Governor Bill Lee’s Legislative Director Brent Easley has advised Tennessee legislators that the Administration will abandon the practice of previous Governor’s in “flagging” bills they didn’t like. In a letter dated February 1, Easley advised legislators that:
“In the past, you have received “flag letters” from the Governor’s Office or departments when they have noted an issue, concern or opposition to legislation that has been filed. This transparency is critical, but we believe there is a more effective way to communicate these positions.”
Under the new Lee Administration policy, a representative of the Governor’s Office (or a state department or agency) will personally contact Legislators individually to express “opposition or concern” about a particular bill. If the Legislator cannot be reached, then the Administration will seek to contact them by phone or email. The Administration will then provide a weekly list of bills that have been “flagged” to House and Senate leadership that will be available to Legislators (and presumably the public) in their offices.
Speaker Glen Casada has expressed his opposition to Governors “flagging” bills in the past, and sees it as an interference in the legislative process and encroachment on the powers of the Legislative Branch of government. “This new policy doesn’t eliminate the practice,” Casada noted, “but it is a step in the right direction – albeit a baby step.”
At least one lobbyist was more direct. “The Governor is essentially giving Glen a veto over the bills that get flagged,” he noted. “When a representative of the Governor’s office shows up at a Legislator’s office and indicates ‘concern’ or ‘opposition’ on behalf of the Governor, the response is likely to be ‘the Leadership likes this bill, so stick it,’ at which point the Governor has to assess whether he wants to “flag” a bill and initiate a public fight with a powerful Speaker who has his votes lined up.”
Tennessee Star Political Editor Steve Gill noted that the Governor will probably not be looking for such fights, particularly with a House caucus that is to his ‘right’ and has the numbers to overcome any of his objections. “Any objections or concerns will either dissipate or a compromise will be worked out behind the scenes,” Gill said, “which actually means less transparency since the number of bills listed on the weekly ‘flag’ list will probably be small – or be legislation proposed by outliers that are not advancing any part of the Speaker’s or Lt. Governor’s agenda.”
Gill indicated that he expects the flagging process to be further weakened over the next two years as the Speaker re-energizes the power base of the Legislative Branch.