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Tennessee public safety special session begins with rules debate

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(The Center Square) – Tennessee began its much-anticipated special session on public safety Monday afternoon amid debate on decorum in the House.

This comes after two lawmakers, who have since returned, were expelled from the House following a protest deemed to have interrupted the body as Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, were joined by Rep. Gloria Johnson in front of the body using megaphones to be heard.

New House rules, approved Monday, banned megaphones and recording devices on the House floor along with putting in new rules where lawmakers will receive penalties for going off topic on a bill or interrupting debate.

“The rules that are being put forward now are to limit freedom of speech,” said Pearson, one of the expelled members who won a special election to return to his seat.

House Democratic Chairman John Ray Clemmons, meanwhile, objected to new rules allowing just one side of the House Chamber’s two viewing galleries will be open to the public with the other side open to media, lobbyists and legislative staff.

The number of people allowed in the rotunda outside the chamber was also reduced.

This comes after protesters filled the galleries and rotunda asking for gun control measures as session closed.

“Our Republican colleagues often refer to this as the ‘People’s House,’ but it turns out they don’t want people in the House at all,” Clemmons said. “Rather than allow Tennesseans inside their own State Capitol, they have cordoned off most of the rotunda and half the gallery for special interests. It gives you a pretty good idea who the supermajority actually represents and whose business they’re doing up here during this special session.”

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, listened to the objections and met them with a response that decorum must be upheld during the special session.

House and Senate committees are expected to meet Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the bills. Clemmons asked why some bills filed by Democratic leaders were not given a number and were not posted.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton said bills that do not fit within the framework of Gov. Bill Lee’s special session call were not posted.

“You are allowed to put out whatever bills you want to on social media,” Sexton told Clemmons.

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