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Butt Walks Back ‘Not Verifiable’ Comment

Sheila Butt is no stranger to saying things that rile her political opponents — only to then equivocate and prevaricate and as a last resort repudiate when angrily confronted by the dudgeon-afflicted.

It happened again to the Republican member of the Tennessee House of Representatives during the last days of the General Assembly’s 2015 regular session.

Lawmakers were contentiously debating a bill to require women seeking abortions to undergo a 48-hour waiting period after their first visit to a doctor about obtaining the procedure.

Most of the chamber’s Democrats opposed the measure outright and were seeking to attach provisions to derail or weaken it — although it eventually passed unamended, 79-18.

At one point, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, proposed exempting women from the requirement in cases where their pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

Butt stepped up to speak against that idea, and it was subsequently killed by the GOP-dominated chamber. “This amendment appears political because we understand that in most instances this is not verifiable,” Butt said of Fitzhugh’s proposal. “Let’s make sure that these women have the information and understanding to act.”

The next day Democratic Rep. Sherry Jones of Nashville, a reliably cantankerous voice of opposition to the Republican supermajority, chastised Butt for her choice of words.

“There are 206,000 women in Tennessee who unfortunately can attest to the fact that rape and incest are too verifiable,” Jones said. “Those women have endured horrors that we cannot imagine, and for it to be said that the violent crimes that they suffered are not verifiable is to suggest that they are somehow not legitimate rapes. That’s dangerous and it is insulting, to say the very least.”

“What we say in this room matters,” continued Jones. “And I would ask that members, especially my fellow female members speaking about rape and incest, remember that before they make any remarks.”

Butt retorted to Jones a few moments later. She claimed Jones had misrepresented her words.

“When we quote our colleagues on this floor, I think we respect each other enough to quote each other properly,” said Butt. “And I did make a comment yesterday that there are times when that those things are not. And so let’s make sure that we are quoted properly on the floor. I would appreciate that, and I would do that for you.”

However, over the weekend Butt’s hometown newspaper, the Columbia Daily Herald, ran a story indicating that Butt at some point began having second thoughts about the import of her pronouncement during the legislative debate.

Butt told the paper that when she used the word “verifiable,” that wasn’t exactly what she “intended” to say after all. Rather, Butt said the words she meant to use were “in most cases rape or incest is not verified at an abortion clinic.”

The Daily Herald further quoted Butt as saying, “Of course, we know that rape and incest can be verifiable, and I am grateful for that. I misspoke in my comments on the House floor, and I am sorry for the confusion that has caused.”

“We all make mistakes,” Butt reportedly said. “We all disagree on things. However, we can disagree with civility and respect and without hatefulness and contention and work together on the things on which we do agree. As a community and as human beings, we owe each other that.”

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Haslam Pledges to Closely Monitor Developments with New Guns-in-Parks Law

Tennesseans licensed to carry firearms in public have been granted the right, as a matter of course, to ignore locally imposed gun-bans in parks and recreation areas.

Both chambers of the state’s General Assembly this year passed legislation by decisive margins that proposed exempting gun-carry permit holders from local gun-free-zone ordinances in city and county parks. Gov. Bill Haslam, who has expressed unease with the effort, on Friday announced he’d be signing the bill into law.

Tennessee’s chief executive issued a statement to House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Friday explaining his decision. In it, the governor indicated that while he still isn’t altogether comfortable with House Bill 995, he believes the final language has important safeguards that are “a vast improvement” over earlier drafts the General Assembly contemplated.

Harwell, a Republican from Nashville, voted against the legislation in final form. Ramsey, a Republican from Blountville, voted for it.

In particular, Haslam lauded a provision allowing local governments to continue banning weapons in the “immediate vicinity” of school-sponsored events in parks involving children. According to HB995’s language set to become state law, a gun-carrier could face a criminal charge for not taking “reasonable steps to leave the area of the athletic event or school-related activity after being informed of or becoming aware of its use” in the public park.

The governor wrote that he’s nevertheless “concerned that an unintended consequence may be operational challenges for local leaders in managing their parks in a safe, effective and consistent manner, due to events and situations that could not have been anticipated in drafting this law.”

“As you know, I have expressed concerns about changing the law to remove local control of locally-owned parks, in part because I know community leaders have the best sense of the specific activities taking place in their parks as well as the unique conditions that exist in and around those areas,” Haslam’s wrote. “Some of the most sensitive situations state and local leaders must consider are those activities involving school children.”

