Press Releases

Varney: More Tennesseans Seeking Help for Popping Pills than Abusing Alcohol

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services; August 28, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Abuse of prescription opioids, ie: pain medications, is the number one drug problem for Tennesseans receiving publicly funded assistance for treatment services. Over the past decade, substance abuse admissions for prescription drugs like: hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and methadone have increased 500%.

The situation has dramatically driven admissions to treatment facilities way up, from 764 in 2001 to 3,828 admissions in 2011.

“As of July 1, 2012, the number of admissions in our state for prescription drug abuse exceeded admissions for alcohol abuse for the first time in history,” said E. Douglas Varney, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS).

According to a 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 4% of Tennessean’s over the age of 18 and approximately 12% of 18 to 25 year olds reported using pain relievers recreationally in the past year.

“Many people needing substance abuse treatment are not getting the help they need,” said Commissioner Varney. “And of the number of Tennesseans who could benefit from treatment, only about one person in eight actually received it.”

Treatment is effective and saves money

Substance abuse treatment offers both a benefit to those who receive it and a savings to communities.

“The greatest savings is a reduction in the cost of crime for law enforcement, general healthcare costs, court and victimization costs and increased employer earnings,” said Commissioner Varney. “And the gain can also be measured in lives saved from a premature death.”

In 2010, Tennessee’s 1,059 recorded drug-overdose deaths add up to an estimated 7,000 years of life lost, and a loss of earnings of approximately $238 million.

“We all pay a price when someone needing substance abuse treatment doesn’t get the help they need,” said Commissioner Varney.

During the months of June, July and August the TDMHSAS has put the spotlight on the serious epidemic of prescription drug use through the roll out of Prescription for Success: Statewide Strategies to Prevent and Treat the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic in Tennessee.

Press Releases

100+ Law Enforcement Officials Agree: Wine too Dangerous for Grocery Store Sales

Press release from Tennessee Law Enforcement for Strong Alcohol Laws; January 9, 2013:

Nashville, Tenn. (January 9, 2013) – More than 100 Tennessee chiefs of police and sheriffs have signed a pledge calling on state legislators to oppose the sale of wine in grocery and convenience stores out of concern for public safety and health. The loose coalition called “Tennessee Law Enforcement for Strong Alcohol Laws” includes 106 law enforcement leaders from Tennessee communities of all sizes, including Knoxville, Memphis, Kingsport, and Jackson.

The announcement was made at Legislative Plaza by Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork and Belle Meade Police Chief Timothy Eads, representing their colleagues across the state. They were joined at the event by the police chiefs of Knoxville and Jackson, the sheriffs of Crockett, Chester, Haywood, and Marshall counties, and representatives of the Mt. Pleasant and Waynesboro police departments and Perry County sheriff’s office.

“Tennessee has among the strongest alcohol laws in the country and we want to keep it that way,” said Sheriff Woolfork. “The added convenience that supporters of this law want is not worth jeopardizing the life or safety of even one citizen of this state. As sheriffs and chiefs of police, we deal with the painful consequences of alcohol abuse every day. It makes no sense to increase the availability of high-proof alcohol and create new problems that other states with looser laws are trying to solve. Our departments can’t afford it and our state cannot afford it.”

Should the proposed bill pass, the number of stores selling high-proof alcohol could rise 10 fold, from fewer than 600 to over 5,000. Currently, wine and spirits can only be sold in specialty stores that must be owned by Tennesseans, are limited in size, can have only one door, and can sell only one product – alcohol. Woolfork emphasized that the proposed law would put high proof alcohol not only in grocery stores, but in convenience stores, truck stops, urban markets, gas stations and mega big box stores. None of these environments are tightly controlled, Woolfork said. Eads said high-proof alcohol should not be treated in the marketplace the same way as other grocery items.

