Speakers ban protest signs, animals from legislative quarters — guns permitted

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Beth Harwell have approved a new policy that prohibits “hand-carried signs and signs on hand sticks” at the Legislature because they “represent a serious safety hazard,” reports The Tennessean. The speakers had earlier approved a policy change to allow handgun permit holders to bring their weapons to legislative hearings and offices.

In recent years, protesters have frequently brought signs with them to Legislative Plaza — state lawmakers’ longtime home. Last month lawmakers’ offices were moved into the newly renovated Cordell Hull building.

… Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration, said Wednesday that hand-held signs were also prohibited inside Legislative Plaza.

When asked to explain why such signs were frequently seen inside the building during previous legislative sessions, Ridley said, “The protocol has always prohibited signs. It will be enforced in the Cordell Hull building.”

… Ken Paulson, who serves as president of Middle Tennessee State University’s First Amendment Center and dean of the school’s College of Media and Entertainment, said, “Any rational person would have to suspect that this is an attempt in part to limit dissent and to avoid embarrassment to lawmakers.”

… He said the new written policy leaves wiggle room for protesters to wear sandwich boards, T-shirts, hats and signs around their necks.

… The new policy also prohibits animals — with the exception of service animals — in the building. In the past, lawmakers, including Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and McNally, have brought their own dogs to the legislature…  When asked whether Lundberg and McNally can bring their dogs to the new building, Ridley simply reiterated the policy.

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