Tennessee Senate-House Stalemate Broken, Special Session Officially Adjourns

Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov

The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

On the sixth extraordinary day of Tennessee’s Special Session for ‘public safety,’ the Senate concurred with several amendments made by the House to bills they had already passed and officially adjourned until January.

During the sixth day of Governor Lee’s Special Session, the Tennessee Senate introduced nor considered any new Senate or House bills, but rather addressed House amendments made to several of the bills they had passed on previous days.

A concurrence on amendments had to be made before the bills could be signed off on by the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate and transmitted to Governor Lee to be signed into law.

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Sources inside the Capitol tell us that the Senate did not consider a controversial bill on the sealing of the autopsy records of minors because Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga-District 10) informed Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge-District 5) that the bill would have opened up sections of Tennessee code that would have made it necessary for the bill to be passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gardenhire, being chairman of that committee, refused to reopen it to consider the bill.

Sources tell us that this is what ended the stalemate between the House and the Senate.

Gary Humble of Tennessee Stands said, “thanks to the leadership of Senator Paul Bailey (R – Sparta) and an adamant refusal by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R – Chattanooga) to reopen the Judiciary Committee, the Senate held its ground on the passage of only four (4) bills.”

SB7085 (gun safes tax relief)

SB7086 (TBI reporting, Executive Order 100)

SB7088 (annual report on human trafficking)

SB7089 (budget appropriations bill)

The first House amendment up for consideration was to SB7085 by Johnson. (*HB7012 by Lamberth.)

Bill summary – Firearms and Ammunition – Amends TCA Title 39, Chapter 17, Part 13 and Title 67, Chapter 6, Part 3. As introduced, 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; defines firearm safes and firearm safety devices.

The Senate version of the bill that had previously been passed would have used $1.1 million dollars from dollars already appropriated to pay for a “public safety campaign dedicated to safe firearm storage.”

However, the House amended the bill so that the funds to cover the campaign would have to come from new appropriations. 

Senator Adam Lowe (R-Calhoun-District 1) made the motion to concur with the House on the amendment.

Regarding the bill in its entirety, Senator London Lamar (D-Memphis-District 33) stated that a program, such as the one outlined in the legislation, already exists and there is no evidence that it is actually working.

Senator Charlane Oliver (D-Nashville-District 19) expressed that the money they are allocating with the bills passed in the Special Session are a “waste of taxpayer dollars” and stated that the “solutions” passed in the session have done nothing to actually address gun violence.

“Unfortunately, we’re not passing the bills that people want us to do,” Oliver said.

Senator Lowe stated that many of the bills that were presented during the Special Session were based on public opinion polls, which he stated are not “evidence-based.”  However, he said that the safe storage bill (SB7085/HB7012) is based on quantifiable empirical evidence.

“We don’t have to punish people into compliance, we can compel them,” Lowe said.

Senator Sara Kyle (D-Memphis-District 30) stated that she hopes stronger gun control/reform measures will be introduced when the legislature reconvenes in January and that the Governor will support them.

In the time before the general session convenes in January, Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains-District 8) asked the Senators to think about so-called “gun-free zones.”

Niceley stated that in reality, there is no such thing as “gun-free zones” since those who wish to do harm to others pay no attention to zones/laws such as those.

He also pondered what might have happened if a gun permit holder that was carrying had been present on school grounds during one of the recent school shootings and suggested that the resulting murders may have been averted.  

Niceley asked the Senators to rethink laws that place restrictions and potential legal ramifications on gun permit holders should they choose to act in a time of crisis stating that should a permit holder act to stop a school shooting, they themselves would be in violation of current law by carrying on school grounds and could be tried as a felon. 

With comments concluded, a vote was called and the Senate concurred with the House amendment by a vote of 25 to 0 with 6 persons not voting.

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The second set of House amendments up for consideration was to SB7089 by Johnson. (*HB7070 by Lamberth.)

Summary – Appropriations – As introduced, makes appropriations sufficient for the payment of any lawful expenses, including, but not limited to, staffing, per diem, travel, and other expenses, of the first extraordinary session of the 113th General Assembly; makes other appropriations related to such extraordinary session.

The first amendment referenced allocation of $1.1 million in new appropriations for “public safety campaign dedicated to safe firearm storage,” as outlined in the amendment to SB7085/HB7012 above.

The Senate concurred with the amendment by a vote of 28 to 0.

The second amendment reduced the previously passed $16 million allocation for healthcare worker retention bonuses to $12 million and redirected the remaining $4 million (nonrecurring) to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for the Behavioral Health Safety Net Program to be used for the “provision of mental health services”.

