It’s still too early to tell what is in store for state representatives serving in the 108th General Assembly, but State Rep. Kevin Brooks and Eric Watson believe the new session is off to a good start toward streamlining and reducing the size of government.
The House of Representatives opened the new session Tuesday and ended Thursday after a series of organizational meetings that ended with committee announcements and the re-election of House Speaker Beth Harwell. She was re-elected by acclamation, which is a rare occurrence.
The new Speaker Pro Tempore is Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville.
“I’m very pleased how the speaker is streamlining government in Nashville. It’s a far cry from what they’re doing in Washington, D.C.,” Brooks said.
Brooks represents the 24th District that includes Cleveland and part of Bradley County. Watson represents the 22nd District that includes Meigs, Polk and the majority of Bradley County
“We are finalizing, crafting and getting down to brass tacks what our legislative packages are going to be,” he said. “We are going to try again to reduce or eliminate the Hall Income Tax, we’ve got the half percent on grocery tax. Between now and the Feb. 10 (filing deadline), I think you’ll see a lot more specifics coming to light.”
Representatives are limited to 30 bills per session or 15 in the first half in this year and 15 during the second half in 2014. Harwell made the move to reduce the number of bills passing through the General Assembly. The Tennessee General Assembly averages more than 4,000 while surrounding states considered roughly 2,500.
“We’re supposed to be less government Republicans and we’ve got to do better. We’ve got to set an example on reducing the size of government,” Brooks said. “Part of that is reducing the paperwork. We are trying to go paperless. We’ve been issued iPads this year instead of laptops. We’re going to stop printing so many bills and printing so many copies of bills and calendars and have all of that on our wireless iPads to really set an example of reducing the size government.”
Reducing the size of government is more than cutting positions; it is also about conducting daily work at the Capitol.
“Everything we do, we can do better and more efficiently and ultimately, that saves the taxpayer their dollars,” he said.
Brooks was reappointed to both the Full House Finance, Ways and Means Committee and to the House Subcommittee of Finance, Ways and Means. This will be the second term for Brooks on these committees that vote on the budget and funding for the Tennessee House of Representatives.
The Children and Family Affairs Committee Brooks served on in the 107th General Assembly was moved to the new Civil Justice Committee where legislation about marriage, family, child care, foster care and maternity are more suited.
“We moved all that legislation, instead of calling it Children and Family, we moved it to judicial where is should be and called it Civil,” he said. “Again, it’s a great example of steamlining and doing government better.”
Watson said the House Judiciary Committee he chaired in the last session was divided between civil and criminal. He will be responsible for all criminal law and procedures.
“Also, since Children and Family Services Committee was dissolved, I have been given that responsibility,” he said. “I haven’t lost any responsibility at all, I’ve just been given an additional committee. All those bills will be rolled into my committee.”
His committee will see child support, child custody and human trafficking issues that passed through Children and Family Services.
The Civil Justice Committee deals with courts only, such as judicial selection, he said.
Watson said the House Judiciary Committee saw 900 bills in 2012.
“My committee heard more than any other committee in the House,” he said. “It’s still going to be one of the top three busiest committees.”