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TN State Parks’ to Display Calorie Content Info at Restaurants

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; July 23, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee State Parks’ eight restaurants now prominently post calorie content information, allowing visitors and staff members to make informed decisions about their food choices. This partnership initiative of the Tennessee Department of Health and the Department of Environment and Conservation complements ongoing efforts to encourage personal fitness among Tennessee residents and visitors.

“After a day of hiking, golf, tennis, swimming or any of the other activities in our wonderful state parks, we can continue our healthy lifestyles by knowing the calorie content of foods available to us,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “With this step, Tennessee State Parks position themselves to be an even stronger fitness destination for people who want to live healthier lives. More importantly, it helps Tennessee combat the growing problem of obesity and the many destructive health issues accompanying too much weight.”

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau added that counting calories can make every visit to a Tennessee State Parks restaurant a more healthy adventure.

“With this effort, we make one of the best state park systems in the nation even better,” Martineau said. “Posting caloric content of food choices in our restaurants will serve as a positive reminder to be mindful about the quantity and type of food we put on our plates and that every visit to one of our great state parks can lead to significant improvements in personal health.”

The caloric information is posted on cards affixed to restaurant buffet tables. Each card features an image of the newly slim Tennessee State Parks mascot, Ramble the Raccoon, along with information about the food item and how many calories are contained in a portion. Ramble the Raccoon will continue traveling across the state to show off his new “fit” image and to educate children about the importance of exercise and healthier eating.

The calorie cards, which started going up at all eight state resort parks in June 2012, are part of a focused effort to help visitors make informed choices. Menus at the restaurants also include caloric information about each food item.

To complement the overall calorie card initiative, Tennessee State Parks will introduce a Healthy Eating and Healthy Hikes Program, encouraging park visitors to combine a good diet with physical activity. A poster of Ramble the Raccoon will await restaurant patrons at the check-out area, along with park-specific brochures that outline the various trails available for a healthy walk in the park.

Tennessee’s 54 state parks and 82 state natural areas offer diverse natural, recreational and cultural experiences for individuals, families or business and professional groups. State park features range from pristine natural areas to 18-hole championship golf courses. For a free brochure about Tennessee State Parks, call toll free at 1-888-867-2757. To learn more about Tennessee State Parks or to find restaurant locations, visit www.tnstateparks.com.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit http://health.state.tn.us/.

Tourism to TN Up Following ‘Guns-in-Bars’ Law

Tennessee would turn into the Wild West. Drunken shootouts would be the norm. And tourists would shun the state, opting for safer, calmer locales.

Those were the predictions of opponents of a law to allow any of the state’s 317,000 gun owners with handgun carry permits to take their weapons into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol so long as they abstain from drinking. But two years after the law’s initial passage, administration officials say the courts have not convicted anyone of wielding a gun while intoxicated at a bar, nor has tourism in the Volunteer State plummeted.

In 2010, the year after the law first passed, the state’s tourism numbers were up 6.3 percent, according to state officials. Every county saw a boost in tourism, according to a report by the Department of Tourism Development and the U.S. Travel Association.

“It doesn’t surprise me that tourism didn’t drop,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville. “There wasn’t one documented case still to this day of someone going into a bar, a gun permit holder, and using their firearm. There’s still not.”

The issue drew renewed attention this week, after the sponsor of the so-called guns-in-bars law, Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, was arrested in Nashville on charges of drunk driving and carrying a loaded handgun while intoxicated. Critics of the law say the arrest shoots holes in the law, but Ramsey rejected those suggestions.

The idea that the incident should trigger a repeal of the law is the logical equivalent of arguing that people should no longer be allowed to drive because of the chance of drunk driving, he said.

Critics of the law contend the bump-in-tourism statistics don’t reflect the groups that took their conventions elsewhere out of fear they’d encounter hordes of heavily armed hillbillies whooping it up in the local honky-tonks.

“As wonderful as Tennessee is, it sends an image out to the world that we’re a bunch of red-thumbed rednecks with a bunch of guns,” said Adam Dread, a Nashville attorney who led the court challenge against the law in 2009,

While Dread says his sense is to “feel sorry” for Rep. Todd, he thinks the Shelby County Republican’s arrest “exposed the hypocrisy of the whole bill” and does indeed buttresses the case for repeal of the law.

