Less than an hour before Tennessee state lawmakers swore themselves into office, representatives in the lower chamber embarked on their first official debate of the year: what rules should they govern themselves by?
Members of all political stripes voiced concern over an effort to limit the number of bills each lawmaker could propose. House Speaker Beth Harwell, who was reelected to her post unanimously Tuesday, wants to cap lawmakers at 10 bills per year.
“This is the absolutely wrong way for our state government to go,” Rep. Vance Dennis, the Republican floor leader, said in a GOP Caucus meeting before the chamber was called into session. “We’re giving away our ability to affect change.”
The idea of limits has sent lobbyists into a tizzy to search for lawmakers willing to carry their legislation. Between the 500 registered lobbyists, the limit would amount to 2 bills each.
Republicans in the caucus meeting toyed with suggestions they set the cap at 15 bills per year instead of 10. Harwell said she was open to compromise, but stressed an overall reduction of bills “elevates the power of the body,” which filed some 4,000 pieces of legislation in the last two years. The reduction would ultimately cut the bill load to about half between individual legislators’ bills and the administrative legislation, resolutions and other local bills that wouldn’t be capped, according to House staff.
Democrats are also concerned about limiting the number of bills lawmakers can file, according to a spokesman. Lawmakers appointed to a committee to review the rules are expected to hammer out a plan House members can vote on this week.
Other new rules would reshuffle the chamber’s group of standing committees and ban lawmakers from so-called “ghost voting” by requiring members only cast their own votes.
Down the hall, Senate Republicans agreed to consider whether to conform the body to the state’s open meetings regulation for the next two years, a law the legislature is exempt from.
“The spirit of the Tennessee open meetings law needs to be adopted in the state Senate,” said Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, who is pushing the body to bind itself to the same laws governments like city councils and school districts have to adhere to regarding the notice and accessibility to meetings regarding government business.
The Senate also agreed to reselect Ron Ramsey as Senate Speaker and lieutenant governor in a 29-4 vote over Kyle.