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On Food Tax Cut, Another Option

A bill aimed at encouraging Tennesseans to eat healthier by eliminating the sales tax on unprepared foods like fruits and vegetables is headed to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee next week.

But House Bill 484 still has a steep hill to climb before becoming law because of the huge estimated drop in tax revenue – more than $90 million for state and local governments. Still, Rep. Ron Lollar, chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, said there is a possibility some version of it could be rolled into Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiative to reduce the sales tax on groceries another quarter of a percent.

“The premise behind the bill is we can still be conservative fiscally and reduce sales taxes, but also incentivize Tennesseans to purchase the kinds of food that would help incentivize them to eat well,” Rep. Ryan Williams, the bill’s sponsor, told the committee Wednesday afternoon.

Williams explained that the bill would eliminate the sales tax on unprepared food such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, raw meats or “things that are called building block ingredients, like flour, dried beans.

For example, if someone bought a bag of apples, a fresh chicken and a gallon of milk for $10, she would pay only $10, not $10.53, which is what it would cost today with the 5.25 percent sales tax added.

“We’re 12th in the nation in obesity. Last year alone, we spent $216 million in TennCare alone just to treat diabetes among Tennesseans,” Williams said.

The Cookeville Republican acknowledged that the fiscal note “is huge,” but said he is working with the Department of Revenue on ways to reduce the amount or the foods on which the taxes would be eliminated.

The fiscal note, which is attached to the Senate companion, SB550, predicts that the net decrease in state revenue for fiscal year 2013-2014 would be almost $87.5 million, while the net decrease in local revenue for the same period would be $3 million.

Williams explained that one of the challenges with the fiscal note is that unprepared food can be defined differently in economics than they are to the consumer.

“For example, a Milky Way® bar is defined as candy, while a Twix® bar is defined as food because it has flour in it,” Williams said in an interview after the committee meeting.

However, he said that the Department of Revenue has given him some ideas on how to narrow the definition of unprepared food as it relates to the bill to have less impact on the reduction of revenues.

Lollar acknowledged that the bill could be killed once it reaches the finance committee of either chamber.

“We’re not saying that it would definitely fit in with the governor’s plan, but it would certainly have an opportunity with this bill to then go on and explore some items in the cuts that the governor’s already set forward.”

SB 550, sponsored by Republican Sen. Frank Niceley from Strawberry Plains, is on the Monday calendar of the Senate Tax Subcommittee of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

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

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Featured NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Dems Push Back, But Per Diem Downsize Passes House

Even if a reduction in expense payments to lawmakers sails through the Senate like it did in the House Monday night, lawmakers will still make more than the average worker in Tennessee.

Five Democrats joined all but three Republicans in voting, 72-15-3, to eliminate the $107 payment for lodging received by lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the Capitol. House sponsor Rick Womick said HB80 is the right thing to do.

“Right now, we receive $107 a day for hotel plus $66 a day for food,” the Rutherford County Republican said. “It’s hard to look at my constituents in the eye when they ask me, ‘Why are we paying you $107 a day for a hotel that you don’t use?’”

In place of the per diem, lawmakers would receive mileage reimbursement, at 46 cents a mile, for each legislative day in Nashville or any day, except Friday, that the lawmaker participates in any other activity in Nashville. The bill would limit the payment to one round trip per day.

Legislators would still receive $66 a day for meals and incidentals.

According to Womick, both per diem amounts are taxed by the federal government under a law that requires anyone who lives within 50 miles of where he conducts business to pay taxes on all per diems he receives.

“We’re taking taxpayers’ money, and 38 to 48 percent of it is shipped straight to Washington, D.C.,” Womick said. “I’d rather keep that money right here in Tennessee and let Tennessee and this state government use that money, and in return, be reimbursed for my mileage.”

Lawmakers receive an annual salary of $20,203, plus $12,000 a year for an office at home – whether they set it up or not. These two figures alone are almost $8,000 more than the $24,197 per-capita income of Tennesseans in 2011.

Add to that the per diems, health insurance and 401(k) retirement benefits, and the total take-home gets close to $60,000, according to the City Paper.

