As Session ends, the House and the Senate differ on amendments for legislation regarding appointments to boards and commissions, and the bills may head to conference committee. In question is whether appointments to a handful of regulatory boards and commissions should be strictly political appointments or if a merit based system is best; one which provides the regulated industries a say in who represents their profession or trade.
Approximately 112 different professions and trades are licensed by regulatory boards and commissions in Tennessee. This represents thousands of business people across our state. As a result, each licensed individual is subject to an extensive amount of state law and regulation over what they do.
The duty of a board or commission involves issuing licenses to practice, deciding on certain industry regulations and standards, and hearing complaints against a licensee.
Boards and commissions typically include members of the executive branch of state government such as the Commissioner of Health, Labor, or Commerce. Other appointees may include members of the legislative branch such as state legislators, the State Treasurer, Comptroller or Secretary of State. Members of the regulated profession or trade are also appointed to serve. In addition, a consumer member is appointed.
Boards often meet a few days a month. Members are not paid but some boards and commissions have the authority to grant a per diem for compensation of gas and hotel expenses - typically up to $50.00 a day maximum. “Some members do complain that their service poses a significant loss of time and income – so finding dedicated individuals to serve is critical.” stated State Rep. Susan Lynn, Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee.
Most board and commission members are appointed by the governor. However, a few select boards require a very high degree of technical knowledge, commitment and experience. For these, the General Assembly has developed a process that allows the regulated professions and trades to nominate individuals that they feel are qualified, experienced and willing to make a personal sacrifice to represent their industry.
The current process requires that several nominations are received from the industry with a final decision made by the Governor. If the Governor finds all nominees are unsatisfactory, he may reject all nominations and request more from the industry. “The current process has worked well and the industry has felt as if it is well represented. Who doesn’t realize that it is only natural to every politician to appoint people that will best serve their own self-interest not society as a whole? Or at least that is the publics’ strong perception. The current process has taken that kind of politics out of the mix, and allowed the regulated business people to have a voice.” stated Chairman Lynn; House sponsor of the bills in question.
However this year the Senate Gov. Ops. Committee wants to remove any say by the regulated trades and professions over who will serve their industry. Instead, the Senate has proposed leaving the appointments for these technical boards strictly up to the Governor; a process which creates fear over political patronage and the injection unnecessary politics into the process. The Senate committee concedes that no one has requested their proposed change but they still want to make all appointments political appointments starting this year.
Lynn noted that “it is not only industry that will lose their ability to ensure competent and knowledgeable representatives on boards of vital interest to them – local governments too will lose the same opportunity.”
This week Attorney General Bob Cooper stated in an opinion requested by Senator Bo Watson, Chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, that the current process of allowing the trades and professions to submit nominations from which the Governor shall choose is indeed constitutional.
The Air Pollution Control Board makes regulatory decisions which are crucial to business and industry in our state regarding air pollution as well as to those groups with environmental concerns. The interests and views of the two sides can at times differ greatly.
The point has always been to nominate people to the Air Pollution Control Board based on merit; people that truly understand the technical aspects of the issue. Environmental and business trades currently nominate members to serve. It is in each sides best interest to recommend to the governor the most highly qualified and competent voice they can find. However, if the board is subject to strictly political appointments the fear is that sides will be prevented from having who they perceive to be the very best representative for their side of the cause.
“The Senate’s amendments are very governmentcentric. They assume politicians’ and government know best. The regulated industries are already subject to the whims and opinions of politicians to a very high degree. Politicians create the law that governs their trade, then a board made up of politicians and political appointees makes regulations for what they can and cannot do, and also judges how they do their jobs. To me, the few boards and commissions that have industry nominations are the most Republican. It is the people that make nominations to these boards and commissions but for some reason the Senate wants to take away the peoples’ voice.” stated Chairman Lynn.
“I have reviewed the legislation from the Senate and listened to legislators and concerned parties. I have not heard from Governor Bredesen…he has not stated that he wants sole decision making authority over appointments to these boards and commissions but I have heard from realtors, dentists, architects, engineers, chiropractors, auto dealers and physicians who are afraid of mere political appointees representing them. One individual said to me “Look, government is supposed to be for the people, by the people and of the people – why is the Senate trying to exclude us from the process and hand absolutely everything over to the politicians?” Stated Lynn.
Lynn further commented “I understand how he feels. Right now I am trying to pass another bill that would ensure that initial rules created for licensure can never be emergency rules because emergency rules exclude public input.”
Lynn added “There are nearly 2000 appointments to be made on boards and commissions each year – the Governor could literally spend all day, every day, looking for people to serve. The current process, while it may not be perfect, does cut down on that work for a small quantity while making sure that the people are involved and have a voice.”
Susan Lynn is a four term Tennessee state House member and Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee. She is also the Chairman of the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council; currently in her second term. She is the only member of the Tennessee House ever appointed by ALEC to chair a Task Force.