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Odds and Ends of News on Legislatorland

A Trickle of Bills (so far)
Only 29 bills were filed in the House during the opening week of the 108th General Assembly, according to the Legislature’s website – a relative trickle compared to past years. Fifty-six bills have been filed in the Senate.
Last year, 134 bills were “pre-filed” in the House before the session began. This year, no bills were pre-filed in the House and only 11 in the Senate.
Legislators apparently were waiting to see what happened with House Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to limit the number of bills that can be filed in the House. She proposed a general limit of 10 bills per year. The final version, not approved until Thursday, has a 15-bill limit with several exceptions.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey did not seek a bill limit in the Senate, but noted that the House limit effectively reduces Senate filings as well since a bill cannot become law unless introduced both in the House and Senate.
Next year, Ramsey said he will push to repeal the deadline for filing bills, which falls on Feb. 14 this year. As a practical matter, he said legislators will still have to file their bills early enough for them to be considered by committees before the session ends. Ramsey and Harwell hope to wrap the 2013 session up by the end of April.
Ramsey on Lifting Bill Deadline
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says the 15-bill cap per lawmaker was not his preference, reports WPLN. He says next year he’ll propose dropping the deadline for making proposals, so there’s no rush to file before legislation is game-ready.
“I like the no bill filing deadline. That way you won’t have the duplication because people can look in the hopper and see if something has been filed an sign on with somebody else.”
Getting rid of the filing cutoff would allow lawmakers to respond to current events. Ramsey says it would also stop the use of so-called “caption bills” that can be amended to do just about anything.

Harwell Elevating Profile
Changing the way business is conducted at the Tennessee Capitol, the avowed purpose of recent rule changes including a 15-bill limit, could elevate Beth Harwell’s profile, observes Chas Sisk in a profile story on the House Speaker… and that could be helpful if she opts to run for higher office.
Harwell ‘Putting the Brakes on Crazy?’
Columnist Gail Kerr thinks House Speaker Beth Harwell’s 15-bill limit will “put the brakes on crazy” at the Legislature.
Harwell does not suffer fools gladly. And she’s been none too pleased that, during her first two years in charge, the Tennessee legislature has became the laughingstock of the nation.
…With an unlimited number of bills, lawmakers have been known to file just about anything to make one or two voters happy. With only 15 choices, the thinking goes, they’ll be far more selective about what they decide to draft and file.

Committee Assignments: Dems Disappointed, Repubs Happy
Georgiana Vines talks with Knox County House members about committee assignments. Democratic Rep. Joe Amrstrong, former chair of the Health Committee, got no seat on the Health Committee. Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson, a teacher, got no seat on the Education Committee. Republican Rep. Roger Kane, an insurance agent, got his first choice seat on the Insurance and Banking Committee.
On Statewide Charter Authorizer
CA education reporter Jane Roberts takes a look at pending legislation to let a statewide “charter authorizer” approve a charter school even if a local school board rejects it.
“Ultimately, what we support is an independent state authorizer,” said Matt Throckmorton, the charter association’s executive director. A bill, he says, will be before legislators soon and is designed to take the “politics” out of getting approved.
The impetus is several much-publicized school board actions in Memphis and Nashville that either flat-out denied charter applicants or so delayed the process that the operators couldn’t staff schools in time to start school.
…Of the 42 states that have charter school laws, 13 and the District of Columbia have some kind of a statewide authorizer. In about half, charter operators can appeal decisions only after applications have been denied locally.
Lobbyist Gets 2 Shelby Suburb Clients
The Shelby County suburbs of Arlington and Lakeland are hiring lobbyist Nathan Green at $6,000 apiece to monitor any local schools-related matters that arise in the upcoming session of the Tennessee General Assembly, reports the Commercial Appeal. He already represents Bartlett.

Beavers Out as Senate Judiciary Chairman

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey on Thursday replaced the chairwoman of the powerful judiciary committee with a key ally, while some opponents of a proposal to allow wine sales in grocery stores lauded committee assignments in the lower chamber.
Ramsey removed Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet as the head of the judiciary committee, replacing her with Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown. All three are Republicans.
Beavers said her efforts to ramp up accountability for judges may have had a role in her losing her leadership post.
“You’ll have to ask the speaker about that,” she told The Associated Press. “I think a lot of the judges really objected to us redoing their ethics.”
Ramsey denied that the move was in response to pressure from judges or anyone else.
“We wanted to take a different direction,” he said. “And I think Brian Kelsey is a bright young man that will do well on there.”

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Harwell’s 10-Bill Limit Changed to 15-Bill Limit (with other tweaks)

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.

