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Friday, April 26, 2019

House members "bribed" for votes
Two Republican lawmakers who voted against Gov. Bill Lee's controversial school voucher bill now say they were offered what was essentially a bribe to change their vote and instead vote in favor of the legislation. For 40 minutes, the vote was deadlocked at 49-49 until Rep. Jason Zachary, a Republican, changed his vote, resulting in the bill's 50-48 approval. Several lawmakers say there were efforts by the speaker and governor’s office to sway them to vote for the bill by offering to fund projects in their districts. Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, said Wednesday he was approached by Casada’s chief of staff on the House floor. “He came to me and said that he and the speaker needed my vote on vouchers and asked me what I wanted in return,” said Hawk, who characterized the conversation as very heated. “I told him that he and the speaker had nothing that I wanted.” Cothren said he asked Hawk where he stood on the bill and could tell the lawmaker was upset about something. "I followed up to see if there was a way we could overcome that," Cothren said. "He didn't seem interested at the time." Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, said he had been approached and offered incentives before and during the voucher vote in an attempt to persuade him to flip. “There was efforts that had repeated visits from advocates hired apparently by the administration, and lobbyists, over the last few weeks,” Ramsey said Wednesday. “I let the administration know early on that I couldn’t support the vouchers.” Ramsey said he received no threats of funding being cut in his district in Blount County, but that he was offered incentives. “The only insinuation was that there would be the possibility of revenue expenditures for projects in my district at some point that would be facilitated by my support of vouchers,” Ramsey said. Ramsey said, members of the Republican leadership hinted that additional funding would be made available to him for district projects if he switched his vote. Hawk and Ramsey voted against the bill. The speaker denied offering anything to the members. "If one or two (members) misunderstood what I was saying — that happens too — I was asking them to step up and be leaders and do what's good for the children of Tennessee," he said. A USA TODAY Network analysis found 24 of the 32 House lawmakers to have their appropriation requests fulfilled voted for the voucher bill. Casada denied any correlation between House members who voted for the voucher bill and having their budget requests funded. The governor also denied that incentives were offered for votes. He did say he would welcome a bill that includes more counties in the voucher plan. The House could be forced to again take up the bill in the coming days because the Senate did not adopt the lower chamber's version of the legislation.

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