Lawmakers throughout Tennessee gathered Tuesday in Nashville for the opening gavel of the 108th General Assembly.
For the first time since Reconstruction, the Republican Party has a super majority in both the Senate (26-7) and House of Representatives (70-28), which means, in essence, not a single vote from Democrats is needed for passage of any legislation.
However, not all Republicans appeared to be on board with proposed rule changes in the House, and Democratic leaders were definitely not pleased with House Speaker Beth Harwell’s proposal or change in committee structure.
New House rules of order approved
For the first time since 1997, the House approved new permanent rules of order for conducting business.
Approved by a voice vote, the new rules cap the number of bills each member can file to no more than 15 per year – with eight exceptions.
The eight exceptions to the rules include general bills of local interest, appropriations bills, resolutions memorializing or congratulatory in nature, confirming appointments or authorizing charitable events.
Originally, Harwell had wanted the cap at 10 bills per year, but she said in a Republican Caucus meeting open to the media on Tuesday that she was flexible.
The House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner of Old Hickory wanted the House majority and minority leaders to be able to file 15 additional bills.
In a House Rules Committee meeting Tuesday, Turner said not giving the caucuses additional bills “totally blocked (Democrats) out."
“I commend the speaker on putting this forward, but we need a few bills that the minority party can put forth there,” he said.
However, that measure failed to pass Thursday.
In addition, the new rules change the Standing Committees. Previously, there were 12; now there are 13.
The former Judiciary Committee has become two committees – Criminal Justice and Civil Justice, the latter of which will handle matters formerly handled by the Children and Family Affairs Committee.
The State and Local Government Committee has also been split into two separate committees. Each deals with matters solely relevant to their names – state government and local government.
Also, the Agriculture Committee and the Conservation and Environment Committee have been combined to form the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
The Consumer and Employee Affairs and Health and Human Resources committees have been reorganized as well, into the Consumer and Human Resources Committee, and Health Committee.
Two new committees are Business and Utilities, and Insurance and Banking. The Finance Committee is now called Finance, Ways and Means Committee.
Rutherford County sponsored or co-sponsored bills
In the upper chamber, senators wasted no time in filing bills, despite being unsure how the new House rules could affect their actions.
Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) has already filed five bills, with Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) a prime co-sponsor on one of them. Ketron is also a prime co-sponsor on two other bills.
Tracy’s bills are:
• Senate Bill 0019 would establish a science, technology, engineering and mathematics stipend of $1,000 for the 2013-2014 academic year from net lottery proceeds for Tennessee HOPE scholarship recipients who are majoring in STEM fields. It would be subject to the appropriation of funds and sufficient net lottery proceeds. Ketron has signed on as the prime co-sponsor for the bill.
• SB 0022 would authorize administrative law judges to carry firearms subject to training and certification requirements.
• SB 0023 would authorize the issuance of special license plates for the Southern leopard frog.
• SB 0038 would authorize an 18-wheel truck to exceed the maximum gross weight requirements by a certain amount if the truck has idle-reduction technology or other emissions-reductions technology installed.
• SB 0039 would authorize counties divided by a waterway to enter into agreements for constructing and operating a bridge over it and would require county bridges to have sufficient railings.
Ketron is co-sponsoring:
• SB 0020 would require the adoption of a disruptive student removal policy by local boards of education and establish procedures for the policy to follow.
• SB 0040 would prohibit the use of state or local government funds to regulate or enforce any federal law, executive order, rule or regulation that becomes effective after Jan. 1 of this year that imposes restrictions on citizens who lawfully possess or carry firearms in Tennessee. However, it would allow the use of state or local resources if federal funding were provided.
Both chambers are in recess until Monday, Jan. 28, at 5 p.m.