“Wine is not a food product and should not be sold as one,” said Eads. “No one has ever overdosed or caused an accident by eating too many grapes. There’s an appropriate retail environment for selling wine and other high-proof spirits, and a convenience store or Walmart is not it.”

Wine contains up to 3 times the alcohol content as beer, which is why it belongs in tightly controlled environments, the law enforcement officials said. They stressed that young people in their communities do drink wine, particularly boxed and sweet wines, because it makes them intoxicated faster than beer.

National and international research demonstrates that increased alcohol availability leads to higher instances of underage drinking,  domestic violence and fatalities in a community. Woolfork said law enforcement departments are already struggling under tight budgets and this law would only make their jobs more difficult.

“There’s no question that the more stores you have selling high-proof alcohol the more problems law enforcement will have to deal with,” said Woolfork. “It’s not just grocery stores in suburban neighborhoods that will be impacted by the bill, but also markets in urban areas that are already struggling with crime. There’s no benefit to this bill other than consumer convenience. Some things shouldn’t be too convenient.”

Woolfork invited other state sheriffs, police chiefs and other members of law enforcement to join the effort and sign the pledge, and called on legislators to put public safety first.

“Take pride in the system we have put in place to control the sale of alcohol,” said Woolfork. “Tennessee is a model for other states of how to strike the right balance between access and control. We urge lawmakers to put safety before convenience and say no to putting wine in grocery and convenience stores.”


Participating Sheriffs and Chiefs:


  • Sheriff Tony King, Benton County
  • Sheriff James Ruth, Bradley County
  • Sheriff Chris Mathes, Carter County
  • Sheriff Blair Weaver, Chester County
  • Sheriff Armando Fontes, Cocke County
  • Sheriff Toy Klyce, Crockett County
  • Sheriff Roy Wyatt, Decatur County
  • Sheriff Jeff Box, Dyer County
  • Sheriff Tony Choate, Fentress County
  • Sheriff Charles W. Arnold, Gibson County
  • Sheriff Kyle Helton, Giles County
  • Sheriff Brent Myers, Grundy County
  • Sheriff Esco Jarnagin, Hamblen County
  • Sheriff Jim Hammond, Hamilton County
  • Sheriff Leamon Maxey, Hancock County
  • Sheriff Sammy Davidson, Hardin County
  • Sheriff Ronnie Lawson, Hawkins County
  • Sheriff Melvin Bond, Haywood County
  • Sheriff Brian Duke, Henderson County
  • Sheriff William Reece, Johnson County
  • Sheriff Steve Sanders, Lauderdale County
  • Sheriff Murray Blackwelder, Lincoln County
  • Sheriff Time Guider, Loudon County
  • Sheriff David Woolfork, Madison County
  • Sheriff Norman Dalton, Marshall County
  • Sheriff Jackie Melton, Meigs County
  • Sheriff Joe Guy, McMinn County
  • Sheriff Mark Logan, Moore County
  • Sheriff Tommy Hickerson, Perry County
  • Sheriff W.B. Melton, Overton County
  • Sheriff Michael Cross, Scott County
  • Sheriff Ronnie Hitchcock, Sequatchie County
  • Sheriff Ronald L. Seals, Sevier County
  • Sheriff Bill Oldham, Shelby County
  • Sheriff Ray Russell, Trousdale County
  • Sheriff Michael Hensley, Unicoi County
  • Sheriff Grayson Beasley, Van Buren County
  • Sheriff Jackie Matheny, Warren County


