Dems agree to pass bill giving GOP majority on panel

By Tom Humphrey,
May 28, 2009

NASHVILLE – A partisan dispute that threatened the State Election Commission was apparently resolved Wednesday, but the chances of the Tennessee Ethics Commission surviving as an independent entity were lessened.

House Democrats had declared opposition to a Senate-passed bill that would give Republicans a majority on the State Election Commission, which would otherwise have a 3-2 Democratic majority until 2011.

In response, Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris declared that the GOP-controlled Senate would let the commission die unless the Democrats backed down and allowed passage of the bill giving Republicans a majority. The commission, as things stand now, will “sunset” on July 1 unless the Legislature votes to renew it.

House Democratic Leader Gary Odom told a party caucus meeting Wednesday that, after a round of discussions, he now recommends that Democrats go along with passage of HB845, which adds two Republicans to the commission.

“It’s the best option we’ve got,” said Odom, because abolishing the commission could lead to an array of problems in the state election system.

A House vote on the bill is scheduled for today.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, however, said he has told House Republican leaders that at least 30 members of the GOP must vote for Gov. Phil Bredesen’s budget “or we’re not going to vote for it either.”

The budget calls for “tough decisions” and Republicans need to join in making them, Turner said.

House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower said “the onus is on the governor’s party to carry the bulk of the weight on passing the budget.”

Still, Mumpower said there is a “good chance there will be many Republican votes for the budget.”

“I am not – and my caucus is not – looking to make a partisan issue of this budget,” Mumpower said. “We recognize there is a need to make the best of a bad situation.”

The Ethics Commission is also slated to sunset, or cease to exist, on July 1 unless the Legislature votes to renew it. Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet, on Wednesday shelved the renewal bill.

Still pending is a bill by Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, that would merge the commission with the Registry of Election Finance. He says the move would save about $300,000 and without weakening enforcement of ethics laws.

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