The lower house of Tennessee’s bicameral legislature is called the House of Representatives. Made up of representatives from the ninety-nine districts of the state, the members are elected for two-year terms, and all representatives stand for election simultaneously. To qualify for election to the Tennessee House, the candidate must be twenty-one years old, a U.S. citizen, a Tennessee resident for three years, and a resident of the county from which the candidate is seeking election for one year preceding the election.
During the organizational session of the House, representatives elect a Speaker and Speaker pro tempore, who acts in the absence of the Speaker. The Speaker has the right to name any member of the House to perform the duties of the chair for no more than one legislative day. The Speaker of the House presides over the House and is second in line for succession to the office of the governor in the event of a vacancy in that office. The Speaker appoints the members of all committees, giving consideration to the abilities, preferences, party representation, and seniority of the members. The Speaker also names the chair, vice-chair and secretary of each committee, using the same criteria used in selecting committee members. The Speaker and the Speaker pro tempore are voting members of all standing committees, but the Speaker pro tempore exercises the right to vote in committee meetings if the Speaker defers to him. The Speaker serves as cochair of the Joint Legislative Services Committee and must approve, in concurrence with the Speaker of the Senate, the directors of the Legislative Services Office, Legal Services Office, and the Legislative Administrative Office. The Speaker signs all acts, proceedings, or orders of the House and has the responsibility for all facilities, professional and clerical staffs, custodians, and security personnel of the House.
Other House leaders include the minority and majority party leaders, who are the chief floor spokesmen for their parties. Elected by their respective party members in the House, these leaders serve on committees, sponsor legislation, analyze bills, develop political strategy regarding the timing of legislation, and represent their party in House discussions and debates. Party caucus chairs preside at meetings of the Democratic or Republican members of the House.
Much of the work of the House is performed in standing committees. After bills receive a first and second reading before the entire House, they are referred to one of the standing committees. The committees originate and revise bills, study legislation, hold public hearings, and by majority vote recommend passage to the entire House. The House has twelve standing committees: Agriculture; Children and Family Affairs; Commerce; Conservation and Environment; Education; Finance, Ways and Means; Health and Human Resources; Government Operations; Judiciary; Consumer and Employees Affairs; State and Local Government; and Transportation. Once the appropriate standing committee recommends passage, the bill is read before the House for the third time, and after any discussion or debate, is put to a vote of the House. In addition to the standing committees, the House has three select committees: Calendar and Rules, Ethics, and Select Committee on Rules.