House, Senate Pass Different Versions of Critter Castle Doctrine Measure

Both chambers of the General Assembly have passed legislation that would provide a legal defense against criminal prosecution for Tennesseans who kill or wound an attacking animal.

However, while the Senate voted to conform to House Bill 135, which passed the lower chamber 91-0 last Thursday, the upper chamber also voted to amend the House legislation, which now must head back to the House for approval.

The amended measure passed the Senate 30-1, with Germantown Republican and Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey casting the only dissenting vote.

Cosby Republican Jeremy Faison, the House sponsor, told TNReport last week the proposal is necessary because currently all wildlife belongs to the State of Tennessee and killing any animal without a license is technically a crime — even if it is endangering you.

The Senate amendment, offered by the Energy, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee, changed the length of time an individual has to report the killing to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency from 12 hours to 24 hours, and clarified that the notice and non-removal requirements applied only to big game animals.

After session Monday, Faison told TNReport that he was unaware the Senate had intended to make any changes to the legislation, and that he would have to “find out the intent” of those changes before he could comment.

The House Government Operations Committee chairman had said last week that although he was including the reporting requirement that TWRA had requested, he didn’t expect there to be a sudden uptick in Tennesseans reporting the killing of wildlife.

“Let’s be honest, I don’t think — people have been killing wildlife for years, and I don’t think they’re going to start reporting now if they didn’t report then,” Faison said. He added his bill was “geared more towards” providing people “a defense in front of a judge” in a situation where a person may encounter a snake or a bear, and “people get a little crazy” about the prospect of animals being killed. 

Alex Harris can be contacted at Alex@TNReport.com.

Knoxville State Rep. Haynes Running for TNGOP Chair

Letter from Knoxville State Rep. Ryan Haynes to the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Republican Party, March23, 2015:

Dear SEC member,

As you know, Chris Devaney has announced his decision to step down as Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. Under the leadership of Chairman Devaney and the State Executive Committee, our party has reached historic levels of success. Our state is better off because of that dedicated service.

It is now time to look to the future. We must examine who our party will trust to have a clear vision and a set of goals to keep us successful. I want you to be the first to know of my intentions to seek the position of Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. Certainly this decision does not come lightly. This is a tremendous responsibility and I would be honored to serve a party that stands on solid principles and protects the values of Tennesseans.

Having served in the state legislature since 2008, I have seen first-hand the significance of having conservative leadership leading our party and our state. Together Republicans have cut taxes, increased efficiencies in state government, and spurred economic development for our citizens while holding true to our conservative beliefs. I have been fortunate to hold many leadership roles in the General Assembly during this time that include serving as the assistant caucus chair and holding the gavel as chairman of the state government committee. In addition I have been a proud member of the Republican Caucus Campaign Committee where conservatives have reached historic levels in the state legislature. My persistence, hard work, and loyalty to the Republican Party have resulted in significant improvements to our state.

I appreciate the history of our party and the efforts of those who have paved the way to where we dominate local, state and federal offices. However, I believe there is more work to do for our future. My four goals are simple and are as follows:

1) Elect a Republican president in 2016 and send boots on the ground to other states that might need extra help to do the same

2) Strengthen our numbers in the state legislature and the United States Congress

3) Build on our Red to the Roots program

4) Prepare a comprehensive plan to attract younger voters, women, and minorities to our cause.

I intend to travel our state seeking your advice and counsel, but most importantly work to earn your trust and support. I’m sure others will be interested in serving as chairman, but I can assure you no one will outwork me. In my first race for the state legislature I knocked on thousands of doors, followed my campaign plan, and did a lot of listening. I plan on doing the same thing as a candidate for state chairman. My passion for our party runs deep and I know that together we can continue to build on our successes of the past, and capitalize on opportunities for the future. I will do my part and I know you will do yours just as you have in the past.

Therefore, I respectfully ask for your vote and your support. I look forward to seeing you along the trail in the days ahead.

Respectfully,
Ryan Haynes

TN House Votes to ‘Stand with Rand’ (and Babs)

The Tennessee House has passed a resolution in support of a joint proposal by U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to reinvest in the Highway Trust Fund “at no additional costs to taxpayers.”

Sponsored by Dresden Republican Andy Holt, HJR0094 encourages Congress to “Stand with Rand: Invest in Transportation.” It passed Wednesday on an 86-3 vote.

