House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, bangs the gavel on the opening day of the 111th General Assembly Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE — Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, has named four Southeast Tennessee Republicans to key committee and subcommittee leadership roles in the 111th General Assembly.

Casada, the new speaker, appointed Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, a Signal Mountain Republican veteran lawmaker, as vice chairman of the 19-member House Finance Committee, one of the chamber's most powerful panels.

The committee handles all legislation dealing with the appropriation of state funds, including the state's annual general appropriations bill, as well as measures relating to taxes and bonds. Finance Committee members hear all proposed spending bills and conduct hearings on departmental budgets.

In another move, Casada tapped Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, as the new chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

The 11-person panel is responsible for all legislation involving infrastructure, including highways, bridges, railroads, air, bus and vehicular transportation. Members also oversee rules and regulations related to roads, railroads, air and waterway usage, as well as the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Casada has also appointed two Hamilton County freshman legislators, Reps. Esther Helton, R-East Ridge, and Robin Smith, R-Hixson, to leadership posts.

Helton, a nurse whom Casada backed in her knock-down, drag-out August GOP primary, was named vice chairman of the House Health Committee, which Casada's office described as an "honor rarely bestowed upon first-year lawmakers."

The 19-person committee has responsibility over all health care legislation and oversight pertaining to health and well-being of Tennesseans.

Smith, a businesswoman and nurse by training as well as a former Tennessee Republican Party chairman, was named by Casada to the newly created House Life & Health Insurance Subcommittee of the full Commerce Committee.

She becomes the first freshman lawmaker to lead a legislative panel in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Casada, who this month was elected House speaker, said regarding Hazlewood in a news release that she "has a remarkable record of legislative excellence during her time serving her community as a member of our General Assembly. Her knowledge and expertise in these areas will benefit the entire House, as well as our great state. I know she will play an important role in leading this committee."

Saying she was "incredibly honored" by the appointment, Hazlewood, who has been serving on Finance, said that "because of our strategic investments and fiscal responsibility, Tennessee is experiencing economic growth and prosperity unlike any time we have ever seen before in our history. We have an obligation to ensure these incredible trends continue."

She joins Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, who was named chairman of House Finance. Both Lynn and Hazlewood's leadership appointments to the panel are a first in Tennessee history.

Hazlewood will also serve as a member of the House Commerce Committee as well as the House Finance and Banking & Investments Subcommittees.

Casada said Chairman Howell "has done an incredible job building strong partnerships with our local leaders throughout Tennessee, which has played a critical role in helping our General Assembly identify and create innovative solutions to better address the unique needs of our citizens."

He said he's confident Howell "will be an effective leader of the House Transportation Committee, and I appreciate his dedication to our state and his service."

Howell said in a statement that "Tennessee is experiencing economic growth and prosperity unlike any time we have ever seen before. It is critical that we work to ensure our infrastructure meets present day demands and continue to make improvements in this area in the years ahead. This will solidify the economic future of our state."

Representative Howell will also serve as a member of the House Government Operations, and House Judiciary Committees, as well as the Civil Justice, Infrastructure, and Safety & Funding Subcommittees. His district includes Meigs, Polk, and part of Bradley counties.

With regard to Helton, Casada said the East Ridge lawmaker has already emerged as a leader among the chamber's "extremely gifted freshman class. I am excited about the new energy and ideas she will bring to this important committee, and our General Assembly, and I have no doubt that Representative Helton will be successful."

Helton said she believes "we must work to address the unique health needs in cities and towns across our state, and I am excited to get to work and to lead with House members on this important issue."

Regarding Smith, Casada said her "knowledge and experience on all matters related to the health care industry make her the ideal person to lead the House Life & Health Insurance Subcommittee."

Calling the appointment an honor, Smith said under GOP leadership "our state has achieved many successes and continues to prosper. I ran to ensure Tennesseans, not just the state government and its operations, do well.

"As subcommittee chair, I look forward to pushing innovative solutions and needed reforms that will lead to more affordable and patient-driven health care for everyone," Smith added.

Smith will also serve as member of the House Health and House Insurance committees, as well as the Facilities, Licensure, & Regulations Subcommittee.

Other appointments by Casada include:

> Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah: The veteran Hamilton County legislator serves on the House Judiciary Committee where he is chairman of the Civil Justice Subcommittee. He also serves on the Local Government Committee, where he is also a member of the Elections Subcommittee.

> Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton: The Rhea County veteran lawmaker was named chairman of the House Insurance Committee; member of Local Government Committee and Naming, Designating & Public Acts Committee.

> Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga. The freshman lawmaker and former Chattanooga city councilman was appointed to the House Commerce Committee as well as Banking and Investments Subcommittee; Local Government Committee and Election and Campaign Subcommittee.

> Rep. Mark Hall, R-Cleveland: Vice chairman of House Insurance Committee and serves on the panel's Property & Casualty Subcommittee. Hall also serves on the Health Committee and is a member of the Mental Health & Substance Abuse Subcommittee.

As the new speaker, Casada shook up the existing House committee system and substantially increased the number of subcommittees. In part, that's helped reward some members who supported the Franklin Republican's successful bid for speaker in the GOP Caucus.

Casada succeeded former Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, who didn't seek re-election to the House as she pursued an unsuccessful bid last summer for the GOP's gubernatorial nomination.

Republicans control 73 of the House's 99 seats, while Democrats have 26. But three Democrats crossed party lines to vote for Casada on the floor on Jan. 8 instead of their party's nominee, while a fourth abstained.

In a move widely seen as rewarding them, Casada named Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livington, the last rural Democrat east of Nashville, as chairman of the new Naming, Designating & Private Acts Committee. He also appointed Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Nashville, who had abstained, as chairman of the Property & Casualty Subcommittee.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.