Crossville Republican Cameron Sexton has been nominated by the GOP caucus of the Tennessee House of Representatives to serve as the chamber’s highest ranking officer.

State Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville

The House’s supermajority-strong Republican bloc met in Nashville Wednesday to select a replacement for Glen Casada, who is stepping down as a result of a sex, drugs and racism texting scandal involving his former chief of staff. Casada will resign at the end of this week.

The 48-year-old Sexton currently serves as the GOP caucus chairman. He beat out five other lawmakers seeking the speakership nomination, including Ryan Williams of Cookeville.

Because Republicans vastly outnumber Democrats in the House, Sexton is virtually guaranteed to win the speakership vote when the full chamber convenes in special session next month.

 

 

Jurors are scheduled to take up deliberations Wednesday in the Washington County civil rights intimidation case involving a former East Tennessee State University student who wore a gorilla mask to a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

Lawyers for both the prosecution and the defendant, 21-year-old Tristan Rettke, finished up closing arguments Tuesday following a day of testimony from witnesses who as ETSU students in 2016 attended the BLM campus protest Rettke stands accused of illegally interrupting.

The students who testified for the prosecution all claimed they were shocked and deeply offended when Rettke arrived on the scene wearing the gorilla mask and dangling bananas from a piece of rope in an obvious attempt to mock them.

The students, all of them black and most of them involved in African American-focused activist groups, each said they took the rope to symbolize a noose, which left them fearing for their safety. One student said the rope brought to mind slavery and lynching. Another said she regarded the rope as “a weapon.”

The lead prosecutor for the case, Assistant District Attorney Erin McArdle, later argued that Rettke’s “sole purpose was to provoke the other students” by displaying “symbols of hate and oppression.”

Rettke is charged with two felony counts of civil rights intimidation and three lesser charges, including disorderly conduct and disrupting a meeting.

Jurors also heard from the Rettke himself for the first time, albeit indirectly.

Rettke didn’t take the stand Tuesday, but prosecutors played an audio recording of the then 18-year-old’s interview with a campus police officer after he was taken away from the scene of the BLM protest.

In it, Rettke offered a glimpse into his thinking prior to the event.

He described his conduct as “a practical joke of sorts.” Rettke said he was trying to get a reaction from the students for his personal amusement.

“To be honest, I didn’t have any specific thought process toward what the gorilla mask meant — it was more about what other people would think,” Rettke told the officer. He said later likened his behavior to “an experiment to see their reactions.”

Neither Rettke nor the officer made any mention of a “noose” during the interview. Rettke said he was using the bananas to “bait” the BLM protesters.

When pressed about the meaning of the gorilla mask, Rettke said, “With recent action of Black Lives Matter, it resembles ape-like behavior — rioting, looting, blocking traffic, destroying property.”

In a written statement to police, Rettke indicated confusion as to why he was in trouble given that he’d heard about or observed street preachers confronting homosexual students in the free speech zone with inflammatory religious rhetoric.

Rettke’s defense attorney, Johnson City lawyer Patrick Denton, later argued that Rettke’s statements to police and also an earlier post he’d made on an internet message board expressing criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement indicated a political message was part of his actions. For those reasons alone, Rettke’s behavior should be viewed as an admittedly offensive but nevertheless First Amendment-protected form of counter-protest, said Denton.

Denton noted in his closing argument that the jury instructions already established for the case declare that the defendant cannot be convicted “for the manner of expression or the actual content of his opinions.”

“What else is there? What else are they asking you to find him guilty based on?” Denton said to the jury. “He didn’t touch anybody. He didn’t threaten anybody. Those two things encompass it all, and that is why I have to say he’s not guilty of any of these crimes — it’s not even close.”

The jury is scheduled to receive final instructions from the judge and go into deliberations Wednesday morning.

Former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has decided he won’t seek to replace retiring United States Sen. Lamar Alexander in the 2020 election.

An op-ed written by Haslam appeared on the Tennessean’s website Thursday announcing the decision not run.

Both Haslam and Alexander are Republicans, and each served two terms as the Tennessee state government’s highest elected officeholder.

“While I think serving in the United States Senate would be a great privilege and responsibility, I have come to the conclusion that it is not my calling for the next period of my life,” Haslam said. “This is a difficult decision because I have loved my time in public service and I believe so deeply in the importance of our political process.”

