If you’ve read anything I’ve written about Local Issues, you probably thought, “just going by the health insurance situation alone, Tennessee is a state in crisis. Any responsible government would be meeting night and day to figure a way to fix it.”
The legislature has indeed been active, but keep in mind this is a one-party state; the Democrats no longer exist even nominally in many TN counties.
Some of the bills that have gotten press recently:
A bill to declare God our “Creator and Savior” in the text of the State Constitution. Status: withdrawn in committee.
A bill to declare the Holy Bible (version or translation not specified) the State Book of Tennessee. Status: Passed, but vetoed. The veto may be overridden, so the State will have the privilege of spending money on doomed litigation to defend a paradigmatically unconstitutional bill.
A bill to declare the Barrett .50 anti-materiel sniper rifle the “state rifle” of Tennessee. Status: Passed. We are now the first state with a state rifle (as opposed to a mere “state firearm”, because they deliberately left semantic room to declare a state pistol, machine gun, zip gun, whatever). We could have gone for Davy Crockett’s gun or Alvin York’s, but Barrett is a fairly big company here and so we are represented by a modern weapon used to take out engine blocks from a mile away, or reduce a person to a kind of vapor from the shoulders up if a round hits them in the head. Appropriate.
A bill that requires the state to sue the Federal government over the resettlement of Syrian refugees in TN without the TN legislature’s explicit consent. Dealing with refugees is a Federally delegated power, and this question seems unsurprisingly already to have been resolved in the Feds’ favor by the lower appellate courts, but the TN ledge is still fightin’ mad about an issue almost everyone else has already forgotten. Status: passed. More doomed work for the state’s lawyers.
Our version of the North Carolina “bathroom bill” that would, apparently, require teachers (perhaps the ones carrying guns, as authorized by the legislature in previous sessions) to inspect the genitals of suspect children who are using the toilet. Status: died in House committee, resurrected in Senate committee, died again. Will probably be back next session.
A bill to allow social workers, therapists, and other mental health professionals to refuse to treat patients whose “lifestyles they disapprove of” without legal consequence. Status: they’re still talking about this one.
A bill indicating the state officially disapproves of the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. Passed. That’ll stick it to ’em.
A bill that would have exempted police body-cam and dash-cam footage from all public record laws, making it inaccessible to scrutiny. Status: died in committee; will be back.
After the kerfluffle about whether fantasy sports betting is “gambling” in New York (you heard about this if you watch John Oliver), the TN ledge noticed we have a provision in our state constitution outlawing gambling too. So they rushed to pass a law declaring fantasy sports betting definitely not gambling, no how no way, not ever, so there would be no interruption in your stochastic rotisserie league fun. Status: passed.
A bill that would have altered the state Constitution to make it forever impossible for the state of Tennessee to levy an income tax, which is already politically impossible, but you can never have too many firewalls against a sane fiscal system, I guess, or too much grandstanding about taxes. Meanwhile, TN’s VAT-style sales tax, levied even on food, is the most regressive in the United States. Status: died in committee because pointless; it’s like making it unconstitutional for the Earth to start turning the other way on its axis.
A very strange bill that would have prevented the use of “road or highway” designated fees, funds, or taxes for anything to do with bicycles, without specific act of the state Legislature: in other words, the Dept. of Transportation and local governments would not be able to use “road money” for anything bike-related, like bike trails or lanes, because “road money is for cars.” Status: Failed. (If you caught that this was really about “Agenda 21”, well done. You’re up on your right-wing conspiracy theories.)
A genuinely terrible bill that would allow previously unincorporated county land that had been historically annexed by Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, or Knoxville, to de-accession itself from those cities by majority vote of residents, thus relieving themselves of the tax burden of paying for city services and leaving huge holes in the already swiss-cheese structure of property tax collection, a structure that grossly underfunds city activities, especially the schools. Status: didn’t make it out of committee even though it was popular – the big cities still have some clout.
