is a great thing for West Tennessee.
But then they may represent somewhere in East Tennessee and they have people there who are upset with some of the COVID mandates and the things that are happening with various aspects of employment and being forced by the Biden administration to do stuff.
And they were frustrated and saying, why can’t we do something to help our people while we’re there? If we are going to be there, why not take up some COVID items as well as do the $500 million for the Ford Motor Company deal, which is a valid point.
I think hopefully if we get the second session call, which I’m confident that we will, some of that will be tapped down and people will be able to focus just on the Ford Motor Company and then just focus on the COVID items that we’re going to talk about.
Leahy: My understanding is the way the Constitution works is if the governor calls a special session for a particular topic, that is the only thing that can be addressed in that special session. Do I have that right?
Sexton: That’s correct. That’s the only thing that can be addressed. And you cannot start a second special session until the first one is over. So there’s nothing that we could do in our special session.
You can’t really hold up any bills and go to another special session. You have to end that special session before you start the next.
Leahy: It seems to me that from what I’ve read that generally after if the special session to give Ford Motor $500 million starts October 18 is over by October 21st.
All indications are that the governor’s proposal will be accepted by the Tennessee General Assembly. Do I have that right?
Sexton: I have no doubt that the votes are there to pass it. At this point. I can’t tell you if it’s going to be a unanimous vote or if there’s going to be some people who are going to vote, maybe not vote for it, but just not vote against it either and do what we call a vote blue light or white light.
But I think there are votes there to pass it. The question is hopefully for the governor, he gets the highest votes that he can.
The other part on our side is we’re focusing on really trying to come back to looking together and listen to Tennessee and what they’re saying about COVID and trying to offer some relief to Tennessee parents, Tennessee students, Tennessee employees, and Tennessee business.
Leahy: If there is a second session, as it looks like everything is moving towards a second special session, will the issue of COVID mask mandates at schools and opt-outs be addressed?
Sexton: Absolutely. Yes.
Leahy: What do you anticipate the Tennessee General Assembly would likely pass in such a second special session on that issue?
Sexton: There have been some discussions. There’s nothing yet. So we have our legal Department on the House side looking at variations, looking at the court cases, seeing what they decided, and we’re sitting down having those conversations.
The first thing that we have to do is get the call with the Senate, and that’s what we’re focusing on. Hopefully, then we’ll have plenty of time to work on the details of the legislation, and then maybe members currently who have great ideas and they’ll come forth and we’ll talk about those as well.
The first thing is we’re trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves. We have ideas and legal’s working on them. But we really got to get to call and get that done.
Leahy: Last question. If there’s a second special session, will you address the problem of Afghan refugees coming into Tennessee that are unvetted for security or health purposes?
Sexton: That hasn’t been brought up in the call. The call is strictly focused on COVID and COVID mandates, and that’s been the direction on that. There hasn’t been much talk about the immigration portion of it at all.
And so as of right now, the second session is really focused on vaccinations, masks, and helping Tennessee parents, students and employees is what we really heard a lot about seems to be on the priority of what the call will be.
Leahy: Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Cam Sexton. Thanks so much for joining us. I really appreciate you coming on.
Sexton: Thank you all.
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Photo “Tennessee State Captiol” by Andre Porter CC BY-SA 3.0.