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Some ET Legislators to Watch as the 2012 Session Unfolds

Some East Tennessee legislators outside of official leadership who may play a noticeable role in shaping the course of events during the 2012 session of the 107th General Assembly:
Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville. An outspoken critic of the state’s judicial selection system as a “fraud on the voters,” Bell is in a new position this year to put more power behind his voice. He has been named chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, which has first shot at deciding whether various state boards and commissions will die or be given new life and, if so, under what conditions. Up for “sunset” this year without favorable action by his committee is the Judicial Nominating Commission, a centerpiece of the judge selection system, along with the Court of the Judiciary, which disciplines judges and has been accused of laxity by some legislators.
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga. The only Democratic senator living in East Tennessee, Berke has been targeted for defeat in a Republican Senate redistricting plan that takes Democrat-oriented voters in Marion County away from his Chattanooga-based district and adds Republican-oriented voters in Bradley County. A lawyer, he is already something of a point man in arguing against the majority view on issues and may enhance his efforts in what could be his last year as a legislator — starting with redistricting. He’s also eyeing a run for Chattanooga mayor.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville. Often on the cutting edge of conservative crusades, Campfield may face a challenge in getting around an apparent tendency this year toward controversy avoidance by Gov. Bill Haslam and some legislative leaders. He’s talking up drug testing for recipients of government benefits this session along with a “loser pays” system of tort reform. Leftovers from last year include issues given the slogans of “don’t say gay” and “guns on campus.” The first prohibits discussion of homosexuality in grades K-8 classrooms; the second allows some handgun permit holders to take weapons to colleges and universities.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville. The House sponsor of a Senate-passed bill creating Tennessee’s first school voucher system, Dunn has accepted Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to study the bill for another year before acting on it, albeit expressing disappointment. He has similar decisions to make on other issues, such as whether to push ahead with the “don’t say gay” bill that Campfield got through the Senate last year or whether to prod senators to act on a bill dealing with teaching of scientific theories. Dunn got the bill through the House last year, despite critics who contend it is a backdoor means of promoting creationism, but it stalled on the Senate side.
Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville. A dentist who built a reputation for gentlemanly conduct in ruling a subcommittee, Ramsey has been elevated to the chairmanship of the House State and Local Government Committee, replacing Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who awaits trial on DUI and gun charges. The panel has a heavy volume of legislation, dealing — as the name implies — with every bill impacting operations of government at both the state and local levels. That includes election bills, which this year will include Democratic proposals to repeal or revise a new law mandating a photo ID for voting. Last year, Ramsey was one of the very few Republicans to vote against the photo ID law.