NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It certainly didn’t happen overnight.
“We started working on this back in 2014,” Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) said.
Eight years later, voters are set to vote on Amendment II in a few weeks.
“The state of Tennessee is the only state that does not have a way for the job of the governor to continue if the governor is disabled or unable to perform his duties,” said Dr. Bill Lyons, University of Tennessee political science professor emeritus.
Amendment II would change that, making it so if the governor were out for a period of time, “the powers and duties of the office of Governor shall temporarily be discharged by the Speaker of the Senate as Acting Governor.”
The Speaker of the Senate is Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge). If he were also to be temporarily incapacitated, it would go to Speaker of the House, currently, Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).
It’s important to note that this line is only if the governor is out temporarily – including surgery or illness. If the governor were to pass away, the line is already established: Lt. Gov. (McNally), Speaker of the House (Sexton), Secretary of State (Tre Hargett) and then Comptroller (Jason Mumpower).
Massey was one of the prime sponsors of the bill, though the idea came from an unlikely source.
“A number of years ago, I had a young college student that brought the idea to us,” she said. “He had participated in that Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature, TISL, and that was his bill.”
📧 Have breaking come to you: Subscribe to News 2 email alerts →
Massey says legally, if an emergency did happen, the legislature would have its hands tied – something Dr. Lyons agreed with.
“The legislative process would be severely endangered by the governor’s ability to sign what needs to be signed and issue orders that need to be issued, and a variety of other things,” he said. “It’s interesting that we’ve gotten this far, now that it’s being addressed.”
In fact, there really isn’t a plan in place in Tennessee. “There would not be a governor,” Massey said.
The amendment has broad bipartisan support, as it passed unanimously in the legislature. But, voters still have to pass it through.
The process is a bit complex in Tennessee. Not only does an amendment have to have more ‘yes’ votes than ‘no’ votes, but it also has to have at least 50% of the votes cast in the entire election to be ‘yes,’ as well.
For example, say 10 people vote in this year’s election, and all 10 vote for the governor, but only four of them voted on Amendment II (the others skip the amendments). Of those four votes, all four voted ‘yes’ on the proposed amendment. Even though the outcome of the votes on the amendment was four to zero, it still wouldn’t pass because it didn’t garner at least 50% of all votes cast for governor – it only got 40%.
Three of the amendments are thought to be bipartisan and are widely expected to pass – this amendment, Amendment 3, which removes slavery from the Tennessee Constitution, and Amendment 4, the one on pastors’ ability to serve in state legislature.
The one that is contentious is the right-to-work amendment (Amendment I).