Tennessee House and Senate at Odds Over Special Session Bills

The special session that kicked off in Nashville on Monday could wrap up as early as this afternoon, but that depends on whether House and Senate leaders can get on the same page.

After passing four bills on Wednesday, none imposing new mandates or infringing on gun owners’ rights, the Senate closed off further committee debate and adjourned. However, they left the door open to return by not passing a formal measure to call the session to a close. The House, meanwhile, still has several bills moving through committee, and it’s an open question as to whether the Senate will come back to consider any or all of them before the session is gaveled out.

The Senate closed committees and adjourned Wednesday afternoon after passing just four bills, one of which was a spending measure. Senators stopped short of adopting a final adjournment resolution to formally end business for the week.
As the chamber gaveled out, demonstrators in the gallery broke out in chants of “You’ve done nothing! You’ve done nothing!” and unfurled a banner that read “no gun reform, no peace!” They were escorted from the chamber.
Earlier Wednesday, the Senate had coalesced around three bills that passed through the Judiciary Committee the day before. Senate committees quickly dispensed with dozens of other bills — including some top priorities for House GOP leaders. In some cases, Senate committees lasted less than a minute.
The surviving Senate bills include a measure to remove sales tax on gun safes and provide free gun locks to Tennessee residents, a proposal to change the deadline for courts to submit records to the state background check database, and a bill to require the TBI to create an updated report on human trafficking. Each of those measures passed the Senate on Wednesday.
An early Senate adjournment would be a roadblock for bills the House wants to adopt. Without passage of a companion bill in the Senate, any legislation passed in the House is essentially barred from moving forward. But the Senate seems set on going home.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, announced that the chamber’s leadership plans to meet with House leaders to figure out a path to adjourn the special session.
“As you know, we’re in a sort of Mexican stand-off with the House,” McNally told caucus members, during a bill review meeting in his conference room.

Among the bills still under consideration in the House are measures that would prohibit the release of autopsy reports of juveniles, a package aimed at reducing juvenile crime, and a proposal allowing those who possess an enhanced carry license (as well as active duty and retired military veterans and law enforcement) to lawfully carry on school grounds. If any of those bills are to pass, the Senate would have to come back for more votes, and it’s unclear whether House and Senate leaders have struck any kind of agreement.

As for Gov. Bill Lee’s top priority for the session, neither the House nor Senate has adopted any version of a “red flag” law, and at this point there are no signs that his “temporary mental health order of protection” is going to get a vote in either chamber, though it could be revived when the next regular session of the legislature kicks off in January.

Given the circus-like atmosphere of the special session, the best move the Republican majority could make would be for the House to take up the Senate bills and then gavel to a close. So far the primary beneficiaries of the session have been gun control activists, who are getting a lot of free publicity from the media, and adjourning the session would deny them further opportunities to mug for the cameras and denounce the majority for “doing nothing” with the state’s gun laws. Gov. Lee made a huge mistake by calling the session in the first place, and given the growing infighting among the Republican majority, it’s time to bring it to an end.

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