Legislators spend $150K per year on out-of-state travel

From 2009 through 2016, 143 Tennessee state legislators went on about 720 out-of-state trips at a cost to taxpayers of about $1.2 million, according to a Tennessean review of records— about $150,000 per year for the eight-year period. Top traveler was Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis.

Tate, who this summer has attended three conferences in eight weeks, has accounted for nearly $104,000, or 8 percent, of total travel by all Tennessee lawmakers since 2009. He took nearly 70 trips since 2009, the most of any Tennessee lawmaker. He took 11 a year between 2014 and 2016.

…The vast majority of the $1.2 million in out-of-state travel has been used to attend the annual gatherings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Southern Legislative Conference, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and others.

…In the past eight years, Tennessee taxpayers have covered lawmakers’ travel to 39 states and Puerto Rico and two countries — Ireland and Canada — and 132 trips to the District of Columbia, according to state records.

…Before lawmakers can attend conferences, they must get approval from (Senate Speaker Randy) McNally or House Speaker Beth Harwell. All 99 House members are limited to one trip per year — a policy that was instituted in 2013 — but no such limits are placed on the 33-member Senate.

Note: The article, which opens with a narrative of Tate’s activities at a Biloxi, Miss., conference, is packaged with two other articles on legislator travel doings:

-Lawmakers often don’t get the cheapest airplane tickets when billing taxpayers for their trips. Ticket prices paid for a flight to a conference in Alaska ranged from $673 to $1,727. HERE.

-While lobbyists are generally banned from providing free meals and entertainment within Tennessee (except at receptions where all lawmakers are invited), those rules don’t apply when they’re at out-of-state conferences.  Story HERE. An excerpt:

In Denver, a group of Tennessee lobbyists hosted state lawmakers for a “delegate dinner” at Elway’s — owned by Broncos football legend John Elway — which offers a $64 porterhouse steak and a $58 rack of lamb.

On the final night of the same three-day American Legislative Exchange Council conference, lobbyists hosted lawmakers for a private dinner at Ocean Prime, a seafood and steakhouse chain with locations throughout the country that sells $49 twin lobster tails. At one of the tables, there was talk of the merits of allowing medical marijuana in Tennessee.

One Response to Legislators spend $150K per year on out-of-state travel

  • Michael Combs says:

    You can read this report a number or different ways. For me, I am pleased our legislators attend conferences, even if they are in other states, so they can benefit from legislative acrtivities going on in other parts of the country. My complaint would be to the legislator who rarely travels and does not stay in contact with the world outside of Tennessee.

    Regarding flights: No matter how one tries to get cheap flights, someone can always say that there was something cheaper available. I surmise that legislators were often forced to purchase tickets that worked in their schedules and might not been able to take advantage of certain days that were less expensive.

    If you look at the big picture, 1.2 million spread over 7+ years and 143 legislators, is really not so out of line. If you have traveled to any major cities and stayed at a nice hotel, you will be less likely to be surprised at this amount.

    While legislators cannot be “wined and dined” by lobbyists in Tennessee, there are no rules in that regard outside Tennessee so I see no evidence of anything inappropriate. Frankly, for most of our hard-working legislators, I see nothing wrong with their taking advantage of legal perks such as wonderful meals.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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