Paul and Boxer are pushing federal legislation to allow companies to voluntarily repatriate their earnings held in foreign banks at a tax rate of 6.5 percent, and funnel that revenue to the highway fund.  The adjusted tax rate would only apply to funds that are in excess of the company’s recent average repatriations, and only to money “earned in 2015 or earlier,” according to a press release. The companies would have five years to take advantage of the proposal.

Holt said Tennessee could see over $100 billion in transportation infrastructure revenue, should the legislation pass.

The possibility of raising the gas tax — both federally and at the state level — has been floated recently as ways to continue road improvements and shore up the trust fund.

Rep. Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson, D-Memphis, questioned if “Stand with Rand” was Sen. Paul’s campaign slogan. Holt replied that he wasn’t sure, but said the purpose of the resolution is to show support for the transportation funding action taken by the Kentucky senator at the federal level.

Parkinson voted against the measure, joined by fellow Democrats G.A. Hardaway of Memphis and Bo Mitchell of Nashville.

If no congressional action is taken, the Highway Trust Fund is projected to go insolvent by May 31.

Support for federal land transfer more partisan

The House passed another Holt-sponsored resolution as well Wednesday, but mostly without support from Democrats. That measure, House Joint Resolution 92, passed 64-25 with 3 abstentions.  It calls on the federal government to cede federally controlled public lands in the western United States back to the states in which they are situated.

The resolution declares that “limiting the ability of western states to access and utilize the public lands’ natural resources within their borders is having a negative impact upon the economy of those western states and therefore the economy of the entire United States.”

Three Republicans — Ryan Haynes and Eddie Smith of Knoxville, and Cameron Sexton of Crossville — joined the majority of Democrats to vote against the resolution. GOP Reps. Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain and Pat Marsh of Shelbyville, and Memphis Democrat Johnnie Turner, indicated they were present but not voting.

Livingston Rep. John Mark Windle was the only Democrat to vote yes on the resolution.

Holt explained that while the resolution calls on the federal government to transfer public lands to the states they occur within, it also requests the states return to the U.S. government any land designated as being a part of the National Park System, the National Wilderness system or belonging to the military.

Holt got pushback on the floor from Rep. Jason Powell, a Nashville Democrat, who said “we must protect America’s backyard, the American West.”

The House Democratic Caucus issued a press release following the House session condemning the resolution as a vote against hunters and others who enjoy outdoor recreation in the nation’s parks.

The South Carolina Assembly passed a similarly worded resolution in 2013.

According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, since Utah passed legislation in 2012 calling for the transfer of public lands to the state, several other states have passed legislation along the same lines, including Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico.

Both the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Republican National Committee have issued “model resolutions” in support of the concept, but both are worded differently from Holt’s resolution.

Contact Alex Harris at alex@tnreport.com.

Legislative Session a Mixed Bag for Most

Despite passing a few historic, broadly supported pieces of legislation this year, the second half of the 108th General Assembly may be remembered — especially during the coming election season — not so much for what did happen as what didn’t.

A number of bills died as the session waned that were backed by vocal interest groups and policy advocates, or that seemingly enjoyed solid support among key majority-party lawmakers.

Some of the more noteworthy measures that couldn’t get over the hump in the Legislature’s last days were a school-vouchers agreement, loosening gun-carry restrictions and phasing out the state’s “Hall income tax” on investment profits.

Democrats, particularly in the House, took pride and assumed a share of credit for the demise of bills they deemed particularly repellant. The minority leader in the lower chamber, Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, sent this message out to his Twitter followers Tuesday: “Guns in Parks? Dead. Open Carry? Dead. Vouchers? Dead. Not bad two days work.”

All the same, from a Democratic standpoint plenty of injudicious inaction and ignoring of needy constituencies occurred this year under Republican rule. Attempts to establish a state minimum wage and sign Tennessee up for Medicaid expansion under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act sank without a bubble.

Given the ideological lay of the land in the GOP-run General Assembly, those initiatives had little realistic chance of success from the get-go. But what really came as an unexpected and unwelcome shock to Democrats was the announcement by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam just a couple weeks ago that sagging state revenue collections were forcing him to abandon plans he’d announced earlier in the year to bump up pay for teachers and state workers.

