The Tennessee State Capitol. Credit: Eric England/Nashville Scene/Special to the Banner

The end of the deadlock between the Tennessee State House and Senate might not be as close as some would hope.

Going into the session, most observers speculated that it would likely end within a week. Even as things grew complicated with Chairman Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) tabeling all but three bills in the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Monday end was still possible. But with a 15-bill difference between the chambers, and Sen. Jack Johnson confirming on Twitter that the cancellation of a fundraiser scheduled for Sept. 10 was in preparation for the session to go until then, Capitol Hill will remain busy for a while longer. 

The House and the Senate floor sessions on Monday looked very different. For starters, the House floor session, which began at 2 p.m., did not adjourn until a few minutes after the Senate floor session, which began at 4 p.m., had already gaveled in and gaveled out, concluding their business for the day without picking up any legislation. During that time, the House wrapped up passage of 19 bills. In contrast, the Senate has only passed four pieces of legislation during this special session, and leadership indicated to the press that they still do not plan to pick up more than that as of Monday. 

Bills passed by the House span a number of issues, from mental health to juvenile sentencing to gun locks and safes. Issues not considered included extreme orders of protection or any other form of gun control that the hundreds of protesters who have been to the capitol over the past week have demanded. And while one bill, which would bar children’s autopsies from public records requests, has the support of some Covenant parents, it is not one of the bills that passed the senate floor. Those are the following:

  • Senate Bill 7085 directs the Tennessee Department of Safety to provide free firearm locks to Tennessee residents upon request. It also requires the provision of more materials surrounding firearm safety and education. The bill passed with bipartisan support. 
  • Senate Bill 7086 codifies an executive order Gov. Bill Lee made in April, changing the requirement for how long a clerk has to notify TBI of the final dispositions of criminal proceedings against a person to within three business days after the final disposition of their proceedings. The bill passed with bipartisan support. 
  • Senate Bill 7088 would require the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to file a report on child and human trafficking numbers within the state by Dec. 1 of each year. A spokesperson for TBI testified that these are numbers the bureau already collects. This is the bill that the Republican Supermajority is rallying behind for the special session.
  • Senate Bill 7089 is a $30 million spending bill that provides funding to various mental health and school safety initiatives. The biggest chunks are $16.3 million for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and $10 million to provide more school safety officers. 

Two of the bills were amended to be different from the Senate version. For example, the House appropriations bill spends $150 million compared to the Senate’s $30 million. Those numbers must match for the bill to make its way to the governor’s desk.

Aside from the ongoing infighting between House and Senate Republicans, tensions between House Democrats and Republicans escalated at the end of Monday’s session. 

Democrats had been making their displeasure over the lack of any gun control legislation well known, and above in the public side of the gallery, protesters had already been gaveled down for getting loud. Finally, more than two hours into the session, tensions boiled over when a special session House rule was used by House Speaker Cameron Sexton and the Republican Supermajority to silence Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville). The body voted 70-20 that Jones had been out of order and would not be allowed to speak for the rest of the session. 

Every Democratic representative stood up and walked out of the chamber in protest.

The Senate will reconvene on Tuesday at 10 a.m. with the House beginning an hour later.