© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Special Session May Seem Trivial Compared To Tennessee's Past, But Republicans Say It's Worth Doing

Gov. Don Sundquist, whose portrait hangs at the state Capitol alongside those of other governors, called two special sessions to deal with taxation and a third to mark the state's bicentennial.
Stephen Jerkins
/
WPLN
Gov. Don Sundquist, whose portrait hangs at the state Capitol alongside those of other governors, called two special sessions to deal with taxation and a third to mark the state's bicentennial.

Hear the radio version of this story.

Tennessee lawmakers are gathering this week for a special session meant to preserve $60 million in federal highway funds.

Such meetings have happened 59 times in Tennessee's 220-year history, though the circumstances have often been far more pressing. Past special sessions have been called to deal with topics like the Civil War and an outbreak of yellow fever.

This year's session won't deal with anything nearly as serious. Nevertheless, House Speaker Beth Harwell says it'll be worthwhile to come back to the Capitol to satisfy federal authorities' qualms with Tennessee's drunken driving laws.

"We'll come in and gladly correct it," she says. "We were asking the federal government to allow us to do it in January, but they insist that we do it now, so we will. And it really gives us an opportunity to look the expulsion effort as well."

Harwell is referring to an expected motion to oust Franklin Republican Jeremy Durham. He's accused of sexually harassing nearly two dozen women and misusing campaign funds.

Durham's expulsion is not on the official agenda for the special session. But Harwell says she expects someone in the state House of Representatives to make a motion for his removal — setting off the debate.

What is on the agenda is fixing the state's new law for underage DUIs. Last spring, lawmakers tried to toughen the penalties for drunken drivers between the ages of 18 and 21. But in doing so, they raised the blood alcohol content limit to .08. Federal authorities say it has to be at .02.

Democrats have criticized the narrow focus. They say Gov. Bill Haslam should have considered taking up Medicaid expansion. They calculate the state has lost out on $1 billion in federal matches by not adopting Haslam's proposal known as Insure Tennessee, which was the topic of the state's previous special session in 2015.

This year's special session will run at least until Wednesday. Lawmakers are optimistic they can make quick work of the issues in front of them, so they can go back to their districts and focus on their first priority at this time of year — campaigning.

Copyright 2016 WPLN News

Chas joined WPLN in 2015 after eight years with The Tennessean, including more than five years as the newspaper's statehouse reporter.Chas has also covered communities, politics and business in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Chas grew up in South Carolina and attended Columbia University in New York, where he studied economics and journalism. Outside of work, he's a dedicated distance runner, having completed a dozen marathons