Rules to Dominate Opening Hours of General Assembly

House Speaker Beth Harwell has proposed a slate of new rules for the 108th General Assembly. Image courtesy TN Photo Services

House Speaker Beth Harwell has proposed a slate of new rules for the 108th General Assembly. Image courtesy TN Photo Services

House Speaker Beth Harwell says she’s ready to “fight for” rule changes she’s proposed to modify how the chamber does business. Considering those rules will be job number one as the General Assembly convenes this week.

Speaker Harwell will first name a special rules committee, and within hours they could take up her suggestions. At least one has resulted in grumbling among lawmakers and lobbyists alike. It limits each member to sponsoring just 10 bills.

Except for Mississippi, Tennessee legislators introduce more bills than any other state in the region, according to the Council of State Governments. Harwell says reducing the number of bills will make the House more efficient.

“I think I hear loud and clear from the public that they don’t want more government; they want less government. And I think it behooves us to prioritize. Why are we down here? And how many additional laws do you really need regulating your life? Let’s be honest about that.”

Harwell has also proposed banning a long-held practice of voting in place of another lawmaker when he or she is away from their desk.

“Ghost voting” was the subject of a NewsChannel5 investigation last year. Harwell says making sure lawmakers only cast a vote for themselves is more about appearances than anything else.

“I don’t see it as a major problem, I don’t. But it’s certainly something that I think the public would like us to address, and I’m more than willing to improve our credibility in the public eye.”

News accounts found that lawmakers were casting votes for each other, sometimes for an entire day.

Harwell says her proposal would allow the clerk to lock a member’s voting machine when he or she is gone for an extended period.

After setting up rules and committees, lawmakers are expected to get out of town. The General Assembly has scheduled a two-week recess in which legislators can file bills and committee staff members can research them.

Governor Bill Haslam is expected to release his budget proposal when lawmakers return January 28th.

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