Although only three Democrats spoke out against the bill, two of them would not be impacted if the legislation passes the Senate. Senate Bill 107 is supposed to be heard Tuesday in the State and Local Government Committee, but is not listed on its calendar.

Democratic House Caucus Chair Mike Turner, of Old Hickory, questioned the equity of the legislation.

“It’s always hard when you’re figuring per diem. The only way to really do it is do it kinda across the board,” the 12-year veteran of the House said. “I think what you’re doing makes the system totally inequitable, and I’m going to vote against it for that reason.”

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, said he values himself and the people he represents more than the per diem amount legislators receive.

“I live 200 miles out, but if I didn’t live but 10 miles from here, for the time that I spend away from my family, having to be here and not being able to work for myself, I think it’s a little off-kilter for us to take that sixty whatever dollars that is from those persons who could give it to their families,” Shaw said.

While she lives in Memphis, Rep. Johnnie Turner agreed with Shaw that a price cannot be put on the time lawmakers spend away from their families. She also said that those who live in the immediate area have it harder because they are “always confronted” by people in their district who want to talk issues.

The three-term Democrat expressed fear that if this reduction is approved, “we’re going to come up with another law to reduce the per diem or mileage for those who live beyond 50 miles.”

According to an article by the City Paper, senators took home more than $14,600 on average in per diem in 2012, while state representatives averaged more than $13,800 each.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, HB80 would save the state $253,616, based on figures from in 2012, when 33 legislators lived within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol.

If the bill becomes law, the change will not impact sitting legislators, just those elected in 2014 forward.

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

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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Newspapers Back Online Notice Bill

Legal notices like public auctions and meeting announcements would have to be published online, as well as in newspapers, under a bill that is headed to both state House and Senate calendar committees to be scheduled for floor votes.

Newspapers that are eligible to print legal notices would be required to post them on their website and a site maintained by the Tennessee Press Association, starting April 1, 2014, under the amended versions of House Bill 1001 and Senate Bill 461. The notices would be published on the Internet for the same period of time notices are published in the newspaper and at no extra cost to the person or business.

The bill is backed by the association, sponsor Sen. Ken Yager said. The Senate bill passed in the State and Local Government Committee he chairs, while the House State Government Committee approved the bill earlier Tuesday morning.

“The reason we’re doing this is we’ve been faced in recent years with multiple attempts to remove public notices from newspapers and put them on government websites exclusively,” the TPA’s Frank Gibson said.

“Fewer than a third of households in Tennessee ever see a government website, but over two-thirds either read the newspaper or the newspaper’s website,” said Gibson, the association’s public policy director. “That combination vehicle is the way to reach the widest audience.”

Ken Yager

Yager, a Republican, told the committee that the bill will not only “put in practice a system that will ensure the widest circulation of legal notices, but most important, legal notices will continue to be published by those institutions that are independent of the government.”

The Harriman representative said he thinks the bill combines the best of both worlds.

“It keeps public notice in places where most people can find them, which promote government transparency and public trust.”

According to Gibson, many, if not most, newspapers currently post public notices on both their own websites and TPA’s statewide aggregate website for no additional charge.

“TPA has 122 newspapers. Only two do not have websites, and they are in the process of building websites now,” Gibson said, adding they will be fully operational months before the bill takes effect.

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

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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Lynn’s Ethics Bill Calls for More Disclosure by Lawmakers

Saying more openness is needed on the part of Tennessee policymakers, Rep. Susan Lynn has introduced legislation that would require the disclosure of all real property they own other than their primary home.

The Mt. Juliet Republican’s HB 1063 would require all elected and certain appointed public officials, such as those on local and regional planning commissions or state boards, to disclose any real property owned by them, their spouses or any minor children living at home.

“Back in 2006, when we did the ethics reform, we wanted this to be part of the disclosure and simply couldn’t get it done at that time,” said Lynn, who served in the House for eight years before running for state Sen. Mae Beavers’ seat and losing in 2010.

“Leaving the Legislature for two years, like I did, you start thinking about the things you wish you’d done or could have done, and this was one of those things.”