The Senate concurred with the amendment by a vote of 26 to 0.

The third amendment reallocated already appropriated funds to enhance safety regulations and installations in Tennessee colleges.  The amendment earmarked $30 million in non-recurring funds coming from the prison fund for this purpose, leaving $20 million still in the prison fund.

The safety upgrades to Tennessee higher education institutions would include exterior lighting, security cameras, new door hardware, blue lights, laminated ballistic film on windows, improved site signage and landscaping on the campuses.

The House also requested that $50 million of non-recurring funds be allocated to mental health facilities.  This allocation would come from TennCare reversions that, according to Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson-District 11), totaled $508 million last year.

Watson, who is chairman of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, said that the funds would be used to help mental health facilities that are “struggling with their finances” over the next few months.

Watson explained that the majority of the other allocations made in other House amendments deal with bills that the Senate did not and will not pass in Special Session, so those allocations will not be funded.

Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma-District 16) confirmed with Watson that the acceptance of this bill and its amendments would in no way lead to federal money entanglements by allowing acceptance of the Medicare mental health waiver.  Senator Watson answered that it would not allow any such acceptance of federal funds.

Gary Humble of Tennessee Stands said, “This is quasi-federal money in the sense that it is coming out of leftover COVID relief funds. However, that money should not be traveling into mental health with any strings attached in terms of federal regulations. Our understanding is that the state has discretion in dispensing these funds in a variety of ways and these grants will be directed by the state of Tennessee.”

The Senate concurred with the amendment by a vote of 26 to 0.

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The third and final amended bill the Senate considered was SB7086 by Johnson. (*HB7013 by Lamberth.)

Summary – Clerks, Court – As introduced, changes from 30 days to 72 hours the time frame within which a clerk of the circuit or general sessions court must notify the TBI of the final disposition of criminal proceedings against a person after final disposition of such proceedings; requires the clerk to notify the TBI of the final disposition of such proceedings by electronic submission; requires the clerk of the municipal court, when exercising concurrent general sessions court jurisdiction, to notify the TBI by electronic submission of the final disposition of such proceedings against a person no later than 72 hours after final disposition of such proceedings. – Amends TCA Title 16, Chapter 18 and Title 18, Chapter 4.

Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin-District 27) explained that the bill has to do with codification of Governor Lee’s executive order he signed earlier this year (as outlined in the bill summary).

Johnson explained that the Senate had altered the bill with an amendment that changed the reporting time requirement from 72 hours to 3 business days.  However, with an amendment, the House chose to revert the 3 business day reporting time back to 72 hours to match Governor Lee’s original bill.

Senator Gardenhire expressed frustration that this short reporting time would put undue pressure on small county clerk’s offices and urged other Senators to vote No on the House amendment.

However, Senator Johnson, stated that there is no penalty involved for those clerks who cannot report within the allotted time and urged Senators for passage.

The Senate concurred with the House amendment by a vote of 18 to 6.

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Following, Senator Johnson presented Senate Joint Resolution 7150 (SJR7150).

Summary – General Assembly, Adjournment – Adjourns sine die First Extraordinary Session of 113th General Assembly on August 29, 2023. 

The resolution to adjourn the Special Session passed by a vote of 25 to 6 with only the Democrats voting against.

Speaker McNally asked that Governor Lee be informed that the Senate had officially concluded business, thereby ending the Special Session.

John Harris, Executive Director of Tennessee Firearms Association, said “Although Governor Lee had insisted as early as April 2023 that the special session would focus on his proposed Red Flag law, he massively expanded that scope in his August 8, 2023, proclamation to include 18 different broad categories, one of which was a Red Flag law.  During the Special Session, the legislature filed 114 bills in the House, 109 bills in the Senate, 56 House Joint Resolutions, 151 Senate Joint Resolutions, 23 House Resolutions and 21 Senate Resolutions.   At the end, the Legislature passed 3 bills (the governor could still veto one or more of them) plus an appropriation’s bill spending over $100 million in taxpayer funds.”

Harris continued, “Tennessee Firearms Association members and members of other legitimate gun advocacy groups as well as our respective members can take a brief breath for today but only if they remain aware that the biggest threat to our rights is government, including the state and local governments in Tennessee. It is now time to regroup, reassess, get ready for what may be a greater and more sustained fight that will be manifested in the January 2024 continuation of the Legislative session.”

Gary Humble of Tennessee Stands commented, “All in all, the call for this special session by Governor Bill Lee was a complete sham and a waste of taxpayer money. And the proof is certainly now in the pudding. Due to the advocacy efforts of so many conservatives across the state of Tennessee, the General Assembly held its ground.”

About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative  ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com

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