The governor said he’ll be monitoring future events and incidents across the state related to guns in parks in order to “asses the impact of this law.”

A statement from Safe Tennessee Project, which opposed the legislation, expressed disappointment that Haslam went along with what they regard as a dangerous and ill-advised piece of legislation. “We at The Safe Tennessee Project feel blindsided by the news today,” according to the group’s statement. “We’d hoped for a veto but thought it likely Governor Haslam would choose to allow the bill to go into law without his signature. We did not expect him to sign the bill.”

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said Haslam should have vetoed the bill, and that not doing so constitutes “an absolute failure of leadership.”

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Focus on Guns-in-Parks Bill Shifts to Haslam

Legislation to allow Tennessee gun carry permit holders to pack firearms in public parks is on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam, who has never indicated he’s much of a fan of it.

Whether he will veto it is one of the big outstanding questions of this legislative session.

In Haslam’s view, the issue is not so much about the Second Amendment but “property rights” for local governments. The governor argues that local governments should be granted authority to make their own rules with respect to people carrying guns — or being banned from carrying guns — on locally owned and managed lands.

Advocates of gun-control tend to be more wary, particularly in urban areas, of giving even permit-holders a legal pass to carry firearms in the presence of children, especially when the youngsters are gathered for school functions. They argue that “common sense” limitations on firearms possession is well within the scope of legitimate local governance.

That is in fact a philosophical question that goes to the center of the debate over guns-in-parks. The Tennessee Constitution declares that the General Assembly “shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.”

Last week when the Senate voted for final passage on the guns-in-parks legislation, Sen. Frank Niceley, a Strawberry Plains Republican who sponsored the 2009 measure that first allowed permit-holding gun-owners to carry in state-owned, questioned whether the local opt-out provision he supported back then is really even permissible. When Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who’d been mulling a veto, ended up signing the law, he urged local elected leaders “to use the opt-out provisions of this bill to remove parks from its effect where they are located close to schools and other places where large numbers of children gather.”

The Senate sponsor of the current legislation, John Stevens of Huntingdon, said on the floor last week that in his view indeed the state’s foundational document “does not give us the authority to delegate that power (to regulate firearms possession) to the locals.”

That issue has long rankled gun-rights advocates like John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. Harris is pretty lukewarm on the final version of the guns-in-parks legislation that the House and Senate agreed to in a “conference committee” last week.

Like some of the Democrats who voted against the measure and criticized its ambiguities and the manner in which it was passed, Harris said it raises just as much legal uncertainty as lawmakers are purporting it to address.

On April 16, the final version of House Bill 995 passed the Senate 26-6 and 62-25 in the House, where Republican Speaker Beth Harwell joined the group of mostly Democratic lawmakers voting against it. It overrides gun prohibitions in state parks for permittees, but declares that if a public school function is ongoing in the “immediate vicinity” of the area, then the gun owner must vacate the premises.

“Does it move in the right direction? Yeah, I guess it does because it is a little better than where we were,” Harris said of the legislation. “But does it meet the test of whether the average police officer, citizen, judge and district attorney all agree on what the law means? No, it fails miserably on that.”

Harris said he won’t be surprised — and for that matter won’t be terribly disappointed — if Gov. Haslam vetoes the bill. In an emailed statement to the group’s membership on Friday, Harris wrote that while “TFA sees (legislative passage of the guns-in-parks bill) as at best an incremental step on a path that is decades old,” he also believes “it creates more confusion.”

The true root of the problem is that the Legislature has made a practice of ignoring the state constitution’s actual language on the matter, he said. Only the Legislature has the authority to regulate the wearing of weapons and only with defensible justification that restrictions it passes are aiding in crime prevention, said Harris.

“It is what we call a ‘non-delegable duty,’” he said.

Harris noted that the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in an 1871 case that the General Assembly must lay out a rational justification for limiting the carrying of arms that has “well defined relation to the prevention of crime.”

Harris questions whether any legitimate justification for limiting firearms possession in parks or on school grounds has ever been convincingly articulated by gun-control advocates in the Tennessee Legislature.