  • Chief Jerry Christopher, Adamsville PD
  • Chief Mark Coulon, Ashland City PD
  • Chief Jessie Poole, Atoka PD
  • Chief Danny Holmes, Baxter PD
  • Chief Tim Eads, Belle Meade PD
  • Chief Roger Jenkins, Bells PD
  • Chief James Winstead, Blaine PD
  • Chief James Baker, Bolivar PD
  • Chief Chris Lea, Brownsville PD
  • Chief Paul McCallister, Burns PD
  • Chief John Hogan, Carthage PD
  • Chief Johnny E. Jones, Caryville PD
  • Chief Jackie King, Chapel Hill PD
  • Chief Hank Hayden, Charleston PD
  • Chief Rick Scarbrough, Clinton PD
  • Chief Daniel Farris, Collinwood PD
  • Chief Todd Bone, Cornersville PD
  • Chief Carson Williams, Dandridge PD
  • Chief Kim Wallace, Dover PD
  • Chief Randal Walker, Dresden PD
  • Chief Mark Moore, Erin PD
  • Chief Wayne Harris, Gordonsville PD
  • Chief Justin Powers, Grand Junction PD
  • Chief Richard Hatfield, Greenbrier PD
  • Chief Ricky DeSpain, Halls PD
  • Chief Raymond Simmons, Humbodlt PD
  • Chief Gill Kendrick, Jackson PD
  • Chief Ken Hancock, Jamestown PD
  • Chief Gale Osborne, Kingsport PD
  • Chief Jim Washam, Kingston PD
  • Chief David Rausch, Knoxville PD
  • Chief Judy Moore, Lawrenceburg PD
  • Chief Don White, Lenoir City PD
  • Chief Bobby Joe Killen, Loretto PD
  • Chief Tony Jay Crisp, Maryville PD
  • Chief Kim Barker, McKenzie PD
  • Director Toney Armstrong, Memphis PD
  • Chief Ronnie Williams, Millersville PD
  • Chief Virgil McNeece, Monteagle PD
  • Chief Roger Overholt, Morristown PD
  • Chief Willie Jackson, Moscow PD
  • Chief Tommy Goetz, Mount Pleasant PD
  • Chief James A. Hambrick, Mt. Juliet PD
  • Chief James T. Akagi, Oak Ridge PD
  • Chief Richard Jewell, Oakland PD
  • Chief Royce Aker, Obion PD
  • Chief Darryl Laxton, Oneida PD
  • Chief Thomas Elizondo, Paris PD
  • Chief Michael Douglas, Pleasant View PD
  • Chief Richard Smith, Portland PD
  • Chief Terry Parker, Powells Crossroads PD
  • Chief John Dickey, Pulaski PD
  • Chief Terry Tuck, Red Boiling Springs PD
  • Chief Jeffrey A. White, Ridgetop PD
  • Chief Jerry Temple, Ripley PD
  • Chief Mike Hensley, Rutherford PD
  • Chief Richard McGinnis, Rutledge PD
  • Chief Donald Derr, Savannah PD
  • Chief David Alexander, Scotts Hill PD
  • Chief Ricky Hoskins, Somerville PD
  • Chief Eddie Carter, Spencer PD
  • Chief Don Brite, Spring Hill PD
  • Chief Will Sanders, Trenton PD
  • Chief David Smith, Trezevant PD
  • Chief Joe Hall, Watertown PD
  • Chief George Barturen, Waynesboro PD
  • Chief Mike Holman, White Bluff PD
  • Chief Steven Stanley, Whiteville PD
Featured Transparency and Elections

Tennesseans Liberalizing on Liquor

Local citizens across the Volunteer State overwhelmingly voted to flip their towns from dry to wet this past election, with more than two dozen communities saying ‘yes’ to liquor stores or the sale of liquor in restaurants.

Of 32 local referendums held last week to allow either package stores or liquor by the drink — or both — 25 passed.

View Tennessee Liquor Public Votes 2012 in a larger map

In some counties, the ‘yes’ votes were overwhelming. In Robertson County, for example, four cities approved alcohol sales: Coopertown, Cross Plains, Greenbrier and Orlinda. And in Hawkins County, Church Hill, Mt. Carmel and Rogersville approved liquor by the drink.

From Pigeon Forge to McKenzie, liquor sales won over the voters.

See the complete list by clicking here.

