NASHVILLE — Tennessee Democrats condemned the GOP-run General Assembly Tuesday afternoon for resuming business and moving to approve controversial bills in the wake of deadly tornadoes that swept Nashville and other mid-state communities hours earlier and took at least 22 lives.
State Democratic Party Chairman Mary Mancini condemned Republicans for holding committee hearings on measures she called part of a "Slate of Hate" package of bills.
"Over two dozen Tennesseans pronounced dead, many of whom are children, and many more injured," Mancini said in a statement. "Hundreds of homes lost and billions of dollars worth of damage. Thousands of Tennesseans are without power. Tennessee is devastated. The state legislature offices closed due to loss of power."
Mancini charged that "as Tennesseans rally around our neighbors, [Gov.] Bill Lee and the Republican supermajority have decided to resume committee meetings today and push through permitless gun carry and their attack on a woman's ability to make her own health care decisions."
She said lawmakers "should stand with Tennessee communities and families in their time of need; instead, Republican legislators are spending their time passing laws to further harm and hurt Tennesseans."
Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Rauimesh Akbari of Memphis, House Minority Leader Karen Camper, D-Memphis, and House Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Stewart of Nashville charged in a statement that "it is wrong for the legislature to carry on as if this was a normal day of business.
"It is not," they added. "With at least 22 Tennesseans dead from these storms and families reeling across the region, the place for public service today is not inside the Capitol."
As the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee convened at 1 p.m. CST to take up bills including a proposed ban on providers giving sexual identity change therapy to prepubescent minors, Chairman Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, said it had been a "hectic morning" and called for a moment of silence.
Farmer said he wanted to "let everyone know" that lawmakers' "hearts and prayers are absolutely with them" and "those folks who lost saved ones."
Earlier Tuesday, the General Assembly's Cordell Hull State Office Building, where lawmakers' offices and committee meeting rooms are located, was closed due to power outages caused by the turbulent weather. But House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, who is the Senate speaker, later announced committee meetings would resume in the afternoon.
Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, told Criminal Justice Subcommittee members that Sexton and several lawmakes were in Putnam County and Cookeville where the majority of fatalities occurred.
"I will say we have gotten several questions as to why we are proceeding today with the business of the people. I did want to briefly address it to say the speakers evaluated that early today. And we have utility workers, we have law enforcement officers, we have media members who have worked throughout the night and throughout the day and they're putting the time in to serve their community.
"We were all elected to come down here and serve," Lamberth added. "There are bills that are extremely important to the people of this state, and both speakers felt it was appropriate for us to continue to serve and work."
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