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House Bill Limit Criticized by Some Republicans

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — House Speaker Beth Harwell’s attempt to reel in the number of bills introduced each legislative session was met with resistance among some of her Republican colleagues as the legislative session got under way on Tuesday.
Harwell has proposed a cap of 10 bills per lawmaker each year. There are no current limits on the number legislative proposals that can be introduced each year, and Harwell said the annual flood of legislative proposals is expensive and inefficient.
“This is not what Republicans stand for,” she told colleagues at a Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol. “We believe in less government.”
The proposal would limit House members to about 1,000 bills per session — about half the annual average filed in recent years. Harwell said most other state legislatures file far fewer bills and that several have bill limits in place.
“I’m not making up a problem, OK?” she said.
But several Republican members raised concerns about whether they would be able to adequately serve their constituents’ needs if they could only file 10 bills per year, and Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah said he’s against the proposal in its entirety.

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Harwell Ready to Fight for Changes to House Rules

House Speaker Beth Harwell says she’s ready to “fight for” rule changes she’s proposed to modify how the chamber does business, reports WPLN. Considering those rules will be job number one as the General Assembly convenes this week.
Speaker Harwell will first name a special rules committee, and within hours they could take up her suggestions. At least one has resulted in grumbling among lawmakers and lobbyists alike. It limits each member to sponsoring just 10 bills.
Except for Mississippi, Tennessee legislators introduce more bills than any other state in the region, according to the Council of State Governments. Harwell says reducing the number of bills will make the House more efficient.
“I think I hear loud and clear from the public that they don’t want more government; they want less government. And I think it behooves us to prioritize. Why are we down here? And how many additional laws do you really need regulating your life? Let’s be honest about that.”
Harwell has also proposed banning a long-held practice of voting in place of another lawmaker when he or she is away from their desk.

Note: The speaker also says she doesn’t favor a suggestion of state Rep. Bill Dunn that, when a legislator passes one of his bills, he or she gets to introduce another one. Harwell said that struck her as “convoluted” and that it would be hard for staff to keep track of things.

Proposed House Bill Limit Has Lobbyists Scrambling

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Lobbyists are scrambling to nail down sponsors for their clients’ key legislative initiatives following House Speaker Beth Harwell’s announcement that she wants to impose a cap on how many bills are filed each year.
Under the Nashville Republican’s proposal, each lawmaker would be limited to 10 bills each legislative session. That comes out to an average of about two bills each for the more than 500 lobbyists registered to ply their trade at the state Capitol.
“When we heard the news I called one of my colleagues and said, ‘The session just started,'” said Mark Greene, the lobbyist for the Tennessee Lobbyists Association who also specializes in the health field. “The experienced, smart lobbyists got engaged that first day or two and went to people and asked them to hold a spot.”
Greene said lawmakers with a reputation for successfully shepherding bills through the legislative process will be in high demand because of the limits.
“It’s going to be very difficult to get a popular sponsor,” he said. “If you wait until session, those guys are going to be filled up.”
Another effect could be that more junior lawmakers get more involved in prominent legislative initiatives than in the past, he said.

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House Bill Limit May Limit Legislative Powers

Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to impose limits on bill introductions, if accepted by the full House, should indeed save money and speed things up in Legislatorland, just as she predicts. But it has other ramifications, possibly including a lessening of legislative power, that may stir some misgivings.
The 10-bills-per-year limit is part of a shake-up in House operations proposed by the speaker as she begins a second two-year term with a new Republican supermajority in place. The rest of the package is substantial and substantive, though perhaps less controversial.
Legislative leaders have talked for decades about limiting bill introductions, but nothing has been done until now. It’s worth noting that Gov. Bill Haslam made a point — after 2,200 bills were introduced in the 2011 session — of saying the number should be cut by about a third and that he’d work with legislative leaders on meeting that goal.
Said the governor at the time: “One of the points that we try to make is that every bill that’s proposed actually does cost money. We have commissioners who have to run down and say, ‘How does this impact? What’s it going to cost?’ And then we have to have a position on that.”
He’s right, of course. Every bill introduced costs staff time and taxpayer money. And many duplicate other bills, are frivolous or even downright goofy.
So the governor prodded the legislative leadership on the matter about 18 months ago. Harwell subsequently sounded out House members, and now we have action in response to gubernatorial guidance.

