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Tennessee State Senate

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Tennessee State Senate

Seal of Tennessee.png
General Information
Type:   Upper house
Term limits:   None
2015 session start:   January 13, 2015
Website:   Official Senate Page
Senate President:   Ron Ramsey (R)
Majority Leader:   Mark Norris (R)
Minority Leader:   Lee Harris (D)
Members:  33
Length of term:   4 years
Authority:   Art II, Sec 2, Tennessee Constitution
Salary:   $19,009/year + per diem
Last Election:  November 4, 2014 (18 seats)
Next election:  November 8, 2016
Redistricting:  Tennessee legislature has control
Meeting place:
Tennessee senate.jpg
The Tennessee State Senate is the upper house of the Tennessee General Assembly. It consists of 33 state senators who serve four-year terms. Tennessee state senators are not subject to term limits. Each senator represents an average of 192,306 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[1] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 172,403 residents.[2]

As of April 2015, Tennessee is one of 23 Republican state government trifectas.

See also: Tennessee State Legislature, Tennessee House of Representatives, Tennessee Governor


The Tennessee General Assembly, which the Senate is a part of, convenes on the second Tuesday in January on the years following elections as outlined by Article II, Section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution. The legislature is limited to 90 paid legislative days within a two year term.


See also: Dates of 2015 state legislative sessions

In 2015, the Legislature will be in session from January 13 through late-April .

Major issues

Major issues for the 2015 legislative session include health, education and finances.[3] Of particular focus will be Governor Bill Haslam's "Insure Tennessee" plan. The two-year pilot program would give access to healthcare coverage to those living in the state that do not currently have health insurance or limited options.[4]


See also: Dates of 2014 state legislative sessions

In 2014, the Legislature was in session from January 14 through April 18.

Major issues

Major issues during the 2014 legislative session included education, guns in work parking lots, and requiring prescriptions for drugs used to make methamphetamine.


See also: Dates of 2013 state legislative sessions

In 2013, the Legislature was in session from January 8 through April 19. Republicans had a supermajority for the first time since the Civil War era.

Major issues

Major issues in the 2013 legislative session included guns, school vouchers, and tax cuts to wine in grocery stores.[5]


See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions

In 2012, the Senate was in session from January 10 through May 1.

Major issues

Republican legislators began the session by passing new congressional and state legislative maps, but redistricting may remain a major issue as Democrats have threatened a lawsuit over the new districts. Republican leaders said the session will focus on job creation and eliminating policies and regulations that restrict businesses, including the inheritance tax, and reforming unemployment insurance.


See also: Dates of 2011 state legislative sessions

In 2011, the Senate was in session from January 11 through May 21.[6]


See also: Dates of 2010 state legislative sessions

In 2010, the Senate was in regular session from January 12th to June 10th. Additionally, the General Assembly met in special session from January 12th to January 25th to deal with educational issues related to Race to the Top funds.

Role in state budget

See also: Tennessee state budget and finances
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The state operates on an annual budget cycle. The sequence of key events in the budget process is as follows:[7][8]

  1. Budget instruction guidelines are sent to state agencies in August of the year preceding the start of the new fiscal year.
  2. State agencies submit their budget requests to the governor in October.
  3. Agency hearings are held in November. Public hearings are held in November and December.
  4. The governor submits his or her proposed budget to the state legislature in February.
  5. The legislature typically adopts a budget in April or May. A simple majority is required to pass a budget. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Tennessee is one of 44 states in which the governor has line item veto authority.[8]

The governor is legally required to submit a balanced budget proposal. Likewise, the legislature is legally required to adopt a balanced budget.[8]

Cost-benefit analyses

See also: Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative Cost-Benefit Study
Map showing results of the Pew-MacArthur cost-benefit study.

