Tennessee House Clamps Down On Debates Over National Politics | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee House Clamps Down On Debates Over National Politics

Jan 14, 2019

The open mic portion of the Tennessee House of Representatives is over.

GOP leaders have pushed through rules that eliminate the personal orders period, and added tight restrictions on what they can say during the segment that replaces it.

For years, personal orders have come right after the roll call in the House. Lawmakers would use the time to talk about whatever they wanted.

For example, in 2016, after a lawmaker brought up crime in Chattanooga, former State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, said that in order to understand gang activity in the area, people needed to look deeper.

“If you look back from a historical context, African Americans are only seven generations away from that dastardly evil called slavery," Favors said. "Our ancestors left the plantations when they were freed with nothing."

Earlier, former State Rep. Gerald McCormick came to the floor to share how he was feeling that day.

“The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce sent me a letter this morning that made me mad again," McCormick told colleagues. "So, I’ve got something to talk about in personal orders.”

But a rule change — implemented to speed things up and to keep tempers from flaring — now prevents lawmakers from talking on the floor about politics, especially if it’s about national issues.

Instead, free time will be limited to subjects like welcoming guests and wishing people happy birthday.

Republican Representative Ryan Williams, of Cookeville, says personal orders were useful. Lawmakers could defend their names or share what they stand for. 

“This is an opportunity for us to tell the other 99 members of the House what’s important to us in our district," Williams said at a Hoiuse GOP Caucus meeting Thursday.

The new policy went in effect last week, when the legislature reconvened.