Last April, thousands of Tennesseans protested to demand commonsense gun safety laws after a school shooting left six people dead, including three children. Meanwhile, in the name of decorum, House Speaker Cameron Sexton led an unprecedented, authoritarian effort to silence those seeking such reforms, shutting off the mics of lawmakers trying to discuss gun safety and ultimately expelling two lawmakers for amplifying the voices of constituents, leaving more than 136,000 voters without representation.
Gov. Bill Lee recently called for a special session, set to begin August 21, 2023 at 4 pm CT. Around 19,000 Tennesseans from across the political spectrum submitted special session comments, and over 84% of those comments demanded children be protected from gun violence through gun safety laws.
Yet, the permissible topics for consideration listed in Governor Lee’s proclamation calling for the special session, do little to answer the very clear call from thousands of voters for gun safety laws. Instead, the proclamation indicates forthcoming bills that increase government surveillance and mass incarceration, giving lawmakers the opportunity to usurp the impending special session and ram through bills with sweeping, catastrophic consequences for civil liberties.
How will this special session work?
On August 21, 2023, at 4 pm CT the special session will begin. The length of the session is completely up to the legislature, but historically special sessions have lasted for about a week. As a result, usual legislative procedures are abandoned, floor debate is limited, and public participation in the committee hearing process is stifled. This means that decisions about which bills get passed are made behind closed doors by legislators and the extremist special interests they’re beholden to.
Special Session Bills Watchlist
As the special session progresses and additional legislation is filed, we will post more specific details on bills we are monitoring and lobbying here. To view a list of all the bills being introduced, visit the Tennessee Special Session Bill Index.
- HB 7004 - As introduced, requires the court or chief officer of a mental health facility that orders the release of a person from the mental health facility to notify the law enforcement agency that transported the person to the mental health facility of the person's release.
- HB 7015 - As introduced, expands, from certain violent offenses to any felony offense, the offenses for which a person who has been arrested is required to have a biological specimen taken for the purpose of DNA analysis to determine identification characteristics specific to the person if probable cause exists for the arrest. Learn more about why we oppose this bill here.
- SB 7002/ HB 7016 - As introduced, creates the criminal offense of recklessly, by any means of communication, threatening to commit an act of mass violence; requires the court to determine whether a defendant charged with threatening to commit an act of mass violence is a threat to the public prior to release on bail. Learn more about why we oppose this bill here.
- HB 7029/SB 7010 - As introduced, requires juvenile offenders 16 years of age or more who are alleged to have committed theft of a firearm or certain other offenses while in possession of a firearm, and meeting certain other criteria to be transferred to adult criminal court for disposition as if the juvenile were an adult.
- HB 7030 - As introduced, expands the offenses for which a juvenile court may transfer a child to be tried as an adult in criminal court, if the child was 16 years of age or more at the time of the offense, to include burglary involving the theft of a firearm or an attempt to commit such offense; adds an appeal process for a criminal court to review a juvenile court's determination for such transfers.
- HB 7031 - As introduced, expands the offenses for which a juvenile court may transfer a child to be tried as an adult in criminal court, if the child was 16 or older at the time of the offense, to include theft of a firearm or attempt to commit theft of a firearm; adds an appeal process for a criminal court to review a juvenile court's determination for such transfers
- HB 7033 - As introduced, requires a bail hearing, which must be open to the public, before a defendant who has been arrested or held to answer for a bailable offense may be admitted to bail.
- HB 7060 - As introduced, requires juvenile offenders alleged to have committed 15 enumerated offenses and meeting certain other criteria to be transferred to adult criminal court for disposition as if the juvenile were an adult; authorizes an appeal for such transfers.
