House Majority Leader Glen Casada (R-Franklin) tells The Tennessee Star he filed an amendment on Wednesday to SB 1251/HB 1139 that will reimburse state legislators who live less than 50 miles from the State Capitol in Nashville for overnight hotel stays while the Tennessee General Assembly is in session.
“I think it’s a fair request,” Casada tells The Star.
The amendment reads as follows:
(A) A member whose principal residence is fifty (50) miles from the capitol or less shall be paid an expense allowance for meals and incidentals equal to the allowance granted federal employees for such expenses in the Nashville area for each legislative day in Nashville or any day the member participates in any other meeting or endeavor as described in subsection (a) held in Nashville.
(B) A member whose principal residence is fifty (50) miles from the capitol or less shall be paid an expense allowance for lodging equal to the allowance granted federal employees for lodging expenses in the Nashville area if the member requests on the member’s per diem reimbursement form to be reimbursed for lodging for a legislative day or any day the member participates in any other meeting or endeavor as described in subsection (a) held in Nashville. The provisions of this subdivision (b)(3)(B) do not apply to any other state officer or employee
“There was not much discussion in the subcommittee on the bill,” the Nashville Scene reported:
Rep. Darren Jernigan (D-Old Hickory) asked if this would apply in the case of a snowstorm, where legislators could not safely drive home. Yes, Casada replied. Subcommittee chair Rep. Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) said the provision could be useful. “There are a lot of times when you have late meetings … or other events you have to attend and it’s just not practical to drive home and turn around and be back here at 7 in the morning,” Sanderson said. (It’s worth noting that his home is 157 miles away from Legislative Plaza, so Sanderson is already eligible for the overnight per diem.) The bill moved on to a full committee on a voice vote.
There’s no doubt that in session, most legislators have very long days that start with breakfast meetings and end with schmoozing and late dinners. It’s exhausting, which is why they get paid over $20,000 to spend three days a week in Nashville for just four months. But even with reimbursements approved on a case-by-case basis, the statute seems could be primed for abuse. The amendment as written would have the law go into effect as soon as it is passed, so potentially before session ends. As most laws go into effect July 1 or January 1, it can’t help but seem curious.
The Scene offered this UPDATE to its report: “Cothren texts to say one of the tweaks to be introduced next week is that the bill won’t go into effect until the next General Assembly convenes in 2019. He also says a fiscal note for the bill will hopefully be available this week.”