Prayer vigils, marches, and swearing-in ceremonies: Day one of the 2023 special legislative session
Participants in prayer ceremony encircle the Tennessee Capitol prior to the start of a special legislative session on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)
A long-awaited special legislative session to address public and gun safety issues began Monday with Tennessee’s Republican leadership limiting access to the Capitol and input from lawmakers and the public.
Tennesseans began filling the streets around the Capitol and the Legislative Plaza hours before House Speaker Cameron Sexton gaveled the session into order at 4 p.m.
A group organized by the Southern Christian Coalition held a prayer session outside the Capitol as participants made a human chain around the building, while members of the far-right hate group, The Proud Boys, converged on the area.
Later in the day, a coalition of groups including The Equity Alliance Fund, Memphis for All, TIRRC Votes and Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood led a march from First Baptist Church Capitol Hill — a site central to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement — to the Capitol.
But members of the public found it hard to access the legislative chambers, after Tennessee Highway Patrol officers closed off the tunnel leading from the Cordell Hull Legislative Office Building into the Capitol, a customary access route. After being rerouted, those wanting to attend the proceedings stood outside in temperatures in the high 90s, waiting to enter a checkpoint one-by-one.
Those who made it inside learned one side of the House Gallery was reserved for lobbyists, staff members and credentialed media members.
A strict rules package drafted by House leadership specifies that members of the public can bring no signs into legislative proceedings — even 8.5-x 11-inch pieces of paper — and that lawmakers who interrupt proceedings may be barred from speaking for three consecutive legislative days.
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