By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick drew hoots and hollers of agreement from his colleagues when he suggested that members of the Senate had met during recent winter storms in the interest of padding their expense accounts.
Now fellow Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is firing back in a letter obtained by The Associated Press, suggesting that House members aren’t concerned with completing legislative business in timely fashion.
“I am certain that Tennesseans prefer legislators who use their work time productively rather than adjourn committees early to partake in social hour,” Ramsey said.
Even while Ramsey professed “no interest in fanning the flames of inter-chamber discord,” the heated words are the latest example of the two GOP-controlled bodies chafing over priorities and pace.
Legislative sessions normally get off to a late start following elections years, but a special session on Medicaid expansion and the recent winter storms have added further delays.
While the House took off several days because of the weather, the Senate plowed ahead. And Ramsey still wants to conclude the session by mid-April. That’s causing some heartache among House members, who worry that their proposed legislation may fall by the wayside if their companion bills don’t get a chance to be heard in the upper chamber.
“The Senate is set up to move quicker than us, we go through these bills a little more thoroughly than they do,” McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said to applause on the House floor on Thursday. “We’ll take the time to do what we need to do.”
The House has voted to abandon a push to allow state legislators to perform marriage ceremonies after the Senate refused to go along.
The bill in issue (HB2274), as filed by Democratic Rep. Joe Armstrong of Knoxville, would have authorized former county court clerks to solemnized marriages. It was amended in the House to grant the same power to current and former state legislators.
The Senate rejected the change and the bill bounced back and forth between the two chambers until Thursday, when Armstrong made a floor motion for the House to “recede from its position.”
“The House of the Lords just disagreed with us in the House of Commons,” said Armstrong.
His motion was approved and the bill was then given final approval – leaving in the right for former court clerks to perform marriage ceremonies, but not legislators – and sent to the governor for his signature.
House and Senate Republican leaders settled their differences over earmarks in a $31 billion state budget during a conference committee Friday night, leaving the two chambers to meet Monday and sign off on the deal would end the 107th General Assembly.
Democrats vowed to file an alternative plan to the Republican agreement that would provide more money to community colleges.
The House-Senate conference committee was set up late Friday after the Senate on Friday morning passed a budget plan in substantial conflict over earmarks with the House version adopted Thursday.
The House had cut about $1.8 million in special projects that had been approved by the Senate Finance Committee. In retaliation, the Senate voted to cut another $22 million in House-approved projects – the largest being $12 million to complete a West Tennessee Megasite. The Senate cuts also included $4 million for spending related Lambuth University in Jackson, a private school that has been made a branch of the University of Memphis.
“That was one of the slickest threats I ever heard in my life,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner told Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris at one point.