May 24 2011

Checking Their Work

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Tennessee State Capitol via Wikipedia Commons

The Tennessee General Assembly adjourned for the year this weekend. In the process of this session, there have been a lot of bills that brought a lot of attention, and many many more that got almost none. What’s more, we haven’t seen the end of this session yet, as all the bills that were passed either haven’t been signed, or their status hasn’t been changed on the TNGA website.

You can find many of the bills that have been enacted simply by searching the word enacted on their site. However, the list that is displayed doesn’t show all of their actions. Some bills that have been signed, HB600 for example, either haven’t been changed to reflect their status, or may never be changed.

You can also check the Tennessee Secretary of State’s list, though they seem to be even further behind than the legislature.

At some point we’ll know exactly what they did to us, but by then it will be too late and it will be getting done to us. I’m working on a rundown now, but with my work and school schedule, it may be a while coming. In the mean time you can check out Joe Powell, Southern Beale, and TN Citizen Action, as well as some others I probably missed.

Of the 233 currently published acts, many are procedural. Lots of now defunct commissions being taken off the books, the Governor is now required to designate some days as “such and such” day. Stuff like that.

There are also a lot of bills, now law, that will have a direct or indirect impact on people in this state, and it doesn’t matter how many newspapers you read, you probably never heard about them.

Truth is, most of the daily newspapers and the media in general in the state did a pretty bad job at reporting the session, until after something was passed. I read most of them online, so maybe their print editions had upcoming bill information, but considering how much real estate they’ve lost in their print editions, I doubt it. In the end, the 4th estate got caught up in the flash and trash, and that hurts everyone.

Online there was a much more vibrant discussion. Tennessee Report, an online journal, had some pretty awesome coverage on the big issues. As far as I know they have a very small staff, so lots of things still fell through the cracks. Also, there is some question about who funds them since they have no advertising on their site.

Many of the deadwood journos also have blogs and twitter accounts, so if you happen to follow them you got a little better idea of what’s going on. I won’t even try to list all of them here, but Tom Humphrey is still an absolute must read for anyone interested in the day to day slog that is session.

There was some pretty good coverage from indie blogs, though, as volunteers without a staff, and often without much time or direct access to the majority of elected officials, coverage is going to be spotty. At some point in the near future I’ll update the blogroll to reflect the more active bloggers on state issues.

On the Democratic side of the blogosphere there’s a pretty solid core group of consistent bloggers who lift a pretty heavy load during session. I know from experience, keeping up is a full time job, and even then a best effort is going to miss something. It doesn’t help that the folks who write the captions do so in such a way as to make the real impact of the bill obscured. Another win for open government.

I stopped following the right side of the blogosphere this year for the first time since I started blogging. Honestly, it was just too much to keep up with and my patience for their rhetoric was severely tested early on. I’ll get back to them at some point.

In addition to the individual activist crowd, this year saw a lot of stepping up from activist groups, and its a good thing because there was plenty to keep them busy.

While there were many single issue groups that worked their butts off to raise awareness of bad bills, I think the rock star for the little guy this year was Tennessee Citizen Action. Under the guidance of former Liberadio! hostess with the mostest Mary Mancini, TNCA kept people informed about all the dumb stuff that the General Assembly could muster. It was a huge job and I really appreciate the work they put into it.

Another group that was all over the place, and for good reason is Tennessee Equality Project. From HB600 to Campfield’s ridiculous “Don’t Say Gay” bill and more, TEP harnessed the power of just about every media delivery system, from their website, Facebook page, twitter and email, to the phones and snail mail, they did it all, and got some good attention for their efforts, even if the majority of the General Assembly ignored their efforts.

There were several other focused issue groups that had their hands full, but still managed to get the message out there. TEA was under continuous assault and kept on fighting away. They lost the battle on collective bargaining, but swayed some Republicans in the House, something that looked impossible earlier in the session.

Another honorable mention is TN Leaf, a faith based environmental group that fought the good fight against mountain top removal mining. Go read their story, it’s pretty neat. They’re small but vocal and ambitious. I don’t know much else about them, but I can say on this issue they’re spot on.

Last but not least, a late entrant to the session, Mike McWherter and Trace Sharp launched The Daily Buzz, a daily email detailing some of the happenings and upcoming happenings around the state. Even though the session is over, The Daily Buzz continues. Give ‘em a follow, it’s good stuff and not anywhere near as wordy as one of my screeds.

Overall, there was a lot that happened since January that no one, but the members of the General Assembly, actually know about. We’ll likely start feeling these new laws pretty soon. Hopefully, as the influx of bad bills starts impacting people on a more personal level, more people will get and stay involved, expanding interest and coverage. Until that happens, I guess you’ll just have to wait and see what new law is lurking in the background waiting to bite you in the ass. It’s there, and it won’t be pretty.