The Tennessee State House of Representatives will take an important step towards limiting the size and expense of state government when the new legislative session begins next month if House Speaker Beth Harwell has her way.
On Thursday, Harwell announced plans to limit the number of bills each representative can file to 10 per year. If the rule is adopted, the state House's 99 members could propose a maximum of 1,980 bills over the course of the two-year legislative session.
During the most recent session, state representatives filed an astonishing 3,887 bills.
The overwhelming majority of these proposed laws would cost Tennesseans money, create new regulatory burdens, invent unneeded new laws or expand the role of government without any great benefit to the state's residents. As a result, the fewer bills that are introduced, the better.
Some of the House members most responsible for the excessive number of bills introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly are in our own backyard. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, authored 52 bills last legislative session and Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, introduced 50. Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, is the state legislature's king of excessive bill sponsorship, introducing 192 pieces of legislation over the past two years.
Bill limits are not uncommon in the halls of state legislatures across America. In Colorado, state lawmakers may introduce no more than five pieces of legislation per year. Florida House members can only file six bills over the course of a session. Wisely, legislation aimed at repealing obsolete laws are not counted towards Florida state representatives' six bill limit.
California, Wyoming, Hawaii, New Jersey and North Dakota are among a number of other states that restrict the number of bills state lawmakers can introduce.
The 10-bill limit Harwell is proposing simply forces state House members to prioritize their legislative goals. Bills that are in the best interest of Tennesseans will be allowed to take center stage, while gratuitous legislative proposals written as favors to lobbyists or to appease constituents will become less common.
In other words, there will be fewer dumb bills. And that would be a great thing. Among the nearly 4,000 pieces of legislation introduced last session were bills that created a hummingbird awareness license plate, regulated the production of honey, stiffened the penalty for selling a cat without a license and increased the minimum age for strippers from 18 to 21.
For Harwell's wise plan to become a reality, two-thirds of the House must agree to the bill limit.
The only question now is whether state House members will vote to limit the number of bills they can introduce. After all, proposed legislation is the currency that lawmakers use to pay back lobbyists and donors for helping them get elected. Changing House rules to limit the number of bills each state representative can introduce may not be a good thing for their campaign coffers, but it would certainly be in the best interest of Tennesseans.