Harwell's Bill Limit Proposal Finds GOP Resistance

ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press

NASHVILLE (AP) – House Speaker Beth Harwell's attempt to reel in the number of bills introduced each legislative session was met with resistance among some of her Republican colleagues as the legislative session got under way on Tuesday.

Harwell has proposed a cap of 10 bills per lawmaker each year. There are no current limits on the number legislative proposals that can be introduced each year, and Harwell said the annual flood of legislative proposals is expensive and inefficient.

"This is not what Republicans stand for," she told colleagues at a Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol. "We believe in less government."

The proposal would limit House members to about 1,000 bills per session – about half the annual average filed in recent years. Harwell said most other state legislatures file far fewer bills and that several have bill limits in place.

"I'm not making up a problem, OK?" she said.

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 that his administration would file no more than 75 bills per legislative session.

Meanwhile, Rep. Cameron Sexton of Crossville, proposed setting a 15-bill limit this year, and 10 the next. And 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 said she'd be willing to consider setting a slightly higher bill limit, but did not agree 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 presentations per member for every two-year General Assembly.

The House was expected to vote on the bill limits later in the week.

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