Even though Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has yet to officially call lawmakers back to Nashville for an August special session in response to the Covenant School shootings, the governor’s been working behind the scenes to craft legislation that can get the support of the Republican majorities in both chambers… or at least enough GOP support to pass the bills with the help of the Democrats in the minority.
As the Tennessean newspaper reported on Friday, Lee’s been holding a series of closed door meetings with lawmakers over the past few weeks; both informal get togethers with lawmakers from both parties as well as a “core group of between 12 and 15 House and Senate members” who’ve been advising Lee on what bills could potentially be introduced in the coming weeks.
Members of the so-called “legislative working group” include Republican Sens. John Stevens, Becky Duncan Massey, and Dawn White, along with Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari.
“The governor put together an informal working group to gather input from lawmakers on proposals the General Assembly might consider in the special session,” Senate Republican Caucus Press Secretary Molly Gormley told The Tennessean. “The working group has not been a part of drafting the governor’s ERPO proposal, and instead has focused on legislation to address mental health and violent crime while maintaining constitutional rights of citizens.”
Existence of the group does not appear to be widely known or acknowledged among rank-and-file members, and meetings of the advisory panel are not publicly scheduled or open to the public or media.
While some group members and staff have acknowledged their participation, the governor’s office declined multiple times to confirm to The Tennessean that such a group exists.
Even members of caucus leadership are in some cases unaware of the legislative working group’s existence.
House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, told The Tennessean that he had not heard of the “super secret bipartisan committee allegedly reviewing proposals” until his in-person meeting with the governor less than two weeks ago. According to Clemmons, the governor could not, or would not, disclose to him which members of either party were a part of the group.
I gotta say, if Lee’s hoping to build buy-in among Republicans (and more importantly, their constituents) this is a terrible way to go about it; holding hush-hush meetings to discuss undisclosed legislation that they apparently want to keep away from the public until the last possible moment. Honestly, it reminds me of what Rep. Michael Day and anti-gun Democrats tried to do with HD 4420 in Massachusetts; waiting until the last minute to drop a massive gun control bill and then try to ram it through the legislature as quickly as possible before mounting opposition had a chance to weigh in and potentially derail their scheme.
That hasn’t gone well for Day and his fellow civil rights deniers, and Lee’s moves are already generating pushback from groups like the Tennessee Firearms Association, which blasted the governor on Friday for “[c]rafting public policy in ‘Communist style’ secret meetings”.
The facts are surfacing that Bill Lee’s actions are not only bizarre for a governor who claims to be a Republican and who has asserted that he supports the Second Amendment, but that these actions are designed by him, or his staff, to craft a gun control package that threatens the constitutionally protected rights of citizens.
While Governor Lee has never reached out to the Tennessee Firearms Association for input on his gun control agenda, perhaps because that agenda would not measure up well against TFA’s “no compromise” position on Second Amendment issues, he has been meeting with leading Democrats for many weeks. For example, Senator Heidi Campbell from Nashville boasted on June 9, 2023, that she and Rep. Parkinson had met with Bill Lee at his home to discuss gun control. At the same time, she proudly posted on her Twitter feed a photo of her with Rep. Parkinson and Gov. Lee with big smiles which photo was apparently taken during their private, secret gun control session.
These facts, which are likely only the tip of the Titanic’s iceburg on the issue of whether Governor Lee is now, in his second term, making a full court press on the backs of the deceased victims of the Covenant Shooting to enact his gun control agenda and that of other gun control advocates.
If you want to help stop this Governor and his “secret” government committees, at least when they are planning untold attacks on your rights as protected by the Second Amendment, it is critical that you get involved, commit to the fight and be informed. Don’t trust anything said about will or might happen or not happen at the Special Session particularly if the proposed legislation is not publicly made available so everyone can see it, digest it and comment on it at least 2-3 weeks prior to the Special Session.
If the special session begins on August 21st as Lee has previously indicated, then that three-week window to examine the legislative proposals that TFA is looking for would start next Monday.
According to the Tennessean‘s reporting, the “working group” established by Lee hasn’t been discussing any legislation dealing with firearms, and another group of 50-or-so lawmakers who huddled together at the governor’s mansion on July 13th also allegedly avoided any gun-centric bills.
At the residence, according to staff notes from a meeting shared with The Tennessean, members discussed a measure to establish a “unified court system,” to ensure that criminal court records are available through a central repository to eliminate delays in reporting records that would disqualify criminals from buying guns.
Earlier this year, The Tennessean reported a backlog of more than 200,000 cases in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation background check system.
Members also discussed increasing penalties for firearms theft, providing more funding for school behavioral health liaisons, and allowing mental health institutions to receive matching funds from Medicaid through a TennCare mental health waiver.
No proposals directly dealing with guns were discussed, according to the meeting notes.
I certainly hope that’s the case, but given all the closed door meetings and lack of specifics coming from the governor’s office, I see no reason to blindly trust the second-hand accounts of these private discussions. It’s time for the governor to put his cards on the table and bring these conversations out of the shadows and into the sunlight so voters can see for themselves what Lee is proposing. Telling gun owners they have no reason to be concerned while keeping all of these meetings a secret rightfully raises suspicions that his “temporary mental health restraining order” isn’t going to be the only anti-gun measure that he’ll be pushing for when the session kicks off next month. Tennesseeans deserve better than this secret squirrel nonsense, and now’s the time to speak up and demand their elected officials do better.