I heard that a traveling Tennessee State Senator recently told a meeting here in Memphis that nothing could be done about Ophelia Ford missing most of the legislative session. That didn't sound correct to me, so I looked the law up on attendance and expulsion from the Tennessee Senate.
From the Tennessee Constitution:
§ 5. [Organization — Proceedings — Adjournment.] —
[1.] Each house shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members, and a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties as each house may provide.
[2.] Each house may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.
So it seems the real question is not whether anything can be done to a State Senator missing most of the session. The real question is why nothing has been done about it.
Here's another angle on the issue, from a recent Tennessee Attorney General opinion:
A legislator violates the oath of office by failing to exercise his or her impartial judgment in voting for an appointment, by voting for a bill or resolution that “appears” to him or her to be “injurious to the people,” or by consenting to “any act or thing . . . that shall have a tendency to abridge their rights and privileges” under the Tennessee Constitution. An official would violate the general statutory oath of office by failing to perform his or her official duties “with fidelity.”
Tenn. Op. Att'y Gen 05-106 (2005).
So it's not just whether Ophelia Ford has violated her oath of office. It's also every other member of the Tennessee General Assembly who is "consenting to 'any act or thing . . . that shall have a tendency to abridge [the people of Senate District 29's] right' under the Tennessee Constitution" to have a sitting and working Senator performing her official duties with fidelity. Every Senator who is not currently striving to boot Ophelia is failing to perform his or her duties with fidelity. Whether Ophelia's violation of her oath of office is due to her "act[s]" in necessitating hospitalization during session or whether her absence for any reason is only a "thing" abridging my right to be represented is not constitutionally important. Some would cast the dilemma in terms of depriving Ophelia of health care benefits. Ophelia does not deserve those benefits any more than she deserves a legislative paycheck; but this State has programs that could take the place of those benefits. I have heard that Ophelia has taken advantage of one such program before anyway. Another alternative is to offer her some state "job" that would preserve her benefits for the duration of her Senate term if she would just resign.
The real reason she hasn't been booted is raw politics. Senator Jim Kyle has tried to do something short of expulsion; but his plan was rebuffed by the State Attorney General as unconstitutional before it could be debated by the General Assembly. Republicans in the State Senate think it is funny that I don't have a Senator, because the Democrats in the Senate previously tried to keep Ophelia in there under the same circumstances and because Ophelia's absence deprives the Democrats of a key vote in the closely divided Senate.
I am getting angry writing this, but I will not call all you "Senators" names, even though truly I feel like doing so. I will repeat, however: each and every one of you that is not currently trying to expel the absent Senator -- so District 29 can have representation -- is violating your own oath of office.