From AP’s Eric Schelzig
Election season is a driving factor behind a push by lawmakers for an early conclusion of the legislative session. It might also be to blame for keeping the session from immediately kicking into high gear.
In the month since completing a whirlwind special session on education issues, lawmakers have fallen into a much more leisurely pace.
Republican Rep. Joe McCord of Maryville said a key date on the elections calendar might be at the root of lawmakers’ desire to stay away from some of the heavier lifting: the April 1 candidate filing deadline.
“Historically it’s always been with bills that are controversial in nature, that they get kicked back to the first calendar in April, so people know where they are,” he said.
All 99 House seats and 17 of 33 Senate seats are up for election this year. Also, two lawmakers are running for governor, three for Congress and at least three more for mayor of their home counties.
House Speaker Kent Williams agreed that part of the problem is that “there’s a filing deadline of the election coming.”
The Elizabethton Republican said that may have led some members to “waiting for when the time’s right” to take up more serious matters.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have given what some consider an undue amount of attention to issues like whether to honor late pop superstar Michael Jackson, add an eighth official state song or urge the U.S. Senate to reject a United Nations convention on children’s rights.
And some measures that otherwise would have received little scrutiny have been magnified by the dearth of bills on more traditional hot button issues guns or abortion.
“We haven’t got the real tough things up here yet,” said House Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Turner of Nashville. “If we’re acting this way over little bills that are just honoring people, when we get down to real hard work there’s going to be some tough days up here.”
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is one of the most vocal proponents of an early end to the session because he is barred from raising money for his gubernatorial bid until May 15 unless lawmakers wrap up their business before then.
The Blountville Republican said the Senate will keep pressure on the House by keeping a brisk pace and not taking up the normal amount of bills.
“All we’re waiting on is passing the budget, and once we pass that, we’re done,” Ramsey said. “It will keep the House’s feet to the fire because when we shut down our committees, they’re shut down automatically.”
Bills must work their way through the committee system in both chambers before they head for full floor votes.
Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis said he’s been troubled by the level of partisan contention on seemingly innocuous measures.
“If we’re going to get out of here within the next 30 to 60 days, then we’re going to have to settle the business of the state in a mature fashion without a whole lot of wrangling and personal stuff,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re going to be here till June like in other years.”
From AP’s Eric Schelzig