published Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Elected attorney general bill falls short in Tennessee Senate

Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, concludes remarks on the Senate floor in Nashville on Wednesday. Beavers' proposal calling for the popular election of the state's attorney general fell short of the votes needed to pass the upper chamber.
Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, concludes remarks on the Senate floor in Nashville on Wednesday. Beavers' proposal calling for the popular election of the state's attorney general fell short of the votes needed to pass the upper chamber.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — A proposed state constitutional amendment calling for the popular election of Tennessee's attorney general fell two votes short Wednesday on the Senate floor.

Sen. Mae Beavers' Senate Joint Resolution 123 received 15 yes votes and 14 no votes. One senator abstained and three cast no vote at all in the 33-member chamber. It would have taken 17 votes to advance the amendment.

The measure will be held in the Senate Calendar Committee and could be brought back later if Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, can scrounge up two more votes.

The Senate earlier had approved a separate proposed constitutional amendment by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, that calls for the Legislature to choose the attorney general. The attorney general now is chosen by the five members of the Tennessee Supreme Court, most of whom are Democrats.

The Republican-led Legislature has sought changes in the selection process for years. Incumbent Robert Cooper is a Democrat who upset Republicans on several issues, including his refusal to join attorneys general in other states in challenging the Affordable Care Act.

House members have yet to act on either Green's or Beaver's proposal.

Before a proposed constitutional amendment could go before state voters in 2018, it must be approved in two consecutive biennial sessions of the Legislature.

The first vote must pass each chamber by a majority. The second vote, which would come in the 109th General Assembly whose members will be elected in November, must garner at least a two-thirds majority.

Beavers urged colleagues to back her plan, saying, "This will just keep it alive and give us a choice next year."

But she faced opposition from two camps -- Democratic and some GOP senators who like the current system just fine, and GOP senators who relish the idea of state lawmakers, rather than voters, calling the shots on appointments.

Most states, including Georgia and Alabama, have elected attorneys general.

In other legislative action Wednesday:

• A bill allowing city and county voters to decide whether grocery stores, big-box stores and convenience stores can sell wine easily passed the House Budget Subcommittee on a voice vote.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. Under a compromise between grocery stores and liquor store owners and liquor wholesalers, residents in cities like Chattanooga could hold referendums as early as November. But the grocery stores could not actually sell wine before July 1, 2016.

The bill largely mirrors a version passed last week by the Senate on a 23-8 vote.

But there are some differences. The Senate version requires convenience stores to have at least 1,200 square feet to obtain a wine sales license. The House version sets the limit at 2,000 square feet.

The bill must pass the full Finance Committee and then to the Calendar and Rules Committee before it goes to the House floor for final action.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

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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