On Tuesday’s Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Host Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed Tennessee State Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) in the studio to talk about “caption bills” and Governor Bill Lee’s recent press conference about the new Heartbeat Bill.
During the second hour, Kerry defined what a caption bill is and how they relate to regular bills. He and Leahy also discussed Bill Lee’s Heartbeat Bill press conference noting that there was no language included in the discussion of the bill. Leahy described the situation as a misstep on the governor’s part filing it as a caption bill. Both men agreed, the devil will be in the details forthcoming.
Leahy: We are here with our all-star panelist, State Senator Kerry Roberts. Kerry was giving us the inside scoop on how bills were filed. It’s all a little bit stunning to see the number of bills that are under consideration.
Roberts: Well it is. But not all of these bills are, sometimes you’ll find that there’s a lot of duplication because legislators don’t necessarily know that another legislator is filing a similar bill. Or for example, a bill gets filed to repeal or cut back the rest of the professional privilege tax.
And then you find out the governor has it in his legislative package. So when you look at the 1,500 bills or whatever the exact number is, some of them are never really going to be heard. And I tell people very roughly that a third of them don’t go anywhere. A third of them fail and a third of them pass.
And those are some real general numbers. But every bill that gets filed in the House has to have a companion product that’s filed in the Senate. The House bill filing deadline was on Wednesday. The Senate bill filing deadline was on Thursday. So there were House people who filed a bill on Wednesday only to discover that they couldn’t find a Senate sponsor on Thursday.
Leahy: So let me guess, were there a bunch of members of the House running over to Kerry Roberts saying Please please, please!
Roberts: No, we leave on Thursday (Leahy laughs) because we’re not in our offices on those days. Others have told me don’t be around on bill filing deadline. And I said why is that? Well, some House members with a bad bill that everybody else has said no too is going to come to your office and try and talk you into it (Leahy chuckles) and why you should support the bill and just help them out. They’ll fix it. They’ll amend it. They’ll do whatever they need to do. And the reality is, you end up getting stuck sponsoring a bad bill.
Leahy: A sticky wicket.
Roberts: Yeah. Once it gets filed and people see what’s in that bill as it’s filed, that’s what it gets noted for even if the bill gets amended later. So there’s also what we call caption bills. And these are kind of the place holder bills that in the Tennessee state constitution says that a bill can only address one subject and that subject has to be identified in the caption.
And so if you open up the certain title of Tennessee code you could have a bill that says that we’re going to change this from 15 days to 30 days. And I’ll tell you a good hint, that’s probably not a real bill. That’s probably not what the legislators trying to accomplish. That’s probably just a caption bill that will then be amended later.
Leahy: Speaking of caption bills, the governor held a press conference…
Leahy: And announced that he was introducing a Heartbeat Bill…
Leahy: With regards to abortions. And that bill at the time had not been proposed. Has that bill been filed now?
Roberts: The bill was filed to the best of my knowledge as a caption bill. And when we get to the break, I’ll look it up real quick. They did not have the language on that bill and so when you get to the point where you’re still trying to kick around what you’re going to do and the bill filing deadlines here, that’s what the legislators do. They file a caption bill and then they come back later.
Leahy: So why did the governor hold a press conference and announce that he was introducing a Heartbeat Bill a couple of weeks ago and file a caption bill whose details apparently are still not known?
Roberts: Well, I think probably and not trying to speak for the governor, I would imagine that they were probably trying to signal to the legislators, hey, if this is important to you and you are going to do something, let’s not have 10-15 people file their own bill because we’re going to file one that we’ll all work together on. Outside that explanation, it did seem to get the cart a little bit in front of the horse. But let’s not miss this.
This is the first time ever, ever that I remember a governor of the state of Tennessee making that kind of statement protecting the life of the unborn and introduce his own bill as part of a legislative package. He’s executive branch so he doesn’t carry the bill. It goes to the majority leader in the Senate and the majority in the House. So his House and Senate sponsors are representative Lamberth and Senator Johnson out of Williamson County.
Leahy: So the governor, because I know he listens intently to this program and writes down everything we say, (Chuckles) makes notes, it seems to me that perhaps this might have been a misstep to have a press conference without having the details of the Heartbeat Bill and without having talked to the folks from David Fowler here in Tennessee.
Or even the Tennessee Right to Life folks. Or other members of the Tennessee General Assembly. Which means now whatever is going to be in that bill, will not be learned by the public until a couple of weeks from now. A week from now or when the legislation comes through. I think this is a mistake.
Roberts: So to that point, if it had been me I would have done it differently. But really the important thing now is what happens moving forward. So a caption bill has been filed. The bill is going to be amended to have the exact language of the Heartbeat Plus Bill. It’s not too late to get it all brought together.
Leahy: It could come together is what you’re saying?
Leahy: We will have an open mind about it and invite the governor to come in or whoever ends up with the bill to come in as it’s finalized. State representative Lamberth in the House or whoever. We’d be delighted to have them come in and explain it. We are supportive of Heartbeat Bills in principle. But the devil, as they say, is in the details.
Roberts: It’s in the details.
Listen to the second hour:
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