The support sets the table for a push in the 2013 legislative session to allow grocery stores to sell wine, according to the former assistant director and general counsel of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission who now serves as a lobbyist for state grocery stores.

“We’re going to make a much stronger effort this year to pass it in the House and the Senate,” said Dan Haskell. “Both the speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor are openly in favor of this. This is going to be a different kind of year.”

“I think we’re going to win,” Haskell said. “The vast majority of Tennesseans want us to win.”Thirty-three states allow grocery stores to sell wine, but big-gun lobbying by Tennessee’s liquor wholesalers and retailers have for years blocked legislation to legalize wine sales in grocery stores.

As far as Tennessee’s cities that have approved liquor-by-the-drink measures, Haskell says there will be little change in those cities — only that folks going to local restaurants will now be able to raise a glass.

Those getting liquor licenses “are mostly restaurants that are there already and decided to upgrade their activity because it means more money for the merchant, more taxes are paid to the city and the citizens don’t have to drive as far when they go out for dinner,” he said.

Trent Seibert can be reached at, on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

Liberty and Justice

Gov. Haslam, Rep. Todd Link Up: Todd Says He’s Sorry

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam saw Rep. Curry Todd at a charity golf tournament Monday and said Todd, who was arrested last week for drunken driving with a loaded weapon in his car, told him he made a mistake.

“He said, ‘I realize I made a bad mistake, and I’m sorry,'” Haslam said.

Todd, a Republican from Collierville, participated in a golf event Monday held by Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and Rep. Gary Odom. Harwell, a Republican, and Odom, a Democrat, both represent Nashville.

“I went out there to have breakfast, and Curry was part of the group playing golf,” Haslam said. “I asked him how he was doing. It was purely more of a personal conversation. We didn’t talk about the Legislature.

“I was obviously, like everybody else really, sorry to see that happen. It was a big mistake from Representative Todd that could have had dangerous consequences. I think he is aware of that as well.”

The governor addressed several issues with reporters after he spoke to the Governor’s Housing Summit in Franklin, including Todd’s arrest, the Occupy Wall Street protests, school vouchers and the matter of Tennesseans over 60 not having to have photos on their driver’s licenses.

Todd’s arrest, which has rekindled the debate over gun carry laws in the state since Todd was the sponsor of the bill to allow guns in bars, has begun to raise speculation about the course of the agenda under the Republican-controlled Legislature next year.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick had put Todd in the chairman’s role of a task force on firearms. But Todd reportedly told McCormick after the arrest he would vacate that position, and McCormick had been considering lowering the profile of the gun task force to focus more on the economy. McCormick reportedly has decided to keep the task force going, but with a diminished priority.

Todd announced Monday afternoon that he’s stepping down as chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee “until this matter is resolved.”

“The Committee’s work is an important aspect of the General Assembly and I do not want my actions to distract from that,” read a short statement from Todd.

Haslam was asked about any potential impact on the legislative agenda next year, but he offered only clues to his own agenda, which seemed to be devoid of gun issues.

“If you look at what we proposed last year, and I think the bills we propose this year, there will be things focused again on jobs, education and things that are budget-related,” Haslam said. “I think you’ll continue to see our focus be there. That’s what it was last year.”

Haslam’s reference to “last year” was to the legislative session held in the first part of 2011. The Legislature will reconvene in January 2012.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey last week said he wanted to revisit the matter of why Tennesseans over 60 are allowed to have driver’s licenses without their photographs on them — one of the snags in the state’s new photo ID law for voting. Ramsey said he was looking for the justification of the 60-and-over exemption, and Haslam was asked if he would advocate addressing it as well.

“I guess I would want to hear the pros and cons of that,” Haslam said. “I assume the reason of that was just to make it easier, or maybe for some personal reasons for folks over 60. I don’t understand the reason why there was an exception there to begin with.

“I’m sure there is a good reason. I just don’t happen to know how that came to be.”

