It’s clear that reports of the guns-in-parking-lots legislation’s death have been greatly exaggerated, but the proposed law’s long-term chances for survival are still in question.
Bills that would add legal protections to Tennessee law safeguarding the right of employees to keep guns stored in their own vehicles while parked on their employer’s property — even if the business owner disapproves — are currently parked in the calendar committees of both the Tennessee House and Senate. Typically, bills that reach that stage are virtually assured a vote on the chamber floor.
However, both Republican speakers in the Tennessee Legislature, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Rep. Beth Harwell, have indicated they’re uncomfortable with the legislation. They’ve said they worry the bills infringe upon the rights of employers to control what happens on their own property.
House Bill 3560 seeks to ensure gun-carry permit holders can bring their firearms with them on their work-commute by banning their employers from prohibiting employees from storing weapons in their vehicles parked on company property. A companion bill, HB3559, bars a company or business owner from requiring that prospective employees disclose if they own or carry a gun.
In the House Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee on Tuesday, lawmakers narrowed the scope of the parking-lots bill to protect only those employees who’ve obtained state-issued permits to carry firearms. An earlier provision granting the proposed new protections to anyone with a state hunting license was dumped.
During Tuesday’s hearing representatives from companies, business groups, health-care providers and higher education institutions expressed opposition to the bills. They said the bills infringe upon their ability to ensure safe workplaces, and also grant employees unwarranted new avenues to sue employers.
House Bill 3559 would create yet another “protected class” of employees that companies would have to contend with, said Michael Moschel, an attorney speaking on behalf of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has ranked Tennessee No. 1 as the most business-friendly state in the country. We do not need to start eroding that ranking by including new causes of action for employees to use against their employer whenever they are subjected to legitimate disciplinary action,” said Moschel.
The Senate sponsor of the bills, Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, has said he’s sensitive to Republicans who share the concerns of companies and business owners. Faulk, who chairs the Senate Calendar Committee, said earlier this week he’s leaning toward not bringing the bill to a floor vote.
“When you have the governor, the Speaker of the House, the speaker of the Senate and as many as 15 or 16 members of your own caucus saying they don’t feel you’ve got the right balance (between gun and property rights), I pay pretty close attention to that,” Faulk told TNReport on Monday.
But he also described the situation as “fluid,” and left the door open to the possibility some kind of compromise might improve the bill’s chances.
“We’ll just kind of wait and see how they evolve,” he said. “Anytime you have a bill in the conference committee, it is still alive.”
Faulk indicated the House committee’s move to limit protections to those with government-issued permits to carry firearms is a constructive step.
“That helps,” he said.
A Tennessee Firearms Association lobbyist said Tuesday that leaders of his organization are hopeful the movement of the bills through the committee systems of both the House and Senate will encourage Ramsey to back off his stated preference for letting the guns-in-lots push die for the year.
C. Richard Archie, TFA’s West Tennessee regional director, said he believes voters and members of his organization are entitled to see the matter decided before both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly.
“The bills have been debated on their merits in the Judiciary Committee of the Senate and passed forward, so one would think they would deserve a full floor debate,” Archie said.
Darren LaSorte, the National Rifle Association’s lobbyist in Tennessee, said he’s confident that if the bills are in fact allowed to go to the floors of the House and the Senate, they’ll pass.
Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam reportedly said Tuesday that he doesn’t expect the legislation will ever reach his desk — although he apparently brushed off the question of whether he’s considering a veto.
Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Memphis-area Republican whose district includes a corporate services center for FedEx — a company that bans employees from keeping guns in cars on their property — said he remains hopeful some kind of compromise can be reached that’s acceptable to both business interests and 2nd Amendment advocates.
“I’ve just always felt we should be able to work something out on this issue,” Kelsey said.