Session-ending games: Democratic goose, GOP gander?

Two Democrat-sponsored bills, seemingly scuttled by Republicans in partisan gamesmanship, were revived and approved during the last days of the session.

One was a measure sponsored by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville that would allow indigent people convicted of driving with a suspended license to pay their court costs and fines through community service rather than cash, subject to local approval.

On a motion of House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin, the measure (SB2149) was amended on the House floor to instead increase penalties for people convicted of driving while under the influence of methamphetamine when a child is in the vehicle and then sent back to committee.

The move was in retaliation for Stewart and other Democrats forcing floor votes on amendments that Republicans felt inappropriate.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” said Casada.

But the GOP leader relented last week and, with his approval, the amendment adopted earlier was removed and the bill passed 92-0 in its original form. It goes now to the governor.

Since Casada’s move, Democrats filed noticeably few floor amendments in the House. An exception came when Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, filed amendments that would require legislative approval of any privatization moves by the governor to a bill having nothing directly to do with that subject. Clemmons’ amendments were quickly voted down by the GOP majority.

Casada promptly retaliated by filing an amendment to the next Democrat-sponsored bill that came up, HB1960 by Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, though saying he “hated” to do so while repeating his line about “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Camper’s bill — sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris in the Senate — sets up a “task force” to study the state’s juvenile justice system. Republicans voted, on Casada’s motion, to send the bill back to committee and oblivion, given that the session was about to end and committees were closed. Some Republicans actually voted against his amendment — it was approved 50-35 — and Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, called it “ugly.”

Later, after conferring with Democrats and Republican colleagues, Casada backed off that proposal, too. The amendment was reconsidered and dropped. The bill was then approved unanimously and sent on to the governor.