Live special session updates: TN lawmakers return for second day, committees to begin

The Tennessee General Assembly will be back to work today for a special legislative session focused on public safety, mental health and gun reform.

The session officially kicked off on Monday at 4 p.m., with controversy unfolding in the House over rules for decorum and discipline. Earlier in the day, Tennesseans from across the state gathered for prayer, marches and rallies urging lawmakers to act.

The Senate has a floor session scheduled for 8:30 a.m. CT, followed by committees at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Meanwhile, in the House, a floor session is scheduled for 9 a.m.

Follow along for live updates.

House minority leader calls ejection outrageous

House Minority Leader Karen Camper, D-Memphis, called the ejection of dozens of audience members from a subcommittee meeting “outrageous.”

Tennessee Highway Patrol first removed three people for holding paper signs in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee room before the chair ordered THP to clear the entire room after several people clapped.

Camper said thousands of Tennesseans have come to the Capitol, both in the spring and for the special session, to urge lawmakers to “do something about senseless gun tragedies.”

“For a committee chairperson to use their position to banish grieving Tennesseans from the committee room is beyond the pale,” Camper said. “This needs to be explained as to why people were removed and the room was cleared after citizens took to the time and effort to be present in their government. This is embarrassing. What are we doing?”

— Melissa Brown, The Tennessean

Covenant School parent fights tears during testimony

Covenant School parent Sarah Shoop Neumann spoke to the House Civil Justice Subcommittee through tears as she testified against in House Bill 7064, sponsored by Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County.

The bill seeks to allow law enforcement officers and military, whether on-duty, off-duty, or retired, and enhanced handgun carry permit holders, to possess and carry a handgun openly or concealed in any public school building or bus, public school campus and grounds, in most circumstances.

“The presence of firearms in schools is something I cannot speak against more strongly,” she said. “Teachers in this state already lack support in the state in terms of funding, staffing and being overwhelmed. And you want to arm them?”

Neumann, who was speaking on behalf of herself, the Covenant Families Action Fund and a number of teachers at The Covenant School, said that the teachers being armed would have only made the tragedy at the Covenant School worse.

“Their hands were shaking so badly that day when they were doing what they could to keep those kids quiet, safe and secure,” she said. “They could not have handled a gun. The fact that we lost only three kids is largely due to what those teachers did that day. They could not have done those things if they were told to go out armed and attack the shooter.”

The bill went on to pass.

— Angele Latham, The Tennessean

Key Senate panel passes three bills, tables 52 others

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed only three bills on its 55-bill calendar before adjourning Tuesday, ending the upper chamber’s legislative business for the day. The committee tabled 52 other bills on their calendar.

Those three bills are the only ones advancing through the Senate after all of the meetings Tuesday.

Senators passed a bill backed by Gov. Bill Lee to eliminate the sales tax on gun safes and storage devices, provide free gun locks, and sponsor a public service announcement campaign on safe gun storage.

The committee also passed measures to have the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations create a new report on human trafficking, and create a new deadline for court records to be entered into the state database used for background checks.

Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, abstained from all three votes.

The committee was the final item on the Senate’s agenda for the day. Senators return for the Senate Education Committee at 8:30 a.m.

— Vivian Jones, The Tennessean

Bill on child sex trafficking

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill related to child sex trafficking. The legislation would require the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to give an updated report on the current state of human trafficking.

Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, a co-sponsor, said lawmakers need an update on the issue since TBI’s last report in 2013.

The bill would request that TBI submit a new report by December, so lawmakers can being with a robust package of laws to address the issue when they return in January.

The bill would require TBI to focus on the problems in communities and provide an update annually.

A TBI police director said the information is ready available to the bureau and that they already report the information in other crime reports.

— Kelly Puente, The Tennessean

Bill on TBI investigation notifications passes

In one of the few bills passed so far today, the Senate Judiciary Committee has unanimously passed a bill that would change from 30 days to 72 hours the timeframe within which a court clerk must notify the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation of the final disposition of criminal proceedings against a person.

The TBI in a previous report in response to an executive order from the governor said it has struggled to meet reporting timeframe requirements for the state’s gun background check system due to limited resources, dated technology and the lack of a unified court system.

