Capitol Hill Week: Democrat Party perspective

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(April 1, 2021) - This week started off with a packed floor session on Monday night.  Republicans passed several bills that Democrats fought:

The first was Gov. Bill Lee’s Permitless Carry bill (HB 786).  The bill would allow Tennesseans the right to carry a handgun at all times without a permit.  It passed the House in spite of the fact that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Sherriff’s Association, District Attorneys General and numerous police chiefs across the state opposed the bill.  The organizations say it will put officers in danger.  Democrats agree with the law enforcement groups and challenge the assertion by Republicans that passage of the bill make the streets safer.  Democratic leaders say most Tennesseans support the 2nd Amendment but believe in responsible gun ownership.  They say policies like mandated training and background checks are what will actually lead to a safer Tennessee. The measure already passed the full Senate and is now on its way to the Governor’s desk where he is certain to sign it.

The second was a new version of the “bathroom bill” that targets transgender Tennesseans.  Under this bill (HB1182), businesses would have to post a sign outside its public restrooms that state if a member of either biological sex is able to use that restroom regardless of the designation on the restroom.  Critics have said this is another bill on the so-called “slate of hate” bigoted bills against transgender individuals.  A bill that forces transgender athletes to compete in the sport of their biological birth passed both chambers and was signed into law last week.

And finally Monday, HJR0151, a bill that would name the Bible the State book of Tennessee passed the House despite vigorous opposition by Democrats.  Democrats and many Republicans have criticized the bill saying it trivializes the Bible.  It now moves on to the Senate. 

On Wednesday, a House Committee all but killed a measure that would have declared racism a public health threat.  The resolution (HJR 10), sponsored by Memphis Representative Antonio Parkinson, would have conformed with an American Medical Association declaration.  The resolution said the state would “recognize racism as a public health threat and commit ourselves to openly and honestly addressing racism to end areas of disparity and inequity.”  However, Republicans, led by Representative Sabi Kumar, a doctor and a person of color who said he doesn’t believe racism is a factor in medicine, placed the bill in summer study.  That will keep the bill from being voted on this legislative session. 

We’ll end, however, on a couple of positive notes. 

A bipartisan bill to aid state law enforcement agencies in tracking sexual assault kits advanced on Wednesday and is one step closer to reaching the floor of the House.  The bill, (HB 39), is sponsored by Democrat Bob Freeman of Nashville and would create a tracking system available for both law enforcement and victims.  The tracking of sexual assault kits became a national issue several years ago, including in Memphis where more than 12,000 untested rape kits were discovered, in 2014.  The bill is titled the “Jim Coley Rape Survivors Protection Act.” It’s named after the now retired Memphis Republican representative who spearheaded an early version of the legislation.  It’s now headed to the Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee.

And Minority Leader Karen Camper’s HB 204 enacting the CROWN Act to Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair cleared its first hurdle this week.  The bill passed the Business and Utilities Subcommittee and is now headed to the full Commerce Committee.    

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