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Harwell Against, Haslam Unsure on Teachers With Guns Proposals

House Speaker Beth Harwell said Wednesday she doesn’t believe allowing Tennessee teachers to go armed is the right answer to last week’s massacre of elementary schoolchildren in Connecticut, reports Action Andy Sher.
“I think it would be asking way too much of our teachers for them to be armed in a classroom, and I’m not in favor of going down that route,” Harwell, R-Nashville, told reporters. “I really think you really have to be highly qualified to handle a gun in a high-stress situation, which is in fact what that was.”
A day earlier, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam also raised questions, asking, “What if the teacher doesn’t want to be armed? … There’s just a lot of questions about that to me in terms of how that would work.”
In recent days, two East Tennessee Republican lawmakers have advocated allowing teachers or school staffers to be trained and armed.
In a blog posting, Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he “will be bringing back legislation to allow licensed and checked faculty and staff, at schools, to be able to have a gun on campus if a safety officer is not present on campus.”
Newly elected Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, has said he is interested in putting law enforcement officers in schools or having “similarly trained” teachers or staffers in schools.
Harwell said she was stating her “personal opinion” and doesn’t know what her GOP colleagues’ thinking is.
But since Friday’s schoolhouse killing of 20 children and six adults by a lone gunman, Harwell noted, “certainly we’ve realized we need additional security in our schools and unfortunately that’s a really sad commentary on our society.”
Asked whether the state should help pay for school resource officers, Harwell said, “I’m not proposing any legislation to that regard. I’m just speaking my personal opinion.”
She said “many times that’s a local decision” to have armed law enforcement on hand at schools.
Haslam told reporters Tuesday that when he was Knoxville mayor, local governments provided money for resource officers in most if not all schools.
“Ultimately that feels more like a local decision than a state decision to me,” Haslam said.

On Harwell’s Overhaul of House Rules and Committees

House Speaker Beth Harwell has proposed a major overhaul of House rules that includes a limit on the number of bills a lawmaker can file, a move to end “ghost voting” and a realignment of the committee system.
The rule revisions will require approval of the full House on a two-thirds vote after the 108th General Assembly convenes on Jan. 8. They will first be vetted in the House Rules Committee.
Harwell said in a statement that she believes the changes “reflect the will of the body” based on a survey of representatives in the last legislative session.
She said the changes also reflect citizen wishes that state government operate “efficiently and effectively while saving money.”
“While the Congress remains mired in partisan gridlock and continues to waste time, the state Legislture is working toward better government,” Harwell said.
Among the major changes:
–Each representative will be limited to filing 10 bills per year, though with some exceptions. That would be about half the average number of bills filed per representative in the last legislative session, which saw 3,887 House bills filed over the two-year life of the 107th General Assembly.
Not counted toward the 10-bill limit would be legislation filed on behalf of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, so-called “sunset” bills that extend the life of an existing government agency and bills that apply only to one city or county.

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Harwell Proposes Limits on Bill Filings, ‘Ghost Voting’ and a Committee Realignment

News release from House Speaker’s office:
NASHVILLE – Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today announced she is recommending changes to the Tennessee House of Representatives internal rules that will make the governmental process more efficient and save taxpayer money. The changes follow an effort two years ago to streamline operations.
“Tennessee taxpayers have entrusted us with the task of governing–something I take very seriously,” Harwell stated. “These changes reflect the will of Tennesseans: that state government operates efficiently and effectively while saving money. These changes also reflect the will of the body. After surveying the members of the last General Assembly, we have incorporated some of their suggestions as well. While Congress remains mired in partisan gridlock and continues to waste time, the state legislature is working toward better government.”
The changes include:
•Restructuring the committee system to balance the workload of each;
•Adopting the annual ethics resolution into the House Rules which will ensure the body is abiding by an ethics policy from the first day;
•Limiting the number of bills filed to 10 per member annually which will encourage members to prioritize;
•Reaffirming that each member vote for only him or herself;
•And deleting the requirement that every document be printed to reduce the amount of paper used in committee and for floor sessions.
Harwell noted the committee restructuring, bill limits, and paperless measures are among those that will, in the long run, save the Tennessee taxpayer money.
“The new committee system will balance the workloads of each committee, ensuring that they are as efficient as possible. Bill limits will reduce duplication and ensure each member prioritizes their issues. I am seeking to eliminate the requirement that every document we produce as a body be printed in effort for us to adapt to the technology available and reduce the enormous amount of paper used each year. Each of these measures together ensure a more efficient, effective, and accessible government. This will also give us more time for thoughtful, deliberate analysis on each piece of legislation–which is something Tennesseans expect and deserve.”

Note: Some details below.
The proposed recommendations will be taken up by the House Rules Committee, which will be appointed by the Speaker in January.

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