Silly season

Legislative bills include petty jabs like naming a street for Donald Trump and another to allow the state to nullify federal actions

February 3, 2023 10:02 am
Legislators heading upstairs in the Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Legislators heading upstairs in the Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)

As the 113th General Assembly gaveled into session in January, so did I begin the new year with all intentions of writing high-minded and substantive commentary on legislative bills that will make the biggest difference in the lives of ordinary Tennesseans, instead of getting pulled into the annual “shiny object” legislation that is endlessly debated and covered locally and nationally.

And, I still plan to do that. With more than 1,500 bills filed for review and discussion, there are plenty that deserve analysis and some of them will have a positive impact. 

But many will not. Many are simply wastes of lawmakers’ time, some are petty and a few provide humor.

For instance: 

The Copperhead Road bill. Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell of Nashville and fellow Nashville Democrat, Sen. Heidi Campbell, are sponsoring HB 1437/SB 1521 to designate the Steve Earle song, “Copperhead Road,” as an official state song. 

“Copperhead Road” is a modern classic and a fine song to lift weights by. I’m guessing Mitchell and Campbell chose the song because Earle narrates the story of an East Tennessee family that makes its living from running moonshine. Hey, ‘shine is a part of our state’s history!

But the latter verses of the song make reference to a different form of illegal substance, as the protagonist returns from “two tours of duty in Vietnam,” where he apparently gained an appreciation for marijuana, replaces the distilling of ‘shine with growing weed, and before you know it, “the DA’s got a chopper in the air.”

“Tennessee Waltz” it is not. We need to ask Mitchell if he’s sponsoring the bill as a sly poke in the eye to his Republican colleagues, who habitually shoot down legislation to permit medical marijuana, even as almost every other state in the nation rakes in tax dollars from not only medicinal but recreational pot.

They just can’t quit him. The popularity of former President Donald Trump may be flagging among Republicans nationally, but you sure wouldn’t know that in the Volunteer State. 

Sparta Republican Paul Sherrell and — who else — legislative gadfly GOP Sen. Frank Niceley, the farmer from Strawberry Plains, have introduced a bill to rename the portion of downtown Nashville’s 5th Avenue called “Rep. John Lewis Way” to “President Donald Trump Boulevard.”

Niceley gonna Niceley. Sen. Frank Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains (Photo: John Partipilo)
Niceley gonna Niceley. Sen. Frank Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains (Photo: John Partipilo)

This is just plain meanness directed against Nashville and Davidson County — which in 2022 alone, provided the state with a whopping $12.8 billion in tax revenue. By contrast, Knox County, which came in second, likely by dint of revenue generated by University of Tennessee sports, provides the state with only $883 million. 

None of that is stopping Tennessee Republicans from exacting petty revenge on Nashville for Metro Council’s failure to approve hosting the 2024 Republican National Convention. A bill to slash the size of Metro Council in half has already advanced in committee while another one to strip state funding from the city’s convention center also moves forward. 

But the bill to rename Rep. John Lewis Way is particularly petty. Lewis, who was a leader in the 1960s civil rights movement before becoming a highly-respected congressman, went to college at Nashville’s American Baptist College and led sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters at stores on the street now named for him. There’s hardly a greater insult to his memory than to replace his name with that of Trump. 

The South Will Rise Again. We give you HB 726, otherwise known as the “Restoring State Sovereignty Through Nullification Act”  and this will sound mighty familiar to any of you students of Civil War history. Sponsored by Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, and Tullahoma GOP Sen. Janice Bowling, the 11-page bill spells out how Tennesseans can, oh, decide to overrule the federal government and render null any federal laws, executive actions or court decisions we don’t like. 

‘We’ includes the governor who, if this action passes, can unilaterally toss out laws he doesn’t like. Other avenues to nullification include a petition signed by 2,000 people in the state or 10 counties or municipalities banding together submitting, in both cases, requests to the Speaker of the Tennessee House. 

This is little different from the states of the Confederacy deciding to secede from the United States in 1861, and there’s nothing the least bit patriotic about it. This isn’t one of the “shiny objects” this year, but it’s sure worth tracking.

Randomly stupid bills. Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who has sponsored a bill to repeal limits on class sizes, has filed a bill to include “exhibition of the female breast” in the offense of soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor. This is going to be bad news for nursing mothers and kids if it passes. 

I’ve barely scratched the surface here, and could devote entire columns to topics like abortion bills and firearm measures or even why a state that Republican leaders assert is run so well needs more than 1,500 bills filed. 



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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.