- SB 7027/ HB 7073 - As introduced, requires a juvenile court to impose a blended sentence on a child adjudicated delinquent for certain offenses; defines blended sentencing as a combination of any disposition otherwise provided for juveniles and a period of an adult disposition to be served after the child turns 19 and which ends on or before the child's 24th birthday; requires the juvenile court to hold a transfer hearing if a juvenile offender is 16 or more but less than 18 at the time of the alleged conduct and is alleged to have committed certain offenses; requires the juvenile court to transfer the juvenile to adult criminal court for disposition as if the juvenile were an adult if the court makes certain findings; provides for an automatic de novo review by the criminal court of a juvenile court's decision denying a transfer to adult criminal court. Learn more about why we oppose this bill here.
- HB 7085 - As introduced, states that the juvenile court records of a person who was transferred from juvenile court to be tried as an adult in criminal court and who is subsequently convicted may be expunged only by a court order issued under the court in which the person was convicted.
- HB 7032 - As introduced, requires health insurance carriers, including TennCare providers, to provide mental health services and treatment to the same extent that the carriers and providers provide alcoholism and drug dependence services and treatment
- HB 7051 - As introduced, establishes an extended pilot program for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders to be administered by clerks of juvenile courts in this state.
- HB 7065 - As introduced, directs the bureau of TennCare to submit to the federal centers for medicare and medicaid services an application for a research and demonstration waiver under Section 1115 of the federal Social Security Act to provide housing solutions for Tennesseans in need of mental health services.
- HB 7066 – As introduced, establishes within the Department of Health a temporary youth mental health services program to facilitate access to mental health services for youth, including substance use disorder services.
Some ways to stay up to date throughout the special session include:
- Following us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, where we’ll provide updates on what’s happening leading up to and during the special session.
- Staying up to date on the bills being introduced by visiting the Tennessee General Assembly Special Session webpage.
Contacting Your Legislators
- To learn more about contacting your elected officials visit Lobbying 101.
- Tennessee General Assembly (TGA) Website
The following is a general list of organizations that have announced they are exercising their constitutional rights and engaging voters in democracy around the special session. Resources are compiled from publicly available sources for public reference. Descriptions are from organizational webpages and social media pages.
- AWAKE Day on the Hill - Join AWAKE's Day on the Hill for a morning of advocacy and lobbying during the Special Session on Public Safety.
- Freedom Summer Tour - Join the Equity Alliance Fund, Memphis for All, Inclusion TN, Black Voters Matter, John Smith Marketing, Moms Over Murder, AWAKE, TIRRC Votes, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Moms Demand Action ahead of the special session as they uplift the voices of the next generation of democracy defenders.
- Moms Demand Action - Moms Demand Action is looking for moms, friends and supporters to join them to attend the special session.
- Rise & Shine
- Kids Sing at the TN Capitol! - We believe our kids deserve to have a voice in advance of the special session on gun safety. On the eve of the session, we will be singing songs of unity and hope on the Capitol steps. All ages welcome!
- Volunteer with Rise & Shine - Rise and Shine TN is on the lookout for dedicated volunteers to fill key roles during the special session.
- TEP Balcony Brigade - TEP is looking for volunteers who can be present at legislative committee meetings and in the gallery of the Senate and House chambers when key votes take place.
- Protect My Care Petition
- Op-Ed by Kathy Sinback, ACLU-TN Executive Director: Tennessee’s special legislative session won't do what citizens want (tennessean.com)
- Tennessee's special legislative session on public safety: What to know (tennessean.com)
- Juvenile crime changes could spark uproar in special session – Tennessee Lookout
- Gov. Lee Issues Official Call, Presents Legislative Priorities Ahead of Public Safety Special Session (tn.gov)
- Statement on Special Session — Rise & Shine Tennessee (riseandshinetn.org)
- Vanderbilt Poll: Actionable consensus on guns and abortion exists between Tennessee’s MAGA Republicans, Democrats | Vanderbilt University
- TN Democratic, Republican leaders trade barbs ahead of special session (wkrn.com)
- Secret group of lawmakers vetted bills behind closed doors ahead of special session (tennessean.com)