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Capitol Hill Conversation: Bickering Republicans Kill Bills

The Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up its session last week. There were some major state laws passed this year: an overhaul to the workers’ compensation program, a law that allows people to store guns in their cars while at work, and a nearly $33 billion budget. But many high-profile proposals ended up in the waste-bin as a result of intra-party squabbling.

“It’s certainly not because Democrats stood in the way,” said Blake Farmer who covers the state Capitol for WPLN in Nashville. This session Republicans held a powerful two-thirds majority, known as a "supermajority," in both chambers of the state Legislature.

“They [the Republican supermajorities] proved to be somewhat unwieldy, particularly on the final day of the session,” said Farmer.

Farmer observed a “tit-for-tat” mentality as the state Legislature finished its business this year. As a result, bills touted by the speakers of both chambers went down to defeat.

“On Friday, you had the pet-project of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey soundly defeated in the House,” Farmer explained. That bill aimed to reduce the number of district attorneys in Tennessee by redrawing judicial boundaries.

Many House members felt Ramsey’s proposal was being crammed down their throats.

“My friends, we are the people’s chamber,” said state Representative Bill Sanderson, a Republican, indignantly on the House floor. “They are the upper chamber.”

“Then Ramsey wouldn’t let House Speaker Beth Harwell’s legislative baby even come to a vote,” recounted Farmer. Harwell’s proposal would have created a state authorizer for charter schools. “There must have been dozens of hours spent in committee hearings on this issue,” said Famer.

Charter school advocates wanted to give the state the authority to open charter schools, even if local school boards opposed them.

“It’s really disappointing,” said Matt Throckmorton of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association. “We’ll just keep working on it.”

A plan of Governor Bill Haslam's to provide private school vouchers to poor students in failing public schools was also defeated this session, as was a proposal to allow grocery stores to sell wine.

Representative Jon Lundberg lobbied for the wine in grocery stores bill and said lawmakers responsible for defeating it will get an earful in the coming months, “I think it’s going to be a long hot summer for those folks, and I think when they come back, I think they are going to have a new perspective based on that feedback.”

After adjourning, the Tennessee General Assembly isn’t scheduled to return until January 14th.

“We’re really just at the halfway point of a two year session,” said Farmer. “Other than Speaker Ramsey’s judicial redistricting, which was sort of time-sensitive, you can count on these proposals coming back.”

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