Tag Archives: committees

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:
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Alexander, Corker list Senate committee assignments

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
NASHVILLE, Dec. 18 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced that next Congress he will serve on the following committees:

• Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where he is currently the ranking Republican member;
• Appropriations, where he is the ranking Republican member on the subcommittee that oversees energy and water appropriations;
• Energy and Natural Resources; and
• Rules and Administration.

“In the new Senate majority, Republicans will have an extraordinary opportunity to show Americans what it means to lead and work together to get results,” Alexander said. “We need to repair the damage Obamacare has done to our health care system. We need to get Washington out of our local schools. We need to reform the FDA so life-saving drugs can get to patients faster. We need a 21st-century energy policy that doesn’t pick winners and losers in the marketplace and recognizes the importance of clean, low-cost, and reliable nuclear power. These will all be top priorities of mine as the new Congress begins in January, and these committee assignments give me a real opportunity to get results.”

Senate committee chairmen will be elected in January by members of the respective committees, the results of which will then need to be approved by the full conference of Republican senators.d

News release from Sen. Bob Corker’s office:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today announced he will serve on the following committees during the 114th Congress:

• Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
• Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
• Senate Committee on the Budget
• Senate Special Committee on Aging

“As I traveled across the Volunteer State in the days following the November election, Tennesseans made clear that they are ready for the Senate to govern responsibly and finally focus on growing our economy, repairing our fiscal house and strengthening our nation’s role in the world,” said Corker. “Serving on the foreign relations, banking, budget and aging committees will allow me the unique opportunity to focus on the issues that matter most to Tennesseans and our country, and I am eager to get to work.”

Corker continued: “Some of America’s greatest achievements and longest-lasting solutions have occurred when one party controls Congress and another the White House. It will take hard work, but if the president rolls up his sleeves and provides leadership and if the Congress acts responsibly, I truly believe we can begin to solve the big issues before us so that my generation can leave behind a stronger nation than the one we inherited.”

Committee assignments are subject to approval of the Republican Conference as well as the full Senate. Chairmen will be selected by a vote of the members of each respective committee and then approved by the Republican Conference, which is expected to take place in early January.

Corker currently serves as ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Bill Exempts Party Executive Committee Members from Disclosure

A House subcommittee approved Wednesday legislation (HB884) that exempts members of the Democratic and Republican state executive committees from filing conflict-of-interest reports required of state and local government officials and candidates for elective office.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he sponsored the bill at the request of “a couple” of Republican Executive Committee members and also talked with some Democratic legislators, who said they had no objections.
McCormick said that, since the executive committee members have no oversight of taxpayer dollars, they feel there is no reason to require disclosure of their financial interests – which makes some of them uncomfortable. He expressed willingness to modify the measure, or even drop it, if there are objections. But none came from the committee.
Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, said the party had nothing to do with proposing the bill, but thinks it is a good idea.
“This is a bipartisan effort that relieves party activists, who are not in a policy-making capacity, from an unnecessary government regulation,” Leatherwood said in an email.

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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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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PACs Gave $1.4 Million to Legislative Candidates in 2nd Quarter

Political action committees, businesses and legislative leaders placed $1.4 million in bets on races for the Tennessee General Assembly between April 1 and June 30, reports Andy Sher.
Among dozens of groups giving money, the No. 1 position goes to a PAC operated by StudentsFirst, a national education reform advocacy group, according to Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance records.
Tennessee Parents/Teachers Putting Students First gave $105,000 directly to candidates, according to candidate filings. Among other issues, StudentsFirst, founded by former Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, supports a limited form of school vouchers, an issue expected to resurface in the Republican-led legislature in 2013. The group gave mostly to Republican lawmakers or candidates but supported some Democrats.
Coming in at No. 2 was the Plumbers and Pipefitters Education Committee, a labor-union PAC, which contributed $88,400 to Democrats, filings show.

Legislators Ready for an Ethical ‘Step Backward’?

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill would make it easier for lobbyists to wine and dine lawmakers, a move that critics say would be a “step backward” from ethics reforms imposed on the General Assembly after the FBI’s Tennessee Waltz bribery sting of 2005.
Republican Rep. Philip Johnson of Pegram introduced the bill, which would allow employers of lobbyists to host receptions for standing committees in either chamber. Current law bans receptions, where food and alcohol often are served, unless all 132 state lawmakers are invited.
“Those (events) are extremely expensive, and actually it has limited the citizens’ access to us,” Johnson said in remarks on the House floor during annual ethics training Thursday.
Johnson’s proposal comes at a time when spending on lawmaker receptions is setting new highs. An Associated Press review of lobbyist disclosures shows that nearly $620,000 was spent on lawmaker receptions last year, a 36 percent increase from 2010.
(Note: If you want to review the list yourself, the 2011 report on “in-state events” hosted by lobbyist employers is HERE.)

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GOP Redistricting Questioned in Committees, But Moves Forward

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State lawmakers opposed to legislative redistricting plans are questioning the desire of Republican leaders to pass them so quickly.
GOP leaders hope their redistricting plans can come up for a vote early as Thursday after committees in both chambers passed the plans on to the House and Senate floors.
House Democrats complained that the proposal could reduce the number of African-Americans serving in the Legislature. Some Republicans have also raised concerns about new district boundaries.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, in a brief speech on the House floor, said Tuesday that she understands that not all members will be happy with the new district lines. But she argued that the new maps need to be approved so potential candidates can firm up their plans before the April 5 filing deadline.
“I hate starting the year in such a rush with a divisive topic, but I would like to remind you that we have responsibilities,” the Nashville Republican said. “One of those responsibilities every decade is to process these bills and get them out to the citizens.”

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But I Could Swear I Spent 20 Hours in Judiciary Committee on Just One Afternoon

There’s an interesting chart in the current issue of the subscription-only Tennessee Journal that compares the hours spent in House committee meetings in 2009, the first year of the 106th General Assembly, with the hours spent in 2011, the first year of the 107th General Assembly.
Former House Speaker Kent Williams was running the show, of course, for the 106th and the Democrat-Republican makeup was pretty close. This year, House Speaker Beth Harwell is in charge and Republicans have an overwhelming majority.
The chart shows a total of 421 hours, 47 minutes spent in official committee meetings during the first year of the 106th. For this year, that was down to 337 hours, 40 minutes.
Most all committee times were down with one notable exception: The Finance Committee met for 53 hours, 16 minutes back in 2009. This year’s Finance Committee met for 69 hours, 5 minutes.
More typical was the Judiciary Committee, famous in both the House and Senate, traditionally, for long-winded debate. The 2009 version logged 40 hours, 2 minutes; the 2011 edition just 20 hours, 20 minutes.
Legislative leaders have done some boasting about adjourning on May 21, the earliest date since the 1998 session – back when Don Sundquist was governor – adjourned on May 1. The legislature adjourned June 18 in 2009; June 9 in 2010.

Ramsey Happy Over Shrunken Committee Numbers

News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s office:
(Nashville) – Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today expressed his pleasure at the passage of Senate Bill 725, a bill which will streamline the operations of the legislature by eliminating several oversight committees.
The bill, sponsored by Ramsey (and House Speaker Beth Harwell), avoids duplication in state government by shuttering eleven joint oversight committees and shifting their responsibilities to the standing committees of each house of the General Assembly. The fiscal note attached to the bill estimates $851,800 would be saved after passage.

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