Some superlative legislative performances during the first supermajority session of Tennessee’s 108th General Assembly:
Best Oratory: Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, is generally a fairly mild-mannered and quiet fellow. But on the final day of the session, the bespectacled appliance salesman rose on the House floor to lead the rhetoric in rebellion against what he depicted as dictatorial state senators trying to cram a judicial redistricting bill down the throat of the “people’s chamber.” Gesturing with arms and hands, spinning this direction and that, the impassioned Sanderson’s sizzling speech left jaws dropping — and red “no” lights bright on the vote tally display board.
Best Loser: Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, House sponsor of the failing wine-in-groceries bill, the failing bill to increase penalties for cockfighting and the failing judicial redistricting legislation savaged by Sanderson. The Lundberg losers were bipartisan bills with logical and reasonable policy arguments behind them and entrenched interests opposing them. Just like in the years before the supermajority.
Freshman of the Year, Republican: Rep. William Lamberth of Cottontown introduced the maximum 15 bills permitted under new rules and proceeded to violate the old, unwritten rule that calls for freshmen to keep quiet, listen and learn in their first term. Lamberth saw 10 of his bills enacted, more than any other freshman — perhaps most notably one that makes secret the Department of Safety’s list of 400,000 handgun permit holders. A gregarious sort, the former prosecutor was an aggressive questioner in committees, particularly on crime bills, and rarely was on the losing side of a vote.
The 2013 session of the Tennessee General Assembly ended Friday with a contentious House-Senate clash that left dead Republican-sponsored bills on subjects ranging from charter schools to choosing judges.
The two chambers, both controlled for the first time by a Republican “supermajority,” did reach final-day agreement on imposing a 13-month month moratorium on cities annexing residential or agricultural land.
Gov. Bill Haslam said his two biggest disappointments in the day’s events were the failure of two measures dealing with charter schools, especially a “charter authorizer” bill (HB702) that would have allowed a state board to override local school boards when they turn down a charter school application.
The bill, a top priority of House Speaker Beth Harwell, cleared the House despite criticism that it wrongly let an appointed state board override decisions of local elected officials. But it stalled on the Senate floor until the final day, when it became entangled in what some characterized a “hostage” situation.
News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s office:
(NASHVILLE, TN), January 10, 2013 — Lt. Governor Ramsey (R-Blountville) today announced state Senate committee assignments for the 108th General Assembly. Lt. Governor Ramsey was elected to his fourth term as Speaker of the Senate this past Tuesday.
“The most important job I have as Speaker of Senate is appointing the committees that hear and deliberate the legislation before us as representatives of the people of Tennessee,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Placing the right people in the right places is crucial to making sure not only that good legislation rises to the top but that all legislation gets a fair hearing.”
“The Senate is comprised of extremely talented individuals. I am confident that the committees I have appointed today will succeed in keeping government small, taxes low and the legislature running on time.”
The Senate has nine standing committees and four select committees: Commerce and Labor; Education; Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources; Finance, Ways and Means; Health and Welfare; Government Operations, Judiciary; State and Local Government; Transportation and Safety; Ethics; Delayed Bills; Rules; and Calendar.
Note: The full list of Senate Committee assignments is available by clicking on this link: 108thCommittees.pdf
News release from House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office:
(NASHVILLE, January 10, 2013) – House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today announced committee and subcommittee appointments for the 108th General Assembly. The announcement comes after a new proposal by the Speaker to shake up the standing committees in an effort to make the process more efficient and save taxpayer money.
“When I was elected Speaker, I made clear that a limited and efficient government was my priority. Reaching those goals will always be a work in progress, and to that end I proposed changes to the committee system to balance the workload of each committee. I am confident this system will serve us well in the 108th General Assembly,” said Speaker Harwell.
“When appointing committees, I consider each member’s area of expertise, experience, previous service, and their interests,” said Speaker Harwell. “I’m confident I struck that balance and I’m looking forward to working with each of the members over the next two years as they serve in these roles.”
