NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – When the President falls ill and is unable to perform his duties, the federal government has a process for who fulfills his role in his stead through the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the presidential line of succession.
State Constitutions have similar provisions. The Tennessee State Constitution outlines the gubernatorial line of succession, albeit with one caveat:
What happens if the governor falls into a coma and can’t work?
While the 25th Amendment contains provisions for the death, removal or temporary absence of the President, the Tennessee Constitution only contains provisions for a permanent loss of the governor, not a temporary pause.
That could change with the passage of Amendment 2 in this month’s election.
Tennessee voters will see a question on their ballot to alter the state constitution to include new language outlining the process for a temporary transfer of executive power.
Specifically, Amendment 2 would add three new paragraphs to Article III, Section 12 of the Constitution that detail what would happen if the governor were to be incapacitated and unable to fulfill his duties.
“In case of the removal of the governor from office, or of his death, or resignation, the powers and duties of the office shall devolve on the speaker of the Senate; and in case of the death, removal from office, or resignation of the speak of the Senate, the powers and duties of the office shall devolve on the speaker of the House of Representatives.”Article III, Section 12
The bill to put the issue up for referendum was originally sponsored in the Senate in 2020 by Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville). It passed unanimously in 2021.
James Garrett, Chairman of the Davidson County Republican Party, said the matter was necessary to put in the Constitution since it was lacking.
“We should have that if we don’t have it now,” he said.
Democrats in the legislature also see no issue with adding the provision to the Constitution.
Rep. Vincent Dixie (D – Nashville) called the measure “good for the state.”
“I’m not against it,” he told News 2. “I’ve been encouraging people to vote for it.”
Further, Dixie said, the amendment language clarifies and codifies more aspects of a temporary transfer of powers, such as the salary for the Speaker of the Senate should he step into the acting governor’s role.
Per the amendment text, the Speaker would retain the Speaker’s salary instead of receiving the governor’s salary while serving as acting Governor.
While following a similar path as the presidential line of succession, the amendment does differ from the federal provision in one way. If the Vice President is unable to serve as acting President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives must do so, the Speaker must resign their seat in Congress. The Tennessee Constitution also contains that prohibition:
“No member of Congress, or person holding any office under the United States, or this state, shall execute the office of governor.”Article III, Section 13
Amendment 2 would allow the Speaker to retain their seat in the General Assembly in the event they would have to take the acting governor’s role.
“Whenever a Speaker is temporarily discharging the powers and duties of the office of Governor as Acting Governor, such Speaker shall not be required to resign the Speaker’s position as the Speaker or to resign as a member of the general assembly,” the amendment reads.
The question on the ballot will be framed as a YES or NO question, per the Secretary of State’s office.