Relax. You can take your hands off your wallets and checkbooks. The state legislature is out of session. There will not be any more tax grabs this year. Some people wonder what legislators do when they are out of session. Most work and spend time with their families and constituents. But for those too “Nash-sick” for the halls of the legislative plaza, there are plenty of opportunities to return.
One example of summer business is the new influx of surplus tax revenues. It could be placed in the rainey day fund for next year or better yet, returned to the people who worked for it in the first place in the form of a tax cut (see Taxpayer Bill of Rights).
But instead, the Governor will meet with a select few individuals and they will decide who “gets” the surplus.
In addition to the “special sessions” are summer study committees, but both of course include per diem expenses. Some studies are in fact legitimate and needed. But many studies could actually be accomplished during the next session or skiped all together.
I don't know how many summer study sessions there are and what they are all about. On the last day of session, the two that were authorized dealt with minority issues. One committee is studying why there are a disproportionate number of minorities in jail. Another is to study how to award more state contracts to minorities. There is talk of a study committee for ethics reform.
Again, some of these committees are valuable. But from what I can see most committees are set up by the Speaker like paycheck systems. Many report show limited results or findings of little or no use. Again, while there is potential for good, there is also abuse.
It is very possible that an ethics study committee may have actually received a boost because of the Tennessee Waltz sting. It's too bad that it has taken the FBI, TBI, and U.S. Attorney's office to actually force change. Perhaps such stings could be bi-annual events until we get some reform with enforcement and punitive capabilities. I'm sure all will be on their best behavior next year. But most will slip back to their old ways after re-election.
Following the arrests, many legislators were walking around like long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs. I bet there hasn't been such a quick session in a long while. Usually sessions are broadcast, but I was told on that day, the cameras were shut off. Speaker Naifeh rolled all the bills possible as fast as possible. I am sure he was fearful the FBI might enter the chambers and grab someone and it might be seen on tape.
I for one don't think the cameras should have been shut off. We work for the people and this is their government, whether something goes right or wrong.
I was shocked to see that one of the Senators who walked into the house chambers after making bail, was given a round of applause! Now, I clearly understand that the accused is innocent unless proven guilty, but applause????
After hearing Lt. Governor Wilder's “prayer” on how bad it was that they were caught and how the state “needs” these people, I could only shake my head in disgust. Their first allegiance should be to the people of Tennessee, not to each other. I am so disappointed in my fellow Republican legislators who supported Wilder's re-election campaign as well as his leadership position.
Someone raised the idea of an ethics committee comprised of the FBI and TBI agents who set up the sting. It would be interesting to hear what ideas they could or would come up with for the legislature.
Some have argued that legislators should be the last to be trusted with ethics reform-kind of the fox guarding the henhouse perception. I'm holding out hope though, that we can make some good changes.
Bill Hobbs raised a good point about Ford resigning the Senate to be a lobbyist and to keep his retirement. Incidentally, a good bill that required a “cooling off” period of one year before a legislator could begin acting as a lobbyist was killed.
The bill would prevent legislators from "feathering their beds" (and if convicted, perhaps even feathering their cells) before steping down, we need reform. I think good things are possible and I'm open to ideas.
Matthew White over at South End Grounds is embarking upon an “ethics” project as well, so stop by his site and type up some your ideas for good government. He will be presenting them to legislators in both parties. I look forward to receiving a copy.