Tennessee Lawmakers Halt Bipartisan Bill

Tennessee lawmakers have decided to shelve a bipartisan bill for the remainder of the year. The bill, proposed by Democratic Rep. Antonio Parkinson and Republican Sen. Paul Bailey, aimed to separate voting rights restoration from gun rights restoration for residents convicted of felonies.

Divided Committee Vote

In a split decision, a House committee voted 8-6 on Wednesday to defer the bill to a summer study, effectively postponing its consideration until next year’s legislative session.

Republican Opposition

Some Republican lawmakers expressed a preference for a broader study of citizenship rights issues in state law during the summer. They proposed various changes to be introduced in the next legislative session.


The bill aimed to overturn restrictions imposed in July, following a state Supreme Court ruling. Under the new interpretation, individuals convicted of felonies needed to have their full citizenship rights restored by a judge or demonstrate a pardon before applying for reinstated voting rights. In January, it was clarified that voting rights restoration also required the restoration of gun rights.

Provisions of the Bill

The proposed legislation would have allowed judges to restore voting rights separately from other rights, such as gun ownership, jury service, public office eligibility, and certain fiduciary powers. Restoration of other rights would have been similarly possible individually, except for gun rights, which would have necessitated the restoration of all other rights, in alignment with current legal standards.

Impact and Current Statistics

Since the implementation of the July voting rights restoration policy change, the secretary of state’s office has approved 12 applications for voting rights restoration and denied 135. In the preceding seven months, approximately 200 approvals and 120 denials were recorded. Additionally, 126 restorations through expungement have occurred since July, compared to 21 in the preceding seven months.

Ongoing Legal Issues and Previous Processes

Voting rights advocates have contested the elections office’s legal interpretations and sought intervention from the U.S. Department of Justice. Tennessee had previously established a process for individuals convicted of felonies to petition for voting rights restoration without court involvement or a governor’s pardon.

Challenges and Criticisms

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Antonio Parkinson, criticized the committee’s decision, suggesting it was inconsistent with the consideration of other Republican proposals addressing related issues.

While the fate of the bill remains uncertain for this year, discussions around voting rights restoration in Tennessee are likely to continue in light of ongoing legal challenges and advocacy efforts.