Government Operations Committee reviews objectives to loosen grip of special interest groups and lobbyists on state’s boards and commissions

Contact:  Darlene Schlicher, 741-6336

(NASHVILLE, TN), February 25, 2010 — The Senate Government Operations Committee is currently considering action to loosen the grip of special interest groups and lobbyists over the various boards and commissions in Tennessee as they are reviewed by the panel in their normal sunset review process.  Committee Chairman Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga) is among several members on the committee that have serious concerns about repeated language in Tennessee law that requires appointing authorities to select a candidate from special interest organizations.

The governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house are most commonly responsible for naming those who serve on the approximately 250 boards and commissions currently in operation in the state.  The boards cover a wide variety of matters and involve oversight for various professions in the state from real estate and health care to athletic training and funeral homes.  Special interest groups over the years have lobbied to make sure that their organizations are included in the language of the law by requiring that appointments are made from members of their group.

“Many of us have been amazed at the fact that qualifications take a back seat under present law to being a dues paying member of a special interest organization in order to be appointed to a board or commission in Tennessee,” said Chairman Watson.  “It leaves many qualified citizens out of consideration.  Being active in an organization could be helpful as part of qualification factors, but without a compelling reason why an appointment should be required to be from members of a particular special interest organization, the appointing authority should be able to choose any citizen who is qualified.”

“Qualifications are very important and no one wants to eliminate that,” added Senator Dewayne Bunch (R-Cleveland).  “There are a lot of qualified citizens that can serve on these boards and do the same things that are currently being done who do not belong to special interest groups.  Our citizens should have equal opportunity and equal footing as special interest groups and lobbyists.”

“There is a tremendous amount of inconsistency on our boards and commissions,” added Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) in speaking about the various state laws regarding appointments.  “Some require specific organizations, while others just ask for recommendations from a particular group.”

Watson said the Government Operations Committee is considering two other objectives in deliberations regarding board and commission members’ appointments, besides removing the special interest designation.  One would require board members to be Tennessee citizens, while the other would better define a conflict of interest exclusion, including a one-year buffer period before lobbyists can be on a board if they have represented clients within that profession or subject matter.

“The person left out of the room when the law requires selection from a special interest group, is the average citizen,” said Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Memphis).  “We must do everything we can to protect all Tennesseans.”

“These objectives will result in a fundamental change that will loosen the grip of special interests and lobbyists on our boards,” Watson added.  “This will also strengthen the public’s faith in state government.”

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