Blue light special? Bill would allow speakers’ cars to ignore traffic rules

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A bill to authorize the state cars transporting the governor or speakers of the state House and Senate to use emergency lights is up for final approval in the Senate on Thursday.

[UPDATE: The bill passed 27-3 and is headed to the governor’s desk.]

Under current law, the THP cars carrying Gov. Bill Lee, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), and Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti across the state aren’t explicitly allowed to use blue lights.

The bill sponsored by freshman Sen. Adam Lowe (R-Calhoun) and Rep. Lowell Russell (R-Vonore) would exempt protective detail troopers from following posted parking rules. They could also pass through red lights or stop signs without coming to a halt, exceed the posted speed limit, drive against the flow of traffic, and disregard restrictions on turns.

Lawmakers are pursuing the bill despite opposition from THP leadership.

The General Assembly in 2021 approved $750,000 in new funding for the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s protective detail, which doubled the number of Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers assigned to the speakers to two each. The speakers were also assigned two vehicles, up from the previous one.

The legislative hallways are rife with stories about one speaker’s trooper being reprimanded for operating the state cars above the posted speed limit. The Safety Department won’t confirm whether any disciplinary action has been taken against members of the protective detail for their driving habits due to what a spokesman calls the “potential operational vulnerability” of identifying the troopers on the detail.

The House has already passed the measure unanimously.

Akbari to speak at Democratic presidential convention today

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) takes a selfie with colleagues and Gov. Bill Lee before the start of the State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis is one of 16 speakers deemed rising Democratic stars scheduled to speak at the party’s presidential convention to nominate Joe Biden on Tuesday.

“Amidst all of the chaos and crises our nation is facing, Democrats are focused on finding new and innovative ways to engage more Americans than ever before—because that’s how we’ll mobilize the nation to defeat Donald Trump in November,” Joe Solmonese, CEO of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, said in a release. “The convention keynote has always been the bellwether for the future of our party and our nation, and when Americans tune in next week they’ll find the smart, steady leadership we need to meet this critical moment.” 

Akbari was elected to the Senate in 2018 after previously serving in the state House since 2013. She is the chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, former chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, and national treasurer of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. She also spoke at the 2016 Democratic convention in support of then-nominee Hillary Clinton.


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