Lee signs bill to ban drag shows

The Senate on Thursday morning gave final approval to a bill to ban drag shows on public property or where children are present. By the afternoon of the same day, Gov. Bill Lee had signed the measure into law.

The governor’s office did not give a reason for the lightning turnaround, but the Republican’s advisers are likely hopeful to move on from the national attention he has received following the emergence of high school yearbook pictures showing Lee dressed in women’s clothing.

Lee replied angrily to a questions from a liberal activist about the photos during a press gaggle earlier this week.

“What a ridiculous, ridiculous question that is, conflating something like that,” Lee said. “Sexualized entertainment in front of children is a very serious subject.”

Two protesters were arrested at a Memphis ribbon-cutting Lee attended later in the week.  “Drag is not a crime,” one of them shouted before being hauled away by police.

Senate backbenchers: Two can play at that game

State Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) waits for the State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Not to be outdone by House backbenchers filing the bulk of the bills in the ongoing special session on dialing back COVID-19 mandates, a handful of Senators who otherwise have little legislative clout have followed suit in a big way.

Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) is sponsoring 27 bills, Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) has 12, Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) as signed on to 11, and Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) is backing 10. Together, the four senators account for 60 of 84 bills filed before the deadline, or 71% of the total.

Here’s full breakdown.

  • Mark Pody (R-Lebanon): 27
  • Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma): 12
  • Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald): 11
  • Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains): 10
  • Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge): 9
  • Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville): 4
  • Mike Bell (R-Riceville): 2
  • Paul Rose (R-Covington): 2
  • Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis): 2
  • Ed Jackson (R-Jackson): 2
  • Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield): 1
  • Steve Southerland (R-Morristown): 1
  • Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville): 1

Beginning of the end? Senate sets Feb. 11 bill-filing deadline

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The deadline to file bills in the Senate will be on Feb. 11, three days after Gov. Bill Lee delivers his third State of the State address. The House cutoff follows at close of business on Feb. 17.

While the deadline should theoretically set the parameters for the proposals lawmakers will take up this session, the proliferation of “caption bills” — legislation that opens broad sections of the code while leaving specific policy proposals to be made at a later date — means it’s never quite certain what will be debated until lawmakers adjourn for the year.

The bill filing cutoff is nevertheless a major milestone for each session, as it signals that lawmakers (who officially gaveled into the 112th General Assembly on Jan. 12) are finally preparing to go about their business.

Bill would target landlords of people in U.S. without authorization

The House is advancing legislation targeting landlords who rent to people without proper authorization to be in the country, the AP’s Jonathan Mattise reports. 

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) who saw the defeat of another one of his measures seeking to help fund President Donald Trump’s border wall through fees charged on international money transfers from people in Tennessee who can’t present a driver’s license.

The landlord vote advanced out of the House Business Subcommittee on a 5-1 vote. It now heads to the full Commerce Committee.

Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, condemned the legislation.

“Representative Griffey’s despicable bill seeks to strip the most basic of human needs from hardworking Tennesseans– the roof over their heads.,” she said in a release. “The bill puts thousands of children at risk of homelessness and harm,  and detrimentally affects their health and their ability to get an education.”

Lee administration to do away with ‘flag letters’

Bill Lee takes the oath of office as Tennessee’s 50th governor in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is doing away with “flag letters” traditionally issued by executive branch agencies over concerns about pending legislation.

Here’s a letter Legislative Director Brent Easley sent to all the members of the General Assembly on Friday.


I am alerting you to a change in policy that will take place over the next week regarding legislative priorities.

In the past, you have received “flag letters” from the Governor’s Office or departments when they have noted an issue, concern or opposition to legislation that has been filed. This transparency is critical, but we believe there is a more effective way to communicate these positions.

Moving forward, we will begin implementing the following system for positioning around legislative proposals.

  • When the Governor’s Office, or a state department/agency, notes opposition or concern about a legislative proposal, someone from that team will see you personally.
  • If a member of the liaison corps is not able to reach you in person, you will receive a phone call from them, followed by an email letting you know they are reaching out about a legislative item.
  • We will also share a weekly list of bills that have been “flagged” for various reasons with legislative leadership to provide an additional layer of transparency about our positioning. This document will be available in their respective offices for your review.

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