published Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Political Notebook: House restructuring eyed

NASHVILLE — House Speaker Beth Harwell says she wants to improve the chamber's operations by limiting the number of bills introduced and restructuring several committees.

The Nashville Republican's multipoint proposal would also end the common practice of lawmakers casting votes for colleagues who are not in their seats and sometimes not in the Capitol at all.

She also hopes to curb a quickly growing practice in which lawmakers make sometimes lengthy floor presentations honoring individuals. Members would be limited to two such speeches per session.

Harwell told reporters the proposed changes, which would have to be approved by the Rules Committee, are intended to make operations more efficient and save money.

Limiting lawmakers to introducing no more than 10 bills should "help members prioritize what's most important to them," Harwell said.

The limits would not apply to bills dealing with local issues or to lawmakers who carry legislation for the governor. They wouldn't apply to resolutions honoring people, groups or causes.

Her proposed committee changes include:

• Splitting the Judiciary Committee, currently chaired by Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, into civil and criminal justice panels;

• Dividing the State and Local Government Committee into two panels, one for state legislation and the other for bills affecting city, county or other local governments;

• Merging the Agriculture Committee into the Conservation and Environment Committee

• Abolishing the Children and Family Affairs Committee and directing the panel's legislation mostly go to the new Judiciary civil committee.

Harwell said the committee shakeup is necessary to balance the workload. She said some panels consider fewer than 100 bills a session while others plow through more than 500, leading to logjams.

Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, GOP nominee for speaker pro tempore, said officials believe the moves would save "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

"You've all been there at the end of session where our legal staff is working until the wee hours of the morning in Fiscal Review [committee]," Johnson told reporters. "If we have 1,000 or 4,000 bills, they have to treat every one of them the same."

Bowling back on executive panel

Sen. Janice Bowling will return to the Republican Party's State Executive Committee as a result of an opinion by the party's general counsel.

Bowling, R-Tullahoma, was automatically removed from the group earlier this month "for having been physically absent" from three "consecutive" meetings.

She objected, saying she had not missed three consecutive meetings because she was present for a special telephone meeting after two absences.

State GOP Chairman Chris Devaney wrote to committee members that general counsel Scott Carey "agreed with her [Bowling's] assessment" of the bylaws.

Devaney said he has asked the Bylaws Subcommittee to review and make recommendations on the language of the party rules.

Chattanoogan named to run party

Devaney announced he is hiring Chattanoogan Brent Leatherwood as the party's new executive director. Current political director Michael Sullivan is being promoted to deputy director.

"Brent has extensive campaign experience, and his knowledge of the state legislature will also be a valuable asset as we prepare for the 2014 elections and beyond," Devaney said in a statement.

Leatherwood now is communications director for the House Republican Caucus.

He begins his new role next month and said he's excited about the opportunity to help guide the party.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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