Tennessee House Kills a Bill That Would Have Stopped Local Officials From Studying and Paid for Settlements

Tennessee House Kills a Bill That Would Have Stopped Local Officials From Studying and Paid for Settlements

Nashville, Tennessee — The Republican-controlled House of Representatives in Tennessee killed a bill on Wednesday that would have stopped local governments from paying to study or give out money for slavery settlements.

The move was a rare setback for a GOP-backed plan that was first put forward almost a year ago. It easily passed the Senate, which is run by Republicans, in April of last year, but lawmakers put it on hold when the House became embroiled in a scandal over the expulsion of two Black Democratic lawmakers for taking part in a pro-gun control protest on the House floor. That protest happened after a killing in a Nashville elementary school that killed one child.

This year, people became interested in the reparations bill again at the same time that lawmakers and GOP Gov. Bill Lee were finishing up getting rid of and replacing all of Tennessee State University’s board members. Tennessee State University is the only publicly funded historically Black public university in the state. That made critics even more angry because they say that Tennessee’s white GOP state leaders have never trusted Black neighborhood leaders.

As the fallout from the TSU grew, House members didn’t seem eager to have a potentially explosive discussion about reparations. The bill was briefly discussed on the House floor last week, but it was still not clear who would back it.

During the short House debate, Black Democratic Rep. Larry Miller from Memphis said, “The idea of studying reparations doesn’t take anything from you.” “What makes you say, ‘Look, we can’t study our history.'” You can’t even use tax money from the city to study our past; we can’t even talk about it. That is so out of date.”

Leaders of the House finally came back to the bill during the last week of the session. But as the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. John Ragan, walked to the front of the House to start his opening remarks, another Republican asked the body to “table” his plan, which would kill it for the year.

Almost 30 Republicans, including House Speaker Cameron Sexton, joined Democrats in putting the bill on the table.

Before the vote, Ragan said that his bill was necessary, saying that people who support reparations want to “earn money from our grandchildren as a punishment for someone else’s great-great-grandfather’s actions.”

“Is it fair to say that all Americans today have to pay for the mistakes made by a small group of people in the past?” No. Ragan said Wednesday, “It’s never right to punish someone who did nothing wrong for something that someone else did.”

The rules of the House said that no other members could speak during the vote.

Later, Sexton told reporters, “We decided to move on and do some other things.” “You can come back any time.”

While Tennessee lawmakers were first thinking about whether to ban reparations, the state’s most populous county, which includes Memphis, said it would spend $5 million to look into the possibility of reparations for slave relatives and find “actionable items.”

Leaders in Shelby County made the choice after officers beat and killed Tyre Nichols in January 2023.

A ban on reparations has been talked about in other places, though.

This year, a Republican member from Florida tried to add a clause to the constitution that would have stopped state or local governments from paying reparations. The bill didn’t pass, though. A Republican from Missouri put forward a bill that would stop any state or city government from paying for reparations based on race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or economic class. It hasn’t moved forward yet.

Other states, like California, New Jersey, and Vermont, have moved freely to look into reparations.

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