“Every law-abiding gun owner should be ticked about it,” said Dread.

In fact, abiding by the law appears to be just what the vast majority of Tennessee’s licensed gun-carriers are doing when they’re packing heat in establishments that serve alcohol. According to the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security, not one person with a handgun permit has been convicted of brandishing their weapon while drinking in a bar.

“We have not been notified by any courts across the state for any violations of that law,” said department spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals. “To our knowledge, there have been no convictions of that law.”

In 2009, Todd led lawmakers in passing the “guns-in-bars” bill, overriding a veto by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, who said the legislation was “reckless and lacking basic safeguards to ensure public safety.” A Nashville judge later weighed in, striking down the law and saying its language was unconstitutionally vague in its definition of restaurants and bars.

In 2010, Todd got his bill passed a second time but with more specific language, including a provision allowing individual patrons to bring guns with them into any establishment that serves alcohol unless the bar or restaurant bans guns. Again, the Legislature approved the measure despite Bredesen’s protests.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, Todd said he was “deeply sorry” for the events surrounding his arrest, adding he would talk with House Speaker Beth Harwell next week about whether he should step down from his post as chairman of the State and Local Government Committee.

House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick told reporters he wouldn’t rush to judgment on Todd’s arrest, but said everyone makes mistakes.

“I think it’s a bad idea to drink and carry a gun, obviously. Now I don’t know the details of what happened with Rep. Todd (Tuesday) night, but I think he would agree with me, and I know he would agree with me, that people who are drinking should not have loaded handguns with them,” said McCormick, of Chattanooga.

Asked whether the allegations against Todd call into question whether other handgun carry permit holders should continue to be trusted to follow the law, McCormick said, “Until we find out all the details, I’d be hesitant to answer that.”

Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester demanded Todd resign from the Legislature and said any inaction by Harwell will reveal whether “she believes Republican leaders deserve special treatment or she believes these actions demand consequences.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner was more supportive of his peer across the aisle, saying he hopes Todd keeps his committee chairmanship.

Todd was arrested in Nashville at 10:55 p.m. Tuesday down the street from Vanderbilt University. According to a police affidavit, Todd reeked of alcohol, his eyes were “red, watery and bloodshot,” and his speech was slurred. Police said he was “extremely unsteady on his feet” during the field sobriety tests, and Todd attempted to lean on his vehicle to steady himself. He refused a breath alcohol test, although he admitted to having two drinks.

Police later learned Todd had a loaded Smith & Wesson 38 Special in a holster tucked between the driver’s seat and the center console. He was released from jail Wednesday on a $3,000 bond.

Todd, who is retired from a career in law enforcement, could lose his handgun carry permit for three years if convicted of possessing the handgun while under the influence, a Class A misdemeanor which is punishable with less than one year of jail time and a fine of no more than $2,500.

State: Restaurants Beware of Fake Health Inspectors

State of Tennessee Press Release; Feb. 25, 2011:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Health is warning restaurant owners of individuals posing as health inspectors who call to arrange restaurant inspections and demand payment. TDOH has received a number of reports in recent days from Asian cuisine restaurants in several counties that have been contacted by someone asking to schedule an inspection and stating that the restaurant must pay a fee. TDOH environmentalists do not demand nor collect payment for inspections of restaurants, and regular inspections are unannounced.

“We want all Tennessee restaurant owners to be aware of this apparent scam and take steps to ensure they are not victimized,” said General Environmental Health Director Hugh Atkins. “Our inspectors carry Department of Health identification. Any restaurant owner called or approached by someone to schedule an inspection or demand payment should ask for identification, and call police if the individual cannot provide it.”

Department of Health environmentalists inspect all Tennessee food service establishments at least twice each year to ensure safe and sanitary food handling practices. Regular inspections are unannounced, meaning no call is made to the restaurant to schedule the inspections. Restaurants do not pay a fee for their inspections.

“Our inspectors have established good working relationships with the many restaurant owners and managers with which we work,” said Atkins. “We are contacting restaurants throughout the state to alert them about this scam and give instructions on what they should do if they are targeted.”

