NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A new bill in the Tennessee General Assembly would change state election law to make all elections for public officials partisan races.

House Bill 0262 and an identical Senate bill would require “state and local elections for public office to be partisan elections,” meaning candidates would have to be running with a political party or as an independent.

The bill would also require judges up for re-election to declare membership with a political party or as an independent 30 days before an election.

The bill was filed by Maryville Republican Rep. Bryan Richey.

In late 2021 during the special session on COVID-19, the Republican-led General Assembly passed legislation that gave the option for local political parties to make school board elections partisan races.

Back in November, the Johnson City School Board races were partisan for the first time. Several candidates filed as Republicans and independents, but no Democrats filed to run.

Johnson City Commissioner Jenny Brock disagreed with the move to partisan elections for school boards and said partisan elections are not needed in other areas of local government.

“I just don’t think that filter is what’s needed at the local level,” Brock said. “If for any reason the citizens of Johnson City wanted it to be that way, then they’re entitled to take that vote. I think rather than being told from Nashville what we need to do, we need to ask the citizens.”

Brock, now in her third term on the commission, said the commission has remained non-partisan for its entire existence.

She said making a change to that would turn the focus of the commission away from local issues.

“We deal with tangible things like fire trucks and roads and help make investments in our community, help it grow,” Brock said. “We don’t deal with social issues. That’s just not what a civic body does.”

State Sen. Jon Lundberg of Bristol said he supports the legislation and that it would provide voters transparency on local candidates.

“We’re in a country in a time where everyone’s got a side where they want to be on and where their philosophical feelings are whether you’re more liberal or more conservative,” Lundberg said.

Lundberg is the chair of the Senate Education Committee, which passed the original school board bill.

He said that legislation has worked well so far, and expanding it to other offices would help voters.

“Whether it be school board, city council, board of mayor and alderman, you know generally where those people are,” Lundberg said. “We just said if you want to make it more so, let’s just give you the option to do that.”

But Brock is concerned the legislation could lead to people voting by party without understanding the candidates.

“I think the way we do it now, people know us,” Brock said. “We’re local. They know us. They know who we are. They can call us and ask questions, and then we have to demonstrate why we’re qualified.”

Brock said the bill was discussed in a recent meeting with Johnson City’s state lawmaker delegation.

“Our City Manager Cathy Ball made some statements about how much easier it is for us to govern and run a city that’s non-partisan,” Brock said.

Washington County Democratic Party officials also spoke out against the bill. Chair Sylvain Bruni said it could mean more money gets injected into local politics, steering discussion outside of a local lens.

“That’s where you can see a lot of external money coming in from people outside of our community, out of our region basically pouring money to create more of those divisive messages,” Bruni said.

Lundberg said he would like to see the bill changed to include the local option for partisan elections like it was in the school board bill.

“I hope folks have that option,” Lundberg said. “Don’t want to hold them back. If you think about what we’re really doing is providing transparency.”

The bill is currently awaiting hearings in committee in both the House and Senate.