NASHVILLE — Loosening restrictions on charter schools, capping medical malpractice awards and stripping the state Constitution of language protecting abortion rights are among conservative causes likely to find new life under Republican control of the General Assembly, lawmakers said.
Other issues expected to receive more favorable consideration include expanding locations where handgun-permit holders can bring weapons, requiring voters to show photo identification before casting ballots and and allowing cities and counties to decide on election of school superintendents.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, the Senate speaker, said winning an outright Republican majority in the House and firming up GOP control of the Senate in last Tuesday’s elections represents a “historic change in Tennessee.”
“Obviously working with a Republican majority in the House will make a tremendous difference,” he said. “All the committees will be changed. The bills we used to pass that died in (House) committees will now at least have a legitimate shot of passing.”
While Democrat Barack Obama won the presidential contest and national Democrats made substantial gains in Congress, the opposite occurred in Tennessee.
Senate Republicans picked up three seats and will have a 19-14 majority in the chamber when lawmakers convene Jan. 13. House Republicans picked up four seats, giving them a razor-thin 50-49 edge over Democrats, giving the GOP its first operational control of the House since the 1968-69 session.
Lt. Gov. Ramsey said the “overriding” issues will be grappling with the state’s growing revenue shortfall — which could top $600 million — as well as fostering economic development. But he said other causes such as social issues are important.
House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower, of Bristol, who expects to become the new speaker, noted that “races where we won ... were won in issues that we have championed.”
Examples he cited include a House GOP proposal for “putting education first” by passing education funding separately from the rest of the budget. Other issues, Rep. Mumpower said, include Senate Joint Resolution 127 — an anti-abortion measure passed four times by the Senate and blocked each time by Democrats in a House subcommittee.
SJR 127 would put before voters a proposed constitutional amendment that says nothing in the Tennessee Constitution should be construed as protecting the right to an abortion. It seeks to void a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision.
Rep. Mumpower said he has the votes to become speaker, although embattled House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, has been engaged in a last-ditch effort to drum up GOP support.
Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen sought to strike a conciliatory note with the GOP, saying he believes he has “always had a good relationship” with Republicans and that “I’ve tried to govern from the center.”
He acknowledged there is “obviously a different political dynamic as you change control” but pledged to “build common ground.” Still, he doesn’t like House Republicans’ idea of passing a separate education budget, saying all state priorities must be considered collectively.
The top issue, Gov. Bredesen said, is dealing with the state revenue shortfall as national consumer spending implodes, business investment shrinks and job losses mount in what many economists project will be a deep recession.
Lt. Gov. Ramsey agreed, noting, “I just think this next year is not going to be about what passes, it’s about what doesn’t pass. I don’t see any — period — any new initiatives being started” or expanded.
But social issues will get attention, he said.
“Obviously those are traditionally Republican-base issues,” he said, citing examples such as abortion restrictions and expanding gun owners’ rights.
Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said Republicans want to promote economic development.
“We have to work hard to continue to be a business-friendly state that continues to attract business into Tennessee,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to get into passing legislation that is viewed as less friendly to business because jobs are going to be at a premium.”
Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle, of Memphis, said the message is “clear” that Democrats won’t “do very well” by pushing partisan issues.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...