State House Speaker Beth Harwell abolished 12 subcommittees Thursday in her first attempt to make good on her promise to streamline the labyrinth-like legislative process.
Harwell, the Nashville Republican who was elected as the new speaker at the start of the 107th General Assembly on Tuesday, did away with all but one subcommittee for each of the House’s 13 standing committees.
In the past, literally hundreds of bills have become bottled up in the House committee system as sessions dragged for six months or more. Harwell said under the new system, she will send some legislation straight to full committees.
“I’m confident this new system will be efficient and effective, allowing us to focus on our legislative priorities this year,” she told the House.
Also Thursday, Harwell announced her committee assignments, naming only Republicans to chairmanships. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey also announced his assignments, making few changes from last session.
Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, who often used the subcommittee system to kill legislation when he was House speaker, said he supports Harwell’s restructuring.
“She’s the new speaker, and if there are changes to be made now is the time to make them,” he said. “I’m going to be open to the idea. There’s always room to change things. You don’t do something just because it’s always been done that way.”
House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said he worries that the move will curtail debate.
“It remains to be seen how it goes,” he said. “But it’s her call, and we’ll certainly work with her to do it because it is to everybody’s advantage that we move expeditiously.”
Harwell said she would send controversial or complex bills that need in-depth study to subcommittees.
“Not every bill needs to go to a subcommittee,” she said in an interview. “Some can go directly to the full committee for immediate action, but those bills that need additional study should go to subcommittee. This is a way to study and discuss the bills even more. In some ways, this may even strengthen the committee system.”