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Don’t Believe Your Hearing, ‘Voice Votes’ May Be Dummy Rounds

Records on General Assembly’s website don’t always reflect how lawmakers actually voted

The General Assembly’s online voting record doesn’t appear to reflect actual votes that have occurred in at least one House subcommittee.

Two Republican-sponsored gun bills died on tight Civil Justice Subcommittee votes in the lower chamber recently. One was House Bill 684, Jonesborough Rep. Micah Van Huss’s open carry legislation, and the other was House Bill 481, a proposal by Tullahoma Rep. Judd Matheny to allow permit-holding gun owners to keep a firearm in their vehicle on school property.

Both bills failed on a “voice vote.” In both instances, archived footage of the hearings shows the subcommittee’s chairman, Bartlett Republican Jim Coley, voting “no” on the proposals — HB684 on March 11 and HB481 on March 18. Then, in declaring the outcome of the votes on both measures Coley says, “The ‘noes’ have it, the bill fails.”

However, according to the General Assembly’s website, Coley is listed on both bills, along with fellow committee member Jon Lundberg, as having abstained from the votes.

That would seem to mean the “noes” didn’t really “have it.” The votes on the two gun bills were deadlocked 2-2-2, with Republicans Mike Carter of Ooltewah and Leigh Wilburn of Somerville in favor, Nashville Democrats Sherry Jones and Bill Beck opposed. A bill needs favorable votes from a majority of those present and voting to advance.

Coley acknowledged to TNReport following the failure of Van Huss’s open-carry bill last week that he requested his vote be changed after the fact, and suggested Lundberg did the same.

A tie vote in a legislative committee means a bill stalls where it is, although Speaker Beth Harwell or Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson can choose to vote to move a bill along. After a tie vote, a bill can later be brought up for reconsideration if the sponsor can convince someone on the committee who didn’t vote in favor of it to commit support.

Coley told TNReport he changed how his vote was recorded because he didn’t want his constituents to draw the conclusion that he’s “not in favor of firearms.” To the contrary, Coley asserted that he’s “very strongly in favor of firearms,” but also believes gun-owners should obtain a permit from the government in order to carry in public, in keeping with current law.

Lundberg’s rationale for abstaining is that Tennessee has passed a lot of pro-gun legislation the last few years and he “just didn’t think that this was the time to put (the issue of allowing people to carry guns without permits) in the forefront.”

The Bristol Republican added, though, that he doesn’t expect debate over mandatory permits for public possession of a firearms to go away. “That conversation will carry on and continue,” said Lundberg.

John Harris, the Tennessee Firearm Association’s executive director, said Thursday that he’s made inquiries to House Clerk Joe McCord to explain the vote tallies. On Friday morning, Harris said he hadn’t yet gotten a response.

Harris described what occurred with Coley and Lundberg changing their votes after the fact as “intentionally falsifying public records” so as “to mislead the public.”

State lawmakers’ committee voting records are “frequently used in elections” by issue-advocacy groups like his to serve as a reality-check against a candidate’s campaign rhetoric, Harris said.

McCord was not available for comment late Thursday or Friday morning. (UPDATE: TFA forwarded TNReport an email sent along Friday afternoon by McCord’s office. It is posted at the end of this story.)

Senate Bill 784, the upper chamber companion bill to Van Huss’s open carry legislation, is being carried by Mt. Juliet Republican Mae Beavers. It’s currently scheduled for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on March 31.

The Senate’s version of Rep. Matheny’s guns-on-school-grounds proposal is sponsored by Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. It passed the Judiciary Committee March 10 on a 6-2 vote, with Maryville Republican Doug Overbey abstaining.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey noted Thursday that, unlike in the House, all votes taken in the Senate’s committees are done using the “roll call” technique — meaning each lawmaker is asked publicly and individually during a hearing to declare whether he or she is opposed, in favor or wishes to pass on a piece of legislation.

Neither online streaming video or detailed web-accessible vote-tallying existed prior to his becoming Senate speaker in 2007, Ramsey said. “We take roll call votes on every bill in the Senate,” he said.

Gun Bill Rising from the Dead 

Yet another bill that also met a quick demise in the lower-chamber’s Civil Justice Subcommittee may get a breath of new life. In an unusual move, Covington Republican Debra Moody has put HB173 back “on notice” for discussion next Wednesday in the wake of it failing even to get a seconded-motion for a hearing.

The measure Moody is sponsoring would make it legal for permitted gun carriers to have their firearm on them at property that is in use by a school.

House rules say a bill can be reconsidered if the sponsor requests it, and a majority of the committee votes in favor of reconsideration. However, once a bill fails twice it cannot be brought back up for consideration. Moody’s bill failed March 11 when no committee member seconded a motion to hear the legislation.

The Senate version, sponsored by Clarksville Republican Mark Green, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 6-2 with Overbey abstaining.

Alex Harris can be contacted at

Copy of email reply to TFA from House Chief Clerk Joe McCord:

The House Rules state that, “No bill or resolution shall be reported from a standing committee unless it shall have received a recommendation for passage as written or for passage with a recommended amendment by a majority of those members of the committee present and voting thereon, a quorum being present.”

House Bill 481 and House Bill 684 failed to receive a majority vote for passage.

During a voice vote, all members are recorded as having voted on the prevailing side. Those wishing to be recorded as voting other than the prevailing side may request to do so.

If you have any further questions, please contact me.

Joe McCord
Chief Clerk
Tennessee House of Representatives

2 replies on “Don’t Believe Your Hearing, ‘Voice Votes’ May Be Dummy Rounds”

Growing up during the 1960, we were told that our government officials were there for people, not for themselves or for big interest groups. But as I grew up I found that more and more politicians were concerned about one thing only, MONEY! No longer are the majority of politicians concerned what people want or desire.

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