NASHVILLE - Tennessee state senators today began the lengthy process of amending the state constitution to put legislators in charge of selecting the state attorney general.
Senate Joint Resolution 196 passed on a 22-9 vote and now goes to the House. It's the first step in putting a referendum on the 2018 ballot for voters to decide.
Tennessee's attorney general is appointed by the state Supreme Court under provisions in Tennessee's 1870 Constitution.
Republican critics say no other state does that and contend it's an inherent conflict. Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, the bill's sponsor, criticized Attorney General Robert Cooper, a Democrat, for refusing to join the lawsuit filed by mostly Republican attorneys general in many states challenging the federal Affordable Care Act.
But other lawmakers said the current system has worked well with no corruption, let alone a state attorney general landing in legal trouble. The attorney general represents the state in legal matters, renders legal opinions on questions submitted by state officials and has other responsibilities.
The resolution will have to pass the House by a majority either this session or in 2014. After that, it would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the 109th General Assembly before going to voters.