The Tennessee General Assembly’s bill-filing deadlines are Jan. 31 for the state House and Feb. 2 for the Senate. Due to the popularity of caption bills, which are essentially nonspecific placeholder bills submitted before the deadline and later rewritten entirely, we likely won’t see some of this year’s most important legislation until later in the season. Even so, close to 400 bills have already been submitted in each chamber. Here are a few that we’re keeping an eye on.
Republican legislators have leaned heavily into anti-transgender rhetoric all over the nation, often in attempts to draw attention away from economic policy struggles. State Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) wasted no time entering the fray. The first bills introduced this season are companion legislation taking aim at children’s rights to gender-affirming care — a form of health care proven to be extremely important in regard to the mental health and safety of children experiencing gender dysphoria.
A culture war wouldn’t be a culture war without attacks on drag performance. This bill from Sen. Johnson and Rep. Chris Todd (R-Jackson) broadly bans drag in places where children could be present. The lack of specificity in this legislation makes it hard to determine what exactly its limits are and where the line is drawn between “protecting children” and banning people from expressing themselves.
Introduced by Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), this bill aims to amend Tennessee laws surrounding absentee ballots by deleting two provisions that make the process more difficult to navigate, especially for students and people working full-time jobs.
This bill, introduced by newly elected Sen. Charlene Oliver (D-Nashville) and Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville), aims to require lobbyists to wear badges identifying them as lobbyists and displaying some other key information while performing the act of lobbying the Tennessee General Assembly. Considering the number of politicians on both sides of the aisle who are chummy with lobbyists, this bill might not make it far, but it’s an attempt at providing more transparency to Tennessee voters.
Filed by the always consistent duo of Lamberth and Johnson, this bill is a funky piece of legislation that would further narrow the already tiny divide between the state government and the Tennessee Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The office was established in 2019 and according to its website is a “self-funded, independent, nonprofit organization.” It seems like these bills are aiming to make it a government-funded, government-operated, for-profit organization, blurring the lines between church and state and having some fun with the establishment clause.
With 40 members, Nashville’s Metro Council stands as one of the largest city councils in the country. (For reference, New York is one of two cities nationwide with a larger council, and for a city with a population of nearly 8.5 million, 50 members makes a bit more sense.) This bill from Lamberth and Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson) would cap the number of council members any metro government in Tennessee can have at 20. Many are speculating that this could be retaliation against the progressively inclined council for blocking the 2024 Republican National Convention from taking place in Nashville.
Rep. Brian Richey (R-Maryville) has introduced a joint resolution to amend the Tennessee Constitution, instituting 16-year term limits for all local and state elected officials — except for the governor, whose office would remain limited at two consecutive four-year terms.
Elections for judicial and other civil officers currently take place on the first Thursday in August, and tend to have lower turnouts compared to general elections. This joint resolution from Lamberth would start the process of moving these elections to the fall, on the general Election Day, theoretically increasing voter turnout for these elections.