The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative released a report in July 2013 indicating that cost-benefit analysis in policymaking led to more effective uses of public funds. Looking at data from 2008 through 2011, the study's authors found that some states were more likely to use cost-benefit analysis, while others were facing challenges and lagging behind the rest of the nation. The challenges states faced included a lack of time, money and technical skills needed to conduct comprehensive cost-benefit analyses. Tennessee was one of 29 states with mixed results regarding the frequency and effectiveness in its use of cost-benefit analysis.[9]

Ethics and transparency

Following the Money report

See also: "Following the Money" report, 2014

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer-focused nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., released its annual report on state transparency websites in April 2014. The report, entitled "Following the Money," measured how transparent and accountable state websites are with regard to state government spending.[10] According to the report, Tennessee received a grade of B and a numerical score of 83, indicating that Tennessee was "advancing" in terms of transparency regarding state spending.[10]

Open States Transparency

See also: Open States' Legislative Data Report Card

The Sunlight Foundation released an "Open Legislative Data Report Card" in March 2013. Tennessee was given a grade of C in the report. The report card evaluated how adequate, complete and accessible legislative data was to the general public. A total of 10 states received an A: Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.[11]



See also: Tennessee State Senate elections, 2014

Elections for 18 seats in the Tennessee State Senate took place in 2014. A primary election took place on August 7, 2014. A general election took place on November 4, 2014. The signature-filing deadline for candidates wishing to run in this election was April 3, 2014.


See also: Tennessee State Senate elections, 2012

Elections for the office of Tennessee State Senate were held in Tennessee on November 6, 2012. A total of 16 seats were up for election.

The signature filing deadline was April 5, 2012.

The following table details the 8 districts with the smallest margin of victory in the November 6 general election.


See also: Tennessee State Senate elections, 2010

Elections for the office of Tennessee state Senate were held in Tennessee on November 2, 2010. The signature-filing deadline for candidates wishing to run in these elections was April 1, 2010 and the primary Election Day was on August 5, 2010.

In 2010, the candidates for state senate raised a total of $4,275,730 in campaign contributions. The top 10 donors were:[12]


See also: Tennessee State Senate elections, 2008

Elections for the office of Tennessee State Senate consisted of a primary election on August 7, 2008, and a general election on November 4, 2008.

During the 2008 election, the total value of contributions to House candidates was $7,905,028. The top 10 contributors were:[13]


See also: Tennessee State Senate elections, 2006

Elections for the office of Tennessee State Senate consisted of a primary election on August 3, 2006, and a general election on November 7, 2006.

During the 2006 election, the total value of contributions to House candidates was $5,784,749. The top 10 contributors were:[14]


See also: Tennessee State Senate elections, 2004

Elections for the office of Tennessee State Senate consisted of a primary election on August 5, 2004, and a general election on November 2, 2004.

During the 2004 election, the total value of contributions to House candidates was $6,713,113. The top 10 contributors were:[15]


See also: Tennessee State Senate elections, 2002

Elections for the office of Tennessee State Senate consisted of a primary election on August 1, 2002, and a general election on November 5, 2002.

During the 2002 election, the total value of contributions to House candidates was $3,260,212. The top 10 contributors were:[16]


See also: Tennessee State Senate elections, 2000

Elections for the office of Tennessee State Senate consisted of a primary election on August 3, 2000, and a general election on November 7, 2000.

During the 2000 election, the total value of contributions to House candidates was $5,777,169. The top 10 contributors were:[17]


To be eligible to serve in the Tennessee State Senate, a candidate must be:[18]

  • A U.S. citizen
  • 30 years old before the general election
  • A three-year resident of Tennessee before the general election
  • A district resident for 1 year prior to the general election
  • A qualified voter
  • The following situations would eliminate a candidate from qualifying for office:
    • Those who have been convicted of offering or giving a bribe, or of larceny, or any other offense declared infamous by law, unless restored to citizenship in the mode pointed out by law;
    • Those against whom there is a judgment unpaid for any moneys received by them, in any official capacity, due to the United States, to this state, or any county thereof;
    • Those who are defaulters to the treasury at the time of the election, and the election of any such person shall be void;
    • Soldiers, seamen, marines, or airmen in the regular army or navy or air force of the United States; and
    • Members of congress, and persons holding any office of profit or trust under any foreign power, other state of the union, or under the United States.


