A push by House Republicans to compel the state’s 11-member congressional delegation to meet with state lawmakers is falling short, according to GOP lawmakers.
Only one of Tennessee’s two U.S. Senators and none of the state’s nine Congressmen have responded to a requests by House Speaker Beth Harwell to meet with the House of Representatives, according to the speaker’s office.
“We could have tried harder as a body,” Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, a tea party conservative, told Republicans in a caucus meeting Tuesday after the opening session.
Matheny in October led a push in a 31-16 secret ballot vote of the House GOP Caucus to bring the delegation to Nashville and provide more accountability of federal lawmakers on issues like health care, states’ rights and personal liberty.
Matheny has blamed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander for the session not coming together, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Alexander’s office was the only one to respond to requests for a bilateral session, according to Harwell’s press secretary. A letter from the senator dated Jan. 2, he pointed to the logistical challenges of making the meeting happen, but said he has talked to lawmakers individually.
Matheny, the former speaker pro tempore who lost favor in the caucus after he voiced desire to challenge Harwell in 2012, said he didn’t want to start the year out with disparaging words but said he wants the caucus to reach out to the delegation again.
“All you can do is invite them,” said GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, a top ranking Republican to the caucus. “That’s all you can do.”
Gov. Bill Haslam’s newest priority is to ensure that Tennessee be the fastest improving state in the nation for teacher salaries by the time he leaves office, the governor announced Thursday.
Haslam was short on the specific goals he has for the next budget cycle and the aggregate growth he expects over his tenure, but he and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman pointed to committing $130 million in new, recurring funds for teacher salaries so far in Haslam’s term.
“Too often we tend to use gratitude as a substitute for compensation and gratitude only goes so far,” said Huffman.
The average salary for Tennessee teachers — which includes instructional staff — was $50,607 last school year, according to an estimate by the National Education Association’s “Rankings & Estimates” report released in December. A department spokeswoman said budget funds would be meant for instructional staff, which would include certified personnel like teachers and principals.
Classroom teachers alone averaged $48,289 in Tennessee last year, according to the report. The NEA’s next report is due out in December. Haslam told the Nashville Post state funds to support teacher raises would be intended for across-the-board raises, although local school boards would have discretion to apply those salaries as they see fit.
House Speaker Beth Harwell said she expects her caucus to be on board with this plan when they return in January for legislative session.
House Speaker Beth Harwell is hosting a national summit of Republican women wanting to recruit more females to run for office, but said there is no specific plan to make that happen in Tennessee.
The Republican State Leadership Committee’s “Right Women, Right Now” campaign, which is meeting in Nashville today, is looking to enlist 300 GOP women nationwide to run for office during the next election cycle with the goal of electing half of them, although there are no state-by-state goals.
“I would love to see more women in the Tennessee General Assembly. My priority of course is to my party, but I would love to see qualified Republican women run and win,” Harwell said after a press conference with nearly 30 other state and legislative office holders from across the country. Harwell said she has not recruited any women to run in the next election cycle.
Though Harwell would like to see more women in the General Assembly, she said she is not interested in primarying the 62 Republican male incumbents in order to see more women elected to office.
Prior to House Rep. Lois DeBerry's death this summer, 15 percent of the House of Representatives members were women, with the state Senate comprising 21 percent females. Of the House GOP’s 70-member supermajority, eight are women.
“Women make up 53 percent of our population," she said. "We would like to encourage more women to seek elected office. I think they have a lot to offer."
The House Democratic Caucus said it and other Democratic groups will also be focused on recruiting and supporting women this election cycle.
Speaker Harwell wants some of the House rules changed.
Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today announced she is recommending changes to the Tennessee House of Representatives internal rules that will make the governmental process more efficient and save taxpayer money. The changes follow an effort two years ago to streamline operations.
"Tennessee taxpayers have entrusted us with the task of governing--something I take very seriously," Harwell stated. "These changes reflect the will of Tennesseans: that state government operates efficiently and effectively while saving money. These changes also reflect the will of the body. After surveying the members of the last General Assembly, we have incorporated some of their suggestions as well. While Congress remains mired in partisan gridlock and continues to waste time, the state legislature is working toward better government."
The changes include:
- Restructuring the committee system to balance the workload of each;
- Adopting the annual ethics resolution into the House Rules which will ensure the body is abiding by an ethics policy from the first day;
- Limiting the number of bills filed to 10 per member annually which will encourage members to prioritize;
- Reaffirming that each member vote for only him or herself;
- And deleting the requirement that every document be printed to reduce the amount of paper used in committee and for floor sessions.
Harwell noted the committee restructuring, bill limits, and paperless measures are among those that will, in the long run, save the Tennessee taxpayer money.
"The new committee system will balance the workloads of each committee, ensuring that they are as efficient as possible. Bill limits will reduce duplication and ensure each member prioritizes their issues. I am seeking to eliminate the requirement that every document we produce as a body be printed in effort for us to adapt to the technology available and reduce the enormous amount of paper used each year. Each of these measures together ensure a more efficient, effective, and accessible government. This will also give us more time for thoughtful, deliberate analysis on each piece of legislation—which is something Tennesseans expect and deserve."
The proposed recommendations will be taken up by the House Rules Committee, which will be appointed by the Speaker in January.