Rep. Susan Lynn was sworn in Tuesday with her peers following a two-year absence from the Tennessee General Assembly as the legislature opened for business with its first Republican “supermajority” since the Civil War era.
Lynn, who was defeated in a bid for Senate by Sen. Mae Beavers two years ago, reclaimed her District 57 House seat in August when she defeated one-term incumbent Linda Elam. She previously served from 2002-10 in the House.
“Being out of the Legislature for two years, naturally I have been reading the newspaper, but it’s not like being down there,” Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, said. “I am going to sit back and listen and contribute any way I can contribute.”
Lynn said she isn’t sponsoring any legislation yet, but she has her eye on a proposed rule change she expects will be considered Thursday that would limit lawmakers to sponsoring 10 pieces of legislation each.
“A number of people have asked me to sponsor legislation, so I have asked them to send those to my office so we can get a look at them,” she said. “…When I was in the House, I was assigned to a special task force to see how other states [limit the number of bills sponsored]. Tennessee files an extraordinary number of bills. Other states limit the number of bills that can be filed. What it does, it forces legislators to prioritize bills.
“Whatever is done, I think it is a good thing to take a look at bills and have legislators prioritize them. I’m not sure if 10 is the right number, but I’m for limiting the number of bills. Time in session is extremely expensive for the taxpayers.”
While much of the country considers gun restrictions after last month's Connecticut school massacre, Tennessee lawmakers will debate expanding the places where guns can be legally carried – including on school and college campuses.
“We need to call in the Department of Education and see where we stand,” Lynn said. “Then, we need to look at the proposals from the bills filed. We need to listen to the local school boards and the parents to see if we need to do something or if we are fine.
“I think that, like any citizen, there are teachers out there with carry permits. I think that if we created roles where teachers volunteer to be one of the armed teachers to protect the school in the event there is a threat.”
But Lynn said these teachers would need the same training and psychological profile as a police officer is required to have.
“This would only be if the local school district felt this is necessary,” Lynn said. “The state should not be dictating to the local school districts. It should only be up to the locals.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Frank Nicely, R-Knoxville, plans a bill requiring at least one school resource officer "or similarly trained security personnel" on every K-12 school in the state.
"This legislation is not aimed at arming principals, teachers or any other non-trained staff at our schools (and) it is not an extension to handgun-carry permit holders to bring firearms into school buildings," he said.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, says he plans a bill to allow permit holders to carry guns on college campuses, but Gov. Bill Haslam and other lawmakers say they oppose that.
The legislature convened at noon Tuesday for three days of mostly organizational business, including the re-election of Sen. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, to a fourth two-year term in the dual office of Senate speaker and lieutenant governor, and Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, to a second term as House speaker.
Both presiding officers were re-nominated weeks ago by their respective Republican caucuses.
Lynn said Harwell has spent time going through Tennessee code to find 65 pieces of legislation she feels isn’t needed anymore.
“I am anxious to look at those,” Lynn said. “We have many laws that are conflicting or not needed anymore. This is an opportunity to look at those closely and do away with them if they are, in fact, not necessary.
“I am always constitutionally minded. I think we need to make government more fiscally efficient while protecting citizens and maximizing freedom. Those are some of the things I am looking for.”
On Thursday, Harwell and Ramsey will appoint new committee officers and members for their respective chambers. Legislative leaders plan to recess the session on Thursday until Jan. 28.
– The Commercial Appeal via MCT contributed to this report