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Chain gang bans, anti-slavery resolutions, mass transit bills; 5 things to watch in the legislature

Here's five things we'll be watching this week in the legislature.
Lawmakers at Tennessee's capitol in Nashville are trying to decide how to spend a one billion dollar surplus.

USA TODAY - In every legislative session, lawmakers discover "loopholes" in Tennessee law that have surprising consequences. Often, these lawmakers return to the General Assembly with measures that grab headlines.

This year, a segment of Tennessee code that allows a judge to grant a child marriage to an adult has caused a stir. Also, one lawmaker is concerned about legal language that could allow slavery.

Here's five things we'll be watching this week in the legislature.

Chain gang ban and an anti-slavery resolution

Rep. Joe Towns, Jr., D-Memphis, has two measures scheduled to come before the House State Government Committee this week that would put further separation between Tennessee law and slavery.

His first measure, prohibits guards from chaining together inmates working in a jail or prison or outside the walls of such a facility.

Towns is also bringing forth another measure, a house joint resolution, that removes language from the state constitution that allows slavery where it is a criminal punishment. The measures are scheduled for 12 pm Tuesday in House Hearing Room II.

Another bill on child marriage

A bill against child marriage sponsored by Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory, and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, made news last week as it was killed in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee then was subsequently brought back to life.

The move came after Republican lawmakers realized judges could actually sign child marriage certificates. Another measure sponsored by Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, and Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, would just restrict marriages to people 16 years of age or older.

Both will be in committees this week.

The first measure is expected to come back before the civil justice subcommittee on Tuesday at 3 p.m. in Senate Hearing Room III. The second bill is scheduled for the same time as Senate Judiciary Committee in Senate Hearing Room I.

State oversight on mass transit projects

Gov. Bill Haslam's Improve Act passed in the legislature last year, allowing local governments to hold referendums to address mass transit issues.

But while the state gave municipalities the opportunity to raise funds for transit, that doesn't mean the state is intending to let cities completely run the show. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is co-sponsoring at least two bills that give the state additional discretion.

One bill designates the state department of transportation as the agency over fixed guideway public transportation systems, and another requires community engagement in development of plans for economically disadvantaged areas.

The first is scheduled to come before the House Government Operations Committee at noon in House Hearing Room I and the second is scheduled for the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee at 12:30 p.m. in Senate Hearing Room I.

Reach Reporter Jordan Buie at 615-726-5970 or by email at jbuie@tennessean.com. Follow him on Twitter @jordanbuie.

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