Republicans Talk Jobs . . . but Bills on Guns, Social Issues Fill Legislative Hoppers
Locker, Richard, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
NASHVILLE - Since the GOP won control of the Tennessee legislature, some of its leaders have chided the media for focusing on gun and social legislation that's dominated the debate.
I am tired of talking about this. Every year we spend an inordinate amount of time on this and I'd love to get this out of the way in February and start talking about jobs and education, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said last month, about his compromise guns-in-parking lots bill.
Ramsey even criticized the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce last year for its opposition to the bill, which forces employers to let workers keep guns in their locked cars on company property regardless of company policy.
I realize you put G-U-N in a sentence and the subject becomes emotional, but let me assure you there are issues that affect us more every day than this that we could use your help on, he told the business group.
Gov. Bill Haslam jumped in a couple of days after Ramsey's speech last April, telling a workforce-development forum about his exasperation at the media focus on what he called the craziest of bills, while substantial issues like his overhaul of school standards went underreported.
He cited the Democrat-sponsored Saggy Pants Bill barring students from exposing underwear or body parts in an indecent manner, but there were many others sponsored by Republicans that dominated the 2012 legislative session. Bills like the ones banning teachers from discussing gay issues, allowing teachers to question the science behind the theory of evolution, barring such gateway sexual activity among teens as hand-holding, and reversing the private Vanderbilt University's anti-discrimination policy for student organizations on campus.
Many serious issues don't get adequate media review, but it would be hard to make the case about a disproportionate focus on gun and social issues given the number and nature of bills lawmakers have already filed as the new two-year term of the General Assembly gears up. After a two-week recess, the assembly reconvenes Jan. 28 to get down to work.
As states outside the South consider new gun restrictions in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre, Tennessee Republicans are moving beyond their four-year-old push to expand gun rights: Bills have also been filed purporting to criminalize federal law officers who try to enforce any new federal gun regulations in the state.
Rep. Joe Carr, R-Murfreesboro, who is considering running for Congress, filed House Bill 42 declaring Any federal law, statute, rule, regulation, or executive order implemented or executed on or after January 1, 2013, shall be unenforceable within the borders of this state if it attempts to restrict ownership of a semi- automatic firearm, firearm accessory, ammunition, or requires any firearm, accessory or ammo to be registered in any manner. It also says any U.S. government employee who attempts to enforce such laws in the state shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
Bills by two other lawmakers would ban any state or local officer from enforcing new gun restrictions. Another bill allows school employees with handgun-carry permits to carry their guns into school.
And another, filed by a Republican freshman, would make secret all information regarding Tennessee's 382,064 gun-carry permit holders, including suspensions and revocations. That bill resurrects an issue last fought three years ago, when legislators decided to keep such information public.
Rep. Steve McManus, R-Memphis, led a House working group this month that heard from business groups on gun issues.
By Thursday, 43 bills were filed in the House and 63 in the Senate (most of them duplicates of their companion House bills) and a substantial number of them involve firearms and attempts to alter long-standing social policy.
Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, filed several of them. Summerville embarrassed Senate Republican colleagues enough that last August they removed him as chairman of the higher education subcommittee after he sent an e-mail to a black lawmaker from Memphis saying I don't give a rat's ass what the black caucus thinks, and urging her to share this with your colleagues. …