People have camped out in New York in an “Occupy Wall Street” protest, which has been copied in other cities, including Nashville, where protesters have gathered recently at Legislative Plaza. Haslam said he sees disgruntlement among the people.

“I think what you really have is a lot of dissatisfaction about the current condition of the country,” Haslam said. “You see that in how people feel about: How confident are you about the direction of the country? That’s come out in a lot of ways.

“Right now, their message is fairly — how should I describe it? — disorganized. There are a lot of different thoughts there. I think, at the root, people are saying, ‘We really don’t like the way things are going.’ My point back would be: Let’s talk about what we would do differently. Let’s talk about specific things that have caused us to be here and what we would do differently.”

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, has said he plans to pursue a school voucher initiative for low-income students in Hamilton, Knox, Davidson and Shelby counties, which hold the state’s four largest cities. The Senate approved a similar measure in April, but the House Education Subcommittee sent the bill for further study.

Haslam said his administration is trying to decide how to approach the voucher issue and that there is no decision yet. He said the benefit is giving parents choice on where their children go to school but that there is a need to balance that against whether such an approach is helpful or harmful to existing public schools.

Haslam addressed the nation’s economic woes in his speech to a luncheon on housing held at the Marriott at Cool Springs.

“I don’t know how we could have a more challenging environment,” he told the crowd. “I would love to tell you I think that is going to get a lot better sometime soon. But I really don’t think that.

“As confident as I am long-term about the future of Tennessee, I think we are, like everyone else, caught in the grips of working our way out of some serious economic issues.”

Press Releases

Tennessee AG Pleased With FDA’s Assault on AEDs

Tennessee Attorney General Press Release, Nov. 17, 2010:

Robert Cooper Applauds FDA’s Warnings to Alcoholic Energy Drink Makers that Their Products are Unsafe

Attorney General Bob Cooper today joined several other Attorneys General and the City Attorney of San Francisco who expressed appreciation to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) for warning the makers of alcoholic energy drinks (AEDs) that their products are unsafe.

The FDA announced today it has sent letters to the makers of four AED manufacturers, warning that adding caffeine to their alcoholic beverages makes them ‘unsafe.’ Such adulterated products are not approved by the FDA and are therefore unlawful, the FDA has warned the manufacturers.

AEDs are alcoholic beverages to which caffeine and other stimulants, such as guarana, have been added at the point of manufacture. Packaged in 23.5 ounce cans resembling energy drinks with fruit flavors like Fruit Punch, Lemonade and Watermelon, some AEDs such as the popular brands “Four Loko ” and “Joose” contain the alcohol equivalent of five or six beers and caffeine equaling four to five colas or up to two cups of coffee.

Last year, Attorney General Cooper joined other State Attorneys General and the San Francisco City Attorney in asking the FDA to determine that the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages is not ‘Generally Recognized as Safe,’ or ‘GRAS,’ under FDA law. In support of that request, the Attorneys General submitted a report by experts in medicine, forensic toxicology, and public health documenting the dangers presented by these beverages, whose caffeine and other stimulant ingredients mask but do not offset alcohol intoxication.

In turn, the FDA informed AED manufacturers they had 30 days to submit data to dispute the experts’ findings, warning that if it determined that the use of caffeine in their alcoholic beverages is not GRAS, FDA would ensure that the products would be removed from the marketplace. Over the past year, medical and public health research has continued to confirm the dangers presented, particularly among young people with whom these beverages are most popular.

“This is a good first step to protect consumers and educate them to the dangers of combining alcohol and caffeine,” Attorney General Cooper said. “We appreciate the FDA’s actions and hope that consumers as well as manufacturers of these drinks heed the warnings.”

The Attorneys General have noted previously that young people appear to be targeted by the manufacturers and may mistakenly believe the caffeine will offset the effects of alcohol. The manufacturers have aggressively marketed their products on social network sites and college campuses that promote excessive drinking and enhanced abilities, the Attorneys General have said. The unfortunate consequences as cited by experts include reports of alcohol poisoning, serious injury including sexual assault, and hospitalizations.