Officials with the TBI earlier this year said some counties still send court information via mail or fax and that meeting any 72-hour reporting timeframes would be difficult.

The TBI oversees the state’s gun background check system but it depends on local law enforcement and court clerks to submit timely criminal information, but they do not all use the same technology.

— Kelly Puente, The Tennessean

Demonstrators removed from committee hearing

Three demonstrators were forcefully removed from the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday afternoon after it was announced that no signs were permitted to be held aloft by audience members.

Those in attendance appeared confused as the rule was announced, with silent audience members slowly lowering paper signs and phone screens.

One woman, Allison Polidor, of Nashville, refused to lower her piece of paper emblazoned with the words “1 kid> all the guns.” State troopers lifted her from her seat and took her out of the room.

Another women, who spoke up in support of Polidor, was ushered out behind her. Moments later, another woman was removed for holding the same sign as Polidor.

“The real heroes are leaving the room right now,” a woman in the crowd shouted as officers left.

“This is an attack on our First Amendment rights,” Polidor said, wiping away tears as she was embraced by fellow activists in the hall. “I’m here for my kids, everybody’s kids. The people are in there making oppressive laws, or lack of laws, and we’re here for our kids. … When we’ve come to point where you can’t hold up a sign, that’s not okay. That’s not democracy.”

She said the committee meeting was the first event she had attended that day with fellow activists with Tennessee Rise and Shine and Moms Demand Action, and she is planning on being present for many more.

“Just tell me where I need to go,” she said.

Minutes after the third protestor was removed from the room, the entire room was cleared of citizens and the session declared a closed session.

Audience members expressed their frustration as they left, shouting “Is this what your democracy looks like?” and “Who’s house? Our house.”

Under the cacophony of shouts, the crying of multiple Covenant School parents could be heard as they were ushered out. 

— Angele Latham, The Tennessean

Battling shooting trauma

Melissa Roberts said she’s been traumatized since she was shot in the chest in 2017. Roberts said her neighborhood has been ravaged by gun violence.

“It hasn’t gotten better, my daughter was shot last year,” she said. “It’s really hard to be a gunshot victim. You have to go through therapy. I have post traumatic stress.”

Roberts was one of the gun violence victims who joined members of the African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee for a call to action for gun control.

Aaron Marble, a pastor at at Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville, said gun violence is a public health crisis.

Marble said he had to stop at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on his way to the Capitol today because one of his members, a 30-year-old man, was shot.

“He was simply at the gas station at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Marble said.

He urged people to write their lawmakers and take action during this special session.

— Kelly Puente, The Tennessean

House Transportation subcommittee punts bills to January

Little has happened so far on the House side, as the first bills presented House Transportation subcommittee were taken off notice, with bill sponsors saying they wanted to wait until regular session in January to consider them.

A House Joint Resolution sponsored by Rep. Caleb Hemmer, D-Nashville, to move firearm safety brochures into driver’s test locations was approved. 

— Melissa Brown, The Tennessean

Committee passes bill on mental health professional education

Members of the Higher Education Subcommittee passed a bill to encourage the education of more mental health professionals on Tuesday, with a number of demonstrators filling the audience to watch.

The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, will establish a loan forgiveness program for psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors after they work in the mental health field within the state for five years after receiving the grant funds.

A second bill, which was a nearly identical proposal but a different timeframe, was taken off notice.

— Angele Latham, The Tennessean

‘Tennessee is in the crosshairs’ of child sex trafficking, state senator says

As lawmakers consider a bill this special session related to child sex trafficking, more than two dozen leaders from both chambers held a news conference along with Tennessee Faith and Freedom Coalition to raise awareness of the issue.

A Senate committee this afternoon will consider a bill requiring the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to give an updated report on the current state of human trafficking.

Sen. Ken Yager, a co-sponsor, called it a form of modern slavery and a scourge of society.

Yager, R-Kingston, said lawmakers passed legislation to address the issue after the most recent TBI report in 2013, but now it’s time for an update.

The bill would request that TBI submit a new report by December, so lawmakers can “hit the ground running” when they return for their regular session next year.

