McCormick: Lawmakers’ Travel Rules Need Changing

Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pick up the tab for lame-duck lawmakers taking out-of-state trips, says House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick.

But he won’t ask outgoing legislators who traveled to Chicago this week for the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual summit to pay the bill themselves, he told reporters Thursday. The lawmakers are either retiring or have been booted by voters in the primary but still chose to take the publicly-funded trip, TNReport revealed Tuesday.

“I think the rules ought to be changed in the future, though,” McCormick said, although he didn’t say whether he would spearhead revising the practice.

“They’re on the way out. They’re not going to have much time to use their experience to benefit the taxpayers and their constituents,” he said. “But the ones that are there now, they did it under the old rules.”

When asked why the rule hadn’t been changed in the two years Republicans have been running the chamber, he said he “just wasn’t thinking.”

“If I lose a primary two years from now, I will not be going on trips,” he told reporters.

House Speaker Beth Harwell said she allows legislators to be reimbursed for one out-of-state legislative trip per year, and she has no problem sending retiring and outgoing lawmakers to the conference if that is the one they choose to go to.

“I don’t think in any way it was an attempt to misuse the system,” she told TNReport. “That was their one trip, and so that was decided many months ago by my staff. So, I’ll respect their decision as legislators that that’s they way they chose to use their legislative trip.”

The House and Senate speakers gave four retiring lawmakers the green light to get reimbursed for the trip, which could cost as much as $2,500 in registration, airfare, hotel stay, per diem and cab rides.

Those lawmakers are Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington. Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, was also approved to go on the trip, but said he decided against it after family emergency.

Both House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, were in attendance at the conference, according to legislative staff, although both had lost their bids for re-election less than a week before in the primary.

Outgoing lawmakers can collect payments such as per diem and travel benefits up to the day before the November election. The state constitution outlines that members belong to the Legislature beginning the day they win the general election, and thus stop earning any compensation the close of day the on the eve of the election, said Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Affairs.