See also: How vacancies are filled in state legislatures
How Vacancies are filled in State Legislatures
NevadaMassachusettsColoradoNew MexicoWyomingArizonaMontanaCaliforniaOregonWashingtonIdahoTexasOklahomaKansasNebraskaSouth DakotaNorth DakotaMinnesotaIowaMissouriArkansasLouisianaMississippiAlabamaGeorgiaFloridaSouth CarolinaIllinoisWisconsinTennesseeNorth CarolinaIndianaOhioKentuckyPennsylvaniaNew JerseyNew YorkVermontVermontNew HampshireMaineWest VirginiaVirginiaMarylandMarylandConnecticutConnecticutDelawareDelawareRhode IslandRhode IslandMassachusettsNew HampshireMichiganMichiganAlaskaVacancy fulfillment map.png

In Tennessee, there are two ways a vacancy can be filled in the senate. When twelve months or more remain in a unfilled term, a special election must be held within the allowable time frame set by law. If less than twelve months remain in the term, the current members of the senate must vote on a replacement.[19]


See also: Redistricting in Tennessee

The state's redistricting process is handled by the General Assembly, with the Governor wielding veto power.

2010 census

Tennessee received its local census data on March 16, 2011.[20] The state's population rose 11.5 percent to 6,346,105.[21]

The redistricting process began in January 2012; it was the first time in the state's history where the process was controlled entirely by Republicans. The two chambers passed maps, both of which Governor Bill Haslam signed. While Senate Democrats threatened a lawsuit, House Democrats went through with filing one in March, arguing that the House map unnecessarily split too many counties.



See also: Comparison of state legislative salaries

As of 2013, members of the Tennessee Legislature are paid $19,009/year. Legislators receive $173/day per diem tied to the federal rate.[22]

When sworn in

See also: When state legislators assume office after a general election

Tennessee legislators assume office the 15th of January following the election.

Partisan composition

See also: Partisan composition of state senates
Party As of April 2015
     Democratic Party 5
     Republican Party 28
Total 33

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Tennessee State Senate from 1992-2013.
Partisan composition of the Tennessee State Senate.PNG


The membership of the Senate elects a presiding officer, known as the Speaker of the Senate. The Speaker also serves as Lieutenant Governor. The Speaker appoints the officers of the Senate as well as the officers and membership of the standing committees.[23][24]

Current leadership

Current Leadership, Tennessee State Senate
Office Representative Party
Speaker of the Senate Ron Ramsey Ends.png Republican
State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson Ends.png Republican
Deputy Speaker of the Senate Steve Southerland Ends.png Republican
State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris Ends.png Republican
State Senate Majority Caucus Leader Bill Ketron Ends.png Republican
State Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris Electiondot.png Democratic
State Senate Minority Caucus Leader Jeff Yarbro Electiondot.png Democratic

List of current members

Current members, Tennessee State Senate
District Senator Party Assumed office
1 Steve Southerland Ends.png Republican 2002
2 Doug Overbey Ends.png Republican 2008
3 Rusty Crowe Ends.png Republican 1990
4 Ron Ramsey Ends.png Republican 1996
5 Randy McNally Ends.png Republican 1986
6 Becky Duncan Massey Ends.png Republican 2010
7 Richard Briggs Ends.png Republican 2014
8 Frank Niceley Ends.png Republican 2012
9 Mike Bell Ends.png Republican 2010
10 Todd Gardenhire Ends.png Republican 2012
11 Bo Watson Ends.png Republican 2006
12 Ken Yager Ends.png Republican 2008
13 Bill Ketron Ends.png Republican 2002
14 Jim Tracy Ends.png Republican 2004
15 Paul Bailey Ends.png Republican 2014
16 Janice Bowling Ends.png Republican 2012
17 Mae Beavers Ends.png Republican 2002
18 Ferrell Haile Ends.png Republican 2012
19 Thelma Harper Electiondot.png Democratic 1988
20 Steven Dickerson Ends.png Republican 2012
21 Jeff Yarbro Electiondot.png Democratic 2014
22 Mark Green Ends.png Republican 2012
23 Jack Johnson Ends.png Republican 2006
24 John Stevens Ends.png Republican 2012
25 Kerry Roberts Ends.png Republican 2014
26 Dolores Gresham Ends.png Republican 2008
27 Ed Jackson Ends.png Republican 2014
28 Joey Hensley Ends.png Republican 2012
29 Lee Harris Electiondot.png Democratic 2014
30 Sara Kyle Electiondot.png Democratic 2014
31 Brian Kelsey Ends.png Republican 2008
32 Mark Norris Ends.png Republican 2000
33 Reginald Tate Electiondot.png Democratic 2006

Senate Committees

Standing committees

Tennessee Senate has 9 standing committees:

Select committees


Partisan balance 1992-2013

Who Runs the States Project
See also: Who Runs the States and Who Runs the States, Tennessee
Partisan breakdown of the Tennessee legislature from 1992-2013

From 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Tennessee State Senate for 12 years while the Republicans were the majority for eight years. Tennessee was under Republican trifectas for the final three years of the study.

