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Front Page - Friday, July 3, 2020

Rogers column: The best, worst from the 111th General Assembly




Tennessee legislators, having adjourned sine die and high-tailed it homeward, it’s time for a final report card on the 111th session of the General Assembly.

The good news: It wasn’t all bad. The bad news: It wasn’t much good. Here is my highly subjective list of grades:

• A+ to Rep. Jason Zachary and Sen. Becky Massey for getting the Volunteer State adopted as the official state nickname. Now we won’t have to put up with those tiresome “Hog and Hominy State” references any more.

• B- for falling short on an effort to place a statue of David Crockett (Greatest Tennessean) on the Capitol grounds. Rep. David Hawk’s bill made it through four committees (What an obstacle course) but ran out of time in the fifth, Calendar and Rules. Maybe next year.

• B+ for passing a bill creating Tennessee Wildlife license plates with an image of the Southern Leopard Frog, an amphibian that, in addition to being “striking in appearance,” is “found on many southern menus for the cognoscenti who appreciate the delicate flavors of its lower limbs.”

• F for trying yet again to get the Holy Bible designated as the official state book. The measure made it all the way to the House floor, where it (Praise be!) died. Special kudos to Reps. John Ray Clemmons, Jason Hodges and Johnny Shaw who, in committee voice votes, requested to be recorded as voting no.

• F for two committees that passed Rep. Micah Van Huss’s measure to label CNN and The Washington Post as “fake news.”

• F to Van Huss individually and collectively to the 54 other House members who passed his resolution congratulating “the people of Tennessee for clearly seeing that the mainstream media has sensationalized the reporting on COVID-19 in the service of political agendas.”

I had some more stuff to give Van Huss F’s for, since I consider him the legislature’s leading blockhead, but I’ll leave it at this: As Rep. Bill Beck noted in a committee meeting, Van Huss has a knack for introducing measures “that do nothing but are intended to inflame and drive us apart.”

• B+ for the effort by Rep. Jason Powell and Sen. Todd Gardenhire to get the state to do a study on the feasibility and cost of expanding Amtrak passenger service in Tennessee. Powell’s bill stalled in House committee, but Gardenhire’s passed the Senate 30-0. Again, maybe next year.

• F to Rep. Bruce Griffey for his “Stop Social Media Censorship Act,” in which he basically accused social media of stifling conservative voices. He clearly doesn’t read my Facebook feed. And another F for his measure trying to close the state to refugees. Neither passed. Both came too close.

• A- to Rep. Jason Powell (again), and my Eternal Optimist Award, for his resolution supporting the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and seeking to remove the deadline for its ratification. No surprise, it went exactly nowhere. (Maybe I should give him the Dead Horse Award.)

• A to legislators collectively for generally ignoring an effort to designate the ladder Tennessee’s official state tool. I mean, really. Ladder?

And now, in the quantitative category, the leaders in numbers of measures sponsored:

• At first glance, the leaders in bills would seem to be Sen. Kerry Roberts with 213 and Rep. Martin Daniel with 183. But each is the chairman of his respective body’s Government Operations Committee, and their totals are inflated by dozens and dozens of Sunset Law measures to extend the life of various state agencies.

• With that in mind, House honors (and I use that word loosely) go to Rep. William Lamberth, with 148 bills sponsored, and Sen. Raumesh Akbari, with 168. Lamberth is a Republican, Akbari a Democrat, which goes to show you neither party has the market cornered.

• When it came to resolutions, Rep. Kelly Keisling led the House with 120. But his effort is put to shame by that of Sen. Steve Southerland, who weighed in with a whopping 238.

Among the beneficiaries of Southerland’s beneficence were nine members of the Greeneville Parks and Recreation Hall of Fame, six recipients of the Governor’s Volunteer Star Awards, 13 Eagle Scouts and 73 – 73! – teachers of the year. Whoa.

Interestingly, at least three House members – Reps. Justin Lafferty, Jason Potts and Paul Sherrell – sponsored no resolutions at all during the two-year session. I guess nobody in their districts did anything worthwhile.

Or maybe they’re not running for reelection.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com.