» Subscribe Today!
The Power of Information
Home
The Ledger - EST. 1978 - Nashville Edition
X
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Article
VOL. 46 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 30, 2022

4 constitutional amendments to change little

Print | Front Page | Email this story

Along with the usual bunch of saints and sinners running for office in Tennessee, four potential amendments to the state constitution will be on the November ballot. If recent history is any indicator, they will all pass.

Should they?

The constitution itself sets a nominally high threshold before a proposed amendment can go on the ballot for an up-down vote. A change must pass both houses of the General Assembly twice, with an election intervening. The first time requires a simple majority; the second requires two-thirds.

I say nominally because, with their super-duper majorities in both houses, Republicans could propose an amendment requiring Democrats to wear yellow beanies with pink propellers on top. Which, I suspect, some would like to do.

Fortunately – miraculously – restraint generally prevails. Somehow.

Since 1998, 11 amendments have been proposed, and every one got the thumbs-up from voters. Among the notable ones was a 1998 amendment that, Ballotpedia reports, “Ends the constitutional requirement that state prisons be ‘comfortable.’”

Almost 70% of voters decided prisoners had no right to expect comfort. Surprised? (Prisons are supposed to be “safe,” and treatment of prisoners “humane.”)

In 2006, a greater portion of voters – 81.3% – agreed that “the relationship of one man and one woman shall be the only legally recognized marital contract in this state.” I think we know how well that amendment aged.

And in 2010, an even greater portion – 87.38% – affirmed that “The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law.”

I wasn’t aware that the right to hunt and fish was under threat in Tennessee. But having written a column years ago poking fun at duck hunters and having reaped the whirlwind as a result, I am aware of hunters’ sensitivity on the topic of their favorite pastime.

The four items on the ballot for November would:

• Make it illegal to require membership in a labor union as a condition of employment

• Establish a process and a line of succession for an acting governor should the governor become disabled

• Repeal language that allows for slavery as a punishment for some criminal offenses

• Remove constitutional language that bars members of the clergy from serving in the legislature

The line of succession provision doesn’t do anything crazy: It puts the speaker of the Senate first in line, the speaker of the House second. And the ban on clergy members as legislators has long been rendered null and void by the U.S. Supreme Court, so the amendment is just cleaning up some outdated language.

As to the third proposed amendment, regarding slavery, I suspect that one is largely a matter of semantics, too. I’m not aware that anyone has been sentenced to slavery for any crime since the constitution was adopted in 1870. Still, it’s an important issue, even if viewed mostly as symbolic.

It’s never a good idea to have a government charter endorsing slavery in any fashion.

You could argue that the first measure, a “right to work” amendment, is unnecessary since the state already has a law doing basically the same thing. And State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Nashville Democrat, has made that very argument:

“[T]his has been a law for 75 years under Republican and Democratic control legislators, and repealing it has never been on the table,” he said, according to Ballotpedia. “We should reserve amending our state’s constitution for very important things that need to be addressed.”

I am of two minds about unions. The family business in Mississippi (another “right to work” state) that kept me fed, clothed and housed as a youth would have been sunk by any effort to organize for higher wages.

The profit margin just wasn’t there. Union opposition is built into my DNA.

However, during my most recent employment, I overcame my resistance and joined a union, The Newspaper Guild. As a result, I had far and away the best benefits of my 42-year career in journalism.

“Right to work,” by the way, is a contentious term for such laws. Union supporters argue that the more accurate description is “right to work for less.” It also allows union nonmembers to freeload on the benefits negotiated by organized labor without paying union dues.

The proposed union amendment is the only one I’ve seen that has inspired any effort for a no vote, and I’m leaning that way. It will be interesting to see how many people agree with me. More interesting: how many people vote to keep slavery.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter & RSS:
Sign-Up For Our FREE email edition
Get the news first with our free weekly email
Name
Email  
TNLedger.com Knoxville Editon
RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 0 0
MORTGAGES 0 0 0
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 0 0 0
BANKRUPTCIES 0 0 0
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 0 0
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0