Haslam said wrestling “with the possibility of running for the United States Senate” has been “the hardest vocational decision of my life.”

As yet, only Vanderbilt surgeon Manni Sethi has announced he’s running for the Republican nomination to replace Alexander. Others said to be considering joining the race include U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, freshman GOP U.S. Rep. Mark Green*, former Congresswoman Diane Black and U.S. Rep David Kustuff.

James Mackler, a Nashville attorney, is running as a Democrat.

*Update: Green announced later Thursday that he won’t run for Alexander’s Senate seat.

Plenty more simian imbecility to go around this time too

A three-year running free-speech fiasco is approaching an apex in Washington County, and it befittingly coincides with the 94th anniversary of the legendary Tennessee Scopes Monkey Trial of July 1925.

A former East Tennessee State University student is scheduled July 15 to begin standing trial before a jury in Jonesborough on charges he violated fellow students’ civil rights by donning a gorilla mask and handing out bananas to Black Lives Matter protesters in the school’s free-speech zone.

In September 2016, an 18-year-old first-semester freshman named Tristan Rettke, who is white, was arrested and charged with a seldom used Tennessee statute designed to punish people who attempt to “unlawfully intimidate” others from exercising their constitutional rights

Subsequently released from custody on $10,000 bond, Rettke withdrew from the university shortly thereafter.

During the course of his interactions with the BLM demonstrators in an ETSU campus plaza area outside the university library, the ape-aping Rettke pranced about barefooted in a pair of overalls, dangling bananas from a length of rope, which some protesters said they believed symbolized a noose. Rettke also at times flourished a burlap bag emblazoned with a Confederate flag and a cannabis leaf — and at one point displayed a piece of paper bearing the handwritten words, “Lives Matter.”

Rettke at another point said to the protestors, “I identify as a gorilla.” When asked the purpose of his actions, Rettke said, “I’m out here to support you guys.”

Prior to making contact with Rettke, one of the white ETSU campus police officers observing the scene commented, “He can’t be doing that bullshit.” Later, Rettke was led away by police — whereupon he was unmasked to the hoots, jeers and intimations of potential future reprisals by BLM protestors.

Six months later, a grand jury indicted Rettke on the civil rights charges, as well as two counts of disorderly conduct and disrupting a meeting or procession.

Prosecutors for Tennessee’s First Judicial District claim in their court filings that when asked by police if his intent was to equate black students to subhuman primates, Rettke reportedly stated, “I knew it would invoke that thought process,” and that he “knew they were getting mad.”

The district attorney general’s office argues that Rettke’s behavior during the affair “clearly falls into the areas of expression that are not afforded protection by the First Amendment, specifically, the ‘fighting words’ exception or the ‘incitement to violence’ exception.”

Free Speech Zone Coverage

As luck and justice would have it, much of the ruckus was captured on video, and can be viewed here.

The 9-minute video, shot by ETSU student Thomas Grant Madison, gives a reasonably thorough indication of what happened that day in a designated campus free-speech zone, where students are permitted to gather and express opinions after first obtaining authorization from school administrators.

Spoiler alert: The only person in any apparent imminent danger throughout the video was Rettke himself. Indeed, praise was later conferred upon the black students for demonstrating forbearance — namely, for not kicking Rettke’s monkey ass all over the free-speech zone.

Recourse to violence was in fact discussed among the BLM protestors, but it was expressly eschewed. “I’ma whup his muhfuckin’ ass,” and “I really just want to kill you,” were audible comments from the BLM protesters, followed by exhortations to maintain composure from other students, who reckoned that triggering a physical altercation was precisely Rettke’s objective.

Rettke’s comportment that day went “against the values of our university where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect,” ETSU President Brian Noland said in a statement later. “We are exceptionally proud of the students who were peacefully participating in the event and the manner in which they exercised restraint, thoughtfulness and strength in the face of inappropriate and offensive behavior.”

All the same, First Amendment advocates and legal specialists who’ve examined the case are left with the impression that the prosecutors in East Tennessee, as well as university administrators, are apparently unschooled in developments involving American free-speech jurisprudence over the past hundred years.

Hung Jury or Lynch Mob?

