Governor promises to make special session call, sponsor bills amid GOP opposition
Lee working with bipartisan group of lawmakers
Gov. Bill Lee, surrounded by Republican lawmakers during an April 3 press conference at which Lee announced he would direct funding towards school safety measures. (Photo:John Partipilo)
Still facing challenges from Republican leaders, Gov. Bill Lee confirmed he will make an official call for a special session and sponsor several bills, including one he floated this spring dealing with extreme risk orders of protection.
Yet just four months after a mass shooting at The Covenant School in Green Hills, Lee is hitting roadblocks set up by his own party and Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, who continues to say he will not support the governor’s order of protection bill.
Lee said recently he also plans to push legislation on juvenile justice, mental health and violent crime and noted that lawmakers will back dozens of bills during the special session. He declined to give more details.
“Tennessee will be a safer state as a result of the efforts of the legislation and the legislators who are engaged in the process of this special session on public safety,” Lee said.
Johnson, who typically sponsors the governor’s bills as a result of his leadership position, reiterated his stance this week against Lee’s proposed extreme order of protection plan, even though it contains a provision for due process before an unstable person’s guns can be taken. Johnson said in a statement he does not support “red flag laws” and never has. The governor has shied away from the term “red flag law.”
“Should the governor choose to introduce an ERPO during special session, I will not be the sponsor. Because the special session, itself, is controversial and lacks support in the Senate, this is a unique circumstance. Once the governor’s other proposals are finalized, I will review each one and consult with my Senate colleagues prior to agreeing to sponsor any administration bills,” Johnson said, responding to questions from the Tennessee Lookout.
Similarly, House Speaker Cameron Sexton told the Tennessee Firearms Association last week he doesn’t think the governor’s extreme risk protection orders will make it out of committee system, though he believes bills could pass dealing with emergency commitals and “mass threats” directed at groups and locations, in addition to improving the state’s background check system for gun purchases.
Even though key Republican lawmakers have said they won’t back most gun control measures, Lee said he’s met dozens of times with more than a hundred Republican and Democratic lawmakers, in addition to pastors, students, parents and business leaders in advance of the special session.
The governor reportedly created a bipartisan working group that includes Democratic Sen. Raumesh Akbari and Democratic Reps. Bob Freeman and Antonio Parkinson.
Lee also said he’s confident “substantive” legislation will pass, despite statements by legislative leaders that gun-related bills will not be approved.
The Governor’s Office will keep a public comment portal open until the start of the planned Aug. 21 special session. Thousands of responses the office has received are considered public records.
Sen. Ferrell Haile also confirmed Tuesday he plans to sponsor a bill during the special session dealing with mental health and violence. The bill’s language is not complete, but he said it is critical to note that not all mentally ill people are violent and not all violent people are mentally ill.
“They’re just evil, full of hate,” he said of the latter group.
Meanwhile, Democrats started a series of town hall meetings Tuesday they plan to hold across the state to increase support for tighter gun laws leading up to the special session. The first was in Memphis.
Tennessee will be a safer state as a result of the efforts of the legislation and the legislators who are engaged in the process of this special session on public safety.
– Gov. Bill Lee
“Gun violence is a personal issue to the families who are impacted by this,” state Rep. John Ray Clemmons said Monday. “We want and we need to have personal conversations in their own communities.”
State Sen. Charlane Oliver, who prayed with a group of Covenant School families Monday, noted that guns are the leading cause of child deaths in Tennessee, which has some of the worst gun violence ratings in the nation. She pointed out the statistics show nothing new.
“What is new is the opportunity to turn tragedy into policy action,” Oliver said.
She urged fellow lawmakers to “have the courage not to cower” to the Tennessee Firearms Association and National Rifle Association and pointed out that Gov. Lee could sign “landmark” legislation as a result of the special session.
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, recently said he felt a group of Covenant School parents who formed nonprofit entities to work toward stricter gun laws were hypocritical and questioned why they didn’t take action when Black children in Chattanooga and Memphis were “slaughtered.”
Asked about that statement Monday, Oliver said, “Where was he? That’s the question. Where was he when little Black kids were getting slaughtered in Memphis, in Nashville, in Chattanooga?”
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.