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Amendment for Popular Election of State Attorney General Falls Short in Senate

The Tennessee Senate failed Wednesday to approve a proposal to let voters pick who serves as the state’s most powerful lawyer.

The measure, Senate Joint Resolution 123, is a constitutional amendment sponsored by Mt. Juliet Republican Mae Beavers. It calls for contested statewide elections for attorney general beginning in 2020.

The upper chamber’s vote on SJR123 was 15 in favor and 14 opposed. One senator, Republican Randy McNally of Oak Ridge, abstained. The resolution needed 17 votes to win passage. Three senators didn’t vote: Republicans Janice Bowling and Todd Gardenhire, of Tullahoma and Chattanooga, respectively, and Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis.

According to the Senate clerk, because SJR123 wasn’t defeated outright with at least 17 senators voting “no,” it is technically still alive and could be brought up for a floor vote again this session if Beavers requests it. In the event that happens and it is approved, SJR123 would have to pass by a two-thirds majority in the next legislative session and then win in a statewide referendum.

Another measure that proposes altering the attorney general selection process passed last year in the Senate, 22-9. It awaits action in the House. That proposal, SJR196 by Clarksville Republican Mark Green, would rewrite the state’s constitution to allow for the Legislature to appoint the attorney general.

SJR196 states, “Beginning January 2019, and every four year thereafter, an attorney general and reporter for the state shall be appointed by joint vote of both houses of the General Assembly and shall hold office for a term of four years and until a successor is appointed.”

If it is approved in the House, that measure, too, must win passage next session by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate and subsequently go before the voters.

Presently under the state constitution, the Tennessee Supreme Court appoints the attorney general to terms of eight years. The term of Robert Cooper, who currently holds the office, expires this year.

According to the National Association of Attorneys General, Tennessee is the only state in which the holder of the office is appointed by the state Supreme Court. Forty-three states elect their attorneys general. In fives state the post is assigned by the governor and in Maine the attorney general is selected by secret ballot of the state’s legislature.

Some Teachers Could Carry Guns Under Bill Passed by Legislature

Legislation drafted by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration that would give local boards of education the authority to allow certain teachers to carry firearms into the classroom heads to his desk for his signature.

House Bill 6 passed the Senate 27-6 on Thursday, with Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey joining Democrats in voting no.

Kelsey is chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee, where the “comprehensive” amendment that rewrote the bill was drafted. The House signed off on the new version later in the day.

The legislation would allows teachers or staff members who meet four criteria to carry a firearm of any kind onto a school campus – provided the person receives written authorization from the director of schools and the school’s principal. (See criteria list below.)

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Once the person has met all of the requirements and receives permission, the director of schools has 10 days to notify the head of the appropriate local law enforcement agency information about this individual. These are the only individuals who will know which teachers or staff members are carrying, an issue with critics of the bill.

“I truly believe your constituents who have children in school would like to know if the teacher has a gun in the classroom,” said Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis.

Republican Sen. Mark Green, who came up with the amendment in committee, disagreed.

“A person who is intent on assaulting a school, one of the best pieces of information that person could have is where guns are in the school and where they’re located,” said the senator from Clarksville. “Keeping that information private protects the students in that school.”

However, each year the director of schools will be required to submit a report to the two chambers’ chief clerks a report containing just the number of schools and persons participating.

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, questioned whether or not the amendment placed any restrictions on the type of guns a school employee may legally carry.

“No, it did not. It simply mentions firearms,” Kelsey said.

“So a teacher could carry an AK-47 or an Uzi fully automatic if they so chose?” Campfield asked.

“Yes, the language drafted by the administration would allow a teacher to carry an AK-47 in the school,” the Germantown senator replied.

“Far be it from me to stand in the way of the governor,” Campfield said.

Campfield, who ended up voting for the bill, also noted that currently there are currently only about 100 teachers throughout the state who might meet the qualifications to carry a gun to school.

“I support the concept of this, but I really think it’s so watered down and weak, it really doesn’t do any of the goals that we all have,” he said. “And actually by shutting off all information to find out if its successful or not, we’ve neutered it about as much as it can be neutered.”

In his closing remarks, Kelsey said, “You’re not really providing true safety to anybody with this type of approach that’s half-hearted at best. If we’re truly are concerned about safety in our schools, then we’re going to have to suck it up and pay for it.”

Just before the vote, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, who sponsored the legislation in the upper chamber, noted that the amended bill “represents the consensus language from the governor, the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce and Insurance, the Sheriff’s Association, the school boards and the Chiefs of Police. Now if that many people can agree on this, it can’t be all bad.”

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.