Friday, September 01, 2023

Lawmaker costs were more than $350K for Tennessee special session

 By Jon Styf | The Center Square, Aug 30, 2023 - Tennessee’s special session finished Tuesday with an expense of $351,476 to bring lawmakers to the capital for six days of the session on public safety and four bills passed.

Each day, it cost the state $58,576 in stipends and mileage for lawmakers, according to numbers provided by Office of Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley.

Those expenses are not all-encompassing and do not address additional security or legal fees associated with the session which finished with verbal sparring and a shoulder bump between House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, on Tuesday.

The special session resulted in four bills passed and that are headed to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk soon and a dozen others that were discussed in the House that could then be discussed further in regular session starting in January.

The bills that passed included an appropriations bill and bills eliminating taxes on handgun safety devices, requiring a 72-hour communication timeline for criminal court proceedings to the Tennessee Bureau of Information and a bill creating a statewide report on human trafficking.

“We have made some headway this week – four of our bills passed,” Lee said in a statement after the session ended. “Significant funding was focused on issues that matter to public safety. We have improved the background check system, attacked human trafficking, improved access for safe storage, and funded mental health resources across the state. We made progress.”

The House, meanwhile, passed a series of bills that were not taken up by the Senate.

Those included bills on a new centralized statewide case management system for shared court reporting, one requiring TennCare providers to pay for the same level of mental health services and treatment as other insurance carriers for alcoholism and drug dependence and one to create a school safety alert grant program with $90 million in funding.

The House also passed bills on “duty to warn’ of the release of mental health patients, a bill allowing private schools to develop school safety plans including firearms, a bill increasing the penalties for stalking violations, a bill expanding the state’s school resource officer program and a bill where school district’s without a memorandum of understanding with local law enforcement can be assigned an school resource officer.

Lee was criticized for not being visible during the special session.

“We all share the same goals,” he said in a statement. “We want our children to be safe, we want our streets to be safe, and we want our neighborhoods to be safe. As difficult as it is, it is possible to make progress. So, we should be hopeful.

“There is no one, perfect solution, but we should recognize the significance of this special session. We made progress in public safety, and we elevated a conversation about public safety that will continue, and that’s important.”

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