Before the 108th General Assembly session began, Lynn, who chairs the Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee, said she learned of a bill filed by freshman Republican Rep. Kent Calfee of Kingston that called for exempting planning commission members from such disclosure.

“I thought to myself, ‘This is not good,’” Lynn said. “I was getting a lot of Tea Party emails, and they were basically indicting all of us for filing that bill.”

Lynn said she wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, so she called him and asked why he had filed it.

“He said his county mayor asked him to,” she said, adding that after she explained to Calfee the importance of more disclosure, not less, he withdrew his bill and thanked her for calling him.

Lynn’s bill would require the disclosure of the address of the property and the month and year of its acquisition, but not everyone in the General Assembly is in favor of it.

Many have told her that the information is a matter of public record, and that should be sufficient. Her argument is that since it is public record, “What’s wrong with putting it all in one neat, consolidated place to make that disclosure?”

“I’m not feeling a warm breeze right now from the [Local Government] committee,” said Lynn, who postponed a vote on the bill until March 12. “I really feel like I’m standing out there alone. I know it’s the right thing to do, and I hope they will be amenable.”

She said she would entertain an amendment excepting state legislators from the new disclosure requirement, if it’s the only way to make it a requirement for local government officials.

“I think it’s very important for local government to make this disclosure, especially the planning commission members,” she said. “I think property holdings that one has, especially holdings that they hold for some future opportunity, should be disclosed, [because] maybe they’re in a position to vote on things that will make the opportunity better.”

She said she hopes that it doesn’t come to that, though.

“I hope my colleagues see the big picture. They won’t be in office together forever.”

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

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Business and Economy Featured News NewsTracker

Ban on Local ‘Living Wage’ Regs Bound for House Floor

Towns and cities would be barred from dictating the wages or benefits paid by private businesses under a bill set for a House vote next Thursday.

The move is the latest in a four-year battle to block so-called living wage bills at the local level. If passed, the bill would nullify bills passed in Nashville and Shelby County that require businesses that contract with those governments to offer a certain level of wages and benefits to employees.

Sponsored by Rep. Glen Casada, House Bill 501 would prohibit local governments from setting wages, family leave and insurance benefits that private businesses must offer employees. It also blocks local regulations that address wage theft.

On Tuesday the bill passed the House Local Government Committee 11-5 along party lines, with Republicans joining Casada while Democrats voted against.

“The most important person here is the taxpayer,” the Franklin representative said. “When a project costs more than it should, the taxpayer pays that. So this is a pro-taxpayer bill.”

Even if the legislation passes, there is no certainty that Gov. Bill Haslam will sign it.

“I’m not a fan of the living wage,” Haslam told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press in 2011. But local “governments should be able to decide for themselves if they want to do that.”

During the committee meeting, Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, questioned why local governments should be prohibited from requiring private companies to pay people “a living wage” if the company wants to do business with that government.

“You know in Davidson County, it’s harder to live. It’s more expensive,” Stewart said. “If the Davidson County legislators or council wants to say, for our contracts, we’re going to require that people be paid a living wage, why shouldn’t Davidson County people be able to control their own contracts?”

Casada replied that the problem is when a city dictates to a private business that operates statewide what that business must pay its employees.

“That’s not good public policy,” he said. “It drives up the cost of doing business, which is a burden to the taxpayers of Tennessee.”

This is not the first time this type of legislation has come before the General Assembly. Attempts by Casada and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, to prohibit local governments from establishing living wage laws date back to 2009.

The bill goes to Calendar & Rules to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. The companion bill in the Senate, SB35, by Kelsey, has been referred to the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

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

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NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Bill Restricting EBT Card Uses Clears Senate

A bill aimed at curbing the abuse of Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, cards by people benefiting from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program passed easily Monday in the state Senate.

Senate Bill 244, sponsored by Sen. Jim Tracy, prohibits the use of a welfare recipient’s EBT card in establishments that primarily sell tobacco products, tattoo services or adult-oriented entertainment, and any business where booze or beer  are served for on-site consumption.

