Tennessee lawmakers reconvene, take up hot-button issues
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers kicked off their annual legislative session on Tuesday, where they’ll spend the next few months finalizing the state’s upcoming budget as well as debating issues from abortion ban exceptions to express toll lanes.
Republicans have supermajority control in both the state House and Senate. However, GOP lawmakers have remained split on whether the state’s strict abortion ban should be tweaked.
The ban in Tennessee went into effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It does not have an explicit exemption for the mother’s life. Instead, it shifts the burden to the doctor to make a case in criminal court, if charged with a felony under the law, that an abortion was needed to save the mother’s life or to spare her from irreversible, severe impairment.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton is currently the most prominent Republican lawmaker who said he would support tweaks to the abortion ban, saying that the burden of proof should be on prosecutors, not on doctors. He also has said he would support exceptions for rape and incest. Democrats have also opposed the law and are calling for the changes.
Yet over in the Senate, Speaker Randy McNally has maintained he does not believe the law should be amended. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has also voiced support for keeping the law as written and has demurred when pressed on whether he would veto any amendments if such a bill made it to his desk.
“With regard to the law, as it currently stands, I’m satisfied with it,” Lee told reporters Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a bill drawn up by GOP House and Senate majority leaders would ban medical providers from altering a child’s hormones or performing surgeries that enable them to present as a different gender.
The governor has also prioritized plans to pay for roadwork to combat congestion in a state that continues to see its population boom.
“I know we will fuss and fight and bicker and argue at times in this building,” Sexton said Tuesday, shortly after being reelected to the top legislative leadership role. “My wish for us is at the end of the day we can come together and during the toughest of challenges, we will all work for the betterment of Tennessee and its citizens.”
This week, Republican lawmakers also teed up a bill that would cut in half the number of people who serve on Nashville’s metro council. The comes after the Nashville council voted in opposition to a framework that could have brought the 2024 Republican National Convention to the city. The convention instead is headed to Milwaukee.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper noted that the city’s voters — by nearly a two-thirds margin — chose to keep the council at 40 members in 2015. He said the bill “undermines the will of Nashville voters and effective local governance.”
Lee, who has criticized the council for its opposition during recruitment of the convention, on Tuesday said that in general, a 40-member council feels “unwieldy” to him.
“I think that most people think that that is very large, and relative to other cities of the size, that is unwieldy,” Lee said. “So, certainly, not a bad thing to look at.”
Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise in Franklin, Tennessee contributed to this report.