Tuesday morning on The 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. – Leahy was joined in the studio by State Senator Kerry Roberts and on the newsmaker line by Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson.
During the third hour, Johnson discussed Governor Lee’s agenda for Tennessee’s state budget. He also touched upon elements of the Heartbeat Bill which he stated would mirror Missouri’s Heartbeat Bill. Johnson emphasized that right now the wording of the legislation is being carefully crafted because they expect the bill to be challenged in the courts.
Leahy: We have on the newsmaker line right now, I’m going to say this, the best lead guitarist in Williamson County. The lead guitarist of the Austin Brothers. I like hearing them play all the time Senate Majority Leader State Senator Jack Johnson.
Johnson: (Laughs) Well, what an introduction Michael. Good morning. Thank you for that. You know there are a lot of country music stars that live in my district, so I don’t know if that’s an accurate statement but I appreciate you saying it anyway.
Leahy: Well, you’re my favorite lead guitarist in Tennessee. (Johnson laughs)
Roberts: And Michael. He can sing too. Jack can sing and play.
Leahy: I don’t want to get off point. But every time there’s a Republican fundraiser, the Austin Brothers, the band you put together plays. They are very good. I like your music. We called you in, but we’re not going to buy your CD. (Laughter)
Johnson: I’ll just give you one. In fact, sometimes I pay people to take one. (Laughter)
Roberts: I just want a t-shirt.
Leahy: You are the State Senate Majority Leader, a very important job here in the state. So state Senator Kerry Roberts has asked you to come on here. We are delighted to have you on to talk a little bit in this segment about the governor’s legislative agenda. Tell us a little bit about what the agenda is.
Johnson: I think it’s a very bold legislative agenda. I’m very excited to get to work with the governor on that and work with my Senate colleagues including Senator Roberts to get it passed. Of course, the most important thing that the governor proposes in terms of legislation is, is obviously the state budget. We could spend a lot of time talking about that. But I think the governor has put forth a very solid state budget. We are in a great fiscal position right now in the state.
As Senator Roberts will tell you, the most difficult times we’ve had in the general assembly is when we are in a good financial state because we really want to put the reigns on spending. There might be a temptation to spend extra money just because we have it. So we are going to be focused on cutting taxes along with the governor and putting more money into our rainy day fund.
One unique thing that the governor has proposed is to create a trust fund to take some non-recurring dollars to create a return revenue stream to help fund mental health councilors in our schools which is a big issue if you are out in the community talking to teachers. We find that its one of the biggest problems that they have with kids that are struggling with mental health issues. And taking time away from instruction that would otherwise be afforded to the classroom.
So I think the budget is certainly a key part. Something I’m very proud of for the governor and proud to be a part of. The governor has put forth a comprehensive pro-life legislative proposal certainly in our state’s history. I’d argue it may be larger and comprehensive than any governor in the history of America.
We had a serious conversation last year about the Heartbeat Bill. And there’s really no issue that we want to pass the Heartbeat Bill. The question was what type of Heartbeat Bill. What could stand up against at the Supreme Court level and be most defensible. So the governor is going to address that including initiatives like a sonogram.
Including fetal remains. Including aborting a child because it has been diagnosed with a disability in the womb. So very comprehensive pro-life proposal there. And then one last thing I’ll touch on is the criminal justice initiatives. The criminal justice reform is very important.
We’re not doing a really good job of rehabilitating incarcerated people. We need to be smarter on crime. We can get into that. There’s a lot of details regarding that. Again a very bold and ambitious legislative proposal from our governor in his second year in office.
Leahy: One question about the Heartbeat Bill proposal. I know the governor held a press conference and announced that he would be introducing the Heartbeat Bill. I haven’t seen yet the details of that bill. Have you seen it yet Senator Johnson? When do we expect to see those details?
Johnson: Very soon we’ll get specific language on it. What we have received from the governor is a kind of bullet point in terms of what he would like to accomplish. And what the governor is proposing is to mirror something that was passed in Missouri that basically has what is called a “lattering” approach which says that abortions will be banned when a heartbeat is detected. If the court strikes that down then the bill defaults to a 12-week time period.
And then a 16 week. And then a 20-week ban. And so what if forces the courts to do is say, well if you’re a liberal activist judge and you’re going to say that a state cannot ban abortion when a heartbeat is detected and that goes away and now it’s a 12-week ban. So they’re banned after 12 weeks and then if the court strikes that down. So they call it a “lattering” approach.
It forces the courts to really take a look at this. Ultimately what we’re all trying to accomplish here is to get something to the Supreme Court, so they will revisit Roe versus Wade. That’s a little bit different take than what the state House of Representatives passed last year. I’m optimistic that this is something that could make it to the courts and stand judicial review.
Roberts: You know Jack, as the majority leader it’s traditional for you to carry the governor’s legislative package. Are you seeing more or fewer bills from the governor this year than the previous years?
Johnson: This year it’s more. Of course, this is only my second year and legislative session as majority leader. So I’m still a little wet behind the ears in this new position. But looking back over the eight years of the Haslam administration you typically saw in the 40-50 bills from the administration.
And let me be clear, many of those bills come from the departments and agencies. They’re not necessarily legislative items from the governor. Certainly, that’s a big part of his legislative package and what we’ve been talking about. Departments and agencies throughout this state will often bring legislative proposals.
New technology. Sometimes they’re more substantive. When you put it all together. The governor has set forth 65 bills. So it is more historically. The other thing I will say because I know your audience is into the minutia and details of how things work in the Senate by counterpart William Lamberth.
Representative William Lamberth who is the majority leader. We work very closely with our colleagues including Senator Roberts to help us with those bills. If they serve on a particular committee has a particular interest in it. So I carry all of the bills as prime sponsor. But I do have other members sign on the second line to help me navigate this.
Leahy: I think you broke some news here where you said that the governor’s Heartbeat Bill will be based upon the Missouri “lattering” approach for the Heartbeat Bill. That’s the first that I’ve heard of it and it’s interesting. To bring this to your attention that in August of this year, a Missouri bill that would have blocked abortion at eight weeks was blocked by the court. Is that the same bill that this is being modeled on? Or is it a different bill from Missouri?
Johnson: I’m doing this from memory. I believe it is Missouri that had the model bill that used the “lattering” type of approach. I’m not aware of an eight-week bill that was specific to eight weeks. It could have been the same bill that struck down the eight-week provision.
But that’s what the governor’s indicated. He mentioned in his press conference, and again it is a high level as we are still waiting on the details. As you might imagine, when you’re dealing with something this comprehensive and controversial and tested in the courts. We want our best legal minds on this to make sure the language is defensible as possible. Because we know it will be challenged in the courts.
Leahy: Absolutely. In fact, the minute that the ink is dry on the governor’s signature on the bill, the left wing activists will be rushing…
Roberts: No. It will be before that. And this is why the language of the bill really has to be dialed in. The moment it gets released, the lawsuits are going to start being formulated.
Leahy: Majority Leader in the State Senate Jack Johnson we really appreciate it. Will you come back and give us an update on the governor’s agenda in the general assembly?
Johnson: Thank you again for having me on.
Listen to the full third hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 am to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Background Photo “Tennessee State Capitol” by Facemepls. CC BY 2.0.