“It’s time we stand up and stop the abuse of the EBT card,” the Republican from Shelbyville told members of the upper chamber. “We put teeth in this bill. It requires the person that uses this card illegally, knowing it to be illegal, to reimburse the Department of Human Services.”

The bill, which passed 30-0, also bans the use of EBT benefits at an ATM located inside a liquor store, strip club, casino or gambling establishment. In addition, SB244 assigns civil penalties to businesses that sell those products and accept EBT benefits as payment in violation of the law. The fine for a violation by the seller would be $1,000 for the first violation, $2,500 for the second violation within five years, and $5,000 for a third or subsequent violation within five years.

“And if they [the businesses] continue to do it, it can allow the district attorney general to suspend the business license,” Tracy said.

Unlike other programs for the needy that are restricted to food products, TANF benefits are loaded onto EBT cards, which are used like debit cards. The amount can be as much as $500 per month and can be used whatever way the recipient wishes.

The legislation came after a report was released last summer by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, which documented numerous examples of suspicious card-use by welfare recipients. According to Beacon’s report, EBT cards were swiped at liquor stores, nightclubs, malls, retail outlets, and adult entertainment establishments, as well as for a hotel stay and UPS services, among others. The free-market think tank reported one transaction at a liquor store totaling $790.

“We applaud Sen. Jim Tracy and his colleagues for taking welfare abuse seriously and acting quickly to curb the abuse of EBT cards,” Beacon CEO Justin Owen said.

Tracy, who has announced his intentions to seek Congressman Scott DesJarlais’ Fourth District seat in 2014, also said the EBT measure would mandate that Tennessee add any further restrictions, such as the purchase of tobacco products, as soon as approved by the federal government.

Passage of the legislation will also bring Tennessee into compliance with the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which is designed to prevent TANF recipients from abusing their benefits, said Tracy.

House Bill 119, sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster, has been assigned to the lower chamber’s Health Committee. No date has been set for when it will be heard.

 

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Featured NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Per Diem Cutback Sails Through First House Committee

Despite an accusation it’s “setting up a platform for only rich folk to serve in the Legislature,” Rep. Rick Womick’s bill to discontinue per diems for local lawmakers sailed through the House State Government committee Tuesday.

The Rutherford County Republican wants to eliminate the $107 daily lodging allowances for legislators who reside within 50 miles of the Capitol in Nashville.

“This is the right thing to do,” Womick, a second-term Republican, said. “If we’re not using a hotel, then we shouldn’t be reimbursed for something that we’re not receiving.”

In place of the daily per diem, he wants these members to receive mileage at the rate of 46 cents a mile for each legislative day on the Hill or any day, except Friday, that the member participates in any other meeting or activity held in Nashville – limited to one round trip per day.

Legislators would still receive the $66 a day for meals and incidentals they currently receive under the measure, House Bill 80.

Rep. Johnny Shaw “totally” disagrees with the legislation. ”I think you’re going to find out after you’ve been here a while that you’re making one of the biggest mistakes you’ve ever made,” the West Tennessee Democrat informed Womick during discussion on the bill.

Shaw noted that after calculating all of the expenses legislators incur driving to and from events throughout their districts and being away from home which “means he can’t hold a full-time job to support his family.”

“This ain’t a good idea,” said Shaw, now in his twelfth year as a state lawmaker. “This is going to hurt a whole lot of good people who could serve in the legislature, do a good job, probably do a better job than people born with silver spoons in their mouths.”

Womick said he’s more concerned with the savings to taxpayers than any hardships the bill might cause mid-state “citizen legislators.”

“I look at this as the Tennessee citizens’ money we are wasting,” Womick said. “You knew what you were getting into when you signed up to run as a state representative.”

Womick added that out of the $107 lodging per diem, the IRS automatically takes between $37 and $40 out of it for taxes, Medicare and Social Security, leaving legislators between $60 and $65 for a hotel room. A significant chunk is being sent to Washington anyway, he said.

According to the fiscal note attached to the bill, Womick’s bill would net the state a savings of $253,616 based on figures from in 2012, when 33 legislators lived within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol.

The committee voted on a voice vote to move the bill to the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee, with Shaw asking that his vote be recorded as no.