Rettke’s lawyer, Patrick Denton, maintains First Amendment case law is decidedly on his client’s side — although whether a Tennessee jury will agree remains to be seen.

Jury nullification may also come into play. That’s what happens when one or more members of the panel refuse on moral or ethical grounds to convict, despite sufficient evidence that the defendant is technically guilty of the violation charged — particularly when the law or charges at issue are perceived as constitutionally suspect or lacking righteous legitimacy. 

To Denton, a criminal defense attorney typically more at home arguing Fourth and Fifth Amendment issues than the intricacies of the First, one of the most vexing aspects of the case is that the events occurred in what’s purportedly a free-speech zone. From his own personal point of view, this case has brought Denton around to the informed conclusion that free-speech zones are a noxious, constitution-affronting concept.

“There shouldn’t be such a thing as a free-speech zone,” Denton said. “You know what the free-speech zone should be? Everywhere. Every public place. If there has to be a free-speech zone, does that mean that constitutional rights are selectively protected based on where people are?”

Denton said he expects the judge to allow him satisfactory latitude to “educate the jury on the First Amendment framework as best that I can.” If a conviction nonetheless results, Denton said an appeal will certainly ensue.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which — like the Tennessee ACLU, has opposed Rettke’s prosecution from the outset — notes that the “fighting words exception” cited in the DA office’s court filing represents an antiquated, obsolete legal doctrine that’s been “so deeply contradicted by a number of later Supreme Court cases that it is considered essentially dead.”

“The provocative nature of Rettke’s conduct stems from the fact that it is nearly universally considered to be offensive,” wrote FIRE’s Adam Steinbaugh in wake of the incident. “Yet, the offensive nature of speech is not a basis for the state to punish the speaker, as the First Amendment protects offensive speech. In the same vein, laws that base their application on whether others are offended fail to provide adequate notice to speakers as to what conduct is or is not prohibited.”

Tennessee ACLU president Hedy Weinberg said Rettke’s taunting “through the use of such charged and painful racist symbols” was unequivocally repugnant.

Nevertheless, she believes Rettke actions constitute no crime.

“While the student in this instance clearly intended to mock and provoke people, from video of the incident he did not appear to be making a targeted threat or to be creating a real fear of bodily harm,” said Weinberg. “Particularly in a public forum space where First Amendment protections are at their height, even this kind of contemptible racist speech is protected by the First Amendment.”

1st Amdt: An Open Invitation to Disputes

One case precedent that seems naturally relevant here dates back eight decades, when SCOTUS asserted that public officials in America are constitutionally precluded from punishing people for provoking others to anger through the exercise of speech.

By its very nature, “a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute,” declared Justice William O. Douglas, writing for the majority in the Supreme Court’s 1949 Terminiello v. City of Chicago opinion.

That ruling overturned a priest’s conviction for “breach of the peace” resulting from a speech he gave that sparked a riot by protestors angered at his fulminations against Jews and President Franklin  Roosevelt, who, it’s worth noting in our current age of nakedly partisan judicial outcome-engineering, was responsible for nominating Douglas to the court of last resort in the first place.

Douglas, widely regarded as one of America’s staunchest 20th Century civil libertarian jurists, wrote that freedom of speech “may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”

“Speech is often provocative and challenging,” he wrote.

And oftentimes expressions of controversial or contentious notions “may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects,” Douglas wrote, adding that while perhaps not entirely absolute, the right to free speech in America is “nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest.”

“There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view,” Douglas concluded. “For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups.”

Given that the circumstances of the case Justice Douglas was writing about involved both the casting of collective ethnic aspersions and an actual resulting riot, it’s difficult to see how Rettke’s actions — which resulted in no violence, and were in fact laughed at by many — could be seen by a sober-minded Bill-of-Rights-supporting observer as not protected by the First Amendment and its relevant case law.

Protecting the Franchise

In fact, Rettke’s inconsiderate clowning arguably resulted, at least in the short run, in just the sort of “high purpose” that Justice Douglas said allowing free speech was designed to serve. It forced the other students to muster the integrity and wisdom to embrace a responsible and civilized course of action and refrain from lashing out in violence, even when provoked by an outrageously offensive exhibition of bigotry.

