NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — With the special session heading into its second week, there hasn’t been much movement on any legislation. The Senate opted to table scores of bills whole cloth, instead opting to focus on three bills designated as priorities by Gov. Bill Lee and the requisite funding bill for the session.
The House, meanwhile, has spent more time taking up a host of bills on topics from guns and school safety to TBI reporting requirements and blended sentencing, putting the chambers at odds with each other in an increasingly longer stalemate between the controlling party caucuses.
So where are the bills now?
This bill by Rep. Chris Todd (R—Madison County) would allow anyone with an enhanced carry permit to go on on school property for any pre-K-12 school in Tennessee, as well as active duty military, retired military, off-duty law enforcement and retired law enforcement. It would also eliminate a requirement for any off-duty law enforcement officer to notify a school principal of their presence while carrying.
The bill was unpopular among those on Capitol Hill who hoped to see the special session end with some new laws on guns, like members of the Covenant Families Action Fund. They gave testimony against the bill in the House committee hearings, pleading with lawmakers not to put more guns in schools.
Todd’s bill passed the Civil Justice Subcommittee and full Civil Justice Committee along party lines but hit resistance in the Education Administration Committee. In addition to the four Democrats on the committee, Todd also lost support from five Republicans, with the final vote ending in a 9-9 deadlock. Because it did not receive a majority of the votes in committee, the bill failed.
This bill by Rep. Ryan Williams (R—Cookeville) would have allowed for teachers in all Tennessee schools to carry on school grounds, so long as they meet certain requirements. In order to qualify to carry on school grounds, they would be required to obtain an enhanced carry permit, submit to psychological evaluation by their law enforcement agency and complete 40 hours of active shooter training with their local law enforcement.
Williams said the bill would create a deterrent in all K-12 schools in Tennessee by being able to post a sign on the facilities letting the public know the school was protected by more than just their local law enforcement or school security officer.
Covenant families also protested Williams’ bill, saying some teachers at the March school shooting were so frightened that day that they couldn’t even lock their classroom doors, let alone operate a firearm in school. They asked lawmakers to look at alternatives for school safety rather than putting more guns in learning institutions.
At the Civil Justice Committee meeting on Aug. 23, Williams opted to take the bill off notice in the House, citing the Senate’s lack of movement on the companion legislation.
Brought by Rep. Jody Barrett (R—Dickson), this bill would allow anyone in the state with an enhanced handgun carry permit to carry on school grounds unless a person knows that school provides armed security on the property. It also allows community corrections officers to possess handguns on school property and prevents a school system from prohibiting employees or contractors from being armed on campus of all K-12 schools.
This bill was another measure criticized by Covenant families and other gun reform advocacy groups like Moms Demand Action.
Like Williams’ bill, Barrett ultimately took his bill off notice, effectively killing it for the special session. Barrett said he would like to have more discussions with stakeholders and make it better before bringing it forward again.
Barrett’s decision led to the room-clearing incident by Rep. Lowell Russell (R—Vonore), for which he later apologized.
Speaker Cameron Sexton’s legislation
One of Sexton’s priority bills would enact blended sentencing for juvenile offenders if they commit certain offenses from age 16 on. It would require juvenile courts to transfer those juveniles to adult criminal court upon certain findings. The measure has been criticized by gun reform groups like Moms Demand Action as well as experts from the juvenile court system and public defense system.
Critics say the bill would also eliminate judicial discretion on certain crimes for juveniles until they turn 19, as well as require judges to sentence juveniles to additional years in adult prison after they turn 19 if they commit certain crimes.
The bill sailed through committees in the House along party-line votes and was set for discussion on the House floor Monday, Aug. 28. The Senate, however, laid the bill on the table almost immediately upon introduction in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This bill would create a new loan forgiveness grant program for individuals who become psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors. Under the terms of the bill, people who qualify for the grant would be required to stay in Tennessee for at least five of seven years from the date of the grant application.
According to the fiscal review committee, the law would cost an estimated $21,850,000 annually.
The program met resistance in House committees but ultimately passed and was set to be heard on the House floor on Monday. The Senate, however, laid the bill on the table, effectively killing it for the special session.
This bill would require all Tennessee health insurance carriers, including TennCare providers, to provide coverage for mental health services and treatment to the same extent that the carriers and providers provide alcoholism and drug dependence services.
The bill sailed through all House subcommittees and committees on voice votes and was set to be heard on Monday afternoon, but the Senate laid it on the table in the Commerce and Labor Committee.