Gov. Lee’s annual State of the State won’t be held in the state Capitol. But is that legal?

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In the interest of social distancing, tonight’s State of the State address has been relocated to the War Memorial Auditorium. There’s just one problem: State law requires the annual address to be given inside the state Capitol.

A 1973 newspaper ad.

Governors used to deliver their annual State of the State speeches to the Tennessee Press Association. Lawmakers didn’t like that arrangement, so they changed the law in the 1970s to require the speech to be given before a joint convention of the General Assembly gathered in the House chamber.

It’s not the first time Gov. Bill Lee’s plans for the State of the State have raised questions. Following his 2018 election, Lee announced he’d try to get out of the “bubble of Nashville” by delivering the annual address at various locations around the state.

Those plans were thwarted by the same state law requiring the speech to be given in the state Capitol, the Associated Press reported at the time.

“Bill will give the State of the State speech in the House Chamber each year as mandated by the statute,” a Lee spokeswoman told the AP in 2018. “But he also plans to give addresses outside of Nashville around the State of the State to engage with Tennesseans.”

UPDATE: Lawmakers point to a joint resolution passed by both chambers on voice votes in January that said the House and Senate would meet “in the War Memorial Auditorium for the purpose of hearing the State of the State address by the Honorable Bill Lee, Governor of Tennessee.”

But the state law says the General Assembly “shall” call a joint convention “to convene in the chamber of the House of Representatives.” Whether the statute gives lawmakers the leeway to call a meeting outside of the House chamber is a matter of interpretation.

10 Responses to Gov. Lee’s annual State of the State won’t be held in the state Capitol. But is that legal?

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    Phillip Lassiter says:

    Breaking the law is the norm.

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    Cannoneer2 says:

    Our Republican “leadership” will play fast and loose with everyone else’s safety, but it’s a different issue when their own precious backsides are on the line….

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    Henry Walker says:

    Interesting article. Not that anyone would really care, but I suspect that the House could get around this requirement by temporarily designating the War Memorial auditorium as the House chamber.

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      Erik Schelzig says:

      Here’s what the code says: “The general assembly shall by joint resolution call a joint convention of the senate and house of representatives to convene in the chamber of the house of representatives for the purpose of hearing a state-of-the-state address by the governor.”

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      Georgiana Vines says:

      That’s too easy a solution.

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    Not that Stuart guy says:

    I love these stories on arcane bits of law. Would’ve liked to have learned more about why the leg didn’t like the SOS speech being given to the TPA. Perhaps state papers had more teeth back then? As Henry said, the letter of the law can be addresses to meet the spirit in this case. I’d wear a mask inside War Memorial, but I assume most wont.

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    Mel Russell says:

    Y’all are throwing a hissy fit over This?!?!
    Roll yalls sleeves up, get to work for the betterment of Tennessee citizens!
    Do something that really matters!!!

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    Jonathan Swift says:

    You have to love it when the governor doesn’t have a clue about existing laws. Maybe he should have the AG pay less attention to overturning federal elections and more attention to compliance with state law.

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    Taxpayer #314 says:

    It would be nice if our government just followed the law. The good old republicans say that it is a “tempest in a teapot.” As usual they are quick to explain away any unlawful attempts by their high scoring friends in the legislature. If the Governor wants to come outside of his Nashville shell of yes men and meet with the real public, why not organize such a gathering? But don’t come to preach to the crowd, come listen to what the public has to say to our legislators. Now that would be worth the budget for it and I am sure that the governor would learn a few things.

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