“It’s crazy that something negative brought so much positivity,” Madison, one of the students who video-recorded Rettke’s antics, said on a Facebook livestream later. “Tristan, if you are listening, I thank you for it. Because me and everybody who went through your despicable display — we’re better people because of it. We are stronger people because of it.”

The exalted and despised Baltimore humorist and quasi-misanthropic newspaper editor H.L. Mencken — whose daunting journalistic talents were put to pitiless literary effect during the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton nearly a century ago — wrote eloquent and relevant words about the nature of free speech that jurors in Jonesborough would do well to take under advisement.

As a lifelong chronicler of political fraud, public folly and societal stupidity, the Sage of Baltimore said he’d become “convinced that free speech is worth nothing unless it includes a full franchise to be foolish and even to be malicious.”

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels,” Mencken said. “For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

Press release from the Offfice of Tennessee Attorney General Herb Slatery III, July 2, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/news/2019/7/2/pr19-24.html

TN AG Reaches $5.8 Million Multi-Jurisdiction Settlement with LexisNexis under State False Claims Act

The company resold auto crash reports without paying for them

Nashville- Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III and local law enforcement agencies within the State, today announced the execution of a Settlement Agreement with LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Inc., and several affiliates (“LexisNexis”). The Settlement Agreement – which also was executed by the State of Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, and the City of Baltimore – resolves claims that LexisNexis underpaid certain fees associated with the purchase and resale of automobile crash reports and related crash data, which are owed to state and local law enforcement agencies by contract.

“The contract between LexisNexis and Tennessee’s law enforcement agencies was clear: the company agreed to pay for the sale of every crash report, which it did not do,” said General Slatery. “This Office will continue to pursue companies that do not honor their agreements with State agencies.”

Specifically, the investigation – which was conducted jointly with the Attorneys General of Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, as well as the City Solicitor of Baltimore –revealed that LexisNexis maintained an active database of all crash reports and crash-related data purchased from state and local law enforcement agencies on behalf of Lexis customers. While LexisNexis would pay the necessary fees to law enforcement agencies for the first sale of a crash report to a customer, it would not pay any additional fees for subsequent sales of the same report to other customers. This practice resulted in an underreporting of crash report sales to state and local law enforcement agencies, and underpayment of the requisite fees based on those inaccurate sales figures. This underreporting of sales and underpayment of fees violated the False Claims Act of the State of Tennessee, and similar statutes in the other affected jurisdictions.

In accordance with this settlement, LexisNexis must pay $5,811,708 to the settling parties. Of this amount, Tennessee and local law enforcement agencies will recover $1,122,821.99.

The lawsuit was brought by a whistleblower under the Tennessee False Claims Act, which allows private citizens to file civil actions on behalf of the government and share in any recovery. The whistleblower, a former employee of LexisNexis, will receive about $1.1 million for bringing this misconduct to light.

Press Release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee, June 26, 2019:

Link: https://www.beacontn.org/

New Beacon Lawsuit Looks To Reverse Unconstitutional Law Limiting Free Speech

Today, the Beacon Center’s legal arm filed its latest lawsuit against a law passed in the 2019 Legislative Session by the General Assembly.

The law would force most online auctioneers to be licensed by the state of Tennessee while exempting big online auction sites like Ebay. This law is not just unfair but is also unconstitutional, as it clearly violates the First Amendment. Beacon is suing the Tennessee Auctioneer Commission before the law takes effect on July 1st.

Beacon Vice President of Legal Affairs Braden Boucek stated, “Online auctions have not required a license for over a decade. Tennessee shouldn’t impose one now.  Online auctions are a safe and reliable business innovation that has blossomed free from licensure while protecting consumers.

“The state has no business applying its outdated licensing regime just to accommodate auctioneers who wish to hamstring the ingenuity of online auctioneers.” Boucek continued, “This law is not just unconstitutional, but it is bad policy. Tennessee will be chasing good employers out of the state. Employers like ‘Everything but the House’ have already left the state over this archaic approach to licensing and this is another step in the wrong direction. We should not be trying to license the internet.”

Jacquie Denny cofounded the online auction service, “Everything But the House,” in 2008.

After growing to 15 locations nationally, a decision was made by the executive team to “reset” the business model to better serve its clients, which meant investing in the locations that had the most potential for growth.

With pending legislation for rulings that would not be in the best interest of producing the maximum monetary results for the families served by the business, the decision was made not to invest in further growth in Tennessee.

