Legislature passes budget, recesses for two months

Tennessee legislative leadership has agreed to a timeline for a second fall special session, according to a text message distributed to members.

The message, distributed on behalf of House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), says there will be a second special session, called by the lawmakers themselves, to discuss COVID-19 mandates. The session is expected to begin on Oct. 27 and run through the following week.

A spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican speaker of the Senate, said McNally was on board with the second special session, despite earlier reservations. The date remains tentative, spokesperson Adam Kleinheider said.

"The specifics of the call are still being ironed out and would need the constitutionally required signatures," he said.

Two-thirds of the members of both the House and the Senate must agree to call a special session if one is not called by the governor. Republicans hold majorities of greater than two-thirds in both chambers.

Gov. Bill Lee, also a Republican, previously called a special session for the week before so that lawmakers could consider the $500 million in incentives he promised to lure Ford Motor Company to West Tennessee (read here).

Some Republicans in the legislature have said they hope to make it harder to institute mask and vaccine requirements. One piece of legislation already filed for the 2022 legislative session would prohibit mask mandates and vaccine requirements by government entities, including local governments.

Lee's executive order allowing parents to opt out of local school mask rules is facing significant judicial pushback, with federal judges across the state ruling that it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and should be put on hold.

Rep. Vince Dixie (D-Nashville), chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said he’s eager for the Ford special session, which could be “transformational” for West Tennessee, but said the proposed second special session is just “an opportunity to grandstand.”

“Our job is to protect our citizens in Tennessee, and we’re doing a horrible job at that,” he said. “The second session is a waste of taxpayer money when all we have to do is follow CDC guidelines.”