The House formally adopted Speaker Harwell’s recommended changes to the House rules on Thursday.
“I look forward to working with each of the new committee chairs and officers on the issues that matter most to Tennesseans,” she concluded.
Note: The list of committee assignments is available by clicking on this link: Committee_Appointments_108th_GA.pdf
Actions of the 107th General Assembly, recently adjourned, establish that businesses generally have reached a new peak of political power in our state.
Probably the most prominent illustration came when the business lobby locked horns with the Second Amendment lobby over whether employees should be able to keep guns in their locked cars in the company parking lot, even if the company prohibits firearms on premises.
The “Safe Commute Act,” as the National Rifle Association and the Tennessee Firearms Association called it, was the subject of a vigorous and intense push – including a TFA threat to politically crucify those voting no. The business lobby pushed back with less rhetorical bombast but equal vigor.
Maybe the whole thing – pitting individual gun rights against business property rights — was largely symbolic. But legislators took it seriously and business won.
Beyond the symbolic, examples abound of legislators in the Republican majority making Tennessee, already rated at the top of business-friendly lists, even more business friendly.
In literally the last hour of the 107th General Assembly, Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver stood on the House floor to explain some of her recent votes.
“This bill has nothing to do with policy,” she said of SB326, which calls for a state takeover of federal health care programs through a Health Care Compact. Introduced on Feb. 3, 2011, it had been the subject of intense debate from the start to the finish of the two-year session.
“So all the amendments we added, that we tabled, I just want to make it clear the reason I tabled all those amendments is those amendments do not apply to this bill because this bill is not policy,” the Smith County Republican said.
“I want it on the record: I support the unborn. I support seniors. I support our military.”
The record, however, will reflect that Weaver was among 35 Republicans who voted to table, or kill, an amendment that said Tennessee will not participate in a Health Care Compact “if participation includes expanding abortion rights, especially late term abortion.”
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers have concluded the 107th General Assembly that was dominated by debates over guns, classroom instruction about sex and Gov. Bill Haslam’s efforts to overhaul state government operations.
It wasn’t until the House and Senate speakers banged the gavel to adjourn late Tuesday that it was certain that a measure pitting gun rights advocates against business groups was dead for the year.
The measure backed by the National Rifle Association sought to allow employees to keep firearms in their vehicles on company property, no matter the company’s policy.
Haslam and other Republican leaders said the bill was too broad for not providing exceptions for university and school campuses, or for large employers like FedEx or Volkswagen. Despite heavy pressure throughout the session to shelve the measure, supporters moved the bill to the verge of floor votes in both chambers before finally abandoning the effort.
By Lucas Johnson & Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The 107th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned Tuesday without a final showdown over a contentious gun issue and the governor said he may decide in the next couple of days whether he will veto another controversial bill headed to his desk.
Democratic Rep. Eddie Bass of Prospect refused to say until the end whether he would try to pull the measure backed by the National Rifle Association directly to the floor. In the end he didn’t.
(Note: But he did make a joke about it, rising on the floor to begin reading a motion as if to force a vote — then stopping with a “never mind.” It got a big laugh.)
The bill seeking to overrule businesses’ objections to allowing employees to store weapons in vehicles parked on company lots was opposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and the Republican speakers of the House and Senate.
Lawmakers passed a more than $31 billion spending plan that begins phasing out Tennessee’s inheritance tax and cutting the state’s sales tax on groceries.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Heavy debate on a series of bills in the House has delayed the conclusion of the 107th General Assembly.
The chamber recessed after 10 p.m. CDT Monday, but was scheduled to return at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville says the early start should give lawmakers every chance to conclude their business by the end of the day.
The lower chamber had more than 45 bills remaining on its calendar, including a measure to require drug testing for welfare recipients and a proposed overhaul of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority.
The Legislature gave final approval to the state’s annual spending plan Monday evening, sending the measure for the governor’s signature. Passing a balanced budget is lawmakers’ chief responsibility.