Joel Ebert, The Tennessean, February 28, 2018
Sometimes the left hand has a hard time talking to the right.
Despite the introduction of multiple bills this year to halt a practice that punishes Tennesseans who default on student loans, the effort to repeal a state law may be in jeopardy — in part due to lack of discussion between the two legislative chambers.
Earlier this week, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee was set to take up a bill that would have ended the practice of revoking professional licenses of Tennesseans who default on student loans.
The legislation was one of four bills introduced this year after a New York Times investigation highlighted Tennessee’s practice of revoking licenses for those who default on loans.
The story featured a Tennessee nurse who had defaulted on her student loans because she lost her job after having epileptic seizures. State law resulted in the nurse losing her license, making Tennessee one of the most aggressive states in the country on the practice.
On Tuesday, the Senate committee didn’t take action on the measure — at the request of the sponsor, Sen. Art Swann, R-Maryville.
As is common practice in the legislature, the bill was sent to what is called the “General Subcommittee,” a euphemism for the nonexistent place where bills are typically sent to die.
On Wednesday, as the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee took up the measure, sponsored by Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, the 20-member panel took note of the Senate’s action.
While introducing his bill, Powell highlighted the scope of the issue.
“We’ve had over 4,000-plus Tennesseans over a five-year period who unfortunately this was occurring to,” he said, noting there were three other bills on the issue introduced.
Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, who had sponsored her own bill on the matter, urged her colleagues to stay on top of the issue.
“We’re probably not going to be able to take any action on this bill this session, but it’s very important that we revisit it next year, whether I’m here or not,” said Gilmore, who is seeking election to the state Senate.
Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, said he was “disappointed with the action of the Senate” on the bill.
“I really want to know what the Senate is going to be doing about this this summer,” Sparks said, issuing a challenge to the upper body. Sparks called it “asinine” for the state to revoke people’s licenses who default on student loans.
Powell ultimately asked for his bill to be placed on the final calendar of the House committee, giving it an opportunity to be taken up before the session ends.
After the committee’s action, an assistant to Swann said the senator did not intend to kill the bill for the year.
Instead, the assistant said Swann, who was a longtime House member before his appointment to the Senate in December, wanted to delay action on the measure until another day.
A staff member for the Senate commerce committee said Wednesday bills regularly come back from the “General Subcommittee.”
Reach Joel Ebert at email@example.com or 615-772-1681 and on Twitter @joelebert29.