Mr. Speaker, We're On Personal Orders...The Tennessean finally got around to noticing the time that the Tennessee House of Representatives wastes every day on on Personal Orders:
Out of a total of about 37 hours spent in session, nearly eight hours have been consumed by what are known in the House as "personal orders."
Representatives are now meeting an hour earlier than usual on Monday afternoons to accommodate the ceremonies.
Many lawmakers read newspapers, chat or work on laptops while the presentations are made. They often offer only tepid applause. Recent groups honored on the House floor range from the Soddy-Daisy cheerleading team to the Mule Day queen and her court.
It is no secret that I enjoy visiting the Capitol myself from time to time. I have even been introduced on the House floor-it is a very nice and often genuine gesture, and I am quite sure that the practice began as a way for members to recognize visiting constituents, many of whom may stand out as community servants, volunteers, or members of local governments.
As someone who does watch the business of the House on a semi-regular basis, and who has sat through several sessions from the floor, I can also say that it is my humble opinion that the practice of Personal Orders (and the offering of congratulatory Resolutions that is usually related to them) has gotten so far out of hand that these Orders are no longer used merely to recognize worthy or upstanding citizens, but as political props so that members may garner votes with them back home. Some of the people or groups honored probably don't even realize (at first, anyway) that they may be used as a political prop, but when the majority of a working session is devoted to Personal Orders and congratulatory memorializing-and there are sessions like that-that is less time that is being used for debate and voting on legislation of consequence to your life and mine. It has happened that bills have been rolled because time that could have been spent debating and voting was spent on matters far less important to the public good or welfare.
Our Representatives are paid perdiem to be at the Capitol because it is presumed that they are there to do the public business. Those who do not live near Nashville need this perdiem to cover the cost of a hotel and three meals. Since I do visit from time to time, I have come to see how expensive it is for the well-intentioned public servant who doesn't take bribes or violate ethics rules to go up to Nashville and do their job. Because of this, we the taxpayers help cover those extra expenses.
When the time of the House is spent on Personal Orders and congratulatory memorializing to the extreme degree that it is, time is wasted that could be spent on more important matters. I have even seen multiple sessions (and was on the floor for one) where a member wasted over 20 minutes of the House's collective time on a congratulatory Resolution, proceeding to not only have House Clerk Burney Durham read the entire text of the resolution, but then give a speech about it after it was read-its intent was clear. After speechifying, the member then yielded to the recipient who spoke also. Since this has become the standard practice in every legislative session, it is almost certain that in a normal year (one where the Governor presents a budget on time, unlike this year) Tennesseans are left paying extra perdiem to Representatives and Senators so that everyone can squeeze in their Special Orders by the end of session and still have time to pass real bills. Time is money.
Personal Orders and congratulatory memorializing are fine, but the rules really should be revamped so that the public business is not held hostage to the politics of the Personal Order.