The week in politics: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signs new gun bill. What will it do? (2024)

Vivian Jones,Melissa BrownNashville Tennessean

Gov. Bill Lee signed into law a new measure to block some people from purchasing a gun before they turn 25, one of the few measures to limit access to firearms the Tennessee General Assembly has passed in recent years.

The bill, which becomes law on July 1, blocks access to guns for people who commit certain violent crimes between ages 14 and 18. Though they might be adjudicated as juveniles, a conviction means they will be prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm until they turn 25.

Aggravated assault, cruelty to animals, robbery and threats of mass violence are among the crimes that would preclude a teenager from future gun purchases.

Despite GOP reticence on broader gun reform issues, the legislation received bipartisan support in both chambers.

House sponsor Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, said the bill came about after discussions with his local district attorney and a previous situation involving two teenagers who were planning a school shooting.

"We were looking for a mechanism by which we could find a way prevent those juveniles, once they turn 18, to prohibit them from purchasing a long gun or weapon until their 25th birthday," Williams said last month.

TEA declares victory over vouchers for the year

Tennessee Education Association, one of the state's top teacher organizations, declared victory on Lee's statewide school choice proposal. TEA President Tanya T. Coats thanked Tennesseans and local officials who spoke against the legislation.

"We've seen a lot of bad voucher policies passed around the country, and none of them have lived up to the promise of benefitting parents and students," Coats said in a statement released Thursday. She noted school boards in more than 50 counties passed resolutions opposing the measure.

Paige Neill, an elementary school teacher in Hardin County, said in a statement the community closely followed the legislation and "worried about how it would change their lives at school."

"Coming from a rural community, chances are it would have changed a lot,” Neill said. “Today my students and I can breathe a sigh of relief, along with parents and all the people who are employed by our schools. A huge thanks to our lawmakers for realizing that vouchers aren’t what our students need, it’s investment in the schools they know and love.”

Lee and legislative leaders have said they plan to bring back a similar statewide universal school choice proposal next session, and Lee has indicated he plans to support amenable candidates in primary elections this year. The issue will be central in the 2024 election cycle.

Blackburn slams bipartisan border security bill as ‘election year political stunt’

Ahead of a vote in the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan border security deal bill, U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, slammed the effort alongside Republican colleagues calling the measure “an election year political stunt designed to give our Democratic colleagues the appearance of doing something about the problem without doing anything.”

“What they’re trying to do is nuance this situation so that they can say ‘we are shutting down the border.’ What we know is that they have no intention of doing that,” Blackburn said during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

With the issue of immigration among the highest priorities for many Americans ahead of the 2024 presidential election, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced plans to hold a vote Thursday on the measure, after a previous attempt failed when Republicans withdrew their support at the request of former President Donald Trump. The deal was originally negotiated as part of a package attached to $61 billion in Ukraine aid.

The Border Act would change U.S. asylum laws, hire thousands of border agents, and seek to curtail fentanyl smuggling. Republicans criticized the proposal for permitting 4,000 people to cross the border unlawfully each day before giving the president emergency power to shut the border down.

“What are they going to do – have the Border Patrol standing there with a clicker and count the number coming in?” Blackburn said. “This is not workable. It’s a political stunt.”

Blackburn said more than 10 million people have crossed the border illegally since Biden took office – the equivalent of Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Knoxville and Nashville combined.

The bill failed in the Senate on Thursday with Republican opposition.

Republicans have proposed their own border security plan in H.R. 2, which would require the federal government to construct 900 miles of border wall, require employers to use E-Verify to confirm employees are eligible to work in the United States, and limit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ability to provide parole to non-U.S. nationals. Democrats in Senate leadership have not taken up that proposal for more than a year.

“The truth is the democrats are the party of open borders and they intend to keep it that way,” Blackburn said.

State Republican leaders visit Washington

Several top-ranking Tennessee Republican lawmakers traveled to Washington, D.C. for a campaign-focused policy summit hosted by Blackburn.

Among those in attendance were state Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, House Majority Whip Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison COunty, and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs.

“Boy is Tennessee in good hands with @VoteMarsha!” Garrett wrote in a social media post. “Honored to attend our Senator’s policy summit and hear from the many conservatives voices in the U.S. Senate.”

Political strategist and power broker Ward Baker, of Baker Group Strategies – who manages Blackburn’s campaign – presented a session on “keys to a successful campaign,” according to social media posts detailing the event. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, also spoke to the group.

No state funds were used for travel. Lawmakers attended at their own expense or at the expense of their campaign, according to one attendee.

Secretary of State calls for poll workers

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins are urging Tennesseans to consider becoming poll workers ahead of the 2024 election cycle.

“Poll workers are an essential part of the electoral process, and Tennessee would not be able to hold successful elections without them,” Goins said. “By serving as a poll worker, citizens can help voters in their communities confidently cast a ballot, so all registered Tennesseans know our results are accurate and Tennessee elections are secure.”

Poll workers are paid, trained employees who answer voter questions, explain how to cast a ballot, and count votes at community polling locations.

To be eligible, individuals must be at least 16 years old, be able to read and write in English, and cannot be a candidate or close relative of a candidate, or supervised by an elected official on the ballot. Anyone over 18 must be a registered voter in the county in which they wish to serve.

“Poll workers are essential to conducting elections in Tennessee, and I hope all eligible Tennesseans will consider answering the call to serve our fellow Tennesseans,” Hargett said.

State and federal primaries are Aug. 1, and state and federal general elections are Nov. 5.

Lee pledges to sign red flag preemption bill into law

Lee said he supports and will sign into law Senate Bill 2763, a preemption bill that blocks any local Tennessee municipality from passing their own version of an extreme risk protection order or "red flag" law, which could remove guns from individuals deemed a threat.

The GOP-backed bill passed in the final days of session this year, just a year after Lee failed to pressure lawmakers into a vote over his version of an extreme risk measure after the Covenant School shooting.

Earlier, Lee said he supported SB 2763 as he doesn't believe a "patchwork" of local extreme risk orders would be effective.

"We need to have solutions that are unified across the state," Lee said. "When we see an issue that's a statewide issue, then we ought to have legislation that address that issue statewide."

DHS to issue one-time summer EBT

The Tennessee Department of Human Services next month will begin distributing a one-time $120 benefit in a federally backed summer nutrition program for low-income families.

The federal government last year announced plans to permanently extend a pandemic-era program to provide eligible families with up to $40 per child, per month, to supplement grocery costs. Families enrolled in SNAP, TANF or TennCare programs are eligible, plus students who have qualified to receive free and reduced lunch.

Tennessee was among the last states to opt-in to the program earlier this year, and Lee's office later said the state only intends to participate in the program in 2024. It will revert to other programs in the future, though it's unclear if any supplemental nutrition funding will be offered going forward.

Several Republican-held states declined to participate in the program, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table. States must cover operating costs of the program to draw down the federal funding.

In Tennessee, 700,000 children ages 6-17 are eligible for the benefit, according to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.

Catch up on the week

Nashville state lawmaker sues city, election commission over opponent's qualification

Majority of Tennessee women now identify as 'pro-choice,' new poll shows

Gov. Lee joins NFL chief Roger Goodell in lauding sports safety bill, talks Super Bowl push

Will Tennessee legalize cannabis after federal declassification? Where lawmakers fall

US Rep. Andy Ogles falsely claimed $320,000 campaign loan, instead calls money a 'pledge'

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The week in politics: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signs new gun bill. What will it do? (2024)
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