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TFA: State Using Tax Dollars to Suppress Rights?

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; May 25, 2012:

Are Taxpayer Dollars being used by government officials to suppress and infringe 2nd Amendment and other civil rights?

It is a serious question and can be a crime under some circumstances.

In Tennessee government, including the General Assembly, it is not uncommon to see evidence of situations where taxpayer dollars and even “charitable” contributions to government affiliated nonprofits are being used by lobbyists and in some instances government officials to advocate against the civil rights of citizens. For example, associations like the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police are comprised of voting members who are full time government officials. Presumably, those officials have their membership “dues” paid by their departments which clearly are funded with taxpayer dollars. When such an organization then uses taxpayer dollars to lobby against 2nd Amendment legislation or when those public officials go to the legislature in uniform to lobby while being paid by taxpayers (as opposed to taking vacation or personal time) are they engaging in a pattern of conduct that might be classified as “official oppression”? This potential raises serious questions about when, where and under what circumstances is it appropriate for public officials – who are not elected as policy makers like legislators – to spend time “on the clock” to lobby on policy issues that are based on fundamental constitutional rights of citizens?

A related issue was recently addressed by Jeff Knox in an article.

Cities around the country have created staff positions for professional lobbyists whose primary function is to drum up support for anti-gun legislation, ordinances and regulations. Part of these lobbyists salaries are being paid by grants from do-gooder foundations like the Joyce Foundation, but the balance of salaries, benefits and support costs are being borne by you, the taxpayer.

An associate of mine in Florida named Sean Caranna was doing some research for his grassroots rights organization, Florida Carry, Inc., when he came across something on the agenda of the Orlando City Council that he immediately recognized as a serious problem.

The item was for the renewal of a contract for a city employee. That’s mundane enough, but the job title of this particular employee was “Mayors Against Illegal Guns regional coordinator,” and the job description is to “play an integral role in the coordination and planning of gun crime prevention and illegal gun-related initiatives, events and media opportunities in the city and in the region” (the full council agenda and detailed information can be found on the City of Orlando website).

In the case of Orlando, the grant is $60,000 from something called the “United Against Illegal Guns Support Fund,” which appears to be a front group set up by billionaire mayor of New York City Mike Bloomberg – the creator of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The Joyce Foundation provides the primary funding for Bloomberg’s “support fund” to the tune of $650,000 in 2011 and at least $1,000,000 more in the previous 3 years.

While the grant to Orlando pays the bulk of the regional coordinator’s salary, the city is allocating $24,000 of citizen’s money to fund the position and providing other city resources and facilities for her use. The person tapped for the job is a woman who has worked as a regional coordinator for the Brady Campaign Against Guns, and as a professional lobbyist for MAIG and several other groups.

In essence, the city is paying $24,000 to have an anti-rights organization’s lobbyist working in their offices and pretending to be a city employee.

After discovering this scam in Orlando, Caranna began digging deeper and found similar sweetheart deals in several other cities around the country, including Seattle, Milwaukee, Columbus and Minneapolis. Based solely on the funding numbers from the Joyce Foundation, there should be at least 10 of these regional coordinators around the country – working against rights and being compensated in part by taxpayers.

Finding them all has proven to be a bit of a challenge, as no one from MAIG, Joyce or the Support Fund seems interested in advertising the coordinators’ existence. Caranna found, and my own research confirms, that some cities try to keep their participation in the scheme on the down low by using initials or euphemistic titles and job descriptions, but now that we know about the scam, I don’t think it will take long to expose most all of the pseudo-city employees. With more than a million and a half dollars granted to the project over the past 4 years by the Joyce Foundation alone, there has to be a money trail to follow. We also know all 600 mayors involved in MAIG and will be scouring the books of each of them looking for traces of this scheme.

I’m asking all of the members of The Firearms Coalition and all of my readers to help us locate these taxpayer funded anti-rights lobbyists. You can find a list of all of the participating mayors on the MAIG website and then launch your own investigation into any of them you choose.

While we’re at it, let’s look into this whole concept of private grants funding, and influencing, public policy. On its surface, the idea of a charitable group helping a municipality do some public service seems reasonable; a family group might support municipal preschool and after school programs, for instance. But if that group has a political agenda, or demands inclusion of a controversial curriculum, the “gift” becomes questionable.

From one side these grants look like a way for the charitable group to make their dollars go further while helping a city reach its goals, but it is also a way for a pressure group to get public funding for their agenda.

Imagine the uproar if a city created a staff position for the promotion of firearm safety training with funding from the NRA Foundation. Even if the program focused solely on safety and never crossed into the rights issue or promotion of firearms ownership, the media and hoplophobes would go ballistic.

The very innocuous and apolitical Eddie Eagle Gun Safe program, with coloring books and video cartoons teaching kids that if they come across a gun they should “Stop – Don’t Touch – Leave the Area – and Tell an Adult,” comes under fire because it is given to schools and police departments free by the NRA Foundation.