Democrats in the House were so put off by what they regarded as the governor’s last-minute “broken promise” they even mulled joining forces with a band of conservative Republicans to try and figure out a way to reinstall the raises.

Ultimately, the cuts stayed and the raises went. Minority-party dissatisfaction with the $32.4 billion state budget was such that only four Democrats in the Legislature — three in the Senate and one in the House — voted for it.

So in short, plenty happened — or didn’t happen — to peeve a wide diversity of Tennessee’s politically tuned-in during the 2014 General Assembly.

However, at least three of the bills approved by state lawmakers mark a shift in longstanding policies that will likely produce results that a lot of ordinary Tennesseans may notice — and that are designed to expand consumer choice, bolster property-rights protection and give greater freedom to farm.

And all three were initiatives that in previous years that likely wouldn’t have passed — or were in fact attempted and failed.

By large bipartisan margins in both chambers, members of the Legislature approved measures legalizing the sale of wine in grocery stores, banning cities from annexing property without real owner-input and planting the regulatory seeds for Tennessee farmers to once again grow hemp, which has been illegal in the Volunteer State for roughly three-quarters of a century.

Back in February when it was becoming apparent that 2014 might bear fruit for wine-in-groceries enthusiasts, longtime liquor-law lobbyists Dan Haskell recalled that it wasn’t too long ago the legislation was “having trouble getting a second” in committee hearings. This year, in addition to sponsors getting craftier at manipulating those committee votes, sponsors made it tougher for teetotalers and liquor-store-friendly lawmakers to vote “no.” Key among the legislation’s provisions was establishing referendums to empower local voters themselves with the authority to approve or reject widening wine-sale locations in their communities.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, passed 23-4 in the Senate and 71-15 in the House.

The measure prohibiting “forced annexations” by Tennessee municipalities without a local vote of the people or permission from the property owners was sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah and Bo Watson of Hixon, both Republicans. It passed 85-4 in the House and 21-1 in the Senate. As the House was putting the finishing touches on the bill April 2, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, noted that such a shift in law would have been unthinkable in the General Assembly until recently.

“When Rep. Carter brought this bill in the beginning, a lot of people told him that it was just laughable, that it couldn’t be done, that it has never been done in decades and that a certain group just wouldn’t let it happen,” he said. “And I think he has proved that things have changed around here and has brought some legislation that is going to put some power in the hands of the people.”

The bill to legalize hemp was sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, and Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains. Bolstered by some language in this year’s federal farm bill that encourages hemp-farming and research, House Bill 2445 directs the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to establish a licensing system for farmers to raise non-psychoactive varieties of cannabis that can be used for paper, fiber, fuel, textiles and food for animals and humans. Even just a few months ago, Tennessee GOP leaders like Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Gov. Bill Haslam were admittedly clueless about industrial hemp and efforts to legalize it.

Haslam has yet to sign the hemp legislation, which passed the Senate 28-0 and 88-5 in the lower chamber. The wine-in-groceries bill was inked by the governor during a special ceremony last month. Haslam signed the annexation bill earlier this week.

Audit Finds Purchasing-Oversight Problems in State Wildlife Agency

Some of the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency’s management practices open the department up to risks of fraud and spending abuses, a recent audit released by the state comptroller’s office said.

The most egregious example of a lack of oversight is with state payment cards, which allow TWRA employees to buy goods and services for the agency. According to the audit, between July 1, 2009 and Jan. 24, 2013, TWRA employees made more than 57,000 purchases, totaling nearly $13.3 million.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency management did not maintain proper controls over State Payment Cards, increasing the risk that state resources will be used improperly due to fraud, waste, and abuse,” the audit found.

Employees were allowed to make purchases that should not have been permitted, and also to avoid purchasing limits because, according to the audit, supervisors failed to double check and approve receipts in some situations.

While TWRA policy requires employees to maintain logs of purchases that are then approved by supervisors, state auditors found that record-keeping was not always maintained and approved properly across the board, leaving an opportunity for fraudulent purchases.

Also the audit found cards are not always deactivated promptly after a cardholder leaves the employ of TWRA. “Management did not always promptly terminate cardholders’ payment cards, resulting in one purchase (totaling $55) made on a terminated employee’s payment card,” wrote the probe’s authors.