Today’s actions follow a similar joint effort in 2008 when Attorneys General initiated investigations of the two leading manufacturers of AEDs at that time: MillerCoors Brewing and Anheuser-Busch. As a result, the companies agreed to stop making caffeinated alcoholic beverages altogether. However, smaller AED manufacturers introduced products packaged in larger containers (up to 23.5 ounces) and containing a higher percentage of alcohol (up to 12% alcohol by volume).

FDA’s warning letters require that the manufacturers take prompt action to correct their violations of federal law, and that failure to do so may result in enforcement action.

Anyone who has complaints with any business regarding unfair or deceptive conduct may contact the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, Division of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-342- 8385 or online at

Liberty and Justice News

Governor’s Guns-in-Bars Veto Gone

The Tennessee House of Representatives has joined the Senate in setting aside Gov. Phil Bredesen’s guns-in-bars veto.

Tennesseans who are legally permitted to carry firearms in public can now bring their weapons into establishments that serve alcoholic beverages — an act that was formerly prohibited in the state.

This is the second time since last year that such a bill has been passed, vetoed, then the veto overridden.

This year’s bill is in fact more permissive than that passed in 2009. It allows licensed weapons carriers to possess their firearms in bars, and not — like last year’s — just in establishments that make the majority of their revenues off food sales.

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.

A handgun permit holder caught drinking while packing a firearm could be convicted of a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.

The vote on the override measure was 61-30.

There was no discussion on the bill, which was taken after 9 p.m. and subsequent to a long day of legislative action on the House floor.

Featured News

Senate Overrides Bredesen’s Guns-in-Bars Veto

Sen. Doug Jackson went on an uninterrupted 16-minute speaking spree on the Senate floor Thursday, during which he unloaded a magazine’s worth of withering criticism at advocates of restricting the right to carry firearms for self defense.

“The problem is not law-abiding citizens with guns, the problem is criminals with guns,” said Jackson, a Democrat from Dickson. “The problem is not the gun, it is who has the gun.”

The issue at hand was the guns-in-bars legislation the Tennessee General Assembly spent much of the 2010 session reloading after a Nashville judge trigger-locked last year’s version. Gov. Phil Bredesen vetoed the latest legislation a week ago, and as expected, the Senate overrode his veto in decisive fashion Thursday, 22-10. A similar result is likely in the House, as the governor has himself said he expects.

But Jackson took the opportunity of the vote to declare the issues at stake in the debate are much broader than just the guns-in-bars matter, per se, or the governor’s veto of it.

“Can we call ourselves ‘free’ if government attempts to arbitrarily dictate how, when, where — or even if — citizens can defend themselves? Should not government have to at least establish a compelling interest to restrict fundamental rights?” Jackson asked at one point. “If not, if your answer to that question is no, then can you call it a right?”

As for the veto itself, Jackson asserted that Bredesen basically ignored the political reality that one way or another the General Assembly was again going to pass legislation allowing guns in places where people consume alcohol. He suggested the governor essentially abdicated his place at the negotiation table on the issue in favor of maintaining a dead-end public posture of intransigence.

“For two years I have asked the administration to work with us on all provisions of this bill,” Jackson said. “This session I asked the deputy governor and the director of legislative affairs to communicate with the bill sponsors and the committees on safeguards the governor referenced last year in his veto announcement.”

“I directly asked the governor personally to work with us and communicate with us what he would like to see in this legislation,” Jackson added. “To date, I have had no communication whatsoever from the administration — none about what provisions this bill should or should not have in the view of the executive branch.”

The governor’s spokeswoman, Lydia Lenker, defended her boss following Jackson’s remarks in an email to TNReport: “The Governor has clearly communicated his concerns with this legislation with the members of the General Assembly, through his public statements and through his veto messages to the House and Senate Speakers. He believes this bill violates the fundamental principle that alcohol and guns don’t mix.”

