Posts

Amendment for Popular Election of State Attorney General Falls Short in Senate

The Tennessee Senate failed Wednesday to approve a proposal to let voters pick who serves as the state’s most powerful lawyer.

The measure, Senate Joint Resolution 123, is a constitutional amendment sponsored by Mt. Juliet Republican Mae Beavers. It calls for contested statewide elections for attorney general beginning in 2020.

The upper chamber’s vote on SJR123 was 15 in favor and 14 opposed. One senator, Republican Randy McNally of Oak Ridge, abstained. The resolution needed 17 votes to win passage. Three senators didn’t vote: Republicans Janice Bowling and Todd Gardenhire, of Tullahoma and Chattanooga, respectively, and Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis.

According to the Senate clerk, because SJR123 wasn’t defeated outright with at least 17 senators voting “no,” it is technically still alive and could be brought up for a floor vote again this session if Beavers requests it. In the event that happens and it is approved, SJR123 would have to pass by a two-thirds majority in the next legislative session and then win in a statewide referendum.

Another measure that proposes altering the attorney general selection process passed last year in the Senate, 22-9. It awaits action in the House. That proposal, SJR196 by Clarksville Republican Mark Green, would rewrite the state’s constitution to allow for the Legislature to appoint the attorney general.

SJR196 states, “Beginning January 2019, and every four year thereafter, an attorney general and reporter for the state shall be appointed by joint vote of both houses of the General Assembly and shall hold office for a term of four years and until a successor is appointed.”

If it is approved in the House, that measure, too, must win passage next session by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate and subsequently go before the voters.

Presently under the state constitution, the Tennessee Supreme Court appoints the attorney general to terms of eight years. The term of Robert Cooper, who currently holds the office, expires this year.

According to the National Association of Attorneys General, Tennessee is the only state in which the holder of the office is appointed by the state Supreme Court. Forty-three states elect their attorneys general. In fives state the post is assigned by the governor and in Maine the attorney general is selected by secret ballot of the state’s legislature.

Voter Photo ID Bill Passes, Sans Use of Student Cards

With a near party line vote of 23-7 in the Senate Thursday, all that remains to block state-funded college IDs as valid identification for voting in Tennessee is the governor’s signature.

With no explanation, Senate Bill 125 sponsor Bill Ketron rose and simply said he would “move to concur” with House Bill 229 as amended. The Republican senator from Murfreesboro noted that one of the amendments from the House “retains the present law prohibition on the use of student identification card to veria person’s identity.” The other corrected a typographical error.

This was in stark contrast to a statement Ketron issued the previous week: “We will continue to push to allow state-issued student identification to remain in the bill as passed by the Senate, even if we have to go to a conference committee.”

Sen. Jim Kyle, D- Memphis, and Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, both spoke in favor of allowing student IDs.

“All the photo ID does is verify that you are the person who registered to vote,” Kyle said. “We sometimes seem to be confusing the idea of having a photo ID and the right to go vote. You don’t have a right to go vote unless you have registered to vote and have met the criteria of registration to vote.”

The 15-term senator also expressed a desire for legislation to go further and “give citizens the opportunity to use any valid form of governmental-issued photo ID, but we’re not going to go there. This Senate doesn’t want to do that.”

Kyle attempted to mount an effort to send the bill to a conference committee to reconcile the initial differences in each chamber about allowing student IDs.

Overbey said he believes that a student ID card does meet the standard of the other photo IDs allowed by the bill. Overbey also disclosed a potential conflict of interest based on his role as a trustee for Maryville College, invoking the legislature’s Rule 13.

“I believe in the principle of having a photo ID to ensure that the person going to vote matches a properly issued identification card,” he said. “Folks, I know of situations where folks obtain a false driver’s license, but we do allow driver’s licenses to be used.”

With only those comments, the amended bill passed the Senate along party lines, except for Overbey, who joined the six Democrats in voting against it.

During his weekly media conference following Thursday’s session, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the bill ended up being what the majority of senators initially wanted when Ketron introduced SB125 earlier this year.

“The bottom line is all of us, to begin with, did not want student IDs included,” Ramsey said. “We simply did it because it helped our case in court if it ever got challenged again.”

Student IDs are allowed in Indiana under the voter ID legislation that was upheld by the United States Supreme Court, which Ketron had used as a model for SB125.

In addition to college IDs, the legislation would ban the use of out-of-state driver’s licenses, currently allowed even if they’ve expired, as well as ID cards issued by cities, counties or public libraries. The validity of library cards is before the Tennessee Supreme Court after the city of Memphis and two residents challenged the law.

Because both HB229 and SB125 are now one and the same, the legislation heads to governor’s desk for his signature.

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