Public-private partnerships can be good things, but local politicians need to be extremely cautious about giving the keys to the city to any outside group whose altruism might be driven by a political or social agenda. The old adage of never looking a gift horse in the mouth does not apply in civic matters – just ask the Trojans. It is very tempting to a politician to be able to offer constituents some valuable service at a fraction of its normal cost, so it’s up to the citizens to be attentive and keep their politicians on the straight and narrow.

For those who might not know, Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a political group formed by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. It has an agenda almost identical to that of the Brady Campaign and other anti-gun groups, but it goes to great lengths to make its proposals seem reasonable and moderate when, in fact, they are intended to make firearms ownership more difficult and dangerous. Bloomberg has spent millions of dollars from his own very deep pockets and the pockets of New York taxpayers to advance his agenda and is receiving additional millions from the Joyce Foundation – the same Joyce Foundation that gave Barack Obama a paid directorship as a stepping-stone into politics.

This scandal will be unfolding for weeks, and probably years, to come. The more information we can dig up on the MAIG employees infiltrating municipal government, the better chance we will have of putting a stop to this theft of taxpayer money. Check your local government for any private-public partnership grant programs – particularly programs funded by MAIG – and let me know what you find. Together we can pull the mask off of this beast and return control of municipal government to the people who live there.

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Liberty and Justice News NewsTracker

Hostility to Liberty Part of Government’s DNA

Tennessee blogger and tea party activist Ken Marrero has an op-ed in the Washington Examiner that criticizes Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s proposal to collect DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony.

Present law in Tennessee requires that police obtain samples only from suspects arrested under suspicion of committing a violent felony, according to the General Assembly’s legislative summary of Ramsey’s bill, SB257.

Ramsey’s suggested changes would require a biological sample be taken in all felony arrests as “a condition of the person’s release on bond or recognizance.”

Writes Marrero:

If charges are dropped or the accused is not convicted, the sample is destroyed. Detractors see this as an acknowledgment of the bill’s weakness. If the criteria for sample retention is a conviction, why not delay collection until then?

Marrero, who blogs at Blue Collar Muse, worries that Ramsey’s bill represents yet another step away from the bedrock constitutional principle in this country that one is innocent until proven guilty. Furthermore, writes Marrero, does anyone really believe the government can be trusted to actually get rid of all record of the samples in the event that an arrest proves wrongful? Also, what happens to the samples in the interim?

Technical innovation is welcomed by the law abiding. But I cannot sanction violating one law while enforcing another. The pursuit of justice must not itself create injustices and securing the rights of the people must remain the highest priority of government.

In a rapidly changing technical environment and with the ability of multiple jurisdictions to pass laws concerning the collection and use of DNA, extreme vigilance must be maintained to ensure the rights and liberties of Americans are not trampled in the process.

SB257 hasn’t yet received a hearing. Its companion bill in the House of Representatives is sponsored by Bristol Republican John Lunberg.

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Business and Economy Liberty and Justice News

GOP’s Illegal Immigration Bills Filed Separately

State lawmakers announced Wednesday they’ll push several different proposals aimed at curbing illegal immigration. That’s instead of packaging the measures together as a single unified or “omnibus” bill – a move many had suggested, including Governor Bill Haslam.

Sponsors say the piecemeal approach will let legislators take their time and study each of three proposals in depth.

Senator Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, is carrying an Arizona-style measure that would have local and state police check the legal status of suspected undocumented immigrants during stops for traffic violations, and hand over those deemed unlawful to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Another proposal, by Senator Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, would require all employers to check the immigration status of new hires through the federal E-Verify system.

And Senator Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, has a bill to let state agencies check for lawful status and thereby keep illegal immigrants from receiving state benefits.

The three bills all share the same House sponsor: Representative Joe Carr, R-Lascassas.

“What we believe we have is model legislation for the other states in the country; we feel that strongly about it,” Carr said.

Not everyone was so upbeat Wednesday; Hedy Weinberg, who runs Tennessee’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Ketron’s Arizona-style measure could get Tennessee sued. She says it invites racial profiling because police will consider suspects’ skin color and accent when judging who may be here illegally.

“It becomes a ‘papers, please’ law because it requires everyone to carry a federal or state-issued ID in order to prove that they are here legally,” Weinberg said. “There’s a presumption that you are here illegally if you don’t have those documents on you.”

For his part, Ketron argued profiling is “not acceptable” and is prohibited under the Arizona law, which is currently facing a federal challenge. The sponsors wouldn’t say exactly how Ketron’s bill differs from Arizona’s.

Ketron had been looking to push another proposal to require drivers’ license tests be in English only, with a few exemptions, but the fate of that bill is now uncertain.

Johnson’s measure to keep illegal immigrants off state benefits does contain a key exception, he noted, in letting children attend public school here no matter their immigration status. “That is dictated by federal law,” Johnson said. “You shall not deny a free public education to a child, regardless of their legality in the country.”

As to the bill requiring employers make sure of new hires’ legality, Tracy says he’s confident it won’t burden small business in Tennessee; the E-Verify system doesn’t cost them anything and is relatively quick, he said. A business would face fines for violating Tracy’s rule the first two times, and lose its license the third.