Agency overseers recognize a need to revise its policies to encourage better compliance and say steps are being taken to address the issues raised in the report, said Jeff McMillan, chairman of the Tennessee Wildlife Management Commission, which meets Thursday and Friday at Meadowview Conference Center in Kingsport.

“This is why we need to do an audit every year,” said McMillan, a dentist from Bristol. “We have audits to find where things need correcting and we’ve done that.”

McMillan maintained, though, that the agency overall is doing the job it was set up to do, which is manage wildlife. “We’ve got elk, geese, sandhill cranes. It’s like the good ole days,” he told TNReport this week, adding the agency manages the wildlife of Tennessee on a balanced budget.

However, one of TWRA’s most vocal critics in the Tennessee General Assembly, Strawberry Plains Republican Sen. Frank Niceley, said the audit is proof positive the agency’s leadership needs an overhaul.

“What people need to realize is, the TWRA is set up as a free-standing agency,” Niceley said in an phone interview with TNReport Tuesday. “It is the only agency that is set up that way. It was done as an experiment in the ‘70s and it has failed.”

Nicely noted that some of the issues found by the Comptroller have been found in the past and not corrected.

“Management has not been managing. They are having a big party on the sportsman’s dime,” Niceley said. He said he has no problem with the mission of the TWRA, he just wants to see it more efficiently run.

“It needs new management,” Niceley said. “It needs a commissioner (who should) answer to a standing committee.”

McMillan defended his volunteer post, saying the commission is removed from politics. “You get a non-political opinion on what needs to be done with wildlife,” he said.

In addition to failing to rigorously monitor purchases with state money made by employees, the audit found problems in how TWRA manages state-owned equipment, crop leases and computer security.

The audit found the agency doesn’t always carefully track equipment and suggested an annual inventory of the approximately $35.5 million worth of TWRA-owned guns, vehicles, boats and tractors. Auditors found not all state property was sufficiently documented and lost items were not always reported correctly or in a timely manner.

“Due to the sensitive nature of these items and the decentralized nature of the agency’s operations, it is critical that TWRA maintains proper internal controls over equipment,” the audit said.

The audit, which can be read in full here, also reported:

  • TWRA did not oversee crop leases properly, which increases the chances of lost revenue for the agency
  • It did not enforce its conflict-of-interest policies; and
  • It did not always protect its Remote Easy Access Licensing (REAL) computer system, which could open the agency to hackers.

Campaign Kicked Off to Fight EPA’s Coal-Burn Regs

Critics of new Environmental Protection Agency limits on coal-plant emissions say they fear the Obama administration is attempting to incrementally phase out coal as an energy source in America.

The Consumer Energy Alliance launched a nationwide public relations campaign last week geared toward convincing the public of coal’s utility as an “affordable and reliable” source of U.S. electricity.

At a regional conference in Nashville Sept. 25, Michael Whatley, the alliance’s executive vice president, said a “full-fledged conversation” is necessary to discuss what detrimental impacts the new rules are going to have on coal-fired power plants.

Whatley said the initial emphasis of CEA’s campaign will be to fan opposition among broad sectors of energy consumers – industry, agriculture and household users.

The regulatory effort that prompted the CEA campaign would require new large natural gas-fired turbines to be limited to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, and small natural gas-fired turbines to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.

Additionally, new coal-fired plants would be limited to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, according to an EPA press release on the new standards. New coal plants could also opt for a tighter limit if they choose to average emissions over multiple years, offering more operational flexibility.

Lacking more advanced emissions control technology, newer power plants produce 1,800 pounds of carbon emissions per megawatt-hour, The Tennessean recently reported.

Whatley told TNReport the EPA’s new regulations “are going to basically require that you cannot build a new coal-fired power plant unless you can capture all of the carbon emissions that come off it, and then sequester them in the ground somewhere.”

He said the the technology doesn’t yet exist to do that.

“What we’re going to see next year is another set of regulations that are going to talk about how they’re going to reduce the emissions from pre-existing plants,” Whatley said. “And unfortunately, right now, we don’t know what the impacts of that are going to look like.”

The EPA release says that the agency will reach out to state and local governments, as well as those in the industry to work to establish the new standards for carbon pollution from existing plants.

This second round of regulations would come about under a separate section of the Clean Air Act as the first set, and although the agency would establish the requirements, the states would be the ones to choose how to enforce the new rules, according to a report by The New York Times.