“Due to our geographical location, Tennessee is in the crosshairs,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said lawmakers are planning for a “robust package” next year to fight the issue.

“We are going to make Tennessee a leader in ending this evil practice in the United States of America,” he said.

The Tennessee Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative, a faith-based nonprofit, says it works to influence public policy for efforts including “defending and fighting for children” and “defending against Marxism.”

Previously, the group falsely claimed that violent threats were made about the special session, which law enforcement denied.

— Kelly Puente, The Tennessean

Reps. Justin Jones, Justin Pearson assigned to legislative committees

Democratic Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis were both named to legislative committees in the House on Tuesday.

Jones had been stripped of committee assignments in the spring prior to his expulsion for mounting a gun reform protest on the House floor. Pearson, who was first elected in a special election earlier this year, had not yet been named to committees when he was expelled. Both won reelection to their seats earlier this month.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who is now representing Jones, previously wrote to House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, foreshadowing legal action if Jones were not reinstated to committees.

Jones attempted to ask Sexton about his committee assignment during a Tuesday morning floor session, though Sexton called him out of order. Minutes later, Sexton read out the special session committee assignments.

The House will begin its committee meetings at noon, though calendars have not yet been publicly posted.

— Melissa Brown, The Tennessean

Mental health bill tabled in committee

Attendees with

As lawmakers kicked off the second day of their special session today to consider a swath of public safety bills, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee met to consider a bill related to mental health.

Lawmakers, however, met and adjourned in less than two minutes. They took no action and tabled the bill.

The bill would have required health insurance carriers, including TennCare providers, to provide mental health services and treatment to the same extent that carriers and providers provide alcohol and drug dependent services and treatment.

Though it didn’t address gun control, the room was filled with people backing stricter gun laws with signs that read “I am a supporter of firearm safety.”

“That’s democracy at work,” quipped one demonstrator as they left the room.

— Kelly Puente, The Tennessean

Friction between protesters, counter-protesters

As the House session ended, demonstrators quickly flooded the halls outside the chambers to shout at the passing lawmakers.

Chants of “Their blood is on your hands,” “Aren’t you ashamed,” and “This is what democracy looks like” were intermingled with a very small group of counter-protesters shouting “Shall not be infringed,” referring to the Second Amendment.

Some friction from counter-protesters could be heard at the blockaded exit of one side of the hall, as state troopers halted any demonstrators’ movement while lawmakers walked by. A number of counter-protesters could be heard shouting at other demonstrators to let them out of the crowd because they “weren’t with them.”

Despite the sudden rush of demonstrators, the crowd quickly dispersed as numerous groups made their way towards the Cordell Hull legislative office building. 

— Angele Latham, The Tennessean

Skirting the new rules

After House Republicans last night adopted new rules banning members of the public from holding signs in the House galleries and committees, some people in the gallery for Tuesday’s floor session held up their phones with flashing text instead.

A group of parents whose children survived the Covenant shooting briefly held up a “Covenant strong” school scarf, which isn’t expressly prohibited by the new rules.

The House has not yet adopted a committee schedule for the day.

— Melissa Brown, The Tennessean

Senate recesses to committees

The Senate gaveled in for the second day of the special legislative session at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, passing bills on second consideration and formally referring them to committees for consideration.

As she promised to do Monday evening, Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Manchester, filed a resolution proposing to adjourn the special session. However, the resolution was not filed before the deadline, and was not heard.

After a 20 minute meeting, senators recessed and will head to two committees that are scheduled to meet Tuesday: Commerce and Labor Committee, and Judiciary Committee.

— Vivian Jones, The Tennesean

Slow start to Special Session

Few demonstrators were present inside the Capitol early Tuesday morning, as the hot summer sun lit the empty marbled halls. 

Legislators entered the chambers of the Capitol without the loud ridicule of the crowds—a first for this session—as day two of the special session commenced.

Demonstrators in attendance mostly filed into the gallery, with a later faction planning to gather in Cordell Hull.

The rope barriers present from yesterday’s demonstrations remained to limit protestors in the building. 

— Angele Latham, The Tennessean

Catch up on Monday’s developments

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