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. 

Rachel Iacovone| WPLN

The winter storm affecting middle Tennessee has shut down legislative business in the state — a first in five years.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally said in a tweet the decision to cancel the committee hearings this week was made so lawmakers don’t have to drive to Nashville.

Legislative staff is allowed to work from home.

The roads in middle Tennessee are still covered with snow and ice, making it dangerous for traveling. Metro police officers have responded to more than 250 crashes since Saturday, including more than 40 involving injuries, according to the city.

Gov. Lee YouTube page

Gov. Bill Lee wants the state to spend about $200 million in what he hopes would bring broadband to every community across the state.

The plan was announced Monday during the annual State of the State address in which Lee unveiled his $41.8 billion spending plan.

It includes raises for state employees, a plan to set up broadband in rural communities, money for the maintenance of state buildings and the expansion of postpartum coverage through TennCare.

“We have taken a fiscally conservative approach throughout this past year, maintaining strong reserves and budgeting for conservative growth rates,” Lee said. “Indeed, our budget is strong, and the differences are stark when you compare our state’s conservative budget to states with very different approaches.”

Alexis Marshall | WPLN

The Tennessee legislature approved Thursday a slate of bills meant to improve literacy among students, as well as hold schools harmless during the pandemic. One of the measures headed to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk allows schools to hold back third graders if they don’t read at grade level.

In Tennessee, about 64% of third graders have not been meeting that standard, according to the state’s education agency.

The proposal to hold back the lowest scorers for one year is meant to improve those numbers, says House Majority Leader William Lamberth.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

FBI agents searched the legislative offices or homes of four Republican lawmakers, including former House Speaker Glen Casada, as well as three aides Friday morning.

Officials will not say what prompted the search, but the House’s current speaker, Cameron Sexton, says the aides have been placed on paid administrative leave.

The search shook the Capitol, just days before the General Assembly was set to begin its two-year session. Visibly shaken, Sexton said that these are friends and colleagues and that Friday’s events do not necessarily mean they are guilty. He said he has spoken to the governor, the lieutenant governor and the leaders of both parties about the situation.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

These days, the beautiful grounds of Belmont University are noisy and busy.

Jackson Bowling, a music business freshman, noted that for the last few weeks the university’s lawns have been closed down and that tents are being set up.

“I guess it is interesting to have a different perspective on how the debates go, because usually you only see the debate actually happening and not all of the behind-the-scenes work that actually has to go in.”

 


Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday he is signing two executive orders that repeal all COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes in 89 counties across the state, and he’s encouraging the remaining six large counties not covered by those orders to do the same.

But, Lee also said he is extending the state of emergency through October. He said that has given the state the flexibility to respond faster to the pandemic.

“I think we have taken one of the most targeted approaches to the pandemic — eliminated the need of prolonged business closures or prolonged school closures,” Lee told reporters.

 

geobotticella via Flickr

Out of Rodrigo’s three kids, his middle son is in the most unique situation.

The youngest is a U.S. citizen and the oldest a DACA recipient. But the middle kid is not authorized to be in the country.

“It’s frustrating,” Rodrigo told WPLN News in Spanish. “You don’t want to feel like you are living in the shadows.”

Rodrigo, who didn’t want his last name used because of his immigration status, says his kid has been without a legal status since he arrived in the U.S., and when he was about to apply for DACA in 2017, President Donald Trump announced he was ending the program.

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.

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