A not-entirely-unrelated bill that would make it illegal (??) for courts to issue consent decrees about public education funding in the state. Status: I think someone told the sponsor that this makes literally no sense.
Driving “slower than prevailing traffic” in the leftmost lane of state highways of three lanes or more is now a misdemeanor. I know, pretty annoying, right? Status: now law.
Oh, Beth Harwell, likely Gubernatorial nominee, set up some commissions to study some issues. Health care, for example. This the commission will surely do, and write a report. I’ve already forgotten this commission exists.
There’s also a commission on sexual harassment, because it turned out the leader of the One True Party, Rep. Jeremy Durham, was a terrible serial sexual harasser. I’ve already forgotten this commission exists, just like the press has quickly forgotten Rep Durham’s disgrace.
Because of the provocative outrages of student-organized Sex Week at the University of TN, in which students spoke openly, in public, about abortion and sexual consent, without even being prior-restrained by the university administration, as they clearly should have been; and because of a nonbinding suggestion by the University’s Office of Diversity that students might want to use language inclusive of transgender people, the pearl-clutching ledge decided to punish the University’s loucheness by completely defunding the Office of Diversity, the money instead to be used to print “in God we trust” stickers to be affixed to cop cars (I am not making this up). Of course, this kind of line-item meddling in the University’s budget explicitly violates the terms of the University’s accreditation, but no matter. Who needs the University of Tennessee to be accredited? Status: died, but came back from the dead and looks set to pass – there were protests in town and on campus today.
A bill to prevent the University of TN from raising tuition without the ledge’s approval, even as the state continues to cut their budget. It would cripple the university and create what they call a condition of “financial exigency,” allowing the revocation of tenure. Status: failed. Narrowly.
A bill allowing open-carry of firearms without a permit or training. Died in committee. Will be back until it finally passes.
A bill allowing permit-holders to concealed-carry on public college and university campuses. Status: now law. So you don’t have to take that lefty bias from your profs anymore. Just wave that pocket-pistol around a little and see if your grade doesn’t improve.
A bill mandating mothers who give birth to “drug-addicted babies” be charged with felony fetal assault. Status: sunsetted in committee. Will be back.
Other bills killed: decriminalizing pot, allowing the direct election of the US President, making it a crime to leave a gun out where a child under 13 might find and handle it, and raising the gas tax a few cents to pay for the repair of our utterly destroyed roads.
Oh, we did get a “ban the box” bill, so that’s good.
There was also a secret bill. Gov. Haslam got a bill through authorizing $30 million be spent on…something. We still have open records laws; how this is justified… but anyway, we’re getting a $30 million Thing that nobody knows what it is. I hope it’s nice.
This is all from “the most conservative state legislature in the country” – though not the most conservative Republican governor, so it’s not the worst legislative program in the fifty states. Gov. Haslam sometimes leans a little on the ultra-ultra-right-wing supernuts, because he’s worried they’ll distract from his overall agenda of privatizing services and giving the contracts to his friends. (His current multi-year policy centerpiece is the privatization of all State jobs in physical plant, maintenance, cleaning, driving, etc. – including all such jobs in the University system.)
You’ll note that despite the Republicans having a super-majority in both houses, and the Governorship, they don’t actually get all of this high-profile bullshit through. So much of it is obviously unconstitutional, illegal, unimplementable, or so nonsensical that nobody knows what the bills even mean. I am cheered only by the legislature’s relative incompetence. Of course, most of this stuff isn’t designed to pass, it’s designed to get press, as red meat for the base. And this state is all base.
Oh, how is our budget? Robust. No problems there. We have a multi-hundred-million-dollar surplus. They could actually do something with the money. It was suggested at first the state buy a new fish hatchery, but in the end they just banked it. Clearly the state has no other pressing needs. (Except for the secret Thing.)
(Please note that this sad situation is never going to change. The One Party is going to get to redistrict in 2020, just as they did in 2010, creating the supermajority, so the next opportunity to elect a state government with an opposition party that the Republicans will even have to consult on legislation will be 2032 at the earliest.)