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Sam Stockard doesn’t like the shoe on the other foot

Writer Sam Stockard penned a column for the Daily News Journal entitled “Legislature should go back to meeting every two years.” In it, Stockard asserts:

Tennessee’s General Assembly should take a step back — back to the days when it met only once every two years.

Longtime state Rep. John Bragg would probably roll over in his grave at this suggestion, but based on trends in the state Legislature, Tennessee would probably be in better shape if its lawmakers just stayed home half the time.

Until 1967, that was the case. A 1965 Constitutional Convention proposed that the General Assembly meet annually, and the 1966 Legislature approved it, setting a new course with the 85th General Assembly.

Bragg, a Murfreesboro Democrat first elected in 1964, felt lawmakers needed to go into session every year in order to offset the power of the governor, who was in his office all year. As longtime chairman of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee, he also saw the state’s budget growing increasingly complex and felt the Legislature needed to be there to set it annually and maintain some control.

I was shocked at first to read Stockard’s headline. “A liberal advocating less government,” I pondered. “What could be the reason?” After reading a bit further, it quickly becomes apparent:

Legislative priorities are changed, too. This year, Rutherford County’s lawmakers are focusing on illegal immigration, national citizenship, voter photo IDs, teacher rights and bills dealing with white-tail deer farming, president’s birth certificates, 911 calls, TDOT advertisements and the 2011 Bill of the Year, material support for terrorism (formerly the anti-Shariah bill).

It’s not that Stockard wants a smaller state government. He wants a legislature that passes less Republican-leaning legislation. I can’t recall any time in recent history when Democrats controlled the State House and State Senate that Stockard (or any left-of-center columnist) called for less government.

In addition to biennial Sessions, Stockard also calls for limiting the number of bills Senators and Representatives may sponsor during a legislative session. There was some discussion about this when Speaker Harwell took the gavel in the House, but the discussion has all but died down, from what I’ve read.

I don’t necessarily disagree with Stockard’s column; however, I take exception to his reasoning. Sure, the 99 Representatives and 33 Senators sponsor a lot of crap. Tons of crap. Copious amounts of crap. In the House, there are 2154 bills that have been filed this year. In the Senate, 2112. That’s almost 22 bills per Representative and 64 bills per Senator. Not to mention the more than 400 Resolutions and Joint Resolutions that have been filed by members in both chambers.

Democrats grow government and Republicans grow government. But I think Barry Goldwater said it best:

“I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.”

Tennessee Republicans should balance their desire to pass new bills with the calculated restraint of repealing old ones. Meddling, be it from Democrats who promise to meddle or Republicans who promise not to meddle and do it anyway, should be discouraged.

Meanwhile, important issues like illegal immigration and others should be tackled by the General Assembly. Bills that eliminate burdensome regulations and provide economic opportunity should be filed and passed.

And perhaps the legislature should meet only biennially, but not because Republicans control both Chambers. There’s plenty of bad ideas in both parties.

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