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Tensions ignite as Tennessee lawmakers set session restrictions

The Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus discussed bills that will be discussed at the special legislative session.
Blaise Gainey
The Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus discussed bills that will be discussed at the special legislative session.

Special session, special restrictions. The Tennessee House adopted rules on Monday that limit what lawmakers can say and how they’ll file proposals this week.

One rule adds a punishment lawmakers who “impugn the reputation” a colleague. And for those who stray off topic, repeat violations of the rules could lead legislators to being silenced for the day — or longer.

The rules call back to tensions from the prior session, when Republicans expelled two Democrats for floor demonstrations. Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, was among those who objected.

“And we limit somebody who sent me up here to represent thousands and thousands of Tennesseans — silence for three days. I speak again. The supermajority rules me out again? I’m silenced for more.”

The House is also barring the public from holding signs in the gallery. That drew a response from families of The Covenant School, who said they’ve quietly listened to lawmakers.

“What we witnessed is a disappointing rules package that limits our ability to identify who we are in the gallery,” they wrote. “Tennessee should protect speech rights. … Instead, with the new no sign rule, we felt we lost a bit of dignity in our identity as parents of survivors.”

Committee meetings begin Tuesday morning.

Already, a Republican in each chamber has tried unsuccessful to adjourn the session.

Blaise Gainey is a Political Reporter for WPLN News. He is the youngest of three siblings, husband and father of two. He previously held the State Government Reporter position for WFSU News in Tallahassee. He is from Apopka, Fla., and graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He previously worked for The Florida Channel and WTXL-TV. He is excited to move to another capital and report on state government. In his spare time, he enjoys watching sports, outdoor activities and enjoying family time.
Tony Gonzalez oversees WPLN’s special projects, produces the Curious Nashville podcast, and edits freelance contributions. Since arriving in Nashville in 2011, he’s covered major breaking news, tapped into data and public records for civics stories, and featured inspiring people and unusual tales. He lives in East Nashville with his wife and daughter and dabbles in hobbies like juggling, gardening, and birdwatching.
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