Two proposed TN constitutional amendments die in windup House-Senate squabbling

Two proposed amendments to the Tennessee state Constitution were caught up in the final round of House-versus-Senate maneuvering Wednesday and both died with adjournment. One would have declared that “Almighty God” is the source of all liberty; the other would have laid out procedures for temporarily replacing a governor when he or she becomes incapacitated.

The upshot is that none of dozen or so state constitutional amendments proposed during the 110th General Assembly were approved. (A listing on the legislative website is HERE.)

HJR37, sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough) passed the House 69-17 last year. As approved in that chamber, the amendment would have added this sentence as a new section to Article I of the Tennessee Constitution:

We recognize that our liberties do not come from governments, but from Almighty God.

But it didn’t come up for a Senate vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee until this month and the committee revised the amendment before approving it. Instead of inserting a new section into the Constitution, the Senate version would revise Section 2 of Article I which currently reads:

That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.

The Senate version would put a semicolon after that statement, then add the new wording: and that liberties do not come from government, but from Almighty God.

The Senate approved its version on April 24, sending the measure back to the House for concurrence with the change. The rules for constitutional amendments require that the proposal be read three times on three separate days before a vote. Thus the timing meant that the first House reading of the required three readings of the modified proposal came on Wednesday, the 25th, the day the session adjourned. Two more readings were needed before the House could vote on the Senate revision.

Saying he spoke with “a heavy heart,” Van Huss declared when the resolution came up for the first reading: “The fact that we do not have the time to pass this constitutional amendment was no accident. It was done on purpose.”

In the waning moments of the session, Van Huss appealed to colleagues to reject passage of the required resolution for adjournment of the 110th General Assembly so that the House could proceed with the required second and third readings and a vote. (Officially, he scheduled it for a second reading on Thursday.) The adjournment resolution actually fell short of the required votes on first try after Van Huss’ appeal, but was approved on a second effort.

The other proposed constitutional amendment (SJR521) passed the Senate 25-0 on March 29, but the House did not take it up until this week, then postponed first reading until Wednesday. When it came up then, Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) declared:

“This is something the Senate sent over and would like us to pass. I move to lay it on the desk.”

The effect is refusing to take a vote, thereby letting the resolution die. Several House members cheered McCormick’s comment and the motion to ‘lay on the desk’ was approved by voice vote.

The gubernatorial succession amendment has failed to win approval in several past sessions. It was first drafted by a study committee a decade ago after then-Gov. Phil Bredesen was hospitalized with an illness for several days. Basically, it allows a governor to voluntarily let the lieutenant governor take over his duties temporarily – or, optionally, have a panel of state officials make that decision if the governor cannot or does not due to a physical or mental incapacity. The governor would be restored to his or her duties upon declaring an ability to perform the duties of office or, optionally, upon a panel of officials declaring the governor recovered and able to work.

6 Responses to Two proposed TN constitutional amendments die in windup House-Senate squabbling

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Posts and Opinions about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.