The Senate companion bill, SB107, was rolled until March 12 at the request of the State and Local Government Committee’s chair, Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman. Yager said he wants the committee to consider it along Sen. Mae Beaver’s Senate Joint Resolution 65, which directs the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intragovernmental Relations to study the work load of members of the Tennessee general assembly and the compensation rates of state legislators in all 50 states.

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NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Franklin Republicans Proposing ‘Repealer’ to Rid State of Old Laws, Unnecessary Regs

Legislation that would create an “Office of the Repealer” remains on track despite getting bumped last week, according to the bill’s House sponsor, Franklin GOP Rep. Glen Casada.

Originally placed on the State Government Subcommittee’s calendar for Feb. 13, Casada pulled House Bill 500, saying it was poor planning on his part. “I have three other bills to be heard and didn’t want it to be four. I’ll put it back on notice sometime within the next two weeks,” the House Republican Caucus chairman told TNReport.com Monday.

The upper-chamber companion bill is sponsored by fellow Franklin Republican Jack Johnson, who serves as chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.  SB595 is scheduled to get a hearing in the State Government Operations Committee on Wednesday.

The “Repealer” legislation, which has 40 prime co-sponsors in the House, would create a one-time, four-year position for a person whose sole job would be to go through the Tennessee Code Annotated and make suggestions to the Legislature for “cutting antiquated and burdensome laws,” Casada said.

The person in the new role would be charged with “investigating and collecting information regarding the state’s laws and rules and regulations to determine instances in which such laws and rules and regulations are unreasonable, unduly burdensome, duplicative, contradictory or unnecessary,” according to the bill.

At a press conference earlier this month Sen. Johnson said the point is “putting more hard-earned money back in the pockets of all Tennesseans.”

Casada acknowledges that determining which of these laws and regulations might be burdensome is open to interpretation, but that legislators will make the final decision to keep or repeal each one.

“He will make a report, and I imagine it will be quite expansive, because at the end of the first year, that’s 25 percent of his term,” said Casada, adding that he thinks the first year the repealer will spend most of the time tackling outdated laws.

“One other state, Kansas, has done this, and that person brought back 72 recommendations after one year,” Casada said.

The six-term representative said he believes that years two through four will require “more detective work” by the repealer, who will have no staff, as he or she begins talking with commissioners and department heads about what is in policy and procedures that they know is not needed or is a burden.

Answering to the Secretary of State, the repealer will also be required to set up an online system to receive recommendations from the public on laws and regs that ought to be axed.

At the end of the four-year process, Casada believes the repealer will find substantial cost savings for state government, as well as enable businesses to focus more on creating jobs and commerce. “For every hour we can save business owners in paperwork, that’s one hour they can spend on growing their business. Think about how much that will save them when you multiply it by every business in the state.”

According to the Fiscal Note attached to the repealer bill, the cost will be $92,010 per year, but won’t require any new funding. “The Secretary of State is just moving responsibilities around,” Casada said. “And then again, in four years, it goes away, by law.”

Casada said Tennessee lawmakers themselves don’t really have time to comb through codes and untangle thickets of administrative red tape.

“Most legislators have a staff of one, and that individual is committed full time to constituent service. We’re part-time legislators. This legislation in essence builds upon what we as Republicans, the Speaker of the House and the governor have already begun … [but] it’s not organized, it’s not focused,” he said. “That’s what this does. It makes us organized, it makes us focused.”

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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Beavers: ‘Kind of a Sense of Relief’ Not Being Judiciary Chair

Sen. Mae Beavers, who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee for six years, says she was not surprised when she was removed as chair of the influential committee earlier this month.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey replaced Beavers as chair with fellow Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey, an attorney from Germantown. When asked about the move, Ramsey said Beavers had disappointed him “time or two,” and that she had not always been a “team player.”

“I ruffled some feathers taking a stand for my constituents, really everybody’s constituents, that had a complaint about judges,” the Mt. Juliet Republican said. “You know, you ruffle feathers, and sometimes that’s just what happens.”

Beavers told several media outlets that she believed it was due to her pushing for the direct elections of judges and speaking out for judicial ethics reform. Ramsey said those were not factors in making “one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make.

