NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — After a week of feuding and polarizing debate, Tennessee still finds itself nearly in the same place as when it started special session. As the legislative Cold War drags on, families are left in between.
“I don’t think that some of them care. I don’t feel that some of them really – I don’t think anyone wants to be here,” Mary Joyce said. “We don’t want to be here either right? But this is an opportunity that none of us want, but we have it.”
Joyce is a Covenant mother and a part of Covenant Families for Brighter Tomorrows and Covenant Families Action Fund. She and other Covenant mothers witnessed a week where the Senate decided Thursday it would adjourn until Monday, while the House continued to go about its business as if the Senate had intentions of coming back to pass more legislation.
“They want to do nothing,” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said. “We’re not telling them they have to, it’s just interesting they’d rather do nothing than something.”
The issue is the Senate says it doesn’t want to come back.
“Most legislators did not want to be here for a special-called session,” Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) said. “Many legislators, including myself, felt like all of these issues could have been handled in a regular session that started in January.”
Bailey’s sentiment was joined by several members of Republican leadership, who publicly said the Senate accomplished what Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) asked them to do.
“The governor brought a package of pieces of legislation with the appropriate funding for that legislation,” Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson) said. “The Senate has passed that.”
Each chamber is at each other’s throats but can only control what goes on in their own.
“There is a difference in the Senate and the House. There’s an old saying: ‘Let the Senate be the Senate,’ and that’s one of the things that we’re doing,” Bailey said. “We’re doing what we feel like is in the best interest of Tennesseans. We’re here because of the call of Bill Lee.”
The sentiment is infuriating House leadership, though they essentially threw a match on a gasoline-soaked powder keg when they delivered an ostrich egg to the Senate, saying the chamber ‘buried its head in the sand.’
Friday, Sexton thrashed some members of the Senate for only passing three bills that essentially codify things that already exist.
“If they don’t want to do these bills then just say, ‘I don’t like that bill. I don’t want to do that bill. I don’t want to do that bill. I don’t want to do this bill,’” he said. “Just come out and say they want to do nothing. ‘We want to do nothing.’ Then we can have a conversation on where we can move from there if we can.”
Sexton also said the Senate has a ‘chairmen problem.’ Though he wouldn’t specifically name Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), it’s clear that’s one of the few he was talking about.
Sexton, in addition to other House Republican leaders, wants to pass more bills pertaining to mental health, juvenile justice and crime. For that to happen, the Senate Judiciary Committee would have to reopen.
Gardenhire, the chair of said committee, had one word when asked if he planned to.
When News 2 asked explicitly if Sexton was referring to Gardenhire in his comments, he said it was a ‘chairmen problem,’ not a ‘chairMAN problem.’
“[Gardenhire] put things out on social media that you can pull up and you can look at where he’s made his statements that he’s not opening and he’s not doing anything, and it’s done over there,” he said. “So, I’m not putting words in his mouth, I’m just quoting what he’s put out on Twitter.”
We did search for said tweets (now posts since Twitter’s rebrand to X) and could not find them.
Regardless, the Covenant families nonprofits find themselves caught in between a war of words.
“It shows the power of what a few poor examples can do,” Sarah Shoop Neumann said.
Democrats, powerless in a supermajority, are furious with how special session has played out.
“They want to play all these games and blame each other. They have all the power in the world up here. They can get anything they wanted done,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “But unfortunately, Governor Bill Lee and the supermajority doesn’t want to do anything to protect our children.”
Not every senator seemingly agrees with the actions of the chamber.
“I had a senator call me this morning and echo that – apologize for how things are going,” Joyce said.
Still, the two mothers offer a stark reminder that every single day that Tennessee stands at an impasse, lives hang in the balance.
The Senate and House are scheduled to reconvene Monday, but this feud will bleed at least until Tuesday, if not later. Both sides have to come together in what’s called a Conference Committee, to rectify the differences in their legislation.
Find the latest news from the Tennessee State Capitol as WKRN News 2 brings you coverage of the special session. Click here to read more.