NASHVILLE, TN – Republicans celebrated the recess of the 112th General Assembly last week. They passed much of Governor Lee’s political agenda. Some of that was mean-spirited, like cutting unemployment benefits in half; some was constitutionally deficient like Lee’s proposal to rob public education dollars to fund religious charter schools.
Some of Lee’s agenda was just plain nuts. Take the permitless carry bill that the Governor signed into law last month. It goes into effect July 1. Lee tweeted that it shouldn’t be hard for law-abiding adults to exercise their Second Amendment rights. It’s not like the Volunteer State doesn’t already celebrate gun culture.
Used to be, a person had to take an 8-hour safety course to carry a gun in Tennessee. But no longer. You can just walk into a store put your money down and walk out ready to kill. Handguns will surely take more lives in Tennessee now. Suicides will undoubtedly increase.
But think of the bright side. The careless or stupid, who don’t know how to safely handle a weapon but like the feel of it, will accidentally eliminate themselves from the gene pool.
Democrats are thankful that some really bad bills never found their way to a floor vote. In February, Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) introduced a bill that would have abolished early voting and prohibited the use of voting machines. A former Special Ed teacher, Bowling wanted to mandate paper and pencil ballots only. Her bill was withdrawn.
But lawmakers seriously considered plenty of bad bills like the one excusing people who run down protestors. After activist Justin Jones and others spoke during a joint session May 4, the Senate tabled the bill until next year. Like hooting peacocks, House Republicans passed it the very next day anyway even though the vote had no practical effect.
Tennessee Republicans are not all louts, to be sure, but like spoiled and noisy children in a “Leave it to Beaver” fantasy, they get up to all kinds of mischief. And it is real peoples’ lives they are messing with.
Last year, Lee reluctantly signed a bill increasing the penalties for protestors who illegally camp on state property. They now face a Class E felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, and as felons, they lose the right to vote. Lee’s criminal justice program includes a plan to restore the franchise to felons who have served their time, something Democrats support.
Misdemeanor offenders can get a maximum sentence of a year but must now live in limbo for five additional years before they can expunge their record, find work, and get on with their lives.
You have to wonder what goes on in Lee’s mind. He wants to give the vote back to bank robbers but take it away from people exercising their 1st Amendment Rights. That’s just weird. So is a bill banning transgender kids from playing sports. It had 44 House sponsors and 9 Senate sponsors. Lee signed it into law March 26.
The Volunteer State’s political class, most of whom are Republican men, generally don’t approve of women’s rights. Fourteen representatives out of 99 house members are women; out of the senate’s 33 members, eight are women. In its proportion of women in political office Tennessee ranks 49th.
In 2020 legislators passed a fetal heartbeat bill and the ACLU immediately sued in federal court. The court granted a temporary injunction but some of the bill’s provisions were allowed to stand. That lawsuit might take years to settle.
Because of litigation costs the state could eventually have to pay, Republicans showed little interest in advancing five abortion bills that were filed in 2021. While they didn’t make loud calls to ban all abortions in Tennessee this year, Republicans did pass a bill to force women or abortion clinics to bury or cremate aborted fetuses. Lee signed the legislation April 21 calling it “the most conservative pro-life piece of legislation in the country”.
See what Democratic legislators had to say about the session in the post “In Their Own Words”.