Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) told the Nashville Post’s Andrea Zilinski yesterday that she was “unsure” how she felt about the idea of the Tennessee General Assembly returning in what would amount to a special session to override threatened vetoes by Governor Bill Haslam (R-Knoxville). Harwell was quick to say that any such move on the part of the General Assembly should not be viewed as a “fight” between the General Assembly and the Governor, but merely an attempt by the Legislature to protect its constitutional integrity. The Speaker’s comments come after Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) revealed last week that he has approached Harwell with the idea of a session for the purpose of overriding vetoes.
The threat of a session to override vetoes threatened by the Governor comes after Haslam gave vocal opposition to legislation that would delay the implementation of so-called “Common Core” education standards in Tennessee. Common Core is not only opposed by many grassroots conservative activists, but also by many public school teachers, especially in rural areas, creating an unusual and highly potent political alliance which would cause the General Assembly to take notice.
Two legal questions surround a session which would be called to override vetoes. The first involves the way the General Assembly may be recalled. The easiest way to insure that such a special session would take place would be for the two Houses to simply recess at the time that it was originally planned to adjourn sine die and then return subject to the call of the Chair. If the Governor’s veto threat does not materialize, however, the Legislature still may have to return in order to formally adjourn. The second legal question is directly related to the fact that we are in an election year. Tennessee’s campaign finance laws currently do not allow members of the General Assembly to engage in political fundraising while the Legislature is in session. Since this is the case, would the Legislature be considered “in session” during such a recess, and could that hamper members who are seeking re-election?
The last such session specifically held to override a veto was in 2001, to override former Governor Don Sundquist’s veto of the State budget.