State legislatures all across the nation are suspending business due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But in Tennessee, the response from lawmakers has largely split along party lines.
At a time when Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency and asked vulnerable populations to avoid large gatherings, a state representative went the other direction on Thursday.
Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, invited the general public to the capitol next week.
“Despite all the other cancellations occurring across the nation, Ag Day on the Hill will not be cancelled,” Holt said.
But the tone was more nuanced from GOP leadership in the House and Senate. They say it’s business as usual for lawmakers — but in a joint statement issued Thursday, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally said the public should avoid coming to the capitol.
“We will continue with the business for which we have been elected and for which we are constitutionally bound,” part of the statement reads. “But we will do so with extreme caution and in the public health’s best interest.”
Democrats say that’s not enough.
“We believe that we need to eliminate all non-essential gatherings,” House Democratic Chairman Mike Stewart told reporters. “So that we can come in and focus only on addressing the coronavirus outbreak.”
The legislature is mandated to pass a budget during session, and Lee told reporters Thursday he is ready to speed up that process due to the emergency.
Republicans, though, say they want time to examine the budget fully. And they are also pursuing some major legislation.