Saturday, August 19, 2023

Governor Lee should have cancelled the Special Session.

by Rod Williams, August 19, 2023- On Monday at 4pm the Tennessee legislature will meet in a special session to take up issues related to gun violence, mental health and related issues. Gov. Bill Lee decided to call a special session shortly after the last regular session concluded. During the middle of the last regular legislative session, the Covenant School shooting occurred putting gun violence and school safety at the forefront of concerns of Tennesseans. In response, Governor Lee proposed a bill similar to what is called a red flag law in other states that Lee called an Extreme Risk Protection Order. 

The proposal went over like a lead balloon. The legislature refused to take up the issue and has made it clear that they will not support any laws that would take a gun away from anyone. Republican leadership did not want to take up any bills in response to the Covenant School shooting and wanted to wait until the 2024 regular session to take up such issues. They did pass a law putting an armed School Resource Officer in every school, but that bill was pending before the Covenant School shooting.

Lee called the legislature into special session for the purpose of taking up his proposal for an enhanced order of protection and addressing gun violence and related issues. While the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill has not been drafted, the call (executive order calling the legislature into special sessions) sets the parameters of such a bill. It calls for a modest proposal, with adequate due process protections, that would temporarily take a gun away from someone believed to be a threat to himself or others. 

The proposed Extreme Risk Protection Order law is not going to pass. While the executive order calling the legislature into special session list the ERPO as an item the legislature will consider and act upon, Lee has not included it in his legislative package. 

In an interview with the Pamphleteer, House Speaker Cameron Sexton explains that the call does not provide for consideration of issues that many gun control advocates would like and the one item of any substance, the enhanced order bill, is not going to pass. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

I think–if someone decides to file a bill on red flags or enhanced orders of protection, I think it's important to put it in committee and let it have a vote. I think it will die. It won't pass. That's the way that would go, and I think it's important to put it in committee and let it have a vote. I think it will die. It won't pass. That's the way that would go, and I think it's important to show that that's not the direction the General Assembly wants to go.

......So there's nothing in the call that would allow a member to file a bill that bans firearms, ban any certain firearms, ban magazine size, or ban anything else, or restrict any other types of guns. That is not in the call. And so, those bills will not be able to make it into a special session. All that is off the table. 

The only thing that's in there that could be proposed is [a] red flag, and we're not passing it. We have enough people who said they're not voting for it. It’s not going to make it out of subcommittee if it gets in subcommittee. But I think as far as our state—I think it's important for us to show that in Tennessee, we're not passing a red flag law. 

If the governor's red flag law does not stand the slightest chance of passing, and as explained above it probably won't even be introduced, then I see nothing worth taking up at this time. What is being considered are some bills to enhance mental health services and those all could wait until regular session in January.  One concern I have is that the legislature may pass a law that instead of taking the gun away from a dangerous person would instead involuntarily commit to a mental hospital a person deemed to be a threat. It appears to me that involuntary commitment is more of a curtailment of one's liberty than taking their gun.  Let that proposal wait for a while. It is better to pass nothing than something bad. 

The governor's call did not even include a proposal for a requirement that firearms owners properly secure their weapons. With so far year-to-date 777 guns having been stolen from vehicles in Nashville, I think this issue should be addressed. All the call would permit is "measures encouraging the safe storage of firearms, which do not include the creation of penalties for failing to safely store firearms."

I wish that once the Govenor was convinced that nothing meaningful was going to pass that he had simply rescinded his call for the special session. If something that shouldn't wait was going to pass, or if the legislature was at least going to debate something of importance and it was timely, I would not object to the cost of the special session, but I see no reason to spend money frivolously. Channell 5 News reports the cost of the regular session will be $58,576 per day plus mileage and lodging for legislators. Also, there will be cost of security and other cost. The session will probably last about four days.

So cost is a factor in my wishing this meaningless special session was not occurring but reservations about a bill authorizing enhanced involuntary commitment of people with mental health issues is also a concern. Another reason for wishing Lee had cancelled this meaningless special session is that it will generate a lot of bad publicity for Tennessee and further enhance the already phenomenal popularity of the Two Justin's of the Tennessee Three. You know the story: The Justins and another representative took over the House chamber, used bull horns to lead a protest of gun control advocates in the House chamber, were expelled for their behavior, elected by their city councils to fill the seat vacated as a result of their ouster, then won a special election to reclaim their seat, and went on to become national celebrities. It will be irresistible for the press not to feature them on Monday. Their already incredible profile will be further raised. 

Also, Monday will be a circus. I expect pro-gun and pro-gun control advocates to have demonstrations. I don't know if security will keep the different groups apart. I don't really know if protests are planned but I will be shocked if they do not occur. Following the shooting in March thousands of gun control advocates protested downtown. I expect them to return along with a lot of pro-gun citizens who feel their Second Amendment rights are under assault. Groups are supposed to have permits to protest at the legislative plaza, but I suspect that permit or not, there will be protestors. Having a special session on the issues of gun violence gives both sides a focus for their protest. I expect people to be bussed in from out of state to demonstrate.  If we just put the issue off until the next regular legislative session, passions will have cooled and there would not be a specific focus of the protest. People have a right to protest but the State does not have to provide the setting and excuse. 

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