Senate, House adjourn public safety special session

No major gun reform bills were passed
Video obtained by WSMV4 shows an altercation between Sexton, Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Justin Pearson, D-Memphis.
Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 11:56 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 29, 2023 at 5:56 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - The Tennessee special session on public safety is over.

The House and Senate adjourned Tuesday morning having only passed a handful of the more than 100 bills that were introduced trying to make schools and neighborhoods safer.

Both chambers held brief floor sessions on Tuesday morning after a meeting between members of the Republican supermajority and Governor Bill Lee. Lawmakers finalized four bills but did not act on several of them proposed by Gov. Lee and Covenant School parents.

“I don’t want any of you to know what this feels like. It is horrible!” Covenant School parent Melissa Alexander said after the House adjourned. “Our community is hurting so much. It can be stopped. We need to make a difference.”

“My daughter couldn’t go to school on Monday,” Alexander continued. “You know why? Because she was hunted in her third-grade classroom. She knows what it feels like to be shot at over and over and over and over again.”

Over more than a week of meetings and hearings, the Senate only passed four bills while tabling dozens of others without consideration. The House passed 18 bills, but many were not even brought up for consideration in the Senate.

“The message coming back from the Senate was, ‘we’re not passing anything else,’” House Speaker Cameron Sexton, (R) Crossville, said during a press conference. “At some point, when the other side says they are not going to pass anything, you just say, ‘ok.’”

“Sometimes these things take time,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, (R) Oak Ridge, said during a press conference. “We’ll be back in January. These issues will be before us in January and we will be able to devote more time to them.”

Republicans in the House and Senate called the special session a success despite the inaction. Rep. William Lamberth, (R) Sumner County, said they passed much-needed resources to protect schools and colleges, but said, “We need to continue to work on that before a tragedy happens.”

Democratic leaders from the House and Senate said the state is no safer today than before the special session started. They said the GOP disrespected democracy by passing new rules prohibiting signs in the gallery and kicked grieving mothers out of meetings they were supposed to testify during.

“The actions and policies of this state legislature do not reflect the will of a majority of Tennesseans or our values,” the Democratic caucus said in a statement. “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. With your support as we work towards 2024, we can ensure our state legislature is more reflective of the will of the people.”

Here’s a look at what’s passed through to the governor’s desk:

  • A bill that requires the Department of Safety to give out free gun locks to people who want them. It also creates a sales tax exemption for gun safes and allocated $1.1 million for a gun safety public service announcement campaign. There is no punishment for not using a gun lock.
  • A bill changing how soon a court clerk must notify TBI of someone’s criminal proceedings. They now have 72 hours to file the proper paperwork, but there is no punishment for missing the deadline when acting in good faith.
  • A human trafficking bill that requires the TBI to track statewide data involving crimes against children. A formal report will be created every year and submitted to the governor and legislature.
  • A bill granting funding for more school resource officers and mental health services. It includes $12 million for mental health resource grants, $4 million for behavioral health safety grants and allocates $50 million in surplus money from TennCare to community mental health agencies. An additional $30 million has been earmarked from a prison improvement fund for higher education safety upgrades at campuses across the state.