While this latest scam effort appears to target only Asian cuisine restaurants, owners of other food establishments are also asked to be wary of anyone posing as a Department of Health environmentalist and asking for money. Restaurant owners are asked to contact their local county health department with any questions about proper inspection procedures.

Guns-in-Bars Bill Going to the Guv

Approved by the state House Wednesday night, legislation to allow permit-holders to carry firearms into establishments that serve alcohol is headed to the governor’s desk.

The measure passed 66-31 House Wednesday night. The Senate approved the legislation 23-9 last week.

If the legislation, SB3012, becomes law, it would replace a similar measure that was deemed by a judge last year as being unconstitutional because it was too vague.

Bredesen vetoed last year’s bill, but the Legislature overrode him.

Earlier during House floor debate, an amendment failed on a 60-36 vote that would have banned any weapons from being taken into establishments that derive more than 50 percent of their revenue from alcohol rather than food.

As approved, the legislation would allow owners of establishments who do not want handgun permit holders to bring their weapons into their businesses to post signs that would ban guns. They would be able to do so either by hanging up signs at entrances using the universal red circle-and-slash or by posting up a copy of the actual law.

If an establishment owner allowed guns into the business, and a handgun permit holder was caught drinking, a violation would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.

The sharpest criticism of the bill came from Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, who said he is a member of the National Rifle Association, and indicated he felt unwanted pressure from the gun-group to vote for the bill.

“Essentially, the NRA is saying to us, ‘If you don’t support and vote for carrying guns in bars, we will not endorse you and in fact oppose you,'” said McCord.

“This line of reasoning is bordering on lunacy,” he continued. “The NRA is not right here, and we’re not standing up to them. It makes me wonder what line will we not cross for the NRA? At what point do we say, ‘This is too much?”

Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville, responded, “We have made a choice in this state to trust our handgun permit holders.”

“When we draw imaginary lines on the ground and say, ‘We trust you here, handgun permit holder, but we don’t trust you there, handgun permit holder,’ we are doing nothing but creating pleasing fiction. Gun-free zones are a fiction. Columbine High School was a was a gun-free zone. The school in Knoxville was a gun-free zone. Criminals, felons, killers, don’t care about imaginary lines.”

New Guns-in-Bars Bill Survives Tight Subcommittee Vote

A rewrite of last year’s law to allow firearms permit-holders to carry weapons in certain establishments that serve alcohol advanced in the state House Wednesday.

The 8-7 vote in the Budget Subcommittee came after an amendment was defeated that would have granted local governments authority to set aside state law and ban guns in such establishments.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, said he wants to reconfigure the law passed last year over the veto of Gov. Phil Bredesen so that it addresses a Davidson County judge’s declaration last year that it is unconstitutionally vague.

“All this bill does is shore up what the judge ruled,” he said.

Among the critics of the bill was Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, who offered the local option amendment.

“We do spend more time on gun bills than we do on looking out for the children of this state – without question,” he said.

While Naifeh acknowledged restaurants could post signs banning weapons under the legislation, he said that if one restaurant posts signs and the one next door does not, a restaurant would be at a competitive disadvantage.

Naifeh then offered the local option amendment, saying, “We normally allow our local governments to have a say-so in issues of this magnitude.”

While Naifeh presented the amendment as a compromise, Todd was skeptical.

“This is just another way to defeat this bill – allowing a local option,” he said.

Naifeh’s amendment got shot down 6-9.

The measure now heads to the House Finance Committee, which meets next week.

Guns-in-Restaurants Do-Over Advances

A bill to rewrite the law that allows gun permit holders to carry their weapons in bars and restaurants passed a House subcommittee Wednesday and is now headed for consideration by the Judiciary Committee.

Under the law passed last year by the General Assembly, permit holders are allowed to bring a gun into certain establishments that serve alcohol, so long as the business owner has not posted a sign banning firearms from the premises.

The current law was struck down last year by a Davidson County judge who declared it unconstitutionally vague.

While that decision is being challenged, bill sponsor Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, hopes rewriting the law now will render the appeal moot.

“This changes what has to be posted” by business owners who wish to legally prohibit people from carrying weapons on their property, he said. “(The law) was very vague and unclear earlier.”