When asked, Tracy said there’s no specific gauge by which he’d judge his legislation’s efficacy at curbing illegal employment, saying “I just think it’s going to work.”

Carr, however, cited decreases in crime in states like Missourri and South Carolina as evidence of “demagnetization” — that is, a state becoming less welcoming to undocumented immigrants.

Tennessee must act in kind, said Carr.

Sen. Johnson said the push to crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants is motivated at least in part by the belief that they may be snatching up scarce jobs from legal residents who are capable and willing to work.

“Tennessee has an unemployment rate that is bordering on 10 percent,” said Johnson. “We have people that need the jobs that are out there. And if these jobs are being taken by folks that are in the country illegally, we wish them no ill will, but we would rather those jobs be had by lawful Tennesseans.”

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Liberty and Justice News

Traffic Camera Legislation Promised, But Not Before April

The House sponsor of a proposal to regulate red-light traffic cameras made assurances this week that he’ll try to pass some form of the bill this year.

However, nobody should expect any legislative action for another six weeks, said Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap.

He made the announcement Tuesday as he asked the Public Safety Subcommittee to forward the current version of the bill to the full House Transportation Committee.

Harmon said he wants to sit on the bill until April 1 so that agencies and groups like the Department of Safety, Department of Transportation, the Municipal League, sheriff and police chief associations and traffic engineers can attempt reaching an agreement on a final version.

Whatever they come up with will be made available well enough in advance so lawmakers can study it before having to vote on the bill, said Harmon.

Harmon said if the group does not finalize recommendations by April 1, he’ll push all bills related to traffic cameras.

“If that’s not putting the pressure on, I don’t know what,” he continued. “I’m disappointed we can’t move this bill as-is, to be honest with you.”

Rep. Chad Faulkner, R-Luttrell, asked Harmon if he’s fully committed “to do something after April 1.”

“If I do not have something brought to this committee by April 1, I’ll be asking you pass the bill I had originally without their recommendations,” Harmon responded.

Under Harmon’s current proposal, no government would be allowed to enter into, or renew, a contract with a private red-light camera vendor for two years, except for the traffic camera on Hixson Pike in Chattanooga. In addition, fines for first time violators would be reduced from $50 to $10.

In the end, the legislation could hinge on a state attorney general’s opinion Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport has requested.

Among Shipley’s questions for the Tennessee Department of Justice:

  • Do alleged red-light violators have a right to confront their accusers, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?
  • Do the camera systems replace the presumption of innocence with the presumption of guilt?
  • Do the systems create a lack of uniformity in traffic laws throughout the state, which could potentially create a lack of equal protection?

Shipley, who submitted the requested opinion on January 9, said he’s received no word as to when the opinion will be delivered.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General Robert Cooper declined questions, saying all requested opinions are “confidential” until they are released on their web site.

Shipley, who said red-light camera systems are operating in his Kingsport-area district, indicated he’s neutral on whether or not they ought to be banned in Tennessee.

“I’m against them if they are unconstitutional,” he said. “Anecdotally, they have saved lives.”

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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.”

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Featured Liberty and Justice News Tax and Budget

State Sovereignty Supporter Pushes Federal Mandate in TN Legislature

Earlier this year, Republican state Rep. Debra Young Maggart co-sponsored a resolution demanding that the federal government refrain from further burdening Tennessee with unwarranted and potentially unconstitutional policy mandates.

But earlier this month, Rep. Maggart and Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, expressed their interest in legislatively obligating the State of Tennessee to embrace an as-yet unfulfilled federal mandate, signed by George W. Bush, that critics say violates just the sort of constitutional principles lawmakers like Maggart saw fit to reiterate in their state sovereignty resolution last session.

The federal mandate at issue here is part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection Safety Act of 2006 (pdf). Among other things, it demands harsher treatment of juveniles found guilty of committing sex crimes — in particular, by posting youthful offenders’ pictures, names, birthdays and addresses online.

“The adoption of this legislation would put Tennessee into compliance with the requirements for juveniles to be placed on state’s Sex Offender Registries under the Adam Walsh Act which was scheduled to go into effect in 2009,” according to a press release issued Dec. 7 by Maggart and Black. “Tennessee was awarded over $50 million in Byrne Grant funding last year, 10 percent of which could be in jeopardy unless the state adheres to these requirements.”

Failing to abide by the Act could result in a loss of state law enforcement subsidies of $750,000 to $940,000 next year, the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs reports.

“Is it a mandate? Yes,” said Maggart.

But she sees little in her past advocacy for the sovereignty resolution — combined with her support now for the Bush-era federal mandate — to indicate she’s guilty of a political double standard.

“I know we need this money,” Maggart told TNReport.com. “It is a mandate, but again, it is what we’re operating under, and I think that we should have uniform laws on sex offenders across the country because sex offenders are really clever.”

The Tennessee sovereignty resolution, House Joint Resolution 108 (pdf), was really meant to ward off unfunded mandates such as government-run health care or expansions of education programs, Maggart said. It wasn’t necessarily intended to label all the federal government’s directives to the states as bad.

“I just think they’