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VOL. 37 | NO. 7 | Friday, February 15, 2013

Bill to curb lawmaker allowances advances in House

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NASHVILLE (AP) - A bill seeking to halt hotel payments for Nashville-area lawmakers is advancing in the House despite one Democrat's concerns that it could be a first step toward dialing back allowances for members from other parts of the state.

Republican Rep. Rick Womick of Murfreesboro on Tuesday promised the House State Government Committee that he would not accept any effort to cast a wider net on his measure aimed at getting rid of the $107-per-nght hotel reimbursement for lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the Capitol.

"Anything that would amend this legislation that would affect anyone outside of 50 miles, or change this this legislation I will not accept," Womick said. "And it will go down in flames if the Senate is adamant about that."

The bill advanced on a voice vote.

The Senate version has been delayed by suggestions that the bill should include a requirement that lawmakers only be reimbursed for their actual exp enses, rather than a flat rate. Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, has said he supports the original intent of the bill but also wants to keep others from "milking the system" collecting the full amount despite staying in cheap hotels, sharing motel rooms or sleeping in their legislative offices.

Lawmakers also automatically receive four nights' worth hotel pay even though most stay in Nashville only three nights a week during the legislative session.

Democratic Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar of Bolivar said he worries that Womick's bill could develop into a "slippery slope" for lawmakers who use the excess hotel allowance to defray other unreimbursed expenses.

"You're probably making one of the greatest mistakes you've ever made," Shaw told Womick during the House panel meeting.

"You're setting up a platform for only rich folk to serve in the Legislature," he said. "Because anybody who doesn't make much money isn't going to be able to serve at all."

Womick disagreed that the expense money should supplement lawmaker salaries.

"If you want to give me a pay raise ... let's be honest and forthright and honest with the citizens of this state and say, 'We deserve to make more $19,000 or $20,000 a year,'" he said. "But we need to have the backbone to stand up and say that. To take money that we don't use, that's really fraud, waste and abuse."