Capitol Debate: Bills Aimed at Amending Tennessee Constitution Hit the Floor

Capitol Debate Bills Aimed at Amending Tennessee Constitution Hit the Floor

Nashville, Tennessee (WKRN) — Legislators in Tennessee have introduced measures to amend the state constitution because they want to see changes made.

The Tennessee Constitution can be amended, although the procedure is drawn out. Any constitutional changes must be approved by two successive general assemblies, the first by a simple majority and the second by a two-thirds majority, as stated in Article XI, Section 3.

An amendment goes on to a referendum ballot if it is approved by the legislature. Only in the year of a gubernatorial election, when Tennessee voters select their next governor, may this referendum take place.

State officials unveiled a bipartisan attempt on Friday morning to change the constitution to reform bail. Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), state legislators from the Memphis region, and officials from the Memphis municipal government unveiled a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow judges in Tennessee to refuse bail to specific prisoners.

Over the years, state legislators have utilized constitutional amendments to codify specific rights and advantages into law. Four distinct constitutional amendments were offered in 2022, the last time Tennessee voters cast ballots on them.

HJR 0001

In 2023, House Joint Resolution (HJR) 81 was filed by Representative Tandy Darby (R-Greenfield). To “prohibit the general assembly from levying, authorizing, or otherwise permitting a state tax on property,” the bill proposes amending Article II, Section 28 of the state constitution with new text.

After passing the House, the measure was forwarded to the Senate for consideration at the start of 2024.

HJR 0008

HJR 38, a bill introduced by Representative Jay Reedy (R-Erin), is another one that is awaiting Senate action. To “remove the provision that authorizes the legislature to regulate the wearing of arms to prevent crime” and “clarify that citizens have a right to keep and bear arms for their defense, and not just for the common defense,” this bill would amend Article I, Section 26 of the Constitution.

HJR 0013

The House leadership introduced a bill in 2023 that would move Tennessee’s election dates to better coincide with federal election timetables, particularly for judicial officers.

Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) submitted HJR 13 in the House, which would change the election day from the first Thursday in August to the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November.

HR 0706

A more recent proposal put forth in the House would bar any legislator dismissed from the body from standing for election in the general assembly for four years. Representative Bryan Richey (R-Maryville) filed HJR 706.

According to the measure, the individual’s removal from the general assembly would start the four-year clock.

JJR 0797

Richey’s proposal is not as comprehensive as that of Rep. Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro), whose HJR 797 proposes an amendment to the constitution that would permanently ban someone from participating in the general assembly if they are expelled beginning in January 2027.

House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) has introduced HJR 0787, a resolution that would create a right to a “clean and healthy environment.” According to the bill’s text, the amendment would create a new provision in Article I of the Constitution.

HJR 07 17

Representative Yusuf Hakeem (D-Chattanooga), a fellow Democrat, has put forth an amendment that would enable Tennesseans to pass laws by “initiative petition.”

According to HJR 717’s wording, the measure would create a new article in the Constitution that would describe how the “people reserve power to propose laws by initiative, independent of the general assembly.”

There are deadlines for filing these kinds of petitions, as well as criteria for the minimum percentage and the Tennessee Secretary of State’s certification of the petition. The resolution stated that a bill would not be allowed to be on the ballot for at least two years if it failed at the polls.

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