Van Huss: Legislative process being undermined by bureaucrats

Zach Vance • Updated Jan 31, 2019 at 10:19 PM

State Rep. Micah Van Huss sent an alarming letter to his Tennessee House of Representatives colleagues Wednesday, alleging the legislative process is, at times, being undermined by “bureaucrats.”

Van Huss, who is chairman of a subcommittee for the first time in his legislative career, said he met with a “department director” on Tuesday to discuss how that government official could be of service to Van Huss’ Constitutional Protections and Sentencing Subcommittee this session.

“One of the very first things this person said to me was that, if there is a bad bill, they would be able to put a big fiscal note on it. A similar statement was made a second time during the course of the meeting,” Van Huss’ letter stated.

A fiscal note is a statement prepared by the Fiscal Review Committee that determines the financial effect of a bill, resolution or amendment.

However, the “department director,” who Van Huss declined to identify, is not an employee of the Fiscal Review Committee. According to the Jonesborough lawmaker, the person who approached him works within the state’s judicial branch. 

Including the Tennessee Supreme Court and the state’s trial courts, the judicial branch also consists of the attorney general, district attorneys general and district public defender offices, as well as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Department of Safety and Alcoholic Beverage Commission. 

“(The department director) came in and said that, thinking I somehow thought it was a good thing, and I thought it was a horrible thing,” Van Huss told the Press on Thursday.

Van Huss said the Fiscal Review Committee generally will send a request to the appropriate department, depending on what type of legislation it is, to determine how much the bill will cost to implement.

Van Huss went on to say that he believes the “department director” who approached him should be fired, but he did not think the offer to “kill bills” would be deemed a criminal act.

In a statement to the Press, House Speaker Glen Casada said this type of reported conduct cannot be tolerated. 

“Chairman Van Huss brought this matter to my attention, and I appreciate his willingness to share this experience with colleagues. As Speaker, I am fully committed to a fair, accurate, and independent fiscal review process that is open and transparent, and this type of reported conduct cannot be tolerated,” according to Casada’s statement. 

“From my understanding, this individual was not a legislative liaison with the executive branch, and I know through my conversations with Governor Lee that he shares my belief that legislation must stand on its own merit without undue outside influence.”

Last session, Casada, who was serving as majority leader at the time and chairman of the Fiscal Review Committee, filed a bill that would allow legislators to challenge fiscal note estimates.

At the time, Casada cited the “bathroom bill” from a couple of years ago as an example, which was estimated to cost a billion dollars due to a loss of federal school funds. Van Huss also cited the bathroom bill Thursday as an example of inaccurate fiscal notes.  

“It is concerning to me that this is how our committee chairmen have been talked to for who knows how long. It is not a bureaucrat’s job to try to kill legislation that someone deems bad. It is the responsibility of the people’s representatives to legislate for our constituents,” Van Huss told his colleagues in the letter.

“If you experience something similar, please let our leadership team or myself know so that the appropriate steps can be taken to fix this process. Let me know how I can be of assistance as we move forward through this year.”

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