An ethics bill requiring Tennessee policymakers to disclose all real property they own other than their primary home has hit a snag this year, and the bill sponsor said she doesn’t expect it to pass.
Rep. Susan Lynn said she would still like to get the bill back in committee this year as a thermometer test.
“I perceive that a lot of members think that it’s a good idea, but I perceive also that a lot of members strongly oppose it,” the Mt. Juliet Republican said. “So it may need a little bit more time to become more apparent to the members as to why it’s important.”
Originally assigned to the House Local Government Committee, HB1063 was moved back to the speaker’s desk after Lynn failed to appear on two separate occasions to present her bill. However, Chairman Matthew Hill made a procedural error by invoking Rule 13, meant to kick in after the sponsor fails to appear for a third time.
To get the bill back on track, the House clerk’s office told Lynn she will have to see Rep. Joe Carr, chairman of the Local Government subcommittee.
“I need to call the clerk’s office to find out why I need to talk to the subcommittee chair, “ Lynn told TNReport.com. “I think it was a mistake we’re going to try and get worked out.”
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.
Earlier in March, Lynn told TNReport.com that she would entertain an amendment excepting state legislators from the new disclosure requirement if that’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.”
Kent Flanagan, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, agrees that the bill “offers a lot for citizens who don’t have the advantage of public office.”
“I think it’s critical for this legislation, or anything similar to it, to be enacted, simply to level the playing field because of economics,” said Flanagan, the former state bureau chief for The Associated Press.
During public discussion of a proposed development, if “everyone knows who owns property and where that property is located, then everyone knows where everyone stands. When people own property and don’t disclose it, I think that’s a clear conflict of interest.”
Still, the former newspaper editor doesn’t hold out high hopes for the bill’s passage.
“I think in terms of this legislation, the chances of it passing are probably slim with the legislator exemption,” Flanagan said. “If they’re not exempt, I don’t think it has a chance of passing.”