NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Three days after clearing a House subcommittee of all people, the committee chairman has issued an apology.
Rep. Lowell Russell (R—Vonore) ordered the Tuesday, Aug. 22, House Civil Justice subcommittee cleared of all audience members after a few violated the sign prohibition and made noise after being asked to be quiet previously in the meeting.
When the meeting was called to order, some audience members continued to hold signs advocating for gun control despite being told to put them down by Russell in accordance with the newly-adopted House rules. Troopers physically escorted at least two women out of the room before the meeting continued.
The largest disruptions came after discussion of HB7043 by Rep. Jody Barrett (R—Dickson). The bill would have allowed anyone with an enhance carry permit to bring a firearm onto school property unless they know the school has armed security on the premises. At the subcommittee meeting, Barrett opted to take the bill off notice, effectively killing it for the special session, which prompted the audience to cheer.
Chairman Russell wasn’t pleased with the noise, however, asking the crowd, “Are we going to quiet down and listen, or are we going to sit there and clap?”
Some audience members then continued clapping, at which point Russell asked the Tennessee Highway Patrol officers to clear the room over objections from his fellow Republicans who asked if they could only clear “the half that’s causing the trouble.”
Among those removed from the committee room were mothers of students at The Covenant School who were in attendance to give testimony, causing some of them to break down in tears upon being escorted out of the room.
“I know there are big personalities, but there are also dead kids and grieving people looking for solutions,” said Sarah Shoop Neumann.
Russell took to social media Friday afternoon, saying he initially prepared to give a statement on the situation earlier in the week ,but was stopped due to the ongoing litigation over the sign prohibition.
“Yesterday I had planned a formal statement to address the people that were in attendance of the Civil Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday, August 22, 2023. Shortly before the Civil Justice Full Committee, when I was going to make the statement during announcements, I learned of pending litigation which delayed my statement,” he said.
He then took time to address the ones he intended to address Thursday, apologizing to those in the audience Tuesday who were not the ones clapping and being disruptive.
“If you were in attendance of the Civil Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday, August 22, 2023, and were not participating in the loud disruptive behavior, I personally apologize that you had to watch the committee meeting from the hallway,” he said. “It was unfortunate that the noise level had gotten to the point that it did. I did confirm that everyone had the availability to view video and hear the audio in the hallway.
“I allowed everyone that requested to testify to re-enter the committee room to address the committee and take questions. Yesterday, I was also fortunate to meet with some of the people that were in attendance and personally discuss their concerns.”
He added that “each person in attendance on Tuesday matters” as did “a safer Tennessee.”
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