Sunday Column: Some Bills Die With a Whimper, Others Cause a Bang

It took about three minutes to deftly destroy the latest effort to impose term limits on state legislators. The maneuver, accomplished with bipartisan collaboration, assures that no term limits can be put in place for another decade or so and that there’s really no record of anyone being against the idea.
The effort was HJR625, crafted by Rep. Art Swann, R-Maryville, with a good bit of thought. Basically, it provided that state representatives — in exchange for term limits — would have their term of office changed from two years to four years, then be limited to serving no more than three terms or 12 years.
Swan brought the bill before the House State and Local Government Subcommittee last week and gave a brief explanation. Whereupon House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said the measure seemed to have some merit, but also raised questions and declared it needed to be studied. He thereupon made a motion that the proposal be sent to “summer study.”

No member of the subcommittee, which has a Republican majority, raised any objection to the motion, and the chairman, Republican Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville, promptly declared that it had passed. And HJR625 was shuttled off to a summer study that, in all probability, will never occur.
And, even if it did get some study, and even if everyone agreed it was a great idea and hurried it down the legislative pike with all possible speed, the state constitutional amendment could not be submitted to a statewide vote until November 2018.
Further, since all 99 members of the House of Representatives will be elected that November to two-year terms, they could not be impacted by the term limits until they come up for re-election in 2020.
Now, if HJR625 had been approved by the subcommittee and the full 107th General Assembly this year, then by the 108th General Assembly that will convene next year, it could have been on the ballot in 2014.
Short explanation: Besides the requirement of passage in two consecutive biennial sessions of the General Assembly, constitutional amendments can be put to a statewide vote only in gubernatorial election years. Since the possibility of a vote in the 2014 gubernatorial election is now dead, the next possibility is 2018.
Now, polling indicates that the idea of term limits enjoys considerable political popularity. But the way the execution of HJR625 was handled, it’s pretty certain that no one will face political repercussions.
That’s because Turner’s motion was approved on a voice vote with no one on the nine-member panel officially recorded as voting for it or against it. Presumably, everyone voted for the motion, but then that was just a vote to study. Who can be against that?
Certainly not the average citizen who might tell a pollster that he or she thinks term limits are a good idea, but who has no input — as in a lobbyist — into the daily grind of legislating. And who, thanks to the deft handling, will now never hear about the matter come election campaign time.
n When there are lobbyists on opposing sides, deft handling gets far more complicated and, occasionally, impossible. Witness the current battle between the National Rifle Association and allies against the Chamber of Commerce folks and their allies over a so-called “guns in parking lots” bill.
With friends on both sides of the issue, many Republicans, especially in the House, tried to ease the matter off the agenda and quietly ignore it. By some accounts, Republican legislators were told not to sponsor such legislation.
The gun lobby decided to resist being shuffled aside and pushed ahead with a Democratic sponsor, Rep. Eddie Bass. The business lobby rose to battle the gun lobby.
The gun lobby has a loyal following and communicates with many voters, giving it the ability to influence elections. The business lobby provides much of the campaign money legislators need for their re-elections. So the poor legislators are caught in a crossfire between the guys with the guns and the guys with the money.
Last week, things were getting so tense that Gov. Bill Haslam more or less stepped up to declare himself the great mediator who would try to bring forth a compromise that will placate both sides.
He is not likely to send the bill to “summer study.” That works only when nobody is really paying attention.

2 thoughts on “Sunday Column: Some Bills Die With a Whimper, Others Cause a Bang

  1. Sahil

    something like, Frankly, we’ve got plenty to do onuard here without having to repeatedly defend a law arising from a wedge issue trotted out to score political points and prevent a problem that only exists in the minds of some prejudiced people. I’d like to think Obama is on a boldness kick and has rediscovered where his support lies, but I don’t. He’s been a no show in the battle going on in Wisconsin, disgustingly so. His SOTU and budget both serve to validate Republicans’ politically self-serving talking points about the need to cut spending, even though doing so will only stall or reverse economic recovery — ironically, postponing the day when the economy is finally back in shape and some serious deficit reduction can take place without spiking unemployment and chilling demand.Oh yes, Obama is a far better president than the one he replaced. But this period we’re in calls for a Roosevelt, Truman or Johnson-type fighter and reformer, not an appeaser. The fact Obama either doesn’t understand that or does but chooses to ignore it leaves him as a muddler who’s blowing more opportunities to make a difference, to set things right, than most presidents ever get.

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