Note: This story was updated on March 19 to clarify the requirements of the Senate version of the bill regarding the appointment of members of the minority party.
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Senate has approved a bill stripping Governor Bill Lee of his sole power to appoint members to the State Board of Education, ceding two-thirds of the nine appointments to House and Senate presidents.
The measure, which had previously passed the House as the 1838 bill, was approved by the GOP-led Senate in a 30-to-1 bipartisan vote.
“It’s a good bill that just revises those appointments and gives more leverage to the legislature,” Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, told his colleagues.
Due to several Senate changes to the version previously passed by the GOP-dominated House, the bill will return to the lower house for a final vote. The bill states that the governor and the presidents of the Senate and House each get three nominations that are made based on the state’s nine congressional districts.
Last month, Lee defended the current process.
“The process we have is good – General Assembly confirmation of nominations to that,” the Republican governor said.
Lee’s director of communications, Laine Arnold, released a brief text message Thursday in response to a question from The Times Free Press.
“We are reviewing and will have more to say later,” Arnold said.
Tennessee governors have long enjoyed exclusive nominating power to the Board of Education with nominees confirmed by the House and Senate through a joint resolution that must be passed by both houses.
Lawmakers’ decision to insert themselves as full participants in the appointment comes amid Lee’s ambitious push to overhaul the state’s 30-year-old funding formula for education K-12. Lee’s proposal would also assign new responsibilities to the Department of Education and the State Board of Education.
Some lawmakers have expressed concern that the governor is pushing for it to be done this year.
The lone no came from Sen. London Lamar, a Democrat from Memphis who had served in the House before being recently nominated by the Shelby County Commission to fill a vacant seat in the upper house.
“The supermajority in the General Assembly doesn’t need more power — the legislature already plays a consenting role in these council appointments,” Lamar said of the legislative Republicans. “I fear this effort will invite more partisanship and further erosion of the separation of powers.”
When the bill passed the House 68-18 on February 24, Democratic representatives voted against it. Among them was Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga.
“I felt it was a power grab,” Hakeem said in a phone interview on Friday, “when I look at the environment [legislators] respond to what I consider to be extreme perspectives on schools and books.
“It gave me a big break,” added Hakeem. “Do you want to take power from administration so you can use this position to install people with an extreme perspective? I’ve really been through enough chaos now with the changes that are happening to add to it. It wouldn’t really be be positive.”
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, Republican Senate Speaker of Oak Ridge, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, would each get three nominations under the Board of Education bill that the chamber high would have accepted on Thursday. Lee would only have three dates after it took effect.
The bill provides that beginning July 1, 2022, successors to outgoing members of the State Board of Education would be appointed for five-year terms. Nominees by the Speakers of the House and Senate should be confirmed by the respective chambers they lead. The gubernatorial nominees would still need confirmation from both houses.
The Senate-amended bill makes several other changes to the existing law that the House version does not. The wording currently states that “at least three (3) members shall be appointed from majority and minority parties”. The Senate version specifies that each of the nominating authorities (the governor and the two presidents) must appoint at least one member of the minority party.
The nine members will be drawn from the state’s nine congressional districts. The President of the Senate would name successors, with one each from the 3rd, 4th, and 7th congressional districts. The Speaker of the House would appoint members representing the 2nd, 6th, and 8th congressional districts.
This is in contrast to the House bill which has the 3rd congressional district under the responsibility of the governor to be appointed. But McNally’s Anderson County home is in the 3rd Congressional District and the Senate version nods to that.
The governor would appoint successors representing the 1st, 5th, and 9th congressional districts in the Senate version as well as a student representative. Governor appointments would need to be confirmed by both the House and Senate in a joint resolution, as is currently the case for all nine members.
If the appointment is not confirmed, the appointment shall terminate on the day immediately following the rejection of the appointment or the day immediately following the 90th calendar day of a General Meeting, whichever comes first.
“Somebody brought the idea,” Sexton later told reporters. “The administration opposed it, but it passed the House and I guess a variant in the Senate, so it will come back” for final approval.
Noting that lawmakers currently have no nominations, Sexton said members want more say in the state’s school board.
“They want to have representation based on the importance of the role the State Board of Education is going to play in education across our state. It’s a decision of those two bodies, so that’s what we’ll do,” Sexton said.
Sexton noted that there are a number of councils and commissions to which speakers nominate members.
“Sometimes they have more [members] and sometimes they have less,” Sexton said. “Sometimes there are boards that don’t have one. It was a conversation brought in by a few members, and it eventually came through.”
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Raumesh Akbari of Memphis later told reporters she wasn’t so sure that Lee’s fellow Republicans were specifically losing faith in him.
“It certainly indicates that more of the legislative branch is looking to take power away from the executive branch,” Akbari said, adding that this is happening in a number of legislatures where some require that all governor appointees be approved by the governor. the legislators. “It certainly seems to be a trend taking place in the General Assembly where you take away a governor’s absolute power to make appointments and divide it between the leadership of the House and the Senate.”
Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said he thinks the timing of the nominating bill is important.
“I think it’s telling that this legislation changing legislative appointments to the State Board of Education is happening at the same time that the Department of Education is taking on as much authority as it does in education,” he said. -he declares.
Yarbro said many state education laws are written to give the state Board of Education a role as a relatively independent body to make education decisions.
“I think there needs to be a little more separation with the governor in this case where they’re obviously creating so much regulatory authority within the department. There’s a greater need for the State Board of Education to potentially be a check on the executive branch working in education in a way that may simply not be consistent with the overall direction of the state,” he said.
Origin of the invoice
The House bill was sponsored by Rep. Scott Cepicky, a conservative Republican from Culleoka who has at times been a fierce critic of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, the board of education and administrative policy.
In 2020, Cepicky was among House Republicans who lambasted Schwinn during a House Education Committee hearing on reopening public schools after they were largely closed during the pandemic. Among his criticisms was a lack of communication about the ministry’s child welfare monitoring program. A number of Republicans deemed it intrusive.
“There has to be trust between you and this committee,” Cepicky told Schwinn. “We need to know that, philosophically, we’re on the same page. There needs to be cooperation between us, you and Governor Lee. There are a million kids who are counting on us to get it right.”
Asked in February by the Times Free Press after the bill passed a House education subcommittee — despite opposition from Lee administration officials who testified against — whether there was a rushing event prompting him to introduce the bill, Cepicky said a “bit” had to do with the textbook waiver process that lawmakers stripped Schwinn of last year.
“And a lot of that had to do with piloting the department locally and assuming the Textbook Commission would give approval to the Wit & Wisdom [curriculum] for which the commissioner granted 33 waivers,” Cepicky said at the time.
The “Wit & Wisdom” content has been the subject of double criticism, with some claiming it is not appropriate for young students while also being criticized for allegedly teaching critical race theory which holds that racism is systemic in the United States and has been since the first Black people were brought here as slaves.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.