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Bill to Make Bible TN’s ‘State Book’ Hits Impasse

After passing the Tennessee House of Representatives on a close vote, a controversial effort to make the Holy Bible the official state book looks to have have died for the year in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Republican Mark Norris of Collierville, who had been indicating strong opposition to the measure for some time, successfully won a motion on Thursday to send it back to the upper-chamber Judiciary Committee, which has been closed for the year. The vote was 22-9.

Barring the unlikely event that the committee is reopened, which Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey of Germantown said he opposes, the bill won’t likely come up again until 2016.

Norris said he made the motion in response to an opinion issued earlier this week by Tennessee Attorney General Herb Slatery, who declared that designating the Bible as an official state symbol would violate both the federal and state constitutions. Slatery noted that both documents “prohibit governmental establishment of religion.”

The Senate sponsor of the Bible bill, Republican Steve Southerland of Morristown, attempted to refute some of the points offered in the attorney general’s opinion. However, Norris countered that any substantive discussions about a measure’s constitutionality or legality should occur first in the Judiciary Committee, which never had occasion to consider the bill prior to it coming to the floor.

A similar effort to send the House’s version of the Bible-as-state-book bill back to committee for the same reason failed in the lower chamber Wednesday. The House went on to approve the bill 55-38.

The GOP speakers of both chambers of the General Assembly, as well Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, have expressed opposition to the Bible push.

After the vote to send the measure back to committee, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Sullivan County issued the following statement in support of the action:

“No text is more sacred than the Holy Bible. I believe that the Old Testament is the inspired word of God and that the New Testament is the literal word of God. I believe that God’s only son, Jesus Christ, died for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. But our nation was built on a foundation of religious liberty that cannot be ignored. Attorney General Slatery’s recent opinion raises serious questions about the constitutionality of this bill. I am a Christian, but I am also a constitutionalist and a conservative. It would be fiscally irresponsible to put the state in a position to have to spend tax dollars defending a largely symbolic piece of legislation. We don’t need to put the Bible beside salamanders, tulip poplars and ‘Rocky Top’ in the Tennessee Blue Book to appreciate its importance to our state. Sending the bill back to judiciary for further review is the best course of action under the circumstances. The Bible is my official book but it need not be the official book of the state of Tennessee.”

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Elect-the-AG Amendment Alive in Legislature

The Tennessee Legislature is once again seriously considering whether to ask voters if the state’s attorney general should be chosen by the people.

Under the current selection method, the person who serves in the position is appointed by the Supreme Court.

Senate Joint Resolution 63 seeks to amend Article VI, Section 5 of the Tennessee Constitution to require that “beginning with the November 2020 general election, and every six years thereafter, an attorney general and reporter for the state shall be popularly elected by the qualified voters of the state and shall hold office for a term of six years and until a successor is elected and qualified.”

The vote on SJR63 was 23-9-1. Notably, Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey Voted against it. Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, voted in favor.

Also voting yes was Republican Mark Green of Clarksville, who in the past has advocated for transferring AG-selection authority to the Legislature. Green said a popularly elected attorney general is “the next best alternative.”

“The will of the people needs to be heard,” said Green.

elcting ag vote senate 2015 april 14The measure wouldn’t appear on the ballot until 2018 if it were to win final approval from the Legislature.

Tennessee’s current attorney general, Herbert Slatery, was appointed to an eight-year term last year. His term expires 2022.

Tennessee is the only state in the nation in which the government’s chief legal officer is selected by the state’s high court.

Forty-three states popularly elect their attorney general, and the rest have some form or combination of gubernatorial or legislative appointment.

Numerous efforts over the years to alter the current process have come up short in Tennessee’s lengthy process of amending the state constitution, the last step of which is putting the question before the electorate in a statewide referendum.

As with past attempts, the latest elect-the-AG push is sponsored in the Senate by Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet.

“Our state is tied for dead last in the number of statewide elected officials,” Beavers said, referring to the governor and two United States senators. “We have only three people who are elected statewide. It is time we let the citizens have more of a say in their government.”

Beavers squared off during floor debate against the Senate’s most vocal opponent of changing the current system, Doug Overbey of Maryville.

Both hit upon points they’ve made on multiple occasions when the issue has come up before.

Overbey noted that he’s so familiar with the talking points that “it puts me in mind of the 1993 movie ‘Groundhog Day’ starring Bill Murray, where Bill Murray’s character was in a time loop, repeating the same thing, day after day after day.”

