As 'Tennessee Three' Member Is Silenced, Shouts of 'Fascists'

GOP lawmakers in state House bar Dem Rep. Justin Jones from speaking amid tense session
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 29, 2023 6:02 AM CDT
As 'Tennessee Three' Member Is Silenced, Shouts of 'Fascists'
Parents from the Covenant School comfort each other and hold signs above the House floor advocating for gun law reform during a special session of the state legislature on public safety on Monday at the Historic Metro Courthouse in Nashville, Tennessee.   (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Republican lawmakers voted Monday to temporarily silence a Democratic member of the so-called "Tennessee Three" during an already tense House floor session after determining the young Black member violated newly enacted rules designed to punish disruptive members. The move directed at Rep. Justin Jones prohibited him from speaking on and debating bills for the remainder of the day, which came a week into a special session that Republican Gov. Bill Lee called in reaction to a deadly shooting at a Christian elementary school in Nashville in March. The House and Senate are locked in an icy standoff over what to pass as families close to the shooting have increasingly voiced their frustrations with the legislative process. Various mental health, juvenile justice, school safety, and other proposals are among what's being considered, per the AP.

Republican legislative leaders aren't taking up any significant gun control changes, including the governor's push to keep guns away from people judged to pose a threat to themselves or others. The vote to silence Jones prompted loud cries and chants that drowned out proceedings for several minutes, even after the House speaker ordered the gallery to be cleared out. Moments prior, Jones had been criticizing legislation that would have allowed more law enforcement officers in schools and began listing other resources that the state should be providing. House Speaker Cameron Sexton had warned Jones not to stray off topic. Under new rules adopted by the GOP-dominant chamber last week, members can be silenced anywhere from a day to the rest of the year for not sticking to the bill being debated.

"What our schools need are mental health professionals," Jones said. "We need funding for mental health, for counselors. We need to pay our teachers better. We don't need more police in our schools." Sexton then ruled Jones out of order, setting up a vote on whether to quiet him for the rest of Monday's session. What happened next was a chaotic flurry of legislative proceedings, where Democrats outraged at the decision to try to silence Jones for the day began pleading with their GOP colleagues to change their minds. Republican lawmakers remained unconvinced, however, with 70 GOP members voting to silence Jones. Democratic members then angrily left the chamber with Jones. The crowd, which included gun control advocates, shouted "fascists" and "racists," and Sexton ordered troopers to clear the gallery of the public.

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Jones was among the two Tennessee lawmakers expelled earlier this year for his role in a pro-gun control protest inside the Tennessee Capitol. The April protest came just days after a shooter opened fire at the Covenant School, killing three children and three adults. Jones joined Democratic Reps. Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson in approaching the front of the House floor without permission with a bullhorn, joining the chants and cries for action by protesters in the public gallery and outside of the chamber. Pearson and Jones, who are both Black, were expelled, while Johnson, who's white, was spared by one vote. The two have since been reelected to their positions. "The House is out of order under Cameron Sexton's leadership," Jones told reporters shortly after leaving the House floor. "It's very disheartening, it's very troubling."

(More Tennessee stories.)

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