Gov. Bill Lee's Voucher-Like Bill Passes In Tennessee House After Dramatic Vote | Nashville Public Radio

Gov. Bill Lee's Voucher-Like Bill Passes In Tennessee House After Dramatic Vote

Apr 23, 2019

A highly debated education proposal is moving forward, but only after a dramatic vote Tuesday in the Tennessee House of Representatives. 

Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher plan passed the House after a sole Republican flipped his vote from a “no” to a “yes.”

When lawmakers initially cast their vote on the Education Savings Account proposal (HB939/SB795), the measure still needed one more lawmaker to pass.

So Speaker Glen Casada held the vote open for about 30 minutes, while twisting arms to get an extra lawmaker on board.

And it worked.

Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, changed his vote. He told reporters Tuesday that, although the bill that passed includes Knox County and three other districts, he was assured that his county would be taken out before it becomes law.

“Knox County would be held harmless,” Zachary said. “And Knox County would have some resources to be able to take care of the things that needed to be taken care for our teachers and our raises.”

Zachary said he had been in conversations with Casada and Lee last week, but it was Tuesday afternoon that he was granted his request. 

Multiple Democratic lawmakers had amendments that would've taken their districts out of the voucher bill as well, but they either failed or were withdrawn.

Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, tried to take Davidson County out of the voucher bill, but his move was tabled. 

“To exempt Davidson County, where this is needed the most for those children, would call into question the constitutionality of this bill,” said Majority Leader William Lamberth. “It would genuinely be, I think, in opposition to what this bill attempts to do.”

Holding the vote open is unusual in the House. And Democrats such as Mike Stewart questioned the constitutionality of it.

“What the Republicans could not do legitimately, they did through trickery,” Stewart told reporters. “”I’m not surprised that there was large bipartisan opposition to the voucher bill.”

The Senate is expected to vote on a completely different version of the bill later this week. The legislation would narrow down the vouchers to Davidson and Shelby Counties.