This new bill, he said, “makes it uniform.”

Dan Haskell, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Hospitality Association, was the only person who spoke against the measure during the committee hearing.

“Last year, you passed a bill to allow carrying handguns in places where food was served in context with alcoholic beverages,” he said. “This bill permits you to carry your handgun any place where beer or alcohol is served for consumption in the premises – every bar, every roadhouse, every beer joint in the state. This is a lot larger bill.”

“In the hospitality business, the last thing we want to do is put a sign on the doors about guns,” he continued. “It doesn’t seem very hospitable to us. In large, complicated facilities like an Opryland Hotel or in a convention center, you’ve got hundreds of entrances and exits, all of which would have to have this sign posted on them.”

Haskell also said the bill “can be read to say those who have liquor licenses are no longer permitted to post.”

Todd downplayed Haskell’s concerns. “This bill is very clear — clear on what the judge ruled,” he said.

And opponents of the law are “not going to be happy with any bill — no matter what it says,” he added.

Other committee members voiced agreement with Todd, who said those given legal protection to carry weapons under his bill “are responsible gun owners.”

“I have yet to talk to an officer on the street who is not supportive of this legislation,” said Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, who is a retired sheriff. “I have never in 20 years had a problem with a gun permit holder.”

Added Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, “The honest citizens of Tennessee should not be rendered defenseless.”

Currently, someone who violates the law is guilty of a misdemeanor. Upon conviction, a person’s license to carry a gun can be revoked.

Todd also agreed to a request by the subcommittee’s chairman, Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, to consider increasing the penalties for violating the law in the future.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ben West, D-Hermitage announced that he would not pursue passage of a bill to grant permit holders permission to carry a firearm in public parks and other public recreational facilities, nor will he continue pushing a bill this session that would allow a permit holder to carry their weapon on school grounds as long as it remained the permit holder’s vehicle and is not handled.

Senator Set to Reload in Guns-and-Booze Battle

The chief Senate advocate for allowing legally permitted handgun carriers to possess their firearms in certain eating establishments where alcohol is served said he’s close to unveiling “a general improvement on the law” for the coming session.

While the language is still in draft phase, the changes that Sen. Doug Jackson says he and fellow co-sponsors plan to propose for the guns-in-restaurants law will clarify some key issues of contention and address the constitutional worries a Nashville judge outlined in a ruling last month.

“If somebody is concerned about vagueness, that is going to be addressed,” Jackson, a Democrat from Dickson, said Friday morning.

In a Nov. 20 bench ruling, Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman took aim at the Tennessee Legislature’s recent firearms-law adjustment, saying it was “fraught with ambiguity.”

Before the 2009 General Assembly made it legally permissible for a non-drinking gun-permit holder to carry in certain businesses where both food and alcohol was sold,  state law unequivocally banned pistol packing anywhere beer and cocktails were served.

Bonnyman said she had specific problems with a new provision that states, “the serving of…meals shall be the principal business conducted” in order that handguns might be allowed on the property.

“The new exception of the prohibition against firearms where alcohol is served creates ambiguity where none existed before, and is vague on its face in that it fails to satisfy the constitutional standards of fair warning and fair enforcement,” said the judge.

Furthermore, she added, police officers “are no better suited to make the difficult judgment call as to whether the serving of meals constitutes the principle business of an establishment, such that the presence of a handgun on the premises would be legal or illegal.”

Beyond clearing up the uncertainties Bonnyman outlined, Jackson said the bill-language he plans to introduce will also clarify what sort of signage a restaurant-owner should post to avoid any legal confusion as to whether guns are permitted in the place of business.

Every establishment-owner has the “preeminent right” to ban guns if he or she chooses, and violators are subject to $500 fines, said Jackson.

“We’re going to address that issue head on,” said Jackson. “We want the property owners to know what is an effective posting. And by the same token, we also don’t want the permit holders to be guessing what is, or is not, an effective posting.”

In his view, Jackson said drawing distinctions between primarily eating establishments versus 21-and-over bars and taverns is mostly just an effort “to create standards of behavior for people who legally carry guns.”

