Tennessee lawmakers ended a special session on Tuesday, with some claiming it did not adequately address the health and public safety concerns it was initially meant to.
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Gov. Bill Lee called for the special session to address public safety and mental health in response to Nashville’s Covenant School shooting. The session started on Aug. 21st and continued into this week before lawmakers ended it on Tuesday.
Lee said the state made progress on public safety, and elevated a conversation about public safety that will continue into the future during a press conference after the special session.
“And that’s important. There will always be critics. But the credit belongs to those who were in the arena. That’s tens of thousands of Tennesseeans who engaged in this process over the last several months. We have much work to do. But together, the work we did this week and that we will do in the future will make Tennessee a safer place.”
Lawmakers were under public pressure to pass gun control laws—many session attendees carried signs urging reform during meetings, and Republican leaders ordered state troopers to remove members of the public from a legislative hearing room last week—but ultimately only passed four bills.
Senate Bill 7085 will provide tax breaks for gun safes and establish a free gun lock program. SB 7086 will require faster updates to the state’s background check system. SB 7088 will require the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to submit an annual report on human trafficking crimes. Legislators also passed an appropriations bill to fund the approved legislation.
The session was marred by heated arguments between lawmakers and an impasse between the House and the Senate. Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) called the session a “great waste of time” while talking to reporters after the session.
“I couldn’t [introduce] a bill about gun violence. And now we did nothing. We stayed up here in the House and the Senate, acted like petulant little children for a week, argued with each other, and we accomplished nothing. We saw democracy take a big hit where it looks like East Germany up here with the number of troopers we got to attack the citizens of this state. They made sure no one could talk but the Republicans. They made the motions to end the session, and get out of town.”
The House filed more than 100 bills in the special session, including some that addressed the availability of mental health resources and gun reform measures. SB 7091 would have required health insurance carriers, including TennCare providers, to provide mental health services and treatment to the same extent that they provide alcoholism and drug dependence services and treatment.
“We thought there were other bills that would be beneficial, and could have helped the Covenant shooting situation in the future,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said. “We passed them. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get across the finish line with the Senate.”
Sexton and Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) had a brief physical encounter when the House adjourned, and each representative accused the other of shoving them.
Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis) had addressed the speaker prior to the altercation.
“Why are we pushing through, not letting people be heard?” Camper asked. “We spoke with you to try to get a sense of what we’re going to do today so that we can all work together. It’s interesting we give a hoot about what the Senate is doing now. All week, the Senate is the Senate. The House is the House. But now we give a hoot. We did have a calendar today with about five bills on it. It’s unfair to the people that are watching and streaming.”