By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If Democrats have their way, the Tennessee General Assembly would meet only every second year, lawmakers’ daily expenses would be capped and bill sponsors would have to divulge if their legislation originated with national groups.
Democratic leaders insist their proposals are designed to promote good government. But Republicans charge the measures are election-year games.
“I’d be glad to look at any suggestions they have, but they’re playing politics,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said in a recent interview. “When they had the power to do it, they didn’t do anything about that.”
But House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville argued that most of the lawmakers sponsoring the current measures didn’t hold leadership positions before Republicans won their majority in the House in 2008.
“How long do you hold a good idea down just because a party took things a particular way several years ago?” Turner said.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said the measure calling for meeting every other year dovetails with Republican efforts to keep the legislative session as short as possible
“We’re just moving at such a quick pace to get things done around there, and I feel we could move at an even faster pace if we cut out one session,” Fitzhugh said.
“I don’t see this as political,” he said. “I see this as trying to save some money.”
Fitzhugh is also the sponsor of a measure dubbed the “Influence Disclosure Act,” which would require lawmakers to declare if their proposals originated with national groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council.
“It’s important to know the source, so we know if it’s some sort of nationwide legislation or model legislation,” Fitzhugh said.
McCormick said many national groups proposing legislation don’t make a secret of their goals.
“I would ask the Democrats to do their homework and disclose it themselves,” he said.
Another Democratic proposal would require state lawmakers and their staffs to undergo drug testing. Rep. Johnnie Shaw, D-Bolivar, said the bill is in response to GOP efforts to require drug testing for welfare recipients.
“I don’t think lawmakers should ever vote to make any laws that they don’t first and foremost abide by,” he said. “My question is, what lawmaker would not vote for it?”
McCormick said he considers the matter a question of priorities.
“Most people would like to see people who don’t work for their government paychecks get drug tested first,” he said.
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson on Tuesday delayed consideration of his bill to freeze per diem reimbursement rates at 2010 levels so he could craft some new language for the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris noted that Finney originally introduced the bill last year.
“I guess he decided not to run it last year so he could run it in an election year,” he said.
Norris was dismissive of the Democratic proposals, and laughed off suggestions that they may be designed to embarrass Republicans.
“No, they’re trying to embarrass themselves,” he said. “And I think they’re succeeding.”
Read the bills on drug testing lawmakers (HB2411), disclosing model legislation (HB2301), freezing per diem rates (SB1372) and eliminating a legislative session (HB2785) at http://http://capitol.tn.gov .