About the Tennessee Legislature

In Brief

  • The Tennessee General Assembly meets in Nashville each year beginning at noon on the second Tuesday of January.
  • Each General Assembly meets 90 session days over a two-year period. Generally, legislative sessions last from mid-January through late April or May of each year.
  • The General Assembly has 33 Senators and 99 Representatives.

The 109th General Assembly

  • The 109th General Assembly Senate is composed of 28 Republicans, and 5 Democrats, elected to four-year terms.
  • The 109th General Assembly House of Representatives is composed of 73 Republicans and 26 Democrats elected in even-numbered years to two-year terms.

In Detail

Under the Tennessee Constitution, legislative authority of the State is vested in the General Assembly, which consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives, both dependent on the people (that is, popularly elected). The name of the legislative authority may vary from state to state, but usually it is called the Legislature or the General Assembly. The official title in our state is the "General Assembly of the State of Tennessee," but may also be properly referred to as the Legislature.

The Constitution requires that election for Senators and Representatives be held once every two years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of even-numbered years.

The Senate is composed of 33 members who are elected to four-year terms of office. They are elected by the voters of their Senate legislative district. A senator must be a citizen of the United States, at least 30 years old, a citizen of Tennessee for at least three years and a resident of the county or district he represents for at least one year before the election. While Senate terms are for four years, approximately half of the senators run for office every two years by odd- and even-numbered districts. This is generally referred to as "staggered terms".

The House of Representatives is composed of 99 members who are elected to two-year terms of office. They are elected by the voters of their House legislative district. A representative must be a citizen of the United States, at least 21 years old, a citizen of Tennessee for at least three years and a resident of the county he represents for at least one year before the election.

The General Assembly convenes on the second Tuesday in January of each odd-numbered year for an organizational session of not more than 15 calendar days. Thereafter, the General Assembly sets the date for convening the regular session. The Constitution provides that the legislature can meet 90 legislative days in regular session over the two-year assembly period.

When the Legislature initially convenes, the first order of business is the swearing in of the members-elect. The two bodies meet in their respective chambers and the members take an oath of office swearing to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Tennessee and to perform their official duties impartially without favor or prejudice and to always to protect the rights of the people.

Each body adopts its rules of procedure to be followed for the next two years. The rules provide for orderly proceedings and determine how the Senate and House will conduct business. Frequently, a legislator will move to "suspend the rules" to speed the flow of business, but at least two-thirds of the members must agree to the suspension.

The membership of each body then elects a presiding officer or speaker for a two-year term (the lifetime of each separate General Assembly) who holds that office until a successor is chosen at the initial convening of the next General Assembly. No limit is placed on the number of times a member may retain the office of Speaker.

The Speaker appoints the officers of each house including the Chief Clerk, Chief Engrossing Clerk and Chief Sergeant-at-Arms. The Speaker also appoints the officers of each standing committee and the membership of the standing committees. Once all organizational business is completed, the General Assembly then convenes in regular session and begins to act on legislation.

In general, the functions of the Legislature are to enact, amend, and repeal the laws of Tennessee. Some of the specific powers granted to the General Assembly by the state Constitution include: the appropriation of all money to be paid out of the state treasury; the levy and collection of taxes; and the right to authorize counties and incorporated towns to levy taxes.

A quorum of two-thirds of all the members to which a house is entitled is required to transact any business; a smaller number can only adjourn from day to day and may compel the attendance of absent members.

Legislative proposals can originate in either the Senate or House in the form of bills, resolutions and joint resolutions. A bill is a proposed law and may be either general or local. A general bill has a statewide impact, and a local bill affects only a particular county or town named in the bill. This local bill is sometimes referred to as "enabling legislation." If the local bill passes the legislature, then it must be ratified by the local governing body or voted on by the people of that area.

For a new law to be made, it must be considered and passed on three separate days (considerations) by both the House and Senate. After second consideration, general bills are referred to committee for review. That is where most of the work is done in determining if the bill should be modified, amended, or not reported out of the committee. Bills which the committees do approve are sent on through the system so that eventually they may be voted on by the full house for the third and final time. A constitutional majority is required for a new law to pass. This means it must receive at least 50 favorable votes in the House and 17 favorable votes in the Senate. Once a new law has been acted on favorably by the House and Senate, it is then sent to the Governor who can approve it by signing it, vetoing it, or letting it become a law without his signature. The Governor may also disapprove a measure by vetoing it. The legislature may override the Governor's veto with a constitutional majority.

A resolution expresses the opinion of one house of the legislature, whereas, a joint resolution expresses the opinion of both houses. All resolutions are adopted by a constitutional majority vote.