“We love Tennessee, but the regulations put on online auctions would not make our business investment worthwhile,” Jacquie noted. “We’d love to open our doors if it made sense for us, but right now in Tennessee, the harmful regulations are keeping our business out of the state.”
The Beacon Center is proud to stand with business owners like Jacquie to ensure that Tennessee’s laws don’t put unconstitutional limits on businesses.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee empowers Tennesseans to reclaim control of their lives, so that they can freely pursue their version of the American Dream. The Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing concerned citizens and public leaders with expert empirical research and timely free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee.

Statement from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, June 26, 2019:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee released the following statement regarding his signing of a Proclamation calling the Tennessee General Assembly into a special session on August 23:

“It is in the best interest of our State to select a new Speaker of the House, and so I am calling a special session of the General Assembly for August 23 to accomplish that purpose. I have also asked the General Assembly to take up approval of the recent amendments to the Supreme Court rules, in addition to settling these leadership matters. Any other procedural business would be at the discretion of the General Assembly.”

Tennessee lagging behind neighbors in gun-rights protection

This past winter, the Kentucky Legislature approved a new provision allowing any law-abiding citizen in the state to carry a concealed firearm without first having to obtain a government permit.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in March, takes effect this week.

The refashioned statutory language proclaims that adults 21 years of age or beyond “and otherwise able to lawfully possess a firearm, may carry concealed firearms or other concealed deadly weapons without a license in the same locations as persons with valid licenses issued (by the state).”

Gun-rights advocates say the new measure isn’t really a vast departure from the previous law. In the past, gun owners in the Bluegrass State could legally carry a firearm in public so long as it was visible. However, they were prohibited from concealing a gun without a special permit.

The new law “simply extends the current open carry rule to concealed carry,” according to a National Rifle Association press release in March lauding the state for approving the law.

“Those who obtain permits will still be able to take advantage of the reciprocity agreements that Kentucky has with other states,” the NRA noted.

Kentucky is now the 16th state to recognize “constitutional carry.” Others, according to the NRA, are Alaska, Arizona,, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. Also on the list are four of Tennessee’s border states: Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri and now Kentucky.

Second Amendment stalwarts have been pushing constitutional carry in Tennessee for years, but they’ve regularly run into legislative roadblocks, despite ostensibly firearm-friendly Republicans dominating state politics for nearly a decade.

Earlier this year the Tennessee General Assembly approved concealed carry legislation that loosen the requirements for obtaining a permit to carry a gun covertly.

As of January 2020, the new, cheaper concealed-only permit will become available to Tennesseans — and it won’t require them to take an all-day firearms training course. If they can’t prove any prior formal firearms training, they’ll be required to complete a 90-minute online course.

Previously, the state required people to enroll in an eight-hour, in-person instructional safety course to legally carry a firearm in public, concealed or not.

The new law renames the handgun carry permit available under present law as the “enhanced handgun carry permit,” and it creates a new “concealed handgun carry permit,” according to the Tennessee Legislature’s website.

“An enhanced handgun carry permit does not specify the manner in which a handgun must be carried,” a summary of the legislation declares. “A concealed handgun carry permit will only authorize the holder to carry in a concealed manner.”

A concealed-only permit will last eight years and cost $65. The enhanced permit is $100 for the same period.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, June 13, 2019:

  • Five-day economic development trip will include stops in Japan and South Korea
  • Trip will focus on recruiting additional foreign direct investment to Tennessee
  • First international trip for Gov. Lee since taking office in Jan. 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe will travel to Asia June 17 through June 21 for an economic development trip designed to strengthen ties with Asian businesses and increase foreign direct investment (FDI) in Tennessee. This will be Gov. Lee’s first international economic development trip.

During the five-day trip, Lee and Rolfe will discuss Tennessee’s business advantages with a number of Asian businesses interested in establishing operations in the Southeast U.S. The trip will include stops in South Korea and Japan.

“I look forward to traveling to Asia next week on my first international recruitment trip and having the opportunity to meet with business leaders as we showcase the many advantages of doing business in Tennessee,” Lee said. “We are proud to be home to more than 1,000 foreign-owned companies and will continue to demonstrate our commitment to fostering a business-friendly environment that will help companies from around the globe grow and succeed in the Volunteer State.”