“This issue has been before the General Assembly as far back as I can remember, and it has never advanced to the ballot, and for good reason,” he said. “That’s why it seems to me we are in a time loop repeating the same thing year after year after year.”

Overbey went on to say Tennessee’s current system “has worked and continues to work since the adoption of the 1870 constitution.”

“I would submit that we only change what has been in place when it no longer works,” said Overbey, who himself submitted an application to become the state’s more powerful lawyer last summer but was passed over by the Supreme Court in favor of Slatery.

Overbey added that he believes the current system has produced a long line of attorneys general who proved themselves independent and untainted by higher-office political ambitions and partisan agendas.

By contrast, Beavers argued that the office of attorney general isn’t as institutionally autonomous as supporters of the system plan like to claim.

“I am not trying to disparage our current attorney general, who I believe to be a fine lawyer, however let’s not fool ourselves,” she said. “Our AG was chosen by some judges who he himself interviewed and helped put on the bench. So don’t tell me that there are no politics in the current system.”

Prior to becoming attorney general, Slatery served as chief legal counsel to Gov. Bill Haslam. In that role he was charged with advising the governor on appointments to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which included Justices Holly Kirby in 2013 and Jeffrey Bivins last spring. Both were on the high court when the five justices tapped Slatery to become attorney general last September.

GOP Leader Norris said good points can be made both for and against the attorney general becoming a popularly elected position in state government — and voters are capable of sorting those arguments out for themselves.

“What can’t be denied is that the people should have their right to vote,” said Norris. “The debate begins here again today, but it will continue. Let the people decide.”

Any effort to amend Tennessee’s founding document must win simple majority support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate during one two year session — and then two-thirds majority support in the next two-year session. Afterward, it goes to the people for a vote.

A House version of SJR63 died in committee this year, but can be brought up again next year.

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‘Summer Study’ Planned for GOP-Crafted Medical Cannabis Proposal

Bernie Ellis never thought he’d see a medical marijuana legalization proposal he just couldn’t abide. Then he saw the one drawn up by Republicans in the Tennessee Legislature this session.

The 66-year-old retired epidemiologist turned stalwart medical marijuana activist told TNReport last week that a yet-to-be finalized distribution system outlined by Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville and Rep. Ryan Williams of Cookeville seems too restrictive and overly bureaucratic.

It’s definitely for the best that the plan has been sent back to the “summer study” drawing board for more work, said Ellis.

The Dickerson-Williams legislation proposed the creation of a tightly controlled medical marijuana franchise system to provide state-approved cannabis products to sufferers of serious illnesses whom the General Assembly deems worthy. Also part of the plan were steep bonding-fees and tracking requirements on a strictly limited number of producers and distribution points in the state.

Additionally, Tennesseans would have to meet several restrictions themselves, such as giving up their drivers license, if they qualify to register.

Dickerson, an anesthesiologist, told reporters last week that he’s looking forward to a “very thoughtful summer study.”

Ellis was relieved to see the legislation punted for the year because to him it seemed loaded with unnecessary regulation, laden with centralized planning and encumbered by punitive caveats for would-be enrollees.

The requirement that medicinal pot users give up the privilege of legally operating a motor vehicle seemed especially onerous and uncalled for, said Ellis. He pointed to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study released in February that, after factoring in age and gender, showed marijuana use does not cause a significant increase in risk of accidents.

Ellis also criticized the limited number of ailments covered. “If this law passed as currently written, we’d be the only state in the country to prohibit glaucoma and AIDS patients from accessing medical cannabis,” he said.

But Ellis stressed that taken in sum, even with its many imperfections, neither the bill nor the fact that this issue has once again been begged off for the year by the Legislature is bad news.

A key development this year over years previous is that there’s been a noteworthy elevation in “the dialogue around the evidence for medical cannabis,” said Ellis, who is accustomed to taking the long view with respect to drug-war reform.

Given that only in the past year have majority-party Republicans in the Volunteer State indicated a willingness to even discuss the potential medicinal benefits of the country’s most maligned plant family, Ellis is convinced the conversation is on the right track.

“This was just not the right bill — too many problems with it,” Ellis told TNReport.

Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of cannabis.

For the past year and a half, GOP lawmakers have been taking the cannabis plant with increasing seriousness, amid growing public support for making marijuana available to those who need it to treat debilitating health conditions.

