Harwell shakes up House committees

(Note: Harwell’s list of committee assignments, as provided to media, is available by clicking on this link: HouseCommittees

House Speaker Beth Harwell has named seven new committee chairmen for the 109th General Assembly — four replacing chairmen who served last session, two replacing retired lawmakers and one to lead a newly created panel.

In the Senate, Speaker Ron Ramsey kept in place the same committee leadership he appointed last session. In both chambers, all chairmen are Republicans.

The new House panel comes by splitting the former House Education Committee into two groups, which Harwell said will divide the heavy workload created by the filing of multiple bills on education topics. Last session, she said, the Education Committee had almost twice as many bills to review than any other panel.

Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, who chaired the Education Committee last year, will head one of the new panels, the Education Administration and Planning Committee. Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, will chair the panel’s subcommittee.

Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens, will head the new Education Instruction and Programs Committee. Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville, will chair its subcommittee.

Forgety is sponsoring a bill to revise Common Core standards for Tennessee public schools, which is expected to be a hotly debated topic in the coming session. Though it differs in some specifics from a proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam, the measure has the same theme of developing Tennessee standards over a period of study lasting into next year.

In brief debate prior to House floor approval of the new education committee structure, Kane suggested that a split giving one panel oversight of higher education and the other oversight of K-through-12 would be “more logical.” But House Clerk Joe McCord said a majority of bills in past sessions have dealt with K-12 topics so that such a split would not “balance and even the workload.”

Other changes in House committee leadership announced by Harwell on Saturday:

The Criminal Justice Committee, chaired last session by Rep. Eric Watson of Cleveland, who did not seek re-election, will now be led by Rep. William Lamberth of Cottontown. Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, will chair the subcommittee.

The Government Operations Committee, chaired last session by Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, will now be chaired by Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby. Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge is vice chairman.

Matheny is generally regarded as one of the more staunchly conservative members of the House, supporting many tea party endeavors. In 2012 , he briefly considered challenging Harwell for the speaker’s position, though later dropping the idea.

The Health Committee, chaired last session by Rep. Bob Ramsey of Maryville, will be chaired by Rep. Cameron Sexton of Crossville. Rep. Ryan Williams of Cookeville will chair the subcommittee.

Ramsey becomes chairman of the State Government Committee, a position held last session by Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville. Haynes, who is also chairman of the Knox County legislative delegation, remains as a member of the panel. Rep. Bill Sanderson of Kenton will chair the subcommittee.

Haynes said he told Harwell “I’d be happy to serve anywhere she wanted me” and noted that the speaker had at the same time appointed him to the powerful House Finance Committee and its Budget Subcommittee, which decide the fate of all bills that involve state spending or taxes.

“I felt the Budget Subcommittee is a better opportunity for me long term,” he said in an interview.

The Local Government Committee, chaired last year by Rep. Matthew Hill of Johnson City, will now be chaired by Rep. Timothy Wirgau of Buchanan. Rep. Dale Carr of Sevierville will chair the subcommittee.

The Transportation Committee, chaired in the 108th by retired Rep. Vince Dean of Chattanooga, will be chaired in the 109th by Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City. Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster will chair the subcommittee.

Note: This updates, expands and replaces earlier post.