“More than 153,000 Tennesseans are employed by foreign-owned companies. By investing in a broader international footprint, we are ensuring that Tennessee is deeply rooted in the new global economy,” Rolfe said. “I am hopeful that this trip will further strengthen our partnerships with Korean and Japanese companies as we continue to promote international recruitment and expansions in Tennessee.”

Japan is Tennessee’s top country for foreign direct investment. There are nearly 200 Japanese companies that have invested $19.5 billion in the state. These companies employ over 53,300 people in 51 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

Top Japanese companies located in Tennessee include Bridgestone, CalsonicKansei, DENSO, JTEKT and Nissan.

There are 15 Korean companies in Tennessee that employ a workforce of more than 3,100 and have invested over $1 billion in nine counties across the state.

Top Korean companies doing business in Tennessee include ATLASBX, Hankook Tire, LG Electronics, Sam Dong and SL Tennessee.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, June 14, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/humanservices/news/2019/6/14/tennessee-offers-new-incentives-to-provide-equal-access-to-child-care.html

Tennessee Offers New Incentives to Provide Equal Access to Child Care

Extra money will help parents who live in child care deserts or work non-traditional hours

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) announced its second major change this year to help families participating in the Child Care Certificate Program access quality care.

Beginning in July, TDHS is adding a 15% bonus to child care payment subsidy rates in the below counties identified as either distressed or child care deserts. Availability of quality child care is vital to the economic prosperity of every community. TDHS is making a deliberate investment in these counties to incentivize child care providers in strengthening the quality of their programs, increasing access, and helping children get off to a strong start in life.

• Child Care Desert Counties: Shelby, Montgomery, Sumner, Robertson, Davidson, Warren, Sevier, Greene, Hawkins, Jefferson, Cumberland, Bradley, Rhea, White, Macon, Madison, Hardin, Chester, Lawrence, Marshall, and Rutherford.

• Distressed Counties: Lake, Lauderdale, Hardeman, McNairy, Perry, Jackson, Clay, Grundy, Van Buren, Bledsoe, Fentress, Morgan, Scott, Hancock, and Cocke.

Beginning in July, TDHS will also provide a 15% bonus above the current subsidy rate to providers who offer care during non-traditional hours. This means the child is receiving a majority of care between the hours of 6:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M.

The Child Care Certificate Program provides assistance to parents with a variety of economic needs. The Smart Steps Program provides child care payment assistance to families who are working or pursuing post-secondary education and who meet certain income eligibility requirements. The Child Care Certificate Program also serves teen parents enrolled in high school through the Teen Parent Assistance for Child Care Program and families taking part in the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program known as Families First, parents transitioning off Families First, and children in foster care.

Under these changes, a child care provider in Davidson County that’s currently receiving $155 dollars a week for a toddler on subsidized care would receive an extra $23 dollars for operating in a child care desert and an extra $23 dollars if the child is receiving care during non-traditional hours.

“These changes recognize that access to quality affordable child care is an essential part of the thriving Tennessee we are building.” said TDHS Commissioner Danielle W. Barnes. “We know there is a need for child care during non-traditional hours to support parents who work in all industries in the state, especially manufacturing. Our research has also discovered that we can provide further support to providers who offer these essential child care services in counties considered to be deserts.”

The new bonus payments for non-traditional care and child care deserts follow another TDHS change announced earlier this year to incentivize more providers to participate in the Child Care Certificate Program by raising weekly reimbursement rates.

Tennessee has approximately 4,200 regulated child care agencies that are eligible to participate in the Child Care Certificate Program. Approximately 1,500 providers are currently participating. Providers who wish to join the Certificate Program should contact the state office nearest them https://www.tn.gov/content/tn/humanservices/for-families/child-care-services/child-care-assistance-office-locator.html

Parents seeking information about enrolling in the Child Care Certificate Program should visit the TDHS website https://www.tn.gov/humanservices/for-families/child-care-services/child-care-payment-assistance.html

To support parents, TDHS also provides tips for choosing child care and an interactive database where parents can search for providers in their area https://www.tn.gov/humanservices/for-families/child-care-services/find-child-care.html

Learn more about the Tennessee Department of Human Services at www.tn.gov/humanservices.