Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) hinted on Tuesday that the Republican majority may permanently adopt the controversial House floor rules it passed for its special session, which offered state House Republicans a tool for silencing their minority colleagues and members of the public.
“We’ll have to vote on those as a body again,” Sexton said, according to The Tennessean.
Sexton’s comments came after the chaotic special session focused on gun laws and public safety adjourned just two days into their second week of work. Sexton said the agreement to adjourn came after state House and Senate leadership met with Gov. Bill Lee (R) on Tuesday.
The special session was requested in April by Lee, following the expulsion of state Democratic Reps. Justin Pearson of Memphis and Justin Jones of Nashville for breaking decorum when they participated in a peaceful gun protest on the House floor. Much of the special session was focused on what appeared to be state House Republicans’ retribution agenda over the events that unfolded during the two young, Black Democrats’ ousting.
Last week, the state House GOP used their overwhelming majority to pass floor rules for the special session. The move was widely interpreted as an attempt to silence Democratic lawmakers and the protestors that filled the state House advocating for changes to the state’s lax gun laws.
Republican legislators passed a new rule allowing the Speaker of the House to limit or stop other lawmakers from speaking if he felt their speech was disrupting legislative business. The rule went so far as to give the Speaker the power to block representatives from speaking for up to three days and, in the case of a second offense, be suspended indefinitely.
They also passed a rule that limits how many people can be present in the rotunda of the state Capitol and banned protesters from holding signs — even small ones — during committee hearings and in legislative chambers.
“We may tweak them again as we need to,” Sexton said, referencing the special session rules. He also noted that the U.S. Congress has rules prohibiting signs — and phones — in the galleries.
In response, on Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee filed a complaint asking a Davidson County judge to block one of the rules to allow protesters to display signs during legislative proceedings.
That temporary order will only be in effect until early September. A hearing on the temporary injunction is currently scheduled for Sept. 5 at 10 a.m. CT.
Throughout the chaotic special session, that ended with a small physical confrontation between Sexton and two members of the Tennessee Three, lawmakers passed just four pieces of legislation, including an appropriations bill with additional mental health funding as well as a bill that directs the Department of Safety to provide free firearm locks to state residents if they ask for them, and requires handgun safety courses to contain instruction on safe gun storage.
Many Tennessee Democrats, including Jones, were unhappy with the decision to adjourn the special session without passing any bills that would have made changes to the state’s gun laws.
“My Republican colleagues just adjourned the special session, silencing any opportunity for us to speak and refusing to pass common sense gun laws,” Jones tweeted.
The bills tabled during the session will not be heard until January at the earliest, when the new legislative session starts.