Friday, June 26, 2020 - by Rep. Yusuf Hakeem
Tennessee State Legislature Adjourns Sine Die Leaving Many Critical Issue Unaddressed
Last Friday, at 3:15 a.m. CST, the Tennessee State Legislature adjourned this legislative season without addressing several critical issues facing our state. As Speaker Pro Tempore Dunn graveled out of the 111th General Assembly, I couldn't help but remember Repr. Love's remarks on the House floor earlier this month, "You can't just say you like black people... you have to also make policy that helps them and doesn't lower their value." Recalling his speech, I found myself asking the question, did some of my colleagues even listen to what he had to say.
In the wake of George Floyd's murder and massive protests around the world, several state and local governments righted the wrongs of the past generations and removed symbols of hate and oppression. Regrettably, our state did not rise to the moment. Instead of trying to promote racial healing and advance criminal justice reform, the legislature saw fit to debate legislation increasing the penalties, from a misdemeanor to a felony, for protesters who camp on or vandalize state property. In addition, the legislature also refused to advance legislation addressing the bust of Nathen Bedford Forrest, a budget request expanding postpartum health insurance for low-income and uninsured woman, police reform, telemedicine, and COVID-19 liability. It's hard not to feel disappointed with several of my colleagues who chose not to act in the state's best interest.
Legislation to Watch
HB2623, by Chairman Curcio, otherwise known as the Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act, would enact that an entity would not be liable for damages, injury, or death that results from, or in connection with, a health emergency claim related to coronavirus unless the claimant proves clear and convincing evidence. HB2623 failed due to a lack of constitutionality, and unresolved issues between the House and Senate. While protecting our small businesses should be one of our top priorities, the bill, in addition to the sponsor admitting to the bill's unconstitutionality, would still allow small businesses to be sued and be liable for any legal fees.
HB1699, by Rep. Smith, makes various changes to the law concerning the electronic delivery of health care and its coverage under insurance policies. This bill, which I voted for, made various positive changes and passed out of the House unanimously. However, the Senate refused to take up the conference report that passed out of the House.
Amendment 2, by Rep. Lamar, to HB2131 would remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest. The floor amendment was withdrawn in good faith that there would be continued talks about the removal of the statue.
Earlier this month, my fellow Democratic members and I introduced several amendments to the HB2291, by Rep. Hulsey. Dubbed the "8 Can't-Wait", these amendments sought to provide Tennesseans with much-needed police accountability and police reform. The amendments failed to gain enough bipartisan support, and HB2291 was held on the clerk's desk.
In a major win for voting rights in the State of Tennessee, Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, ruled that the state's limits on absentee voting during the pandemic constitutes "an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution." Her ruling mandates that the State of Tennessee must give all eligible voters the option to vote by mail in the upcoming 2020 elections because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the following day the State of Tennessee filed a motion to stay the Chancellor's order along with a motion for interlocutory appeal, which would allow a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals before the Chancery Court makes its final ruling on the injunction. Following the State's motion to stay, Chancellor Ellen Lyle ruled that the State of Tennessee must comply with the court's order and instructed the state to fix its absentee voting request forms. Anyone who deems COVID-19 a risk to their health or others will be able to request an absentee ballot. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that it will not block the order allowing mail-in ballets to all eligible voters during the COVID-19 pandemic.
First Time Voters: It is unclear at this monument whether first time voters will be able to vote absentee. In the Chancellor mandate, she states that "any eligible Tennessee voter". However, in her order, she does not specifically state first time voters.
On election day, if there is a dispute on your ability to vote you can request and cast a Provisional Ballot.
Copy and paste the below link for voter registration information and registration process.
Copy and paste the below link for absentee ballot information and application.
New COVID-19 Testing Sites in Chattanooga
On May 21, the Hamilton County Health Department announced the opening up four new COVID-19 testing sites located at Brainerd High School, East Lake Academy, Hardy Elementary, and Orchard Knob Elementary. The announcement comes after the Health Department's decision to no longer continue COVID-19 testing at that Bonnyshire Emissions Testing Center due to vehicle emission testing returning in certain parts of the state. It is important to note that testing will not occur inside the school building. These testing centers were strategically placed within the most populated areas of the county to ensure easy accessibility by everyone and maximum testing. All testing at these locations will be performed in a drive-through and walk-in tents around the school's parking lots. Testing at all four sites will take place between 7-11 a.m. Physician referrals, appointments, and present symptoms are not required to get tested. All COVID-19 testing is free. The new COVID-19 testing sites will operate through July.
For questions about COVID-19 testing and information, call the COVID-19 hotline at 209-8383.
Testing dates Monday-Sunday
Hardy Elementary School - 2100 Glass St., Chattanooga, TN 37406
East Lake Academy of Fine Arts - 2700 E 34th St., Chattanooga, TN 37407
Brainerd High School - 1020 N Moore Road, Chattanooga, TN 37411
June 29-July 5
July 27-Aug. 2
Orchard Knob Elementary School - 2000 E 3rd St., Chattanooga, TN 37404
June 29- July 3