Top state lawmaker wants per diem change

Top state lawmaker wants per diem change (Image 1)

After years of getting heat for every lawmaker getting per diem, there soon could be a change to how much Tennessee legislators receive for their $173 in daily expenses.

House Republican Caucus chair Glen Casada and freshman Senator Ferrell Haile plan to sponsor a measure that would remove the lodging portion of per diem for lawmakers who live within 50-miles of the state capitol.

“I think this is the perfect next step make sure that those of us who don't use the hotel reimbursement don't collect it,” Rep. Casada told Nashville's News 2 Wednesday afternoon.

The idea may have been one of the reasons Republican Senator Haile was elected last fall.

“One of the first things I said that I would do when getting down here would be addressing this lodging per diem issue and I would present a bill concerning that,” said Sen. Haile who lives in Sumner County.

Both he and Rep. Casada of Williamson County would be affected by the measure.

“Yes, it is a financial cut to a position that does not pay much, but it's the right thing to do,” added Casada.

“And I have already given back a month of my per diem,” said Haile.

The bill the two plans to file keeps per diem reimbursement for other major items like meals and miles driven to the legislative business.

The 50-mile per hotel diem ban would affect 34 lawmakers senators and representatives or which is about a quarter of the lawmakers.    

While Casada and Haile say a majority of lawmakers will support the measure which is estimated to save the state a “couple of hundred thousand dollars,” there will be opposition.

“I think it's a really sad piece of legislation,” said Nashville Democrat Sherry Jones whose district is about 10-mile from the capitol. “This is not a high paying job by any stretch of the imagination and that just makes it harder for average people to serve.”

Along with the $173 dollars in per diem which averages out to almost 90-days a year, lawmakers are paid $20,300 in annual salary.

Some lawmakers, who are independently wealthy, like longtime Nashville Democrat Senator Doug Henry do not take per diem.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Beth Harwell says her boss gives the annual per diem to charity.

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