Last year the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to legalize industrial hemp. And this year, a bill legalizing the use of low-THC cannabis oil has been moving steadily through the legislature, and looks likely to pass.

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Corker Rattles Foreign Policy Saber at NRA Rally

Helping kick off the National Rifle Association’s three-day annual conference Friday, Bob Corker told the crowd of thousands from across the country gathered at Nashville’s sprawling Music City Center that he’s confident his support for gun rights is beyond reproach.

“I don’t have to tout my Second Amendment record, I have a record to prove it,” said Tennessee’s junior United States senator. “I don’t have to tout it, OK.”

Corker was at one time hinting he might make a run at the White House himself, but decided against it. For that reason, Corker told the NRA crowd, he expected to be “the most relaxed public official that will address you.”

And instead of talking about gun rights, Corker spent the bulk of his five minute speech touting his top political priorities of the moment: Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and arming the Republican Party with a presidential candidate who’ll win the White House in 2016.

Corker indicated that both issues will be central targets of his attention over the year ahead.

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker said he wants to see “a negotiated agreement” with Iran “that will stand the test of time and ensure that the greatest exporter of terrorism does not get a nuclear weapon.”

Iran asserts that its nuclear program is only for energy, not arms.

Corker then praised the 10 or so GOP presidential candidates in attendance at the convention for understanding “the best way for peace is through strength — security through strength.”

“All of them know that — they are all good people,” said Corker.

Notably absent from the Republican presidential candidate speakers’ lineup at the NRA confab is Rand Paul, the United States senator from Kentucky who announced his bid this week.

“I am thrilled with the talent the commitment the principles that these candidates all stand on, and you will help decide which one of these will be out presidential nominee on the Republican side,” said Corker. “I just ask that as you go through this process and as we together decide which of them is the best nominee, that when that is over, we all together will absolutely assure that the next person who to occupy the White House in 2016 is a Republican.”

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Guns-in-Parks Bill May Lose Pack-in-Plaza Amendment

The state House of Representatives on Monday night rejected granting Tennesseans who are licensed to carry firearms express permission to pack a piece “on the grounds of the state capitol or the surrounding capitol complex.”

The lower chamber voted 75-17 to scrap the provision. All those who voted against eliminating the come-strapped-to-the-Statehouse amendment were Democrats — it being a Democrat-proposed idea to start with.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville came up with the notion on April 1 as a political ploy to try and make Republicans look hypocritical for wanting to shoot down local bans on guns — even while state lawmakers themselves do their business in a place where firearms are prohibited.

The main aim of the Republican-backed legislation outlined in House Bill 995 and Senate Bill 1171 is to override local no-exception proscriptions against gun-possession in municipal or county parks, campgrounds and other public outdoor recreation areas.

Republicans, though, called Yarbro’s bluff. The GOP-dominated Senate voted 28-0 to load his amendment into the bill, thus granting permit-holders exemption not just from gun-free zone in local parks, but at the Capitol as well.

House Republicans, however, signaled they’re in no mood to abet the freshman senator’s gambit. “Obviously, it was not offered in a constructive fashion,” Republican Speaker Beth Harwell said of the Yarbro amendment.

The lower chamber’s sponsor of the guns-in-parks legislation, Mike Harrison of Rogersville, agreed. “We’re not playing games with this,” he told TNReport.

Asked if rejecting the amendment then indeed does open Republicans to charges of hypocrisy, Harrison responded, “Well, that’s something that needs to be addressed in its own bill, not at the late last hour. If people are interested in that, they need to bring a bill next year.”

The legislation now moves back to the Senate, where the upper chamber must decide whether to go along with the House’s decision to discharge the pistols-at-the-Plaza amendment. Should the senators stick to their guns, the measure would go to a “conference committee,” where the target would be to reconcile the House and Senate versions.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam reiterated Monday that he’s no fan of the legislation with or without the carry-at-the-Capitol provision. However, he stopped short of promising a veto.

“One of the reasons we don’t ever say what we’re going to do on a bill is they can and do change along the way,” said the governor.

Haslam added that he’d like to get some input on the issues involved from the state attorney general’s office, including legal counsel on confusion that’s cropped up over whether the local gun bans that the state is overriding would go back in effect if schools were using the property in question.

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TN House Passes ‘Right to Try’ Measure

A bill to grant Tennessee patients suffering serious and seemingly incurable illnesses the “Right to Try” experimental-phase treatments has passed the state’s House of Representatives.

