Lawmakers contemplate 8-week break to legislative session

The doors of the state Capitol were closed to the public on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A series of secret meetings were being held in the closed-door Cordell Hull Building on Monday to determine how the General Assembly should proceed amid the coronavirus pandemic. Reporters got Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston) to shed some light on what was discussed among members. Here’s a transcript of what he had to say:

Ken Yager: The urgency of the situation dictated prompt action, so we just decided to talk to a few folks.

Q: What did you tell them?

KY: I just told them that we recognize the need to comply with the CDC guidelines, which have eight weeks. We’re looking at doing that. We’re tying to stay in compliance with the CDC guidelines. It’s important for us to follow the same guidelines that we’re asking other people to do…. We’re just trying to get word out to everybody, some of the members as they’re coming in.

This week we’ll focus on mission critical bills that we need to pass. We’ll let the speakers announce the rest of that.

Q: Is it being contemplated to pass a temporary budget and then recess while awaiting developments?

KY: I’ve not heard the word temporary mentioned. I think mission critical – there’s a discussion about whether we’re going to adjourn or recess. And if you adjourn, you pass a budget. If we recess to a date certain, then we certainly have the opportunity to continue to work on the budget during that recess.

Q: Why the sudden urgency when last week everything seemed fine?

KY: This issue is an evolving issue. And I think that we’ve had a chance to look at it. I’ll speak for myself, I think I’ve had a chance to talk to my local professionals and to review these guidelines with greater scrutiny after our discussions last week. And I’ve just drawn the conclusion, as my colleagues have, that we need to stay in compliance with what the CDC is asking, and set the example.

Q: How to you decide what’s mission critical? There’s a lot of key legislation that people care very deeply about still hanging out there. Does everything go by the wayside other than the budget?

KY: Those things that are mission critical, those are the things that we’ll keep. The budget, and those things that keep the state running that we have to do.

2 Responses to Lawmakers contemplate 8-week break to legislative session

  • Susan says:

    Secret meetings behind closed doors are held all the time by the state legislature. They exempted themselves from the Open Meetings Act years ago. Unless you are trying to get people worked up Erik, you might want to clarify that this is business as usual.

    • Erik Schelzig says:

      Here’s what Senate rules have to say about that: “(k) No Senator shall knowingly organize or participate in any meeting held in violation of the provisions of T.C.A. Section 3-1-118. “Meeting” as used in this subsection (k) shall also include any meeting held by the senate republican caucus or the senate democratic caucus.”

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