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New Tennessee statehouse web portal makes amendments public before votes

Posted: 4:46 PM, Jan 11, 2023
Updated: 2024-01-10 11:38:41-05
State House Website.jpeg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For years, Tennessee lawmakers have been able to launch sneak attacks, rushing through votes on amendments the public had never seen.

But now, House Speaker Cameron Sexton is promising a new online dashboard that will bring a new level of transparency.

"As far as openness and transparency, it's a big deal," the Crossville Republican told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Over the past year, our "Revealed" investigation of Tennessee's Capitol Hill showed how the rules sometimes allow shenanigans that keep the public in the dark.

That investigation revealed how lawmakers frequently use "pieces of legislation that have a title — they call them 'caption bills' — but you really don't know what they're intended to accomplish until you get into committee and see the amendment."

One veteran lobbyist agreed that the system is broken. "The amendment system? Absolutely. This is where we need transparency."

Related story:

Tennessee House follows rules that hide votes, proposed amendments

Sexton said that is his goal with a new dashboard created on the website of the state House.

"What this does is allow all those amendments that people want to put onto a bill to be fully transparent where you have access to it," Sexton added.

"So I think that's a pretty big deal."

Vinay Dattu's team put together the dashboard that will allow the public to look up bills that are up for debate and, for the first time, read every amendment that will be voted on.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Dattu, "So as soon as an amendment is filed, it's going to show up in this system?"

"As soon as it's uploaded, it will automatically show here," he explained. "So we are talking about just a few seconds delay."

We asked Sexton, "So are you saying there will be no more surprises in committee?"

"Well, people can do verbal amendments," he answered.

"I don't like verbal amendments. That's always a possibility. But as far as amendments that have to be turned in to meet the filing deadline, there won't be any surprise amendments."

In addition, when multiple amendments are attached to a bill, it's sometimes difficult to track exactly what's being done.

This new system, the speaker said, will compile those changes into one, easy-to-read document.


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