Home Local News Special session ends with very little accomplished

Special session ends with very little accomplished

by PRIDE Newsdesk

The legislative special session called by Gov. Bill Lee in response to the Covenant School shooting ended with very little accomplished.

Marked by an altercation between Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Rep. Justin Pearson, the silencing of Justin Jones, and a Democrat walk out of the chamber, the Senate quickly adjourned on Tuesday.

Tennessee Democrats released the following statement about the session: 

“Because of the failed leadership of Gov. Bill Lee and this GOP supermajority, Tennessee’s children are no safer today than they were before the special session convened.

“There is no sugarcoating the utter incompetence and disrespect for democracy exhibited by the GOP supermajority since last Monday.

“From House rules used to silence Democratic members and prohibit signs and the callous forced removal of crying mothers from a House committee, the Republicans’ blatant disrespect for and displays of indifference to the concerns of Tennessee families were on full display throughout this seven days long session.

“Yesterday, when one of our members was arbitrarily ruled out of order and silenced, our Caucus stood united as one and walked out. However, because the GOP holds a supermajority of seats, they were able to conduct business without a single Democrat in the chamber.

“The actions and policies of this state legislature do not reflect the will of a majority of Tennesseans or our values. It has been made clear over the course of this special session. Republican leadership is incapable of leading and it is failing Tennessee families. Our children deserve better.”

Despite the lack of accomplishments, Gov. Lee says the session brought a little bit of “hope.”

“We have made some headway this week. Four of our bills passed,” he said. “Significant funding was focused on issues that matter to public safety. We have improved the background check system, attacked human trafficking, improved access for safe storage, and funded mental health resources across the state. We made progress.

“It’s also encouraging to the thousands of Tennesseans who weighed in and engaged in the process over the last several months.

“I want to speak particularly to the Covenant parents who were a part of that engagement process in an important way. Their presence made a difference, and they reminded Tennesseans that there is hope in the midst of tragedy. They brought that hope into this process.”

Republicans shelved all but four of the proposed bills:

  • SB7088/HB7041 requires TBI to submit a report on child and human trafficking crimes and trends in Tennessee by December 1, 2023, and annually thereafter.
  • SB7086/HB7013 requires reporting of accurate, complete and timely records from court clerks to the TBI within 72-hours and requires electronic submissions of dispositions and expungements to the TBI.
  • SB7085/HB7012 directs the department of safety to provide free firearm locks to Tennessee residents upon request; requires department-approved handgun safety courses to contain instruction on the safe storage of firearms; exempts the retail sale of firearm safes and firearm safety devices from sales and use taxes beginning November 1, 2023.
  • SB7089/HB7070 appropriates $50 million in grant funding to mental health agencies, $30 million in school safety grants to public and private higher education institutions, $12.1 million in recruitment and retention bonuses for mental health professionals, $10 million additional funding for school safety grant fund, $4 million in funding for the mental health safety net, $3 million in funding for the behavioral health scholarship program, and $1.1 million to fund a public safety campaign for safe storage.

According to statistics from the Tennessee chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, Tennessee currently has the 12th highest rate of gun deaths in the United States and some of the weakest gun laws in the country. An Extreme Risk law may have prevented the shooting at the Covenant School and saved six lives. Twenty-one states (including Indiana and Florida) have already passed an Extreme Risk law. Guns are the number one killer of children and teens in the U.S. and in Tennessee.

“We had high hopes that after the shooting at Covenant School, politicians would understand the urgent need to prevent another senseless tragedy. They had the opportunity to do the right thing and once again, they failed to act,” said Zack Maaieh, head of the Students Demand Action Tennessee chapter and a student at Vanderbilt University. “Despite their inaction, we showed the power of our voices, refusing to back down even as mothers were being forcibly removed from hearings, and lawmakers were forced to reject a bill to arm teachers and put more guns in our schools. But we aren’t going anywhere. We’ll be back in January, showing out in droves to demand that lawmakers advance gun safety laws that protect our right to live and if they refuse to listen, we’ll come for their seats next November.”

“Mothers who’ve had children taken by gun violence were thrown out for doing their job, holding our elected officials accountable and fighting for the safety of our families,” said Leeaan Hewlett, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action. “Republican politicians have spent their time this special session trying to arm teachers in schools, but thanks to the courage and persistence of mothers and others these attempts fell short. While we are encouraged by proposals meant to promote the secure storage of firearms, this session fell woefully short, so we’re tracking votes, we’re taking names, and we will show up to the ballot box to vote out lawmakers who refuse to take action to save lives.”

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