House Bill 143 passed on a 94-0 vote Thursday.

Sponsored by Bristol Republican Jon Lundburg, the legislation seeks to permit sufferers of “advanced illness,” not thought to be reversible, access to any “investigational drug, biological product, or device…that has successfully completed phase 1 of a clinical trial but has not yet been approved for general use by the federal food and drug administration and remains under investigation in a clinical trial that is approved by the FDA.”

The Tennessee Senate’s version of the legislation is awaiting a full chamber vote.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank in Nashville, has been pushing for the legislation this year. In a statement after House passage of the bill, a statement issued from Beacon lauded how “lawmakers from both sides of the aisle fought for what was right, choosing people over party affiliation.”

“We are humbled to have been part of this bi-partisan effort in the House to allow terminally ill patients to access potentially life-saving medicine that has already been deemed safe by the FDA,” said Beacon Policy Director Lindsay Boyd. “This is a great example of what can happen when Republicans and Democrats come together on common sense legislation.”

Arizona’s free-market think tank, the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, has been pressing for similar laws in legislatures across the country — and sent advocates to testify on behalf of Tennessee’s version of the bill last month.

Last week Montana became the 13th state to enact such a measure, according to the Goldwater Institute, which on their website declares, “States should enact ‘Right to Try’ measures to protect the fundamental right of people to try to save their own lives.”

Tennessee’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity, also strong backers of “Right to Try” legislation, issued a statement praising the House’s action. ““Today we are one step closer in assisting those in dire need of healthcare options,” said AFPTN director Andrew Ogles. “Though this is a first step in fixing an issue within healthcare, it demonstrates that states can innovate and find solutions without the interference of the federal government.”

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End of the Line for ‘Insure TN’

An attempt to revive Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to use Obamacare funding to finance health coverage for nearly 300,000 Tennesseans has once again been shot down in a state Senate hearing.

Most of the Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee proved in no mood to move a resolution to the upper-chamber Finance Committee that would have authorized Haslam to launch “Insure Tennessee” after the U.S. Supreme Court hands down a decision this summer on the legality of government subsidies in federally run Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges.

Senate Joint Resolution 93 was sponsored by Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville and was defeated on a 6-2 vote. That means the issue is likely dead for the year — even though the House has yet to vote on the matter in any of its committees.

“Insure Tennessee” was previously killed in a special session Senate Health Committee on a 7-4 vote back in February. But earlier this month it was revived, and last week won passage in the regular session Health Committee — only to seemingly meet its end this week.

The House version of the resolution could come up Wednesday in the Finance and Banking Subcommittee, but it seemingly would face extremely long odds in the lower chamber, too. Like in the Senate, Republicans enjoy supermajority domination over Democrats.

Nevertheless, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, released a statement after the Senate Commerce Committee vote in which he said, “(O)ur constituents deserve the right to be heard and 300,000 Tennesseans who get up everyday, go to work and pay taxes deserve the chance to have health care. This is a moral issue and we have a moral imperative to pick ourselves up and keep fighting.”

However, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said that with the Senate vote Tuesday, the House version of the resolution is more than likely “a dead duck.”

“I don’t expect there to be a whole lot of momentum. If there’s no chance of actually passing the thing, I don’t know that everybody will want to put a whole lot of effort into it, is my guess,” said McCormick, who sponsored the governor’s proposal in the special session and still considers “Insure Tennessee” a sound proposal.

Devised behind closed doors by the Haslam administration over the past two years, “Insure Tennessee” would have created a two-year pilot project system of vouchers and co-pays mostly funded through the Affordable Care Act. Eligible enrollees would have been Tennesseans in the so-called “coverage gap” who aren’t poor enough for TennCare but also don’t make enough money to qualify for Obamacare insurance marketplace subsidies.

The six members of the Commerce Committee voting “no” on the resolution were Chairman Jack Johnson of Franklin, Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, Bo Watson of Hixon, Steve Southerland of Morristown, Dolores Gresham of Somerville and Jim Tracy of Shelbyville. All are Republicans.

Voting “yes” were Ken Yager, R-Kingston, and Reginald Tate, D-Memphis.

Mark Green, a Republican from Clarksville, abstained from the vote, saying that as a physician he stood to gain financially from either a “yes” or “no” vote.