NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican lawmakers on Monday voted to silence a Democratic member of the so-called Tennessee Three during an already tense House floor session after determining the young Black member violated newly enacted rules designed to punish disruptive members.
The move was directed at Rep. Justin Jones, which prohibited him from speaking and debating on bills for the remainder of the floor session. The vote prompted loud cries and chants that drowned out proceedings for several minutes even after the House speaker ordered the gallery to be cleared out.
Moments prior, Jones had been criticizing legislation that would have allowed more law enforcement officers in schools and began listing other resources that the state should be providing.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton had warned Jones not to stray off topic. Under new rules adopted by the GOP-dominant chamber last week, members can be silenced anywhere from a day to the rest of the year for not sticking to the bill being debated.
“What our schools need are mental health professionals,” Jones said. "We need funding for mental health, for counselors. We need to pay our teachers better. We don’t need more police in our schools.”
Sexton then ruled Jones out of order, setting up a vote on whether to quiet him for the rest of Monday's session.
What happened next was a chaotic flurry of legislative proceedings, where Democrats outraged at the decision to move ahead with trying to silence Jones for the day began pleading with and trying to convince their GOP colleagues to change their minds. Republican lawmakers remained unconvinced, however, with 70 GOP members voting to silence Jones. Democratic members then angrily left the chamber with Jones.
The crowd, which included gun control advocates urging change in a special session after a deadly Nashville school shooting in March, shouted “fascists” and “racists,” and Sexton ordered troopers to clear out the gallery of the public.
Many in the crowd remained in the stands, and their cries of “vote them out” and “Whose house, our house” drowned out the legislative proceedings for several minutes, enough at one point that a Republican lawmaker said he couldn’t hear what he was supposed to be voting on.
Jones was among the two Tennessee lawmakers expelled earlier this year for his role in a pro-gun control protest inside the Tennessee Capitol.
The demonstration came just days after a shooter opened fire at a private Christian school in Nashville, killing three children and three adults. Jones joined Reps. Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson in approaching the front of the House floor without permission with a bullhorn, joining the chants and cries for action by protesters in the public gallery and outside of the chamber.
Pearson and Jones, who are both Black, were expelled, while Johnson, who is white, was spared by one vote. The two have since been reelected to their positions.
Kimberlee Kruesi And Jonathan Mattise, The Associated Press