House Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to limit the amount of legislation that can be filed by state representatives was softened Wednesday in the face of criticism – some from fellow Republicans – while Gov. Bill Haslam agreed to limit administration bill filings as well.
Harwell originally proposed a general 10-bill limit for individual House members with some exceptions. The compromise on Tuesday calls for a 15-bill limit, with some more exceptions.
The proposal, which is an amendment to House rules, was also revised to put a 75-bill limit on legislation introduced at the governor’s behest.
Haslam, who proposed 55 administration bills last year, agreed to the limit. He began calling for a reduction in bill filings in 2011.
The bill limit plan will now go before the full House for approval, probably on Thursday. Democrats said they may seek further revisions on the floor, though they are virtually certain to rejected by the Republican majority.
Harwell went along with the changes and declared herself “very pleased” with the end result. Earlier in the day, the full House had approved other rule changes she advocated, along with a major reshuffling of House committees and their duties.
“Whether it’s five, 10 or 15, the idea is we will limit the number of bills and change the culture of the Tennessee General Assembly,” she said.
The move came as the 108th General Assembly officially began with members taking their oath of office and going through various first-day formalities.
Harwell was reelected House speaker unanimously after Democrats decided not to put up a token opponent as a display of bipartisanship.
In the Senate, Ron Ramsey was reelected speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor on a 29-4 vote. The four no votes came from Democrats who voted instead for Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis. Kyle said that Ramsey had supported Republican candidates for speaker in past years when Democrats held the majority.
The decision to revise Harwell’s bill limit proposal came after her original plan came in for criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.
“My firm conviction is this is absolutely the wrong direction,” said Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, in a Republican Caucus meeting. He contended the limit on legislators, with none on the governor, would effectively increase gubernatorial power and that legislators representing a rural area may need to introduce more bills.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner pushed for a revision to allow partisan caucuses to introduce bills that do not count against the limits. He said Republicans, with 70 members, could fashion a “Republican agenda” under a 10-bill while Democrats cannot do the same with 28 members said.
Turner proposed the caucus exception to the Rule Committee, where it was voted down after House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said the five-bill increase and another revision should resolve the matter. Democrats may try to amend the committee recommendation on the floor with Turner’s idea.
One of the other revisions exempts bill’s dealing with the state budget and related issues from the limit. That will allow Democrats to file budget alternative bills without them being counted toward the limit.
Other revisions include exempting more bills that impact one geographic area from a legislator’s bill limit along with bills related to adopting state Supreme Court rules of procedure.
Further, the revision allows a legislator to seek approval of a bill after reaching his or her 15-bill limit, if he or she can convince a majority of the Rules Committee that it is needed.