Judging by the quiet aftermath of Jackson’s take-no-prisoners rhetorical rampage, he must’ve hit some of his targets — or at least aimed true enough to startle them into hunkering down — as there wasn’t a man standing to try rebutting or deflecting any of Jackson’s hail of words.

The only Senator to even attempt returning fire was Beverly Marrero. The Memphis Democrat indicated she and the constituents for whom she speaks had taken up positions against Jackson’s bill as a result of their agreement with the notion “that it is not a good idea to have guns in bars, and places that predominately serve alcohol.”

“I think that most of my constituents agree with that premise,” said Marrero. She asked that Jackson “respect (her) right to disagree.”

During the course of his barrage, Jackson accused the governor — and others who staunchly opposed the bill — of resorting to “emotion and fear” and employing platitudes like “guns and alcohol don’t mix” in place of legitimate policy discussion rooted in facts, evidence and historical experience. He blasted his foes for cleaving to their “fundamental principle” that firearms and booze-serving establishments are incompatible with one another while ignoring that Tennesseans enjoy the “fundamental right” to defend themselves with a gun if they so choose.

They also disregarded provisions that make it illegal for a gun-carrier to consume “one drop of alcohol,” he said.

“The right of self-defense is the right that transcends any constitution and any law,” Jackson said. “So I ask, what evidence exists to justify governmental restriction on this issue? You will not find the answer to that in the veto message of the administration.”

Bredesen’s veto message, dated May 18, did contain a passage stating that while he “value(s) the constitutional right that allows me to protect my home and family…this fundamental right has long been exercised within common-sense, reasonable rules.”

“These rules don’t diminish our collective freedom, but instead ensure that this fundamental right is exercised in a manner that ensures the survival of the right itself,” Bredesen wrote.

The governor also noted that the Volunteer State has “long prohibited the possession of firearms in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.” Bredesen proclaimed that the bill passed last year by the General Assembly was “reckless and lacking in basic safeguards to public safety.”

Rather than taking a “more responsible approach” after last year’s law was ruled unconstitutional, Bredesen continued, lawmakers “re-passed last year’s legislation in an even more expansive and dangerous form.”

He went on to urge the Legislature to “rethink the issue.”

Jackson did indeed give some indication that he’d been mulling the bill a bit lately, and the governor’s veto — along with the attached notice, which Jackson assured the Senate he’d read “very carefully.”

“Frankly, the veto notice contains clichés and conclusions, but I ask the members to look at it closely for what you do not see,” he said. “The veto notice is totally void of facts, data, statistics or information of any kind to substantiate the position of the executive branch. It shares no evidence that supports his decision to veto. ”

“The governor has asked the legislature to re-think the issue,” Jackson concluded. “I respectfully ask the executive branch to ‘think’ the issue, and I ask for your support.”

Press Releases

Guns-in-Bars Bill Clears Senate

Press Release from Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, April 29, 2010:

Bill allows permit holders to carry weapons in establishments that serve alcohol

NASHVILLE – The State Senate passed a bill Thursday 23-9 sponsored by Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) to allow handgun carry permit holders to take their weapons into establishments that serve alcohol.

“This version of the legislation will provide law-abiding citizens the opportunity to responsibly and legally exercise their Second Amendment rights while allowing business owners to run their establishments as they like,” Jackson said.

The bill (SB3012) allows handgun carry permit holders to legally take their weapons into establishments where alcohol is served. The Senate version passed Thursday would make illegal the consumption of alcohol while carrying a firearm, and allows business owners to ban guns completely from their premises by posting clear, specific public notice.

The bill creates a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $2,500 fine and/or up to a year in jail, if a person is found to be consuming alcohol while in possession of a handgun. An amendment sponsored by Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) would revoke a permit holder’s permit for three years if he or she were found to be intoxicated while in possession of a handgun.

