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Tennessee lawmakers reflect on legislative session

Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 4:49 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - From gun legislation to bills targeting LGBTQ youth, the Tennessee legislature had a year filled with controversial legislation.

“We’re on an extreme path and it comes from the top,” said Senate Minority Leader, Jeff Yarbro, (D) Nashville. Yarbro was among other Democratic leaders who expressed disappointment with some legislation passed this session, including permitless carry, a bill spearheaded by Governor Bill Lee, that would allow most adults to carry handguns in the state without a permit.

Republican Senator Paul Rose of Shelby County says he was pleased with the bill.

“It is a step in the right direction toward what our second amendment guarantees and that is the right to keep and bear arms,” Rose said.

The legislature also passed a bill that would ban transgender student athletes from participating in school sports according to their gender identity.

Senator Raumesh Akbari, (D) Memphis says she feels the state is taking steps backwards.

“It’s like if we want to do something that helps folks, we have to do something else that possibly harms them,” she said.

In the final weeks of the legislative session, Tennessee lawmakers passed a $42.6 billion budget for the state.

The budget includes money for capital maintenance, a one-week sales tax holiday on restaurants, bars and groceries, and broadband expansion grants for rural counties among other things.

It also left $3 billion in surplus funding, something Akbari said could have been put to good use, especially when it comes to education.

“We had an opportunity to really do things that were innovative and transformative, and could really move our state forward, and instead we didn’t,” Akbari said.

Republican Representative Mark White of Memphis is the chair of the Education Administration Committee.

He says the legislature increased the teacher salary component of the Basic Education Program (BEP) by 4 percent, something he’s proud of.

“We’re a healthy state financially, which is really good where our budget was $42.6 billion, and we didn’t add any debt. This is all money that we have, and so we’re using money, one time money to do a lot of good programs,” White said.

Lee released the following statement about this legislative session:

“I commend the legislature for their work this session to pass measures that will benefit Tennesseans and continue our reputation for conservative fiscal management.”

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