Home Politics Tennessee G.O.P. Again Silences Democratic Lawmaker Justin Jones

Tennessee G.O.P. Again Silences Democratic Lawmaker Justin Jones

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Tennessee G.O.P. Again Silences Democratic Lawmaker Justin Jones

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Tennessee’s House Republicans on Monday again silenced Representative Justin Jones, a Black Democrat who was expelled earlier this year in a gun control protest, after he was deemed to have violated new stringent rules of decorum.

Democrats left the House chamber in protest after Mr. Jones was barred from speaking on the floor for the remainder of the day, while chants of “fascists” and “racists” broke out in the gallery overhead.

Republicans ordered state troopers to clear the galleries. The decision forced the removal not only of the protesters but also of the parents of students who had survived a deadly school shooting and were keeping a quiet and emotional watch over the proceedings.

The uproar came when Speaker Cameron Sexton and chamber leaders decided that Mr. Jones, for the second time in the day, had breached the rules of the House by speaking out of turn. This time, Mr. Jones had suggested, during a debate about increasing the number of police officers in schools, that the state’s resources should be focused instead on mental health professionals and teacher pay — comments Mr. Sexton said were off-topic.

Despite an outcry from Democrats, the vote to silence Mr. Jones for the remainder of the day passed 70 to 20.

The confrontation occurred during a special session dedicated to improving public safety, an effort sharply curtailed by a resistance to any form of gun control in the legislature’s deeply conservative Republican supermajority.

In March, an assailant opened fire at the Covenant School, a Christian school in Nashville, killing three 9-year-olds and three adults. Many of the school’s grieving parents have spent the summer quietly lobbying lawmakers for modest gun reform and a direct response to their school’s suffering.

Since the session began last week, weeping mothers have been repeatedly escorted out of hearings. A court has intervened to overturn a House rule outlawing any paper signs in the legislature or committee hearings. And Republicans in the House and Senate have exchanged heated barbs over how much work must be done to fulfill the mandate of the special session.

“We’re parenting children with fresh trauma due to the legislature’s prior inaction — juggling jobs, child care — and we call on our leadership to be on the right side of history,” Becky Hansen, a Covenant parent, said earlier on Monday. “Set your differences aside and do your jobs.”

Tensions have long existed between Mr. Jones, a longtime Nashville activist, and House Republican leaders. In April, they expelled Mr. Jones and Representative Justin J. Pearson, a Black Democrat representing Memphis, for leading a gun control protest from the House floor. (Both men easily won re-election.)

When the legislature convened last week, Republicans forced through new rules that appeared to reflect simmering anger from the expulsion fight. In addition to the rules restricting debate and banning signs, they also prevented the public from sitting on one side of the gallery and cordoned off easy access outside the chambers.

A court on Monday ruled that the House rule banning signs — already limited to the size of a printer paper — violated the Constitution. But the decision to enforce the new decorum rules for the first time against Mr. Jones on Monday led to an explosion of anger among his supporters in the State Capitol.

Democrats argued that it was unclear exactly what Mr. Jones had said that was deemed off-topic, though Mr. Sexton repeatedly maintained that a violation had occurred. They also noted that earlier in the day Mr. Jones had told lawmakers that he planned to force a vote of no confidence in Mr. Sexton’s leadership, a move he could no longer do once silenced.

“There was a powder keg on the floor today,” State Representative Antonio Parkinson, a Democrat, said. He added, “It’s avoidable, completely avoidable.”

Mr. Jones, after leaving the House chamber, declared that “that’s a charade; a sham happening in there.”

“I’ll be back every day as a member of this body,” he added. The House adjourned for the day shortly after the vote against Mr. Jones.

In a social media post, Tennessee’s House Republicans said that the angry chants from the gallery showed “exactly why rules are imperative.”

“The House of Representatives is a place for serious legislators to do the business of the people,” the post said. “It requires acting like an adult. You don’t walk out when you’re in the wrong.”

Beyond the public sparring over dissent, what the legislature will agree to pass remained unclear. The Covenant parents have pleaded with lawmakers to pass more legislation to respond to their school’s tragedy, including a bill that would limit public access to the autopsy reports of children killed in homicides.

The House has also pushed for a measure that would toughen the treatment of juvenile crime, and accused the Senate of abandoning its legislative duty. But the Senate, which abruptly left for a long weekend on Thursday after passing four bills, has refused to take up more legislation and was in session for less than 30 minutes on Monday.

“I hope that the House will realize that we’re serious about having conversations about their legislation between now and January,” Jack Johnson, the Senate majority leader, said. “There’s some really good bills that the House has brought forward. We just don’t think there is time during a special session, which lasts a few days, to properly vet those bills.”

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