State Rep. Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville), a member of the House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee and Vice-Chair of the full Committee, was nowhere to be found when subcommittee chairman State Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) jumped his own bill on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants from number 35 on the agenda to the very first bill to be heard.
As The Tennessee Star reported earlier, White’s bill, HB2429, was passed on a voice vote without any discussion other than a strongly worded statement of opposition from State Rep. Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro) (no relation to Mark White). It will go next to the full Education Committee although it has not been put on the calendar yet. The Senate companion bill, however, is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday, March 21st.
Smith joined the subcommittee after White’s bill was passed.
As to prior in-state tuition bills, Smith’s voting record is more transparent with the exception of the subcommittee votes where bills are passed by voice vote even though legislators have the option to request being recorded specifically as a “no” vote. With regard to Tuesday’s vote, the only recorded “no” vote was from Rep. Dawn White.
The first year Eddie Smith served in the Tennessee General Assembly he was a member of the House Education Administration & Planning Committee which passed Mark White’s first in-state tuition bill on a voice vote; Reps. Debra Moody and Dawn White were the only recorded “no” votes. That bill passed the Senate on a 21 -12 vote but failed on the House floor by a single vote.
Last year White sponsored two bills, each taking a different approach to the in-state tuition issue but each removing in-state tuition from the state law defining “state or local public benefit.”
The first bill, HB863, would have delegated the legislature’s authority to determine eligibility for in-state tuition to the Tennessee board of regents, the state university governing boards, or the University of Tennessee board of trustees. During discussion of that bill, the TN Board of Regents’ General Counsel informed the Education Subcommittee that HB863 would create an exception to Tennessee’s “Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act” law which classifies in-state tuition as a state benefit that would otherwise be unavailable to anyone with an illegal immigration status.
Rep. Smith voted against that bill when it reached the full Education Committee where it was narrowly defeated on a 7 – 6 vote.
The following week, White’s second in-state tuition bill, HB660 previously passed by the subcommittee on a voice vote, was taken up by the full Education Committee.
This bill delegated the legislature’s authority to determine eligibility for in-state tuition to the new independent college and university governing boards created as part of Governor Haslam’s FOCUS Act passed by the legislature in 2016. Among other duties, the newly created boards oversee tuition at their respective institutions.
During White’s plea to the committee to pass this bill, he mentioned that he did not sponsor an in-state tuition bill in 2016, an election year, “out of respect” for his legislator colleagues.
This time, Rep. Smith voted “yes” for HB660. With one committee member absent, however, the bill failed for lack of a majority on a 6-6 vote. Sensing that he could not overcome the required procedural hurdle to support a motion for the committee to reconsider their action on the bill, White elected to move HB660 bill to the 2018 session.
The Star asked Rep. Smith to explain, based on his support for the in-state tuition bills, why he thinks this is a good policy decision for Tennessee. He was also asked whether he was concerned that passing this bill would draw more illegal immigrants to migrate to Tennessee since its border states do not offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.
No response has been received from Rep. Smith.
In 2016, Smith again stood with Democrats and voted against Senate-House Joint Resolution 467 which authorized suing the federal government for coercing the expenditure of state revenues to pay for the federal refugee resettlement program.
Smith’s two races for his House seat were won by very narrow margins against former Democrat incumbent Gloria Johnson. To date, no other Republicans are challenging Smith in the primary and it looks as if he and Johnson will square off again in the November general election.
A review of Smith’s campaign finance disclosure reports shows heavy support from the Haslam and Boyd families.
Beginning in 2016, Smith received a total of $13,000 from Haslam family members and $9,000 between Randy Boyd and his wife Jenny. In addition, Smith received $6,000 from the Governor’s Jobs4TN PAC.
Smith’s votes on the several immigration related bills align, coincidentally or not, with Haslam and Boyd’s positions on these issues.
Haslam did not support the resolution on the refugee resettlement lawsuit and openly supports passing an in-state tuition bill.
Boyd is a named member of an organization that supports giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students and continued resettlement of refugees to the U.S.
The first donations made by Boyd to Smith are dated shortly after Boyd began working behind the scenes to help bring the in-state tuition bill back during the 2017 legislative session as reported Thursday by The Tennessee Star.