Good afternoon, everyone.
The state's 113th General Assembly kicks back off today. As usual, expect a lot of fanfare. The Great Sign Debate is one of the funnier fixations indicative of the tension between activists and lawmakers.
Should the public be allowed to hold signs during public hearings? If so, how big should they be? And if not, why? Isn't that a violation of the First Amendment?
Holding a sign up is a fairly benign form of protest, but after the House Republicans banned people from holding signs at the Capitol, they became a freedom flashpoint—their banning a casus belli, if you will.
The ACLU sued, and House Republicans reneged, settling on allowing signs, but restricting their size to no larger than a piece of printer paper and forbidding protestors from holding them above their heads so as not to obstruct anyone's view. You'd be shocked at the amount of journalism this whole debacle has generated. Reams of paper. Hundreds of man hours. People have developed lines on their faces, furrowing their brows over signs.
If you go to a public hearing or committee meeting where signs are customary, you'll observe a funny behavioral pattern unique to the activist class. As a committee meeting or hearing rattles on, a citizen will patiently hold her sign in front of their face, occasionally flipping it over to reveal a different message.
But at times of extreme stress, when a lawmaker goes off script and says something she doesn’t like, that citizen will thrust the sign over her head and into the air, knowing full well that this violates the rules. Flouting the sign limitations as a declaration that she will not be silenced—or some similarly flaccid expression of frustration.
Usually, someone who works for the state will come over and politely ask the person to lower the sign. They always comply—albeit begrudgingly, and only after shooting the monitor a dirty glance.
This little micro-drama plays out over and over again almost every day at both the Capitol and the Cordell Hull State Office building. I find the whole thing funny, pathetic, and distracting. Doubly so after you hear the questions these same activists shriek at lawmakers after the hearing.
Now, as far as real politics go, the governor’s proposed ESA program could radically change education in the state. As we've mentioned, this is the primary debate to keep an eye on: its adoption could directly affect the lives of the state's residents.
But—as you’ll learn from Megan—we also expect to hear a lot about bills that stand no chance of getting passed.
✹ THREE BILLS YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT, BUT LIKELY WON’T PASS
From Megan Podsiedlik
By the time you receive this newsletter, the Tennessee state legislature will have reconvened for the second half of the 113th General Assembly. Lawmakers in the Republican supermajority spent yesterday establishing the ground rules; now they’ll be settling into working several new proposals through the system. While some bills will pass into law, others don’t even have a chance. Instead, they’re introduced for a number of reasons, chiefly to push a narrative or receive attention in the press. Let’s take a look at which bills are all bark and no bite.
“Tennessee is the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, yet my colleagues told me it was ‘too controversial’ to bring up legislation about reparations,” Rep. Justin Jones tweeted in late December. “Nonetheless, looking forward to filing a reparations bill in 2024. It is long overdue.”
GUN REFORM AND RED FLAGS
“We're not passing a red flag law.” Those were the words of Speaker Cameron Sexton when we interviewed him last August, days before the legislature’s extraordinary session on public safety. Going into this year’s General Assembly, it’s clear where Republicans stand when it comes to law-abiding gun owners and their freedoms.
Despite a number of headlines featuring activists and lobbyists calling for gun reform, the legislature’s record indicates that proposed red flags and other restrictions will be DOA. Over the last few years, Tennessee lawmakers have removed restrictions: in 2021, for example, we saw constitutional carry reinstated. All this is to say that the legislature will likely only consider gun safety laws and stricter punishments/restrictions for criminal behavior without encroaching on Second Amendment rights.
While we suspect Sen. Heidi Campbell’s red flag law won’t make it past committee, another bill of hers, filed alongside Rep. Bob Freeman, is a good example of the types of gun laws that may have a fighting chance. This bill, if passed, would make it a misdemeanor to knowingly transfer a firearm to someone prohibited from purchasing or possessing one.
Newly elected State Rep. Aftyn Behn knows exactly how to get the press talking about abortion rights. She told the Scene that the legislation she filed with Sen. London Lamar (D-Memphis) is “a narrative piece to show just how draconian our abortion ban is.” While Behn’s retaliation against the state’s trigger ban will likely die a slow, highly publicized death, Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) may have better luck with a bill he’s reportedly filing. Called the Freedom to Have Children and a Family Act, it includes some small adjustments to the state’s abortion laws, allowing for a few additional exemptions.
House Committee Kills Rule Change That Would Have Provided More Transparency (TCN) Representative Bryan Richey proposed a rule change that would require all votes in House Committee hearings be a roll call vote, instead of the current voice vote, which doesn’t keep a record of how representatives vote in a committee hearing. Not one Democrat or Republican on the committee voted in favor.
‘Forever chemicals’ in northeast TN pose longterm risk to region’s drinking water (Lookout) So-called “forever chemicals” linked to disease, infertility and death have been detected in 60% of rivers and lakes tested in Northeast Tennessee, findings that “cast into question the long-term safety of drinking water supplies for the region.”
Governor Lee plans to push for tax cuts for businesses (WKRN) Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) revealed his office is pushing a bill to scale back the franchise and excise taxes after the Attorney General and Dept. of Revenue advised him to do so.
Poll: Tennessee should cap property taxes (Center Square) The poll asked more than 1,300 Tennesseans if the state should have a cap on property tax increases and just 11% said local authorities should retain that power while 35% said a statewide cap should exist and 39% said there should be a combination of state regulations and local decision-making.
- Work Underway At Bordeaux Area Development in North Nashville (Now Next)
- Predators announce BetMGM Sports Bar & Lounge at Bridgestone Arena (NBJ)
- Thomas Frist sells Belle Meade home for $32M (Post)
THINGS TO DO
📅 Visit our On The Radar list to find upcoming events around Nashville.
🎧 On Spotify: Pamphleteer's Picks, a playlist of our favorite bands in town this week.
👨🏻🌾 Check out our Nashville farmer's market guide.
🎸 Super Felon @ Analog at Hutton Hotel, 7p, $20, Info
+ a night of soul and funk with Ted Pecchio, JD Simo, Robbie Crowell, Patrick Sweany, and Adam Abrashoff playing the music of Isaac Hayes, Funkadelic, and James Brown to Bobby Charles, Joe Tex
🎺 Todd Day Wait @ The Underdog, 11:30p, Free, Info
+ Honky Tonk Tuesday afterparty, down the street
🎸 Honky Tonk Tuesday @ American Legion Post 82, 5p, Free, Info
+ two-step lessons @ 7p, The Cowpokes @ 8p
📰 Check out the full newsletter archive here.
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- 🏘 The double-edged sword of prosperity in Tennessee's small towns (Read)
- And check out our podcast, YouTube, and article archive for more.