But seriously: Legislature tackles small issues

Friday, April 5, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 14
By Kathy Carlson

Just in case anyone thought the Tennessee General Assembly was all serious, all the time, it’s not.

Sandwiched this year among bills on school choice, voting rights, criminal justice reform and taxation are bills on cowboys, dogs, recording artists and breakfast. Granted, some of these bills aren’t going anywhere, but they’re available online via the General Assembly website, capitol.tn.gov, for those who would like a little break from heavier topics.

For all of us dog persons out there, it’s good to know that both Democrats and Republicans supported a bill making the Bluetick Coonhound, famous as the University of Tennessee’s mascot, the official state dog. Gov. Bill Lee has already signed the bill.

Smokey may be the official state dog, but there already was an official state pet in the Tennessee Code. Back in 2014, the state Legislature passed a bill that designated dogs and cats adopted from Tennessee animal shelters and rescues as the official state pet.

There’s also an official state butterfly (zebra swallowtail, 1994), amphibian (Tennessee cave salamander, 1995), reptile (Eastern box turtle, 1995) and beverage (milk, 2009), among other state symbols.

Sadly (to some dog lovers, anyway) a bill that would have allowed dogs in barber shops has been withdrawn. Existing law does allow service animals, fish for decorative purposes and birds in cages to be in a barber shop.

Moving from doggies to dogies, the fourth Saturday of July each year could become the “Day of the Cowboy and Cowgirl in Tennessee” if a bill to that effect is passed.

“Tennessee has one of the richest ‘cowboy’ traditions in the country,” the bill states. “Before Tennessee became a state in 1796, it was the nation’s second territory, sometimes called the Southwest Territory, and thus was the ‘first West.’” People born in Tennessee, the bill states, moved westward to establish huge cattle ranches and trails that became part of the legend of cowboys and the Old West.

The bill also notes that Franklin is where “the largest outdoors rodeo in the United States” was held during the 1950s and 1960s, there are thousands of ranches and farms in Tennessee and the cattle population stands at 2 million.

“From ranching to rodeo, from music to cuisine, cowboy culture and tradition continue to shape Tennessee and this nation,” the bill states, adding that “cowboys and cowgirls are American icons deserving of our admiration and recognition.”

“Day of the Cowboy and Cowgirl in Tennessee” would be proclaimed by the governor if the bill passes, but it wouldn’t be a legal holiday. The bill was approved unanimously in a Senate committee.

Tennessee could celebrate another state symbol – an official state recording artist – if a bill originating with two Nashville lawmakers becomes law.

Rep. Bob Freeman and Sen. Brenda Gilmore are proposing that the official state recording artist be nominated through an online poll conducted by the Secretary of State this year between Aug. 1 and Sept. 1. The recording artists to be voted on must currently live in Tennessee or have lived in Tennessee for at least five years. They can be living or deceased, record in any genre, must have recorded music in Tennessee and must have made “significant contributions to the world of music evidenced by awards, number of hit songs, number of records sold, or by influence on other recording artists.” A group may be selected if one of its members meets the eligibility criteria.

At the end of the polling period, the secretary of state announces the winners, but the winner doesn’t automatically become the official recording artist.

According to the bill: “The secretary of state shall email the results of the online poll to the members of the General Assembly, who may introduce legislation to officially designate the recording artist.”

Current and former members of the state Legislature may have another responsibility under another bill that’s up for consideration. They, along with law enforcement chaplains and members of municipal legislative bodies, would be able to solemnize marriages under the bill; they had no such powers in the past.

Although some would gain the power to officiate at weddings, others wouldn’t be so fortunate. The bill would forbid those who receive online ordinations from solemnizing marriages.

Finally, the breakfast bill: It defined breakfast, for purposes of those signs by the interstate that identify restaurants, gas stations and the like that are located at the next exit, as “the first meal of the day commonly eaten in the ante meridiem.”

It has been taken off notice in the House and wasn’t discussed in legislative videos available on the legislature’s website.

So maybe it’s not the most important meal of the day.