Senate passes bills, sets talks with House for adjournment
A group of women listen to a House committee meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. (Photo: John Partpilo)
The Tennessee Senate passed four bills Wednesday, including a $30 million spending measure, but found itself in a standoff with House leaders before this week’s special session can end, according to Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.
House leaders want the Senate to make concessions enabling it to pass more than the three bills the upper chamber approved Wednesday afternoon. The Senate hopes to adjourn by Thursday.
“It takes both houses to agree on adjournment resolutions … or you keep going and going,” McNally told senators during the chamber’s bill review meeting.
Senate members speculated on which measures the House wants to pass. But House Speaker Cameron Sexton has made no secret of his support for bills that allow 16- and 17-year-olds to be tried in adult court for gun-related offenses, mainly firearm thefts.
Speculation also focuses on a bill to make autopsies of minors an exception to the state’s public records law, a measure supported by Covenant parents.
Making a move to bring up those bills for consideration in both chambers is turning into a game of chicken.
“We’re going to tango at some point,” McNally said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Todd Gardenhire said Tuesday no other bills would make it through his committee, potentially pitting him against House leadership.
McNally, though, said Senate and House leaders would be negotiating Wednesday and Thursday.
Asked what the Senate Judiciary should do if it reopens, McNally said, “I think they need to review (bills) very careful and if they do decide to reopen, review the bills very carefully and determine whether to pass them on their merits.”
The Senate was set to convene at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Thursday, though those times are expected to be “fluid.”
As senators adjourned Wednesday, a group of women, stood and chanted, “You’ve done nothing!” before being escorted from the chamber. Some of them appeared to be members of a coalition of gun safety groups, including Rise and Shine TN, March for our Lives and Kids Not Guns.
Senators approved a gun storage bill costing about $1.6 million annually for sales tax breaks on gun safes and gun locks, in addition to a gun-lock giveaway program; a measure requiring the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to make a yearly report on human trafficking, the first by Dec. 1; and a bill codifying the governor’s executive order to improve background checks for gun purchases. It requires court clerks to send notice of felony convictions to the TBI within three business days rather than 30 days.
The state already has thousands of gun locks in storage, but officials said they hope to embark on a public relations campaign to send out more of the hardware.
“There is no requirement to use the safe storage program,” said Sen. Adam Lowe, R-Calhoun, noting the bill “empowers” people to keep their weapons from being stolen.
Sen. Raumesh Akbari pointed out Memphis and Nashville have a “big problem” with gun thefts and said people should be required to lock their weapons securely in vehicles. Without incentives, it allows “bad actors” to steal guns, the Memphis Democrat said, adding she hopes to stiffen the measure during the 2024 legislative session.
Senators had nearly 60 bills on committee calendars but tabled all but four over the second and third days of the special session called by Gov. Bill Lee to deal with safety in the wake of the mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville that claimed six lives March 27.
The spending bill provides $16.3 million for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse for staff bonuses, $3 million for a scholarship program to encourage people to enter the behavioral health field, $10 million for the Department of Education to distribute for school safety officers in all schools, mainly charter schools, $1 million for the gun storage program, and $232,000 for fund the special session if it last four days.
Finance Chairman Bo Watson could not give an estimate on the amount the state spent to bring in about 100 extra state troopers for security.
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