Tenn. Senate Republicans vote to change key in-house rules

Associated Press • Apr 16, 2007 at 11:51 AM

NASHVILLE - Senate Republicans on Monday voted to change internal rules that could determine control over the upper chamber. Democrats say Republicans didn't have enough votes to make the rule change stick.

Republicans, who have a 16-16 tie with Democrats, want to restore old Senate rules that require that two-thirds of all members must agree to any change in the chamber's operating procedures.

Democrats want to keep the current standard of requiring 17 votes out of the 33 seats.

The Senate vote was 16-13 Monday to require a two-thirds majority.

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle said he considered challenging the ruling. The Senate usually requires 17 votes to pass any final measure.

"Have 16 votes ever changed the rules before?" Kyle asked. "This is really a sad day in this Senate."

Kyle said in a release following the session that the Senate "has never passed a bill or a committee report with fewer than 17 votes."

"Government cannot work unless everyone plays by the rules and if everyone knows those rules can't be changed in the middle of the game," he said. "Tonight, it was more important for Republicans to win than it was for the majority to rule."

Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris said the final vote is acceptable because in the absence of permanent rules, passage can be made on a "simple majority of those voting."

The Senate operates under temporary rules until a final set of regulations is approved.

"In the Senate, our parliamentarian is the clerk of the Senate," Norris said following the session. "That was his recommendation to the speaker."

Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey was hired by Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey at the beginning of the session. Humphrey had previously been clerk and chief of staff under Democratic Speaker John Wilder.

Kyle took the two-thirds requirement for rule changes out of the Senate's temporary rules when the session convened in January. Republicans wanted to put the requirement back in before the Senate adopted the permanent rules that would govern the chamber until the end of next year.

Senate rules determine the powers of the speaker, committees and the flow of legislation.

Norris said he planned to vote on the permanent rules Monday evening, but decided to wait at the request of some lawmakers. Democratic leaders had asked Norris to also wait on the previous issue because there were a number of lawmakers unfamiliar with the rules. "Those of us who serve on the rules committee, are familiar with what the rules do," said Speaker Pro Tem Rosalind Kurita, D-Clarksville. "But I think a lot of people don't know what they're voting on." Caucus Chairman Joe Haynes agreed. "I don't know what the hurry is, unless there's some other motive this old country boy can't figure out," said the Goodlettsville Democrat, referring to himself. Norris, however, said there was no ulterior motive and that caucus leaders have had plenty of time to explain the rules to other senators. "I was asked to put it off to give people additional time to caucus, and I did," Norris said. "I think we need to move on with the business of the Senate." Republicans held a one-vote majority when the 105th General Assembly convened in January, and Ramsey of Blountville was elected the first Republican speaker since Reconstruction. Ramsey appointed Republican chairmen and majorities to the most powerful committees before Sen. Mike Williams of Maynardville shed his Republican affiliation to become an independent. Williams' defection dropped the GOP into a 16-16 tie with Senate Democrats, but Senate rules do not require Ramsey to change the makeup of committees to reflect that change. AP-CS-04-16-07 2144EDT

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