Unforced error will extend Tennessee special session circus to second week

AP Photo/George Walker IV

In my first post of the day today, I said the best thing that House Republicans in Tennessee could do right now would be to get the hell out of town as quickly as possible. Instead, the special session called by Gov. Bill Lee in the wake of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville will extend to a second week after House and Senate leadership couldn’t come to an agreement on what remaining bills should get a final vote.

The Senate passed three measures on Wednesday, only one of which dealt specifically with firearms; a measure to end the state sales tax on gun safes and provide free gun locks to any resident who wants one. After the approval of those bills the Senate adjourned for the day, and met only briefly today without holding any committee sessions; a pretty strong signal that Senate leadership is ready to call it a day.

Over on the House side, however, there are still dozens of bills being heard in committee, and House leaders have said they expect the Senate to go back into session to vote on every measure they send over.

When asked what are the sticking points between the House and Senate amid adjournment negotiations, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, say there are too many to count.

“We would be here for too long,” McNally said when asked to list them after the upper chamber adjourned until Monday.

“There’s not a deal with the House,” McNally said. “Hopefully they’ll come to an agreement, pass some of the bills that we’ve suggested, pass the appropriations bill and whatever else is deemed essential.”

Of House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s proposals on blended sentencing for juvenile offenders – which he said is likely one of the sticking points – McNally said that “would wait until January, where we can have more testimony.”

“We’re hoping that over the weekend, the House will pass what they deem necessary. We’ll review it on Monday, and hopefully be able to go,” McNally said. “We’re waiting on action in the House.”

Senate committee chairs have not indicated willingness to reopen committees.

Asked whether the Senate is likely to take up more bills, Sen. Bo Watson, chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, indicated that the Senate is not likely to do so.

“The governor brought a package to the Senate, with pieces of legislation and appropriate funding for that legislation, and the Senate has passed that and sent it over to the House for consideration,” Watson said. “I know they are doing their work and we’re going to come back Monday and see where we are.”

I’m baffled by the decision by House leadership to dig in their heels here.

House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, had strong words for the Senate leadership during a House committee meeting Thursday.

“I expect both bodies to do the work that all of you have done,” Lamberth said. “The Senate has clearly indicated that they do not wish to do that work. We’re going to move forward as the House, what they do is between them and every Tennessean that they serve.”

Political infighting among Democrats helped to delay a vote on HD 4420 in Massachusetts a few weeks ago, but now it looks like intra-party squabbles are extending the special session in Tennessee and providing gun control activists with a daily stage in front of sympathetic media. Every day this session continues is an in-kind contribution to Tennessee Democrats and anti-gun groups, and if there’s a political strategy at work here Lamberth is doing a terrible job of explaining it to his colleagues and his conservative base.

Lee’s decision to bring lawmakers back to Nashville was an act of political malpractice to begin with, and dragging the session out is another unforced error. Gun owners will most likely emerge from the special session without any new infringements on their right to keep and bear arms, but the longer Republicans allow the session to dominate the news cycle in the state they’re giving the forces of gun control a gift. Nothing on the GOP agenda in either the House or the Senate will satisfy the anti-gunners in the slightest and the infighting between legislative leaders just makes Republicans look weak and divided. The sooner this political circus is over the better for every member of the Republican caucus, and I’m gobsmacked that Lamberth and House leadership apparently don’t understand that.