Dr. David Penn, the director of Middle Tennessee State University’s Business and Economic Research Center, teaches a course on environmental economics and told TNReport that he believes the benefits of restricting pollution from coal will ultimately outweigh the costs.

“It certainly is going to reduce the demand for coal, but the demand for coal … at power plants has been falling anyway as plants switch to natural gas, which is cheaper,” Penn said. “Coal is finding other markets in Europe and in the Far East. Better air quality has a cost, but the benefits typically far exceed the cost of increasing air quality. Benefits in terms of more longevity — (and) you’re sick fewer days.”

This is a view that the Tennessee Environmental Council shares.

“Anything that we do to sequester coal and all the carbon discharges, and all the other toxic pollutants that come out of those smoke stacks is good for human health, and it’s really good for our economy (because it cuts health care costs),” said Executive Director John McFadden.

The intent of the new regulations is to reduce carbon emissions for the purposes of fighting global warming and improving health by restricting the allowable amount of carbon produced by new natural gas and coal-fired power plants, according to the agency press release.

However, the EPA’s proposal, which outlines the regulations, suggests that the expected reduction in carbon emissions will be “negligible” through the year 2022.

Haslam on TVA Privatization

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam doubts anything will come of President Obama’s suggestion that the Tennessee Valley Authority’s ownership model be reconsidered. TVA is a federally owned corporation created during the Great Depression to control flooding while economically stimulating the technologically lagging rural South. As of last fall, TVA had approximately $24.1 billion in outstanding bonds and $47 billion in assets, according to a recent University of Tennessee policy brief on selling TVA (pdf). Prominent state Republicans have generally shunned the suggestion of introducing market forces into the TVA ownership mix. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, for example, criticized the Obama administration for even publicly hinting at the idea. Nevertheless, former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, who now also serves in the U.S. Senate, believes there’s at least some merit in thinking about different ways of selecting TVA’s leadership. Gov. Haslam said during this June 19 press conference in Oak Ridge that while he believes there’s little chance TVA will be sold off, like Corker, he’d be open to considering new approaches to deciding how TVA is governed.

Senate Approves ‘Repealer’ to Root Out Bad Laws, Regs

Legislation to create a state Office of the Repealer passed the Senate 30-1-1 Thursday, while the House version still has a couple of committee hurdles to clear next week.

The Repealer’s job would be to go through Tennessee code and make recommendations to the Legislature on laws, rules and regulations that need to be repealed or modified because they are no longer relevant, overly burdensome or outdated.

Democratic Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis cast the only no vote and was the only one to speak out against the legislation. Fellow Democrat, Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, abstained.

“Simply to explain my vote, it is somewhat ironic that we’re creating an office to try to find duplicitous government agencies and rules when its creation duplicates the work of the Government Operations Committee,” Kyle said.

“To create another branch of government to do exactly what we’re already doing is doubling up and spending money that doesn’t need to be spent,” he continued.

According to Sen. Jack Johnson, sponsor of SB595, there is no fiscal note attached to the legislation, as the position will fill an existing vacant position within the Secretary of State’s office.

Responding to Kyle’s argument, the Franklin Republican said,“There is no single individual in all of state government whose sole responsibility is to try and shrink the green books.” Johnson was referring to the bound issues of the Tennessee Code Annotated.

Johnson said he thinks it “entirely reasonable that we dedicate a single position to meet with our business owners, to meet with citizens across the state, who have to interact with state government day in and day out, and identify things that we don’t need anymore.”

Answering to the Secretary of State, the Repealer would be required to set up an online system to receive recommendations from the public, which he or she would be required to take into consideration. 

The bill sets up the post for four years, “at which time such position will cease to exist.”

Sen. Mike Bell, a Republican from Riceville who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee, offered a single amendment that passed on a voice vote. The amendment adds both chambers’ government operations committees to the list of those receiving recommendations from the Repealer, as well as quarterly updates of his or her actions.

HB 500 is on the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee’s calendar for Wed., April 3.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

Law Enforcement Repeats Holiday ‘No Refusal’ Enforcement

State troopers are using holidays to exercise new powers to demand that suspected drunk drivers give up a vial of their blood against their will.

