Important details on some of Gov. Bill Lee’s most controversial bills are coming out on the same day.
That day happens to be Super Tuesday, when attention is focused on presidential politics.
Republican senators will roll out the details minutes before they plan to vote on an abortion ban, an expansion of paid medical leave for state employees and repeal of Tennessee’s handgun permitting process.
Beth Joslin Roth, the policy director for gun-safety advocacy organization Safe Tennessee Project, criticized what she sees as rushing important legislation.
Roth, who is also the vice chair of the Davidson County Democratic Party, is mostly concerned about the bill that would eliminate requirements that gun owners go through training to obtain a permit to carry in public.
“It’s interesting that the first committee hearing is on a day where a lot of people will be occupied on other things,” Roth said. “The day a lot of people are going to be very busy voting and watching election results.”
But Republican leaders say there’s nothing out of the ordinary.
Adam Kleinheider, the spokesman of Senate Speaker Randy McNally, dismissed concerns about the debate occurring during the presidential primaries.
“During the legislative session, the Senate is focused on getting the people’s business done in a deliberate manner,” Kleinheider told WPLN News in a text message. “There are many factors that end up influencing when a specific bill is heard. The date of the presidential preference primary is not one of those factors.”
A Unique Abortion Ban
The bills are backed by Gov. Lee and sponsored by sponsored Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. Multiple attempts to reach Johnson for comment were unsuccessful.
One of the measures (SB2196/HB2263) seeks to ban nearly all abortions in the state. But the bill is more technical than most because of a series of backup provisions.
The legislation would ban abortions after a heartbeat has been detected. Fetal cardiac activity can be measured as early as six weeks into the pregnancy, often before women would even know they’re pregnant.
But the proposal creates a ladder effect, meaning that if a court finds the law unconstitutional, then the cutoff would be moved to eight weeks. If that’s struck down, then the procedure would be prohibited after week 10.
The moving cutoff is expected to go all the way until week 24. It also bans abortions if the mother uses gender, disability or race as a motivation.
The language for the measure has yet to be filed.
Contested Medical Leave
There’s also a bill addressing Lee’s paid family leave proposal (SB2198/HB2265). Initially, the governor issued an executive order that would have given state employees 12 weeks of paid family leave, starting this month. But, after receiving pushback from the legislature, the governor walked back his order and decided to leave the decision up to the General Assembly.
The lack of publicized details mean legislators won’t hear from their constituents before casting the votes to begin advancing the legislation.
Lee’s spokesman, Gillum Ferguson, told WPLN News that there will still be plenty of time for public scrutiny.
“This is going to be debated by the people’s representatives in the House and Senate,” Ferguson said. “This is the beginning of the process … We look forward for them to vote quickly on these bills.”