“What we’re doing is regulating law abiding citizens,” he said. “As to whether those regulations are necessary, there is a debate, but I would suggest that if you look around the country at all the states and all the body of law, what you are going to find is that law-abiding citizens simply are not the problem.”

He predicted the Legislature “will act quickly and decisively” in 2010 to pass revisions to the guns-in-restaurants law.

“I suspect there will be a lot of support, just like there was last year,” Jackson said. “We’ll address the judge’s ruling, and then we’ll move on to bigger issues.”

Opponents of the law – which was approved over the veto of Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen – promise another tough fight ahead and say a recent Middle Tennessee State University poll showing 60 percent of state residents opposes allowing guns in restaurants, and 80 percent oppose guns in bars, indicates the general public does not support the new law.

NRA: Restaurant Gun-Carry Ruling A Setback for Tennessee

This press release was issued by the National Rifle Association on Nov. 23, 2009:

Fairfax, Va. – Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman of the Chancery Court for Davidson County, Tennessee ruled last week that Tennessee’s restaurant carry law is unconstitutionally vague because of a perceived ambiguity over the state’s definition of restaurants. This law gave right-to-carry permit holders the chance to defend themselves from criminal attack while in a restaurant.

“This ruling is a setback for Tennessee’s law-abiding concealed carry permit holders,” said Chris W. Cox, NRA chief lobbyist. “We strongly urge Attorney General Robert Cooper to defend the Tennessee statute and appeal this unwise ruling.”

HB 962, Tennessee’s Restaurant Carry legislation, passed both the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support, but Governor Phil Bredesen vetoed the bill on May 28, disappointing more than 200,000 right-to-carry permit holders in the state. While an override of the veto only needed a simple majority vote to pass, it cleared both chambers with overwhelming, bi-partisan support. This law went into effect in July of this year after the Tennessee House and Senate successfully overrode Gov. Bredesen’s veto of HB 962. Tennessee joined 35 other states which recognize the right to carry in restaurants that serve alcohol when it enacted this legislation into law.

This law is crucial because crimes do occur in restaurants. On April 2, 2009, Benjamin Felix Goeser was gunned down at Jonny’s Sports Bar on Nolensville Road in Nashville. His wife, Nicole Goeser, has a right-to-carry permit, but she had to keep her gun locked in the car because of Tennessee law. Mrs. Goeser actively lobbied for the passage of this measure.

“Right-to-carry permit holders in Tennessee need to be aware that the chancery court’s regrettable and incorrect decision effectively suspends the law the legislature enacted and that they should not carry in restaurants until this litigation is resolved on appeal,” concluded Cox. “The NRA will continue to fight on behalf of our members, permit holders and victims of crime until this reasonable self-defense measure is restored as Tennessee law.”

Established in 1871, the National Rifle Association is America’s oldest civil rights and sportsmen’s group. Four million members strong, NRA continues its mission to uphold Second Amendment rights and to advocate enforcement of existing laws against violent offenders to reduce crime. The Association remains the nation’s leader in firearm education and training for law-abiding gun owners, law enforcement and the military.

‘Guns-in-Bars’ Law Shot Down – For Now

A judge in Nashville on Friday triggered renewed debate over a controversial issue that fired up a range of competing interests during the 2009 Tennessee legislative session.

Davidson County Trial Court Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman declared on Friday that a recent change in law to allow non-drinking patrons to carry firearms in bars is so “fraught with ambiguity” as to be essentially indecipherable, and therefore unconstitutional.

Her legal finding likely reloads the topic to become a political flashpoint again in 2010.

Opponents of the law hailed Bonnyman’s ruling as “common sense.” Supporters promised to “reword the law” to ensure that it passes future legal muster.

Enacted over the veto of Gov. Phil Bredesen, the law allows permit-holding firearm carriers to posses their weapons in alcohol-serving eating establishments that meet certain caveats. In particular, the law declares that an establishment must derive more than 50 percent of its income from food, rather than the sale of booze, for customers to legally pack heat.

However, to the judge’s way of looking at the suit, which was filed by a group of restaurant and bar owners, calculating an establishment’s food-versus-liquor sales breakdown isn’t something citizens could reasonably be expected to determine for themselves.