See you in August? Lee’s special session call faces delays

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee made a big splash by announcing the night the legislature adjourned for the year that he was going to call lawmakers back into a special session to take up his proposal to curb access to firearms by people with significant mental problems. Many expected the governor to issue the call by the middle of May.

But amid tepid support for the Lee’s proposed language, several Republicans tell The Tennessee Journal they now expect the special session won’t take place until August – or even September.

Even Lee’s backers are wary of having the measure labeled a “red flag” law, which gun rights supporters argue infringe on Second Amendment rights. Democratic President Joe Biden didn’t help matters for Tennessee Republicans when he commended Lee in the aftermath of the Covenant School shooting for expanding background checks and “calling on the Tennessee statehouse to pass a red flag law.”

GOP leaders in the House and Senate are understood to have warned Lee that calling them into session next month would result in either the bill failing outright – or enough absences to deny a quorum for proceedings to get underway.

It remains to be seen whether Lee takes heed of concerns raised by lawmakers or presses ahead with a bill even if it’s doomed to failure. Lee and his wife, Maria, were close friends of one of the teachers fatally shot at the Covenant School and may want to demonstrate they were willing to try to do something, even if lawmakers don’t go along. Some observers liken the situation to when Gov. Bill Haslam pressed ahead with his Medicaid expansion proposal in 2015 despite a widespread recognition that it was unlikely to pass.

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