NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Monday’s special session of the Tennessee General Assembly will have three main goals.
Gov. Bill Lee said they include extending COVID-19 liability protections from lawsuits, expanding the need for telehealth, and protecting the State Capitol grounds from vandalism and defacement.
“We brought forth what we thought was most important to get done right now in the midst of this pandemic,” said Lee.
The Governor said he wants the special session to be narrowly focused, taking up pieces of legislation that were underway when the session closed last time “and that most felt like, both speakers felt like needed to be completed and finished.”
Lee was questioned Tuesday at a press conference about why he wouldn’t be calling for a police brutality or reform bill considering the current 50-plus day protest that’s been outside the Capitol.
“We had a press briefing here a month or so ago where we brought together members of law enforcement, TBI, sheriff’s departments and Highway Patrol to begin the process of developing a strategy of minimizing police brutality, to make reforms to our policing that are appropriate for the day, and that work is ongoing.”
Lee said the ongoing effort would have opportunities for legislation during the regular legislative session in January.
For the people still camping on the steps at the bottom of the Capitol, they said they want to have the chance to speak with the governor.
“I think it says a lot about our governor that he’s calling a meeting to protect an empty building but not to protect lives, particularly Black lives that are being brutalized,” said Justin Jones, who has been one of the lead organizers of the protest on Legislative Plaza, or what he calls the Ida B. Wells Plaza.
“We’re concerned that the governor’s special session is just an opportunity that will help businesses and those who are already wealthy and not really help everyday Tennesseans who are struggling right now,” said Jones.
One point that Jones wanted to make to News4 was that “multiple people have been arrested and charged with felony vandalism” for writing with sidewalk chalk on the Capitol. Something he said comes off.
“We showed him how easy it was to remove it with a cheap sponge and a bottle of water, you can easily wipe it off,” said Jones. “So, our question is, is the governor going to prosecute every child across Tennessee who are writing on the sidewalk with chalk?”
Jones showed News4 that he could wipe the chalk off the door. News4 watched and recorded it, not staying until it was completely dry, however dry enough for another person to redraw what Jones wiped off.
Several minutes later THP troopers came out of the lower Capitol doors and arrested that woman.
“They said that they’re charging her with felony vandalism for this chalk that we just showed you,” said Jones. “The lawmakers already tried to make camping a felony this session. They tried directly targeting this protest saying that we want to take this, so now they’re trying to say they’re going to make chalking or increase the penalties on chalking. It’s just so interesting.”