Possession of a handgun in an establishment that bans guns would result in a $500 fine.

“This bill will lower the barrier to law-abiding citizens to carry their firearms during the course of a normal day, and will give them an opportunity to defend themselves if necessary,” Jackson said. “The record of safety and responsibility among millions of handgun carry permit holders across the country is simply undeniable. Law-abiding citizens should not be disarmed. The only people who like that idea are criminals.”

The House version of the bill is expected to reach a floor vote soon.

Press Releases

Ignition Interlock Bill OK’d By Budget Subcommittee Under Shipley’s Guidance

Press Release from Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport; April 28, 2010:

(April 28, 2010, NASHVILLE) – Representative Tony Shipley (R-Kingsport) today successfully moved landmark ignition interlock legislation forward by moving it out of the Budget Subcommittee. The bill will require certain DUI offenders to use an ignition interlock system, in which users must ‘blow’ below a certain blood alcohol content (BAC) level to turn on their vehicle. Although the bill hit some initial roadblocks, Representative Shipley has been working with his colleagues from both sides of the aisle to hammer out a proposal.

“I am pleased that the ignition interlock legislation was approved by the House Budget Subcommittee. I have been working on this legislation for over a year, and I am committed to seeing it through to the end,” said Representative Shipley. “Ignition interlock devices have proven very successful in other states, and I am glad we are moving forward with it in Tennessee.”

After realizing there was not current legislation filed to address the need for our State to have interlock Rep. Shipley filed the bill last year. The bill requires anyone convicted of a DUI with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .15 or higher to use the ignition interlock device (IID). Ignition interlock devices have been implemented around the country, and tests the driver’s BAC level. If it is above the set limit, the car will not start.

“This legislation is very important to me, and it was one of the first things I filed when I arrived on Capitol Hill,” said Representative Shipley. “So many people have spent a lot of time working on this issue, and I am grateful for the support and time that was put into it,” he continued. “This bill will save lives.”

Business and Economy Environment and Natural Resources Liberty and Justice News

Ramsey Wants New Guns-in-Restaurants Legislation

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said last week that he supports moving legislation this session to clarify a Tennessee gun law that was struck down by a Nashville judge last fall.

Both Ramsey, R-Blountville, and last year’s guns-in-restaurants chief bill-sponsor — Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson — want to alter the existing law to fix any ambiguities that led to the judge’s ruling, rather than waiting for the case to run its course through appeals courts.

“If we wait on the courts, it could be months, if not a year, so I think we need to move forward with it,” Ramsey said Friday. He added that he also supports “stiffening penalties for people who carry guns into places where they are not allowed.”

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

However, Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman declared in November that the law is “fraught with ambiguity.” Calculating an establishment’s food-versus-liquor sales breakdown isn’t something citizens could reasonably be expected to determine for themselves, said Bonnyman.

Before the 2009 General Assembly made it legally permissible for non-drinking, permit-holding patrons to carry firearms, state law unequivocally banned pistol packing anywhere beer and cocktails were served.

Ramsey’s inclination to move a rewritten guns-in-restaurants bill contrasts with that stated recently by House Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton.

Williams was reported last week to have indicated his preference to “see (the case) just go through the courts first,” and that he didn’t want to “spend a lot of time in session dealing with an issue and then it turns out we didn’t need to do it.”

Both Ramsey and Jackson dismissed claims by Nashville and Memphis tourism promoters that the guns-in-restaurant law is scaring off would-be visitors to Tennessee.

“Nobody has seen any ill effects from this,” Jackson said. “Just like nobody saw any ill effects in Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia or any of the 38 other states that allow gun-owners with permits to carry where alcohol is served. Florida has had their law in effect for more than 20 years, and I don’t think it has done great harm to their tourism.”

Added Ramsey, “I’d like to see those numbers to show that it’s hurting tourism. I think (the claims) are mostly just hypothetical.”