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Decision to close Tennessee Capitol complex to visitors draws criticism


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Mike Osborne)  --  The decision by Tennessee’s Republican leadership to close the state capitol complex to visitors in response to the coronavirus outbreak is drawing criticism from both sides of the political aisle.

Gov. Bill Lee, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, and Senate Speaker Randy McNally announced that the Capitol building, including legislative offices in the Cordell Hull building, would be closed to all visitors.

In announcing the closure, McNally and Sexton wrote “"It is imperative the public’s health be prioritized and economic disruption minimized," but organizations on both the left of right panned the move.

In an email to his membership on Friday, John Harris, Director of the conservative Tennessee Firearms Association, suggested the decision might violate the state Constitution. He quote Article II, Section 22 as reading “The doors of each House and of committees of the whole shall be kept open, unless when the business shall be such as ought to be kept secret.”

Soon after the closure order was announced, State Senate Democrats fired off a press statement condemning the plan. The statement quotes Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Yarbro saying in part “the legislature shouldn’t meet in the People’s house if we’re not letting people be there.”

Democrats suggested instead that the legislative session be put in recess. Several of Tennessee’s neighboring states have chosen to suspend or curtail their legislative sessions in response to the pandemic, including Kentucky, Georgia, Missouri, and North Carolina.