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GOP supermajority votes to limit debate in Tennessee House, cutting members' time to just five minutes

Republican leaders say it's to make debate 'more efficient'
Posted: 5:51 PM, Jan 12, 2023
Updated: 2024-01-10 11:38:52-05
Tennessee state House floor.JPG

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It's the place your state lawmakers come to debate the serious issues facing our state.

But is there such a thing as too much debate?

With complicated issues like toll roads and abortion expected to be debated this year, House Republicans took steps Thursday to actually limit debate.

The new Republican rules package adopted in the House would cut the amount of time for any lawmaker who's recognized on the floor in half — from 10 minutes down to just five.

Republican leaders say it's to make debate more efficient, but Democrats see it as another example of the GOP flexing its muscles.

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"It's not fair for some of us that may enjoy a longer conversation to completely and totally consume the debate on this floor," said the House Majority Leader, Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland.

"So long as there is a desire to have debate on this floor, I think the speaker over the last few years has proven, I hope, to all of you that he wants to have robust debate on this floor."

In fact, last session, House Democrats were irate about the Republican supermajority cutting off debate on highly contentious bills that the minority party opposed.

Lamberth dismissed Democratic concerns that the rule change is another effort to silence dissent.

"Just make your point so that someone else can make theirs, and we can each be heard in a very efficient way. And then you can continually get on the list as you have new thoughts and ideas," he added.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton agreed.

"Five minutes and then if we get called on again, you can have another five minutes, but we want more people to be able to ask questions and get through the legislation," the Crossville Republican told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

We noted, "Your critics will probably say you are trying to limit debate."

Sexton responded, "We are trying to have more debate with more people than two people taking all the time."

House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons of Nashville was skeptical.

"There's nothing prohibiting as many people as want to speak from speaking. You know, we can stay up here all day long. That's why we are elected," he insisted.

Clemmons noted that a member could ask a 30-second question, then the bill's sponsor could use up the rest of that five minutes with an answer.

"That is defeating the purpose for us sitting in this chamber and eliminating the chance for us to be thoughtful and deliberative about the legislation that we pass," the Nashville Democrat said.

The rules also change the recognition of special caucus groups.

For example, members of the longstanding Black Caucus say it appears they will need to apply for approval from the speaker, as well as the leaders of both parties.


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