Divisions on public access and controversial bills as TN lawmakers resume committee work next week


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee legislative leaders are still at odds about letting the public into Capitol Hill buildings next week when their session resumes, but it remains just one part of the divide between House and Senate Republicans on what they’ll be doing.  

Governor Bill Lee calls the session “incredibly important” because of state budget shortfalls related to COVID-19. This comes as the Tennessee House wants to consider a slate of controversial bills while the state Senate says the critical budget is the main concern.

Before COVID-19 precautions led to a recess by Tennessee legislature in mid-March, Governor Bill Lee and his fellow Republican majorities in both the House and Senate wanted to restrict abortions further and allow handguns carried just about anywhere without a permit.

Those bills are up again in the House as resumes committee work next Tuesday, but is the governor on board as he was before the COVID-19 recess?  

“The legislature really has the responsibility to set the agenda,” he said when asked the question during his weekly COVID-19 briefing.

The governor then repeated what’s at stake with a state budget that likely will be cut dramatically because of COVID-19 related revenue losses.

“How we address that budget, the economic downturn that’s been created will be the overriding concern of everyone in the legislature,” added the governor.

But will the public be allowed in to watch the decisions in person?

House members have installed plexiglass and social distancing rules in committee rooms.

The Senate has not considered such measures, saying the public’s safety is at stake before people are let into Capitol Hill buildings like Cordell Hull, the legislative office building.

While the House has three days of committee meetings next week a wide variety of bills, the Senate has just one hearing Thursday that focuses on the state budget issues.

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