Tennessee House members vehemently debate rules that could instantly silence them

Posted at 5:39 PM, Aug 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-22 07:33:32-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Along partisan lines, the Tennessee House voted to add rules to the special session that could silence members.

Members argued for more than an hour about the new rules, which were described in a veiled manner in response to the Tennessee Three standing in the legislature and stopping proceedings for a piece of the day. Two of the three members were consequently expelled a week later, but both were reelected to their seats in a special election.

Rule 18 would allow Speaker Cameron Sexton to gavel down a member for being out of order for what is described as a "material disruption."

What is a "material disruption?" House Leader William Lamberth and Rep. Johnny Garrett wouldn't specifically describe it.

"These rules scare me," Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, said. "They scare me as an American who believes in a free state of democracy. We didn't come up here to limit the speech of the members of this body. We came up here to attack a problem. Instead, we are starting off by amending the rules to limit democracy. It's ridiculous. It's absurd. Shame on you for voting for these rules. This is outrageous. I can't believe this."

Lamberth and Garrett argued that the amended rules — which aren't permanent for upcoming sessions — are necessary for governmental operations.

"I couldn't disagree more strongly," Leader Lamberth said. "Don't cause a material disruption and at the end of the day don't impugn another member or this body. Let's stay on the issues and not insult each other. Let's do the work we've been asked to come here and do. If the member doesn't follow the rules. There are steps. This is democracy. This is a structure to do that."

Rules also include what the members of the public can bring into the House and committee rooms, which includes 8x11 paper signs. However, some members brought up the fact that the public could bring guns into committee rooms yet couldn't carry signs. Guns aren't allowed in the capitol but are allowed in Cordell Hull.

Session will continue into Tuesday after the House creates committees and their assignments.

What is Rule 18?

When a member is recognized and goes off-topic, they will forfeit their remaining time.

If the member is called to order by the Speaker a second time on the same day, and it is sustained by the House, the member will not be recognized for the remainder of that day. The member will not be recognized for three legislative days on a third offense.

The member will not be recognized for the remainder of the session for a fourth offense. Offending members will still be allowed to vote.