Members of the Tennessee Senate on Aug. 24, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Neither the House nor the Senate would budge Thursday, forcing a “standoff” to continue until next week as lawmakers try to negotiate an end to Gov. Bill Lee’s special session.
Senators approved four bills requested by Lee, including a $30 million spending measure, then adjourned until Monday at 4 p.m.
Meanwhile, in the House, lawmakers went forward with nine of the 26 bills, including a $150 million budget package. They adjourned Thursday evening, with plans to return Monday and finish the rest of their agenda.
Thursday marked day four of Lee’s special session and another in which Senate and House Republican leaders infighting ruled the day.
In a move designed as a statement, the House refused to pass any Senate Joint Resolutions, except for one sponsored by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and two by Senate Minority Leader Ramuesh Akbari, D-Memphis.
While the Senate remained defiant, it would not reopen committees to consider more legislation from the House.
Senate trying to wait the House out
Senate Judiciary Chairman Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said his committee would not reopen to consider any other bills.
Finance Chairman Bo Watson took a similar approach, saying his committee passed most of the bills sought by the governor and did not feel inclined to take up anything else, especially with the state suddenly facing a financial pinch. Revenues have come in shorter than expected for three straight months, leaving a $330 million hole in the budget.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally pointed out the Senate approved the governor’s bills and noted “there’s not a deal with the House.”
“I think it just depends on what they pass,” he said. “We’ve sent them four bills and they might amend those.”
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.
Among the House bills approved Thursday was legislation sponsored by House Majority William Lamberth, R-Portland, that would shield autopsies records of children killed in violent crimes from public records requests.
Several Covenant parents have advocated for the legislation, but there appeared to be confusion about how the bill would work. Parents suggested the bill would prevent the media from publishing the autopsies from this year’s shooting, but the records have already been obtained by several news organizations, with all declining to publish the images so far.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s measure to allow for blended sentences for juveniles that would send 16- and 17-year-olds to adult court for gun-related crimes, mainly firearm thefts, was not heard Thursday but is expected to be Monday.
Senators appeared opposed to both pieces of legislation.
Underlying most of the conservations in the House was acceptance among protesters and Democrats that Lee’s call was so tight that it wouldn’t allow most gun control-related bills to be considered.
Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari of Memphis hoped for stronger legislation to curtail mass shootings but noted Thursday her prediction was correct that this would be a session of “missed opportunities and misdirection.”
“We had the opportunity to really do some good things around gun safety to keep guns off our streets that shouldn’t be there, and the call of the session was incredibly limited,” Akbari said.
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