Across the country, there were 541 Democratic and 517 Republican state senates from 1992 to 2013.

Over the course of the 22-year study, state governments became increasingly more partisan. At the outset of the study period (1992), 18 of the 49 states with partisan legislatures had single-party trifectas and 31 states had divided governments. In 2013, only 13 states had divided governments, while single-party trifectas held sway in 36 states, the most in the 22 years studied.

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Office of the Governor of Tennessee, the Tennessee State Senate and the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1992-2013. Partisan composition of Tennessee state government(1992-2013).PNG

SQLI and partisanship

To read the full report on the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI) in PDF form, click here.

The chart below depicts the partisanship of the Tennessee state government and the state's SQLI ranking for the years studied. For the SQLI, the states were ranked from 1-50, with 1 being the best and 50 the worst. Tennessee experienced both Democratic and Republican trifectas during the years of the study. Its best ranking, finishing 21st, occurred in 2012 during a Republican trifecta. Its worst ranking, finishing 40th, occurred in 2004 during a Democratic trifecta.

  • SQLI average with Democratic trifecta: 34.00
  • SQLI average with Republican trifecta: 23.00
  • SQLI average with divided government: 31.71
Chart displaying the partisanship of the Tennessee government from 1992-2013 and the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI).

See also

External links


  1., "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," accessed May 15, 2014
  2. U.S. Census Bureau, "States Ranked by Population: 2000," April 2, 2001
  3. Dave Boucher, The Tennessean, "As Haslam officially sworn in, battles await," January 17, 2015
  4. UT Advocacy, "109th Tennessee General Assembly Begins," January 13, 2015
  5. Commercial Appeal, "Guns, wine, vouchers again in Tennessee legislature," January 5, 2013
  6. National Conference of State Legislatures, "2011 Legislative Sessions Calendar," accessed June 6, 2014(Archived)
  7. National Conference of State Legislatures, "State Experiences with Annual and Biennial Budgeting," updated April 2011
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 National Association of State Budget Officers, "Budget Processes in the States, Summer 2008," accessed February 21, 2014
  9. Pew Charitable Trusts, "States’ Use of Cost-Benefit Analysis," July 29, 2013
  10. 10.0 10.1 U.S. Public Interest Research Group, "Following the Money 2014 Report," accessed April 15, 2014
  11. Sunlight Foundation, "Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information," accessed June 16, 2013
  12. Follow the Money, "Tennessee Senate 2010 Campaign Contributions," accessed August 2, 2013
  13. Follow the Money, "Tennessee 2008 Candidates," accessed August 2, 2013
  14. Follow the Money, "Tennessee 2006 Candidates," accessed August 2, 2013
  15. Follow the Money, "Tennessee 2004 Candidates," accessed August 2, 2013
  16. Follow the Money, "Tennessee 2002 Candidates," accessed August 2, 2013
  17. Follow the Money, "Tennessee 2000 Candidates," accessed August 2, 2013
  18. Tennessee Secretary of State, "Qualifications for elected offices in Tennessee," accessed December 18, 2013
  19. Tennessee Legislature, "Tennessee Constitution," accessed December 18, 2013(Referenced Section Article II, Section 15)
  20. U.S. Census Bureau, "U.S. Census Bureau Delivers Tennessee's 2010 Census Population Totals, Including First Look at Race and Hispanic Origin Data for Legislative Redistricting," March 16, 2011 (timed out)
  21. USA Today, "Census 2010 - Tennessee," accessed July 11, 2012
  22., "2012 State Legislator Compensation and Per Diem Table," accessed March 18, 2013
  23. Tennessee General Assembly, "About the Tennessee Legislature," accessed August 2, 2014
  24. Tennessee General Assembly, "Leadership of the Tennessee Senate," accessed August 2, 2014