Legislators file 1,400 bills by deadline (new topics: booze, casinos, taxes, insects, etc)

Tennessee legislators introduced more than 1,400 proposed new laws by last week’s House deadline for filing bills for consideration in the 110th General Assembly, a big chunk of them on the final day for filing.

A total of 1,413 bills were filed in the House by the general deadline day, Thursday, according to the Legislature’s website. Any general bill filed later has to be approved by a special “late bills committee” before it can be taken up., though “private acts” – those applying only to one county or city – are not covered by the deadline.

In the Senate, 1,425 bills have been filed. Identical legislation must be filed in both chambers for a measure to be enacted into law. In the House, rules limit most representatives to 15 bills each, with some exceptions. In the Senate, there is no limit on bill filings.

In 2015, the first year of the two-year 109th General Assembly, 1,371 bills were filed by the House deadline day. When the session ended in 2016, total introductions for both years in the House reached 2,667 and 1,087 of those became laws.

The most prolific producer of legislation is Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, with 110 bills sponsored. But most of that total are bills renewing the existence of various boards, commissions, agencies and departments of state government – so-called “sunset bills” that Bell, as chairman of the Senate Government Operations is obliged to handle. Rep. Jeremy Faision, R-Cosby, chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, leads the House with 76 bills sponsored. The “sunset bills” are exempt from the 15-bill limit in the House.

At the other extreme are House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Randy McNally. Neither has sponsored a single bill for the session.

In a Friday story, the AP has a quote from Gov. Bill Haslam on late filings – exaggerating the number a bit – in declining to state his position on some of them.

“There’s like 1,000 bills that have been filed today or yesterday,” Haslam said after a Rotary Club speech in Smyrna. “Give us a little chance to go review all those and see where we are.”

Haslam did say that he’d prefer to let litigation over bathroom gender policies play out before Tennessee considers the issue. Neighboring North Carolina has been roiled by political and economic repercussions for its transgender bathroom law, and similar legislation was abandoned at the Tennessee Capitol last year.

As for allowing liquor to be sold during the same hours that beer can bought, Haslam was quick to beg off of taking a position.

“We’ll probably stay out of that one,” he said with a laugh.

The AP also listed a few of the topics, thusly:

SALES TAXES: Democrats want to eliminate the sales tax on diapers, feminine products and over-the-counter medicines this year and begin phasing out the sales tax on groceries. Another proposal would increase the tax on a pack from cigarettes from 62 cents to $1.69 to pay cover the cost of eliminating the sales tax on food.

CASINOS: Proposing an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution to allow casinos to operate in the state.

CIVICS TEST: Requiring high school students to pass a civics test in order to graduate.

DANGEROUS INSECTS: Making it a misdemeanor to exhibit or handle an insect that could endanger a person’s life or health.

PATRONIZING PROSTITUTION: Allowing law enforcement to impound vehicles for up to five days for people arrested multiple times for patronizing prostitutes.

HIGH ALCOHOL BEER: Allowing high gravity beer of up to 18 percent alcohol to be sold in grocery stores.

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