Sergio Martínez-Beltrán

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.   

In his free time (once in a blue moon), Sergio can be found playing volleyball or in Flamenco Beach in Culebra, Puerto Rico. He is a graduate of Michigan State University and the coolest uncle (feel free to fact-check) to Olivia and Jimena. 

Chas Sisk | WPLN

As people start requesting absentee ballots, some Tennessee voters have noticed something unusual: The bottom part of the form published by the Secretary of State has a notice saying voters could receive a reward if they report a case of voter fraud.

The notice is highlighted in yellow. It says, “You may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000 if you make a report of voter fraud that leads to a conviction.” It also gives the number of the state’s voter fraud hotline.

Frosty Horton, a 69-year-old musician from Nashville, noticed it.

“It’s threatening,” Horton said. “And I don’t mean to sound paranoid about it. I just — my trust level is at a fairly low place.”

Maury Co. Schools/via Facebook

After weeks of pushback from parents, Tennessee will now make some data on school outbreaks public.

The Tennessee Department of Education says it will soon launch a new dashboard with district-submitted data.

The website is expected to go live on Tuesday, and it will have a map and search function of school districts and specific schools. The Education Department says it will be updated every Tuesday.

Gov. Bill Lee told reporters he recognizes there is a desire by parents to know more about what’s happening in their schools.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

For the second time, Gov. Bill Lee has changed his position on whether the state should release information regarding cases of COVID-19 in schools.

At a press conference Tuesday, Lee told reporters the state is erring on the side of privacy.

“It’s a balance,” Lee said. “It’s really important that people in a school district can’t figure out which children individually have a case.”

During the press conference, Lee and Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey initially cited federal health privacy laws — known as HIPAA — as a reason for not sharing data on school districts experiencing outbreaks or positive cases.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

A measure backed by Gov. Bill Lee that sets new sentences for protesting — including making it a felony to stay overnight on state property — has passed the Tennessee General Assembly.

It’s now headed to Lee’s desk after being approved Wednesday night by the Republican-led legislature.

The bill comes in response to ongoing overnight protests against a bust of Confederate General and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest. State troopers have repeatedly arrested the few dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Tennessee State Capitol but have not succeeded in getting the protesters to disperse.

 


TN Photo Services (File)

At least four school districts in Middle Tennessee that recently reopened are now struggling with new cases of coronavirus.

This has caused some of their schools to close until further notice. But Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey says that might be an overreaction.

Piercey told WPLN News in an interview Monday that districts closing schools due to coronavirus cases might not be following the state’s guidelines on school reopening.

 


TN Photo Services (File)

This week the Tennessee General Assembly will start a special session, and it’s expected to last at least three days.

Gov. Bill Lee has tasked lawmakers with passing bills that range from COVID-19 to the protests outside the Tennessee State Capitol.

The main measure Gov. Bill Lee is pushing for is one that would shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

The legislature’s Republican supermajority is united in agreement that this is an important issue. But, before the legislature adjourned in June, they were at odds over whether the law should be retroactive.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

Not only will Tennessee now track the cases of COVID-19 in schools across the state, but it is expected to make the information public.

The latest transparency reversal from Gov. Bill Lee’s administration was announced Tuesday.

Lee told reporters the state is working on a plan to make the information public while protecting the privacy of teachers and students. The details, however, are still unclear.

“We will give you a plan within a week of what information it is that we are going to provide, with the intent of being more transparent so that communities know what’s happening in schools with regard to COVID,” Lee said.

Gov. Bill Lee/Facebook

Gov. Bill Lee has asked the Tennessee General Assembly to meet in a special session next week to pass some COVID-19 related bills that previously failed during the regular session.

The legislature will also debate measures that address the protestors at the Tennessee Capitol and its grounds. The session is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 10.

“As COVID-19 continues to present unique challenges, we feel it is in the best interest of the state to convene a special session to address liability protections and telehealth,” Lee said in a news release Monday afternoon.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

Dr. Deborah Birx told reporters Monday that Tennessee could be in a good position to battle the latest wave of COVID-19.

The White House coronavirus response coordinator said the main way to accomplish this is for Tennesseans to wear masks and the state to shut down its bars.

 

Birx met with Gov. Bill Lee, Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey and other state leaders to discus her concerns about the latest increase in coronavirus cases across the state.

After the meeting, Birx told reporters she was particularly worried about rural counties.

WPLN News

Later this month, Vanderbilt University Medical Center will start enlisting 1,000 volunteers for a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

The university said Wednesday the vaccine was developed by Moderna Inc. in collaboration with the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

“We are pressing full speed ahead to provide an answer to this pandemic, while also taking the necessary steps to ensure that new vaccines and therapeutic drugs are both safe and effective,” said Buddy Creech, the director of Vanderbilt’s Vaccine Research Program.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

After hearing impassioned speeches from Black lawmakers, the Tennessee State Capitol Commission voted for the first time to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

And, in a last-minute vote, the group also voted to take out two other military figures from the capitol’s second floor.

The initial proposal — of removing Forrest— has been championed by Black Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, for years, as well as by activists.

“These monuments represent the values that unite us and the moral principles that guide our society,” Gilmore told the panel. “Nathan Beford Forrest does not represent the values of Tennessee.”

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

For the first time, Tennessee’s State Capitol Commission is likely to vote for the removal of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest. The monument to the Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan grand wizard has been inside the building since 1978.

Gov. Bill Lee is scheduled to address the panel Thursday. It’s unclear if Lee will openly say whether he supports the removal of the Forrest bust.

Last week, he told reporters he wanted to follow the process laid out in state law when removing a monument.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

A U.S. Supreme Court decision is being described as a “small victory” for abortion rights supporters in Tennessee, and it’s causing a leading anti-abortion group to call for a reset on opponents’ strategy.

The court ruled Monday that doctors do not have admitting privileges at a local hospital, striking down a Louisiana law. Tennessee has had a similar measure on the books since 2012, but it hasn’t been enforced for the past four years, when the Supreme Court struck down the same law in Texas.

Ashley Coffield, the president of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, told WPLN News the decision shows the highest court won’t support extreme measures to ban abortion.

Creative Commons

A U.S. Supreme Court decision is being described as a “small victory” for abortion rights supporters in Tennessee, and it’s causing a leading anti-abortion group to call for a reset on opponents’ strategy.

The court ruled Monday that doctors do not have admitting privileges at a local hospital, striking down a Louisiana law. Tennessee has had a similar measure on the books since 2012, but it hasn’t been enforced for the past four years, when the Supreme Court struck down the same law in Texas.

Ashley Coffield, the president of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, told WPLN News the decision shows the highest court won’t support extreme measures to ban abortion.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

In a late-night, last-minute vote, the Tennessee Senate passed what would become one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in the country.

The measure (SB2196/HB2263) had been championed by Gov. Bill Lee, although he said it was not a priority once the coronavirus pandemic struck in the state.

The measure would ban abortions after fetal cardiac activity has been detected — which happens about six weeks in the pregnancy.

The House voted on the measure Thursday morning, even as Republican leaders in the Senate were saying they would not pick it up because it was not related to the budget or the pandemic.

Pages