Several constituents have reached out asking about the four proposed amendments to the Tennessee Constitution on the ballot. While I understand that these amendments don’t specifically concern Knoxville City Council, I wanted to share some specifics and background about these proposed amendments.
First, there are two ways that the Tennessee State Constitution can be amended. (Link to Current Tennessee State Constitution)
1. Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendments – As established in Article 11, Section 3, either house of the Tennessee State Legislature can propose amendments to the State Constitution through two votes by both houses. The first vote requires a majority of members of both houses. If successful, the proposed amendment is referred to the next session of the legislature that meets after the next State election. Proposed amendments must be published six months before the election that intervenes between the first session and the second session of the legislature that considers the amendment.
The second vote requires a two-third vote by each house. If successful, the proposed amendment is placed on the statewide ballot at “the next general election in which a governor is to be chosen.” The proposed amendment is enacted if it gains more “yes” votes than “no” votes and if the “yes” votes equal “a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor.”
2. Constitutional Convention – Article 11, Section 3, provides another option to amend our State Constitution by a constitutional convention. The legislature can submit to the people “at any general election the question of calling a convention to alter, reform, or abolish this Constitution or any parts of it.” If a majority of all the voters voting upon the convention question approve the proposal, a convention is then called to consider the proposals as received a favorable vote.
The delegates to the convention are chosen at the next general election and the convention will assemble for the consideration of the proposals that received a favorable vote. Amendments are not effective until ratified by a majority of the qualified voters voting separately on such change at an election to be held in a manner and date as fixed by the convention. The state cannot hold a convention “oftener than once in six years.”
Proposed 2022 Tennessee Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot:
- Amendment 1: Proposes a new section in Article 11 of the Tennessee Constitution, which adds the following:
“It is unlawful for any person, corporation, association, or this state of its political subdivisions to deny or attempt to deny employment to any person by reason of the person’s membership in, affiliation with, resignation from, or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization.”
It is important to note that Tennessee already has a statute, originally adopted in 1947, with nearly identical language as the proposed amendment. Therefore, voting yes or no, the state law will remain the same. The only difference is the process by which any future changes would have to go through.
If this language is added to the Tennessee Constitution, any changes regarding Tennessee’s right to work status would have to go through a lengthy process to amend the State Constitution. In other words, this amendment would make it more difficult to change or remove Tennessee’s status as a right to work state in the future.
- Amendment 2: Proposes a process for the appointment of an acting governor. In its current form, Article 3, section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution addresses the line of succession, in the event the governor dies, resigns, or is removed. First in line is the Speaker of the Senate (currently Randy McNally) followed by the Speaker of the House (currently Cameron Sexton).
However, there is no procedure for succession in the event the governor is temporarily incapacitated. Voting “yes” on this proposed amendment creates a process by which gubernatorial powers may be temporarily assumed following the line of succession in the event the governor is temporarily incapacitated.
The Amendment retains the same line of succession upon certification by the governor that he or she is temporarily incapacitated. An example would be if the governor was unconscious for a scheduled medical procedure, the Speaker of the Senate would temporarily act as governor. In the event that the office of Speaker of the Senate was unoccupied, the Speaker of the House would temporarily act as governor. However, upon certification that he or she has regained their ability, the governor would resume his or her duties.
Further, the Amendment provides a process by which a majority of the commissioners of the administrative departments of the state executive branch may declare the governor temporarily incapacitated in the event the governor is unable or unwilling to make this declaration. Again, with the temporary responsibility of office first passing to the Speaker of the Senate and if that office is unoccupied, extending to the Speaker of the House.
This proposed process could be initiated by the governor or by a majority of the commissioners of the administrative departments of the state executive branch. Further clarification provides that either the Speaker of the Senate or Speaker of the House, who is acting governor retains their legislative role and salary, but are not able to preside as speaker or vote as a legislator while serving as acting governor.
- Amendment 3: Presently, Article 1, section 33 of the Tennessee Constitution provides, “that slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, are forever prohibited in this state.”
The language in the proposed Amendment would change this to, “Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime.”
This amendment removes language from the Tennessee State Constitution allowing a person convicted of a crime to be subjected to slavery or involuntary servitude as a form of punishment.
- Amendment 4: In its present form, Article 9, section 1 of the Tennessee Constitution provides, “Whereas ministers of the Gospel are by their progression, dedicated to God and the care of souls, and ought not be diverted from the great duties of their functions; therefore, no minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the legislature.”
Voting “yes” on Amendment 4 deletes section 1 in its entirety. It is important to note that this section has not been enforced since 1978, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McDaniel v. Paty. In that case, Paul McDaniel, a Baptist Minister from Chattanooga, successfully overturned this provision as a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The result of the case allowed McDaniel to serve as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention and members of the clergy have served in the Tennessee General Assembly ever since. (Link to US Supreme Court Decision in McDaniel v. Paty)
Nothing else is included in the proposed Amendment. However, it is interesting to look at section 2 of Article 9, which says, “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards or punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.” Given the decision in McDaniel v. Paty, questions remain if this provision would likewise be unenforceable.
Continuing on to section 3 which is also not covered in the proposed amendment, states, “Any person who shall, after the adoption of this Constitution, fight a duel, or knowingly be the bearer of a challenge to fight a duel, or send or accept a challenge for that purpose, or be an aider or abettor in fighting a duel, shall be deprived of the right to hold any office of honor or profit in this state, and shall be punished otherwise, in such manner as the Legislature may prescribe.”
This proposed amendment removes the unconstitutional prohibition on excluding ministers from serving in the Tennessee General Assembly. However, the Amendment does not remove or alter the other prohibitions listed in Sections 2 and 3.
Your vote matters.
It’s critical that our community shows up to vote. Early voting is going on now through Thursday, November 3rd. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8th. For sample ballots and voting information, please visit: Election Commission – Knox County Tennessee Government