Marriage defense, school vouchers among 4 bills to watch
TN legislature low on women, high on businessmen and Christians
Religion often intersects with Tennessee politics
The review, based on 2015 legislative sessions, reported 18 percent of Tennessee’s lawmakers are women versus a national average of 24 percent, tied with Pennsylvania.
The Tennessee percentage will drop a bit for 2016 since one woman, state Rep. Leigh Wilburn, R-Somerville, resigned effective Dec. 31 and a man, Jamison Jenkins, was named by the Fayette County Commission to replace her on an interim basis for this session.
The state’s status comes despite the efforts of House Speaker Beth Harwell, one of four women serving nationwide in the top position of a state legislative body, who in 2013 led a Republican State Leadership Committee national endeavor called “Right Women, Right Now” with the goal of getting more women to run as Republican candidates. Humphrey on the Hill
Sunday column: Morgan’s war on ambiguityIn his resignation letter to Gov. Bill Haslam, Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan said that during his 40-year state government career, “I have observed that ambiguity is the ally of ineffectiveness and inefficiency.”
Characteristically for his career, the former state comptroller and former deputy governor practiced what he preached in the letter. There’s no ambiguity there.
Morgan is resigning a year ahead of his previously-planned retirement because he believes Haslam’s proposal for overhauling the Regents system is “unworkable” and, as a matter of personal principle, he will not act as a two-faced government bureaucrat and collect another year’s paycheck — basically $327,000 plus benefits — by nodding politely, keeping his views to himself and going along with the game plan as others have often done in state governmental circles.
Morgan’s unambiguous move might be called integrity, perhaps just characteristic candor. It’s probably both, the two often going hand in glove.
Further, Morgan followed up his resignation, effective at the end of this month, with a final gesture of respectful defiance. Tom Humphrey
Religion often intersects with Tennessee politicsState Reps. Mark Pody and Harold Love Jr. fall on opposite sides of the political divide, but the two state lawmakers have one big thing in common: Both men rely on their faith as they shape policy at the Capitol.
Pody, R-Lebanon, said his faith as a born-again Christian influenced his bill directing Tennessee officials to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Love, D-Nashville, is an African Methodist Episcopal pastor and said he relies on his Christian beliefs when deciding what types of bills to author and when navigating relationships with colleagues, especially during tense and divisive moments at the statehouse.
From opening sessions with prayer to new laws, religion often intersects with politics and policy in the Tennessee General Assembly's work, drawing passionate discussion and even national attention. And the week-old 2016 legislative session promises to deliver more of the same.
Lawmakers will consider new bills on religion or other issues of great importance to people of faith. Abortion, new religious protections for counselors or therapists and how public schools teach about religion are among the topics. Legislation from last year's session, like the proposal to make the Bible the official state book, will likely resurface as well.
Pody, who sponsored the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense act, said his faith cannot be separated from the rest of his life. While protection of states' rights remains a key motivator for the lawmaker, Pody said introducing the marriage bill is one way he is fulfilling God's expectation to warn others against wrongdoing. Subscription/Tennessean
TRYING TO TAKE ADVANTAGEMeantime the only way Democrats can improve their extreme minority status on the Hill is to start winning elections. Money can help do that. In that the regard the Democratic House Caucus got a big boost this week with Nashville businessman and former mayoral candidate Bill Freeman contributing $100,000 to its campaign war chest.
Freeman says the GOP is ignoring the state’s major issues while they “do little but pander to their extreme fringe” in running the Legislature.
Freeman has not been discouraging talk he is considering becoming a Democratic candidate for Governor in 2018. That gives his gift to the Democratic Caucus potentially another significance. It may also get the attention of potential rivals such as former Nashville mayor Karl Dean who has reportedly been making speeches and appearances at party suppers and gatherings in counties across the state. Meeting folks, making friends, building contacts is one way to build a campaign. Giving money helps too.
Maybe the Democrats will continue to enjoy good fortune in terms of raising funds and enlisting good candidates for future races. They’ll need it. But think about it. What were the odds this week that one of the winning tickets for the largest Powerball jackpots ever ($1.5 billion) would be purchased at the West Tennessee food store owned by the family of former Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Nafieh? Astronomical. But maybe those odds were still better than the Democrats taking back control of the General Assembly later this year. Capitol View Commentary
Washington UpdateIn his State of the Union address, President Obama prodded Congress and the American people to enable the country to tackle its challenges by reforming the political system. The next day, Republican Representatives and Senators departed for Baltimore to plan the 2016 agenda. Rather than planning a list of legislative proposals, House Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled a list of committee-led task forces that would suggest policy initiatives to address national security, economic growth, healthcare, poverty programs and "restoring the constitution."
The task forces will develop broad ideas and recommend proposals to the Republican leadership. The Speaker declined to specify the form of the policies or whether the House will eventually vote on the ideas the task forces develop.
The program underlines what the schedule already suggested: in 2016, Congress will emphasize message bills over concrete legislation. The annual budget-appropriations process will occupy most of Congress' time. Representatives seem poised to adopt a budget and act on appropriations. Senators are unsure they want to debate a budget and party leaders are threatening to make the appropriations process a series of referendums on the policies of presidential candidates.
In addition to message bills and appropriations, the initiatives most likely to see action this year have been in the works for some time, including criminal justice reform, energy legislation, international business tax reform and (after Election Day) the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Last week, the Senate voted down a motion to debate legislation requiring a full audit of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and confirmed Luis Felipe Restrepo to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate will be in session next week, with votes scheduled on confirmations and preventing Syrians from entering the country.
The House voted again to overturn Obama Administration environmental regulation and recessed until January 29.
William K. Moore
Crockett Policy Institute