In a move pitched as streamlining government, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey have jointly proposed to abolish a dozen special committees – some decades old – created to oversee state functions ranging from prisons and TennCare to children’s issues and the lottery.
In the preamble to a 22-page bill sponsored by the two speakers, the current “select” committees are declared to be usurping the authority of regular committeess and in conflict with House and Senate rules.
“Such duplication and fragmentation of committee responsibilities and staff resources promote legislative inefficiencies and wasteful practices,” declares the bill (HB1097, SB725).
“Especially in these times of economic hardship and austerity, Tennessee taxpayers demand and deserve their departments of state government to be streamlined,
the bill says.
The three most prominent panels targeted for elimination:
-The Corrections Oversight Committee and assigned to review all legislation impacting state prisons before action by regular committees. It has two full-time staffers. The statue creating it in 1985 says it “shall continue only until the operations of the Department of Corrections have improved substantially so that such oversight is no longer required.”
–The TennCare Oversight Committee, created in 1994, which hold periodic sessions reviewing operations of the mammoth health care program for 1.2 million Tennesseans and reviews legislation impacting it. It also has two full-time staff members.
-The Select Committee on Children and Youth, created in 1987, which holds hearings on children’s issues and related legislation. The panel is allotted two staff positions under current law.
At least three other panels slated for elimination are now non-functional, though they are still on the books in the Tennessee code – The Joint Committee on Electric Utility Operations, the Commission on Responsible Fatherhood and the Charitable Gaming Oversight Committee.
Others still active at some level and scheduled for abolishment include the Select Committee on Business Taxes, the Joint Committee on Children’s Services, the Health Equity Commission, the Oversight Committee on Tennessee Lottery Corp., the Select Committee on Long Term Care and the Joint Committee on Workers Compensation,
In all cases, duties of the abolished committees would be assigned to various regular committees of the House and Senate.
Legislative staff has not prepared a formal estimate of savings through the move. The state budget document shows the total cost for operation of special committees as $761,200 for the current fiscal year. But some joint committees would continue.
The bill is one of just two sponsored this year by Harwell, who is in her first term as speaker. The other (HB1098), also sponsored jointly with Ramsey, authorizes the two speakers to require TBI background checks for persons they are considering for appointment to various boards and commission – similar to the authority now given the governor and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.