Tennessee legislature: Five things to watch

Tennessee lawmakers convened the state's 110th general assembly on Jan. 10.
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It’s crunch time in the Tennessee legislature as lawmakers start to ramp up committee meetings and votes as the end of the session draws closer. Last week saw the dramatic nonvote of the controversial bathroom bill in a Senate committee and several marijuana bills sent off to summer study. Here’s what to look out for this week.

Deannexation

Lawmakers will take up the fight over whether residents can vote to leave a municipality in the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee on Monday.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, is sponsoring legislation that would allow voters to decide if they would like to leave cities such as Memphis and Knoxville and others across the state in a process called deannexation. Supporters of the bill say it would allow residents to fight municipal overreach. Opponents argue it would widen poverty gaps in cities. Last year a similar bill passed the House but was killed in a Senate committee.

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Debate over Polk’s remains

Tennessee could take the first step in moving the remains of former President James K. Polk and his wife, Sarah, from their tomb on the east side of Capitol Hill to his former home in Columbia this week.

Sponsored by Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, a controversial resolution pits Polk’s distant relatives against one another and raises questions over how to properly honor the 11th president.

“We are doing our best to preserve and interpret the legacy of James K. Polk, because that’s what he would have wanted in his will," Tom Price, the curator of the Polk museum in Columbia, said in support of the measure.

If the resolution passes, this would be the fourth move of “Young Hickory” since he died from cholera in 1849. The full Senate will debate the resolution Monday night.

Appointment of senators

Under current law, if Sens. Bob Corker or Lamar Alexander were unable to complete their terms for whatever reason, then Gov. Bill Haslam would appoint a successor to serve out the rest of the term.

A bill set to be heard in the Senate State and Local Government Committee would change that practice. The new law would grant appointment power to the General Assembly instead of the governor. Before the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913, all senators were elected by the state legislatures instead of the people of the states.

Proxy marriage bill

Ever wonder what would happen if you couldn’t make it to your wedding ceremony? A bill sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, wants to provide a proper legal remedy.

The proposed legislation would allow members of the armed forces to designate someone to serve as their proxy at their wedding ceremony if they can’t make it to the altar thanks to deployment overseas. The Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Civil Justice Committee are scheduled to debate the measure Tuesday.

Cellphones in cars

While texting and driving is illegal in Tennessee, a new bill would expand that provision to include talking on mobile phones as well.

Sponsored by Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, in the Senate and John Holsclaw, R-Elizabethton, in the House, the bill would make talking on a mobile phone and driving a Class C misdemeanor carrying a $50 fine. The bill does allow for use of mobile devices for contacting emergency personnel. If drivers are 18 and older, then they can still talk on the phone using a hands-free device such as Bluetooth-enabled phones.

The bill comes before committees in the House and Senate this week.

Reach Kirk A. Bado on Twitter at @kirk_bado.

This story originally appeared on The Tennessean’s website.