Proposal Could Make Tennessee Lawmakers More Careful About Who Pays Their Travel Expenses

Apr 21, 2017
Originally published on April 21, 2017 4:38 am

Tennessee lawmakers may soon be required to disclose when they travel on someone else's dime.

The measure comes after advocates footed the bill for some legislators to go to Florida, North Carolina and even Europe.

Trips have fallen into a gray area of Tennessee law. Excursions had to be disclosed if they were covered by a registered lobbyist or campaign donations, but not if paid for by an outside group or an individual.

State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, says he's benefited from an educational tour.

"And that's not illegal," he says. "But I think people have a right to know it, and I think the members would like to have an avenue to be more transparent."

So McCormick is pushing House Bill 275, which would require lawmakers to list trips on ethics disclosures. It passed the state House of Representatives unanimously on Thursday, and the measure could be approved by the Senate next week.

McCormick has drawn scrutiny for the trip he took. In 2015, he went with House Speaker Beth Harwell, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and others to North Carolina to visit a private school. The trip was covered by a school vouchers supporter.

Other lawmakers visited London and Amsterdam with the intention of learning about "radical Islam." That tour was put together by an anti-Muslim activist.

Still others spent the weekend at the Florida condo of a school choice advocate.

Such trips would not be banned, but McCormick says disclosure would make lawmakers careful about taking them.

"You just need to report it. And if it's too embarrassing to report, you probably shouldn't be on the trip in the first place."

If approved, the measure would go into effect as soon as it's signed into law this spring.

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