NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Some lawmakers in Tennessee would like to change the state constitution, and they’ve filed bills to make it happen.
The process to amend the Tennessee Constitution is lengthy. As outlined in Article XI, Section 3, any constitutional amendments must be passed by two consecutive general assemblies—the first by a simple majority and the second by a two-thirds majority. If an amendment passes the legislature, it then moves onto a ballot for referendum. This referendum may only happen during a gubernatorial election year—when Tennesseans choose their next governor.
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Friday morning, state leaders announced a bipartisan effort on bail reform through the process of a constitutional amendment. Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), as well as state lawmakers from the Memphis area and Memphis city leaders, announced a proposed constitutional amendment to grant judges in Tennessee the ability to deny bail for certain defendants.
State leaders have used constitutional amendments to enshrine certain rights and privileges into law throughout the years. The last time Tennesseans voted on constitutional amendments was 2022, when four different amendments were proposed.
Rep. Tandy Darby (R-Greenfield) filed House Joint Resolution (HJR) 81 in 2023. The bill proposes a constitutional amendment that adds additional language in Article II, Section 28 of the state constitution to “prohibit the general assembly from levying, authorizing, or otherwise permitting a state tax on property.”
The bill has passed the House and was sent to the Senate for action at the beginning of 2024.
Another bill awaiting Senate action is HJR 38 by Rep. Jay Reedy (R-Erin). This bill would amend Article I, Section 26 of the constitution to “remove the provision that authorizes the legislature to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime” as well as “clarify that citizens have a right to keep and bear arms for their defense, and not just for the common defense.”
House leadership proposed an amendment in 2023 that would change certain election days in Tennessee to better align with federal election schedules, such as those for judicial officers. HJR 13, filed in the House by Majority Leader William Lamberth, (R-Portland) would move that election day from the first Thursday in August to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
A newer amendment proposed in the House would prevent any member of the legislature who gets expelled from the body from running for office in the general assembly for four years. HJR 706 was filed by Rep. Bryan Richey (R-Maryville).
The bill states the four-year clock would begin with the person’s expulsion from the general assembly.
Going a step further than Richey is HJR 797 by Rep. Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro), His bill proposes an amendment to the constitution that would forever prohibit someone from serving in the general assembly if they are expelled starting in January of 2027.
House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) filed a resolution that would establish a right to a “clean and healthful environment.” The amendment would change Article I of the Constitution by making it a new section, according to the text of the bill.
Another Democrat, Rep. Yusuf Hakeem (D-Chattanooga) has proposed an amendment that would allow for Tennesseans to enact laws via “initiative petition.”
Per the text of HJR 717, the bill proposes adding a new article to the Constitution that would outline the process by which the “people reserve power to propose laws by initiative, independent of the general assembly.”
There are minimum percentage requirements, deadlines for filing such petitions and deadlines for the Tennessee Secretary of State to certify such a petition. If a law fails at the ballot box, it would be prohibited from appearing on the ballot for at least two years, according to the resolution.