State officials say they forced nine people who refused breath tests during Department of Safety holiday weekend crackdowns to submit to blood tests over the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. A new law gives police the tools to obtain a warrant to require a blood test.

But officials also say they would not be surprised if the law’s constitutionality were to be tested in court.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if someone challenges it. Having said that, I’m pretty comfortable that the law will be upheld,” said Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons.

“Is any search warrant invasive? I guess you could argue that, but under our law there is a procedure to seek a search warrant. We have to persuade a judge that there is probable cause that a person is driving under the influence, and if that judge agrees, then we obtain a search warrant,” he told TNReport.

Drivers suspected of drunk driving can refuse to submit to a breath test. Rep. Curry Todd was recently indicted for refusing following his DUI arrest in 2011.

Refusal comes at a cost. Those drivers lose most of their driving rights for a year.

But on holiday weekends when the state lines up judges and nurses or other medical professionals to be onsite with troopers, the refusal option is rendered moot. The judges can issue search warrants on the spot, and the medical professionals can draw the blood.

One driver was forced to submit to a blood test over the Labor Day weekend in Sullivan County, state Safety Department officials say. Over July 4, the number was eight.

Not known is how many drivers submitted to a breath test without protest because they were aware of the new law.

The department declined to release the outcomes of those blood tests, saying the information would be considered evidence in pending criminal cases.

The no-refusal law won narrow approval in the state House of Representatives this year despite hesitance from lawmakers like House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, who at the time said, “It concerns a lot of people when the government holds people down and takes bodily fluids out. I think you saw that in the close vote today.”

Others in the Legislature say the law is a tool to keep streets safe from intoxicated drivers.

“You’re driving around like a cocked gun, and nothing good can ever come from that,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. “I do agree with the policy, and it’ll be up to some court or some ACLU attorney, I suppose, to decide if this is some invasion of privacy.”

Tennessee’s ACLU chapter says it is so far not engaged in any fights over the no-refusal policy.

David Raybin, a criminal defense lawyer in Nashville, says there’s nothing constitutionally suspect about requiring DUI suspects to fork over their blood.

”If they have probable cause to arrest you for a DUI, they have probable cause to take your blood,” he said. “There’s no constitutional problem with doing that because of the emergency of the situation because the alcohol content goes away so quickly.”

Turner Laments ‘Extreme’ Shift of Legislature

As entertained as Democrats were watching Republican challengers pick off GOP incumbents in the primary election this month, the minority party says they’re concerned a wave of “extreme” right-leaning legislators would bad for legislative business.

But House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner wouldn’t go as far as to say whether that holds true if Speaker Tempore Judd Matheny chooses to seek the top seat in the House of Representatives.

“Judd’s kind of a mixture of things. He kind of votes for working people a lot, but yet he’s kind of out there on some of the social issues, and some of the gun issues. I don’t think you can stereotype him by any means,” said Turner, D-Old Hickory, in an interview with reporters last week.

Matheny, R-Tullahoma, has said it sometimes seems the more conservative Republicans are told by leadership in the House to take a back seat to GOP centrists.

Matheny was focused in 2011 on passing legislation banning the use of Sharia law, but the bill was eventually watered down. It’s an issue near and dear to at least some Republicans in the state. Party chapters in a handful of counties allege the governor is promoting Sharia by allowing his administration to hire a Muslim woman in its office of Economic and Community Development.

Turner says he calls Matheny a friend, but points out that Democrats have a good working relationship with sitting Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican who aligns herself as a moderate and the governor’s ally.

Turner stopped short of backing either Harwell or Matheny for the gavel.

“I think an endorsement from me for either one of them will probably kill their chances of being speaker, so I’m not going to get involved in their politics,” he laughed.

The Republican Caucus will elect its choice for the next speaker later this fall, but that vote will have to go to the House floor, where Democrats can voice their say.

Regardless who is selected the next speaker in the Republican-led chamber, Turner suspects the growing volume of conservative voices running for office will make compromising over key pieces of legislation more difficult.

“Some of the new crop that’s coming in are not that reasonable. And they don’t believe in compromise, and they don’t believe in reach across the aisle,” said Turner. Democrats work well with current Republican leadership, he said, although only one of their signature job bills was written into law last year.

“We work with them all the time. We get mad as heck at each other sometimes, but that’s part of the process. And that’s what makes a democracy strong when you have different point of views,” Turner said.