NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee offered updates on overnight tornadoes and toured the deadly wreckage left in his state, lawmakers forged ahead Tuesday to advance the governor’s key priorities to restrict abortion and expand gun rights.
Both a House and Senate panel in the Republican-led Legislature voted to move along the GOP governor’s proposal to let most adults 21 and older carry firearms, concealed or openly, without a license that currently requires a background check and training.
And a Senate panel pushed through Lee’s bill that would largely ban women from undergoing abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, among other abortion restrictions.
The decision to move ahead with legislative business during the dig-out from storms that killed at least 25 people drew criticism from Democrats. Thousands of Tennesseans remained without electricity as of Tuesday.
Rep. John Ray Clemmons, who represents Nashville, said he had been up since the tornadoes tore through the city.
“We’ve lost a lot of life here in Nashville, Putnam County and across the mid-state,” Clemmons said. “So I’d be remiss if I didn’t just note that I find it very upsetting that we are in session today.”
GOP House Majority Leader William Lamberth said “it was a difficult decision.”
“We respect all those that are out there doing their job and they felt that we should at least come and try to do the best we can to serve today,” he said.
While out surveying tornado damage in the worst-hit areas with Lee, House Speaker Cameron Sexton also defended the decision to keep working at the Capitol. When asked about the Tennesseans who would be unable to attend today’s meetings due to the tornado, Sexton said, “I think there’s still the online streaming and so people can still tune in.”
Thousands of Tennesseans remained without power late Tuesday.
Lawmakers took the morning off and then decided to hold meetings in the afternoon and into the evening. They also moved along legislation that would make the Bible the official state book.
Another measure that advanced Tuesday would remove the governor’s responsibility to sign proclamations for certain days of recognition, including one commemorating former Confederate General and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Reporter Kimberlee Kruesi contributed to this report from Putnam County.