Apr. 17—Surely Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is confused.
He has confused gun rights with life rights. And grocery sales-tax holidays with tax cuts for rich people and a handout for a professional sports stadium.
This is the guy who wants the Volunteer State to ban so-called "COVID passports" to "prohibit any government-mandated vaccine passports to protect the privacy of Tennesseans' health information and ensure this vaccine remains a voluntary, personal decision."
Huh? How about protecting us from a deadly virus that already has killed 564,00 Americans, nearly 12,000 Tennesseans and 480 Hamilton County residents?
Lee also is the guy who recently signed into law "permitless carry" gun legislation that means anyone over 21 (and military people 18 and up) can carry a handgun without a permit. And since they don't have to have a permit, they also don't have to have a background check or gun safety training.
Lee also resisted throughout the pandemic any statewide mask mandates, and for a time even prohibited cities and counties from instituting them.
The result is that in most of Tennessee, Joe Sixpack's right to throw away his mask caps your right to be protected from his germs. And his right to carry around a gun that he has no training for endangers you and everyone else.
Gov. Lee is more concerned with our rights than with our lives.
Unless you're a fetus or you are carrying one.
If you're an unborn child, your rights are full. Pushed by Gov. Lee, Tennessee has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country. When he signed it into law in January 2020, Lee said the "heartbeat" abortion measure was "arguably the most conservative, pro-life piece of legislation in the country." (A federal judge quickly blocked the measure and it's still tied up in courts.)
But once a fetus becomes a breathing, hungry baby in Tennessee, all bets are off. Then it's OK if that baby doesn't have enough to eat or a good education or is playing in the wrong place at the wrong time or comes down with COVID-19 because people can carry their virus around just like they can carry their gun around.
This is not hyperbole.
In North Nashville last Monday night a 3-year-old girl died when someone shot four people at a public housing complex. Another child, a 2-year-old girl, was shot in the arm but is expected to survive. Two men, a 23-year-old and a 26-year-old, suffered minor injuries, police said.
Earlier that same day in Lebanon, 36-year-old Shaun Varsos, armed with a shotgun, broke into his mother-in-law's house and killed his estranged wife and her mother. He was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot in a rented vehicle near his home in Bellevue.
His wife had filed for divorce on March 4. One week later he was charged with aggravated assault and false imprisonment. There was an order of protection hearing scheduled for late March but it was rescheduled — at his request — to April 19. It's too late now for that protection hearing.
On that same Monday, as the school day was ending in Knoxville, a teenage boy who'd brought a gun to school faced off with a swarm of police officers in a bathroom. He shot and wounded the school resource officer before another officer returned fired, killing the teen.
And that was all just one day.
But Lee's confusion doesn't stop with guns and COVID-19 vaccinations.
He also is proposing a $100 million, two-week sales tax holiday for restaurants, bars and groceries — a nice idea, albeit one taken from our own state lawmaker Rep. Patsy Hazlewood. Her bill, introduced in February of 2020, would have created a two-month sales tax holiday on groceries.
But Lee had his own ideas — like slashing by half the $400-per-person annual professional privilege tax on doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers and lobbyists. In the end, both Hazlewood's and Lee's proposals were shelved out of uncertainty over COVID.
But don't think Lee, with his new sales tax holiday offer, has suddenly become all heart for us little people.
This year's $41.8 billion Tennessee budget proposal from the governor would again cut the professional privilege tax — this time by a quarter. But here's the real kicker: Lee wants to spend $13.5 million of our money to help a Knoxville-Knox County sports authority cover construction of a $65 million, 7,000-capacity downtown sports stadium for professional minor league baseball.
The stadium push comes from the owner of the Tennessee Smokies baseball team, who just happens to also be former Tennessee gubernatorial candidate and current University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd. Under former Gov. Bill Haslam, Boyd, a multimillionaire, served stints as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and chairman of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
Lee's got all this extra state change in the couch cushions due to better-than-expected revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic. (You know, Tennessee only had a one-month "stay at home" order for COVID. After all, if we didn't need masks, why would we shut down?)
And, of course, it helps that the state has received a continued infusion of federal money in COVID-19 relief.
"I'm especially proud to provide tax cuts to get money back to Tennesseans to encourage them to frequent industries that have been disproportionately and negatively impacted this year," Lee said in a statement.
Isn't irony sweet?