By Erik Schelzig
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam wants Tennessee lawmakers to file 700 fewer legislative proposals next year.
The Republican governor said in a speech Tuesday that he would like the number of bills reduced by one-third, or from the about 2,200 filed this year to the 1,500 range.
“As Republicans, we’re saying we’re the party of smaller government,” Haslam told reporters after the speech. “Let’s see if we can do that in terms of bill proposals.”
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis criticized the governor for trying to interfere in a separate branch of government.
“I do not think it’s appropriate for the governor to try to dictate to the Legislature how to do its business,” he said. “I don’t believe that is the best interests of Tennessee.”
But House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said the governor’s comments dovetail with efforts already under way in the General Assembly, where the GOP holds large majorities in both chambers.
Harwell said her office plans to send a memo to House members this week outlining a mechanism to avoid duplication of efforts.
Attorney-client privilege currently prevents the lawyers who draft legislation from informing other lawmakers that similar proposals have already been filed. Harwell said a new form will allow lawmakers to waive that privilege and allow the legal staff to divulge the subject matter of the bills they are working on.
“It’s consistent with the Republican philosophy that less government is best,” she said.
The speaker said she was pleased that Haslam shares the desire to cut down on the volume of legislation, but agreed that the governor and Legislature have different roles.
“The role of the Legislature is to develop and pass laws, and the role of the governor is to administer,” she said. “I don’t take lightly the role of the Legislature.”
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, also applauded the call for reducing legislation.
“I’m ecstatic to have a governor on the same page as I am on this,” Ramsey said in a statement. “The new Republican majority is dedicated to streamlining the legislative process, eliminating redundancies and reducing the size of government.”
Kyle, the Senate Democratic leader, said Ramsey’s comments appear to seek to absolve him of any blame for the large numbers of bills filed since he was first elected speaker in 2007.
“The facts are he’s been speaker for five years and he’s had a majority for seven years,” Kyle said. “And the rules are made by the majority.”
Kyle said by his count, about 80 percent of the 500 bills passed in the most recent session were sponsored by Republicans.
“So if there are too many bills being filed and too many matters going forward, it’s because Republicans are filing too many bills,” he said.
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Asked later by reporters exactly how he will get the General Assembly, an equal branch of government, to go along with cutting bill filings, Haslam said he plans “to have a conversation” with GOP and Democratic leaders.
There are lots of times that “there’s three or four bills filed about the same thing,” Haslam said, noting on one proposal to cut a tax there were six or seven bills, all requiring analysis.
Moreover, Haslam said, “as Republicans, we’re the party of smaller government. Let’s see if we can do that in terms of bill proposals.”
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said later Tuesday, “Oddly enough, we had a brief conversation today with the governor and both speakers and [Senate] Majority Leader Mark Norris and myself and discussed that.”
While nothing “firm” emerged, McCormick said, “we’re all in agreement that, No. 1, we need to introduce fewer bills and possibly would even look at limiting the number of bills that each representative would have.”
…One relatively easy move would be to implement a process allowing legal staff to inform legislators when a colleague already has introduced a bill on a specific issue, McCormick said.
Currently, staffers cannot do that under attorney-client guidelines, but if a lawmaker signed a waiver, there should be no problem, McCormick said.
Another method would be to curtail the number of bills that can be introduced, but McCormick said that would require a rule change that likely would have to await the beginning of the 108th General Assembly in 2013.