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VOL. 37 | NO. 1 | Friday, January 04, 2013

Harwell's bill limit dialed back to 15 per year

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NASHVILLE (AP) - A House committee voted Tuesday to dial back Republican Speaker Beth Harwell's proposal to limit the number of bills each lawmaker can file each year.

Harwell had sought to set an annual cap of 10 bills per lawmaker, but the panel voted instead to recommend a 15-bill limit. If approved by the full House later this week, the move could result in about 500 more bills being filed than under the Nashville Repubican's original proposal.

Nevertheless Harwell praised the House Rules Committee's recommendation for the 99-member chamber that has never before imposed limits on how many bills each member could file.

"Whether it's five, 10 or 15, the idea was that we were going to change the culture of the Tennessee General Assembly," she said. "And we always have an opportunity to come back and revisit."

The panel's vote came after several fellow Republicans raised questions about the 10-bill limit at a caucus meeting earl ier Tuesday. At the meeting, Harwell called the annual flood of legislative proposals expensive and inefficient.

"This is not what Republicans stand for," she said "We believe in less government."

But several Republican members raised concerns about whether they would be able to adequately serve their constituents' needs if they could only file 10 bills per year, and Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah said he's against the proposal in its entirety.

"This is the wrong direction for state government to go," Dennis told the group. "Each one of us has the ability to affect change by filing a bill."

Dennis said he filed 125 bills over the course of the last two-year session, and that creating limits would cause lawmakers to introduce more sweeping legislation and to file numerous amendments. It would also "further entrench the power of the executive branch," he said.

Harwell disagreed, and said she has received a pledge from Republican Gov. Bill Haslam tha t his administration would file no more than 75 bills per legislative session. That executive branch limit was later written into the rules adopted by the House panel.

Meanwhile, House Finance Chairman Charles Sargent of Franklin said committee heads should each get 10 additional bills because they often carry legislation on behalf of the whole panel.

Harwell disagreed with adding extra bills for committee chairmen, who she said she wants to focus on being the chief parliamentarian on each panel.

"What I want to see happen is the chairmen of committees not sponsoring a lot of legislation," she said. "I just want to change the mentality of too much legislation being brought."

Harwell's bill limit proposal was not among a series of sweeping rule changes approved by the chamber on Tuesday. Those changes included a reshuffling of the committee system, a ban on lawmakers voting for colleagues who are away from their desks and a limit of two ceremonial prese ntations per member for every two-year General Assembly.

The House is expected to vote on the bill limits on Thursday.