“We wanted to take a different direction, and I think Brian Kelsey is a bright young man that will do well,” he said.

Beavers said she was there was “a kind of a sense of relief” that she is no longer responsible for a committee that sees 700 bills every year. “Still, we’re getting complaints about judges, which will be forwarded to the new chairman of that committee,” she said. “We will continue to address those issues; file legislation when we feel it’s needed.”

Beavers now serves as vice chair of both the Transportation and Safety Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Revised Bill-Limit Headed to House Floor

The Tennessee House of Representatives is scheduled later this week to vote to limit the number of bills a chamber lawmaker can introduce or sponsor throughout the course of the session.

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday approved a cap of no more than 15 bills per member. That was a 50 percent increase over what Speaker Beth Harwell had originally suggested.

Harwell, who was unanimously re-elected as speaker Tuesday afternoon, said she wants to cut down on the staff time and taxpayer resources unlimited bill-filing has cost.

During a GOP caucus meeting that was open to the media Tuesday morning, Harwell reminded members of the new supermajority that not too many years ago Republicans were in the minority and used to complain bitterly that the Tennessee Legislature was passing multitudes of unnecessary laws.

The GOP mantra in the mid 2000s was, “We don’t need more laws, we need laws that do more,” Harwell said.

The Nashville Republican said her aim now is to “change the culture of the General Assembly.” She noted that many Republicans have campaigned on a theme of that nature in the past.

During the last legislative session, almost 4,700 bills were filed in the Tennessee General Assembly, compared to 1,900 in Kentucky, 1,700 in Oklahoma and 1,600 in Missouri. Harwell said the cost of processing, researching and tracking those bills “is astronomical.”

Despite the number of bills being bumped to 15 from 10, Harweel described herself as “very pleased” following the Rules Committee vote to send the limit to the full House for deliberation. The new rules, if approved on Thursday, would also limit the governor’s office to 75 bills.

“We’ll be at half (the total number of bills) we introduced last legislative session,” she said.

There are eight exemptions to the rules, which include general bills of local interest, appropriations bills, resolutions memorializing or congratulatory in nature, confirming appointments or authorizing charitable events.

According to Harwell, the cap won’t just save money. It’ll prod some of the newer members of the chamber to become more involved in the legislative process. she said.

Capping the number of bills will also elevate the reputation of the House by putting forth the message that “when we introduce a piece of legislation in Tennessee, it means something,” Harwell declared.

However, not all in her caucus are eager believers just yet.

Rep. Vance Dennis spoke out strongly against the proposal in the morning caucus meeting. “It’s my firm conviction that this is the wrong way for our state to go,” said the Savannah attorney.

Not having a limit on the pieces of legislation state lawmakers can introduce “makes Tennessee unique,” said Dennis.

“Everyone can affect change,” he said.

While Dennis was the only House GOP caucus member who stood up and voiced outright opposition to Harwell’s plan during the caucus meeting, he’s not alone among Republicans with concerns.

Lascassas Rep. Joe Carr believes one troubling outcome is that high-profile lawmakers who make it a point to carry a lot of bills for a diverse range of citizens and activist groups will be unfairly hamstrung.

“About 20 or 30 percent of the legislators carry most of the legislation,” Carr told TNReport.

Carr worries that limiting bills has the potential to spark “a bidding war for bills, potentially, on the part of lobbyists.” He said there are already lobbyists asking lawmakers to keep slots open for their bills.

“You can potentially get into ethical situations,” Carr said.

Despite the some skepticism from within the party, and a request for more bills for use by all caucuses from the Democrats, the bill still passed the committee with only Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner casting the only no vote against the change before walking out of the meeting.

Turner asked for additional bills to be filed as strictly caucus bills. Harwell and Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga both noted that the increase of bills per member on the table gives the Democrats between 140-150 more bills.

Turner said not giving the caucuses additional bills “totally blocked (Democrats) out.”

“I commend the speaker on putting this forward, but we need a few bills that the minority party can put forth there,” he said.

Alex Harris contributed reporting to this story.