Democrats walk out over Jones silencing, as House-Senate remain in stalemate

Published 3:57 pm Thursday, August 31, 2023

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Tennessee Lookout

House Democrats walked out of the chamber in protest Monday after their Republican colleagues voted to stop Rep. Justin Jones from commenting on legislation.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, ruled Jones, D-Nashville, was “off-topic” on two occasions, allowing the Republican supermajority to block him from commenting on any legislation for the rest of the day.

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The silencing provision is a new rule adopted by the House as part of its rules package to start the special session. Republicans passed the rules as a way to quiet members they deemed “disruptive” without expelling them, as they did in April with Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis.

“Their attempt to silence wasn’t about me, but about the people of my district,” Jones said. “If they can silence one member, they can silence all members.”

Monday marked the start of week two of Gov. Bill Lee’s special session called in response to the Covenant School shooting where three children and three adults were killed.

The House finished its agenda from last week, passing 19 pieces of legislation, including a budget costing $150 million. This stands in contrast to the Senate, where only four bills have made it through, including a $30 million budget.

The Republican supermajorities in each chamber are stuck in a stalemate over how to proceed with the special session.

Lee reportedly sent Republicans a list of 12 bills he wanted to see debated this week.

But, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said he hadn’t seen the list and remained steadfast that the chamber wouldn’t pass anything new.

“The Senate has completed its business for the extraordinary session,” Johnson said.

After Monday, House Republicans seemed to be okay fighting with the two largest factions on Capitol Hill.

The lower chamber’s supermajority continued to block the passage of all Senate resolutions because the chamber refused to hear any more bills, as well as taunt House Democrats for leaving.

“I don’t know why my House colleagues left this chamber while still having business left to conduct,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland.

Both chambers are scheduled to return on Tuesday.

The Senate will return at 10 a.m. to take up the House version of its budget, which includes dozens of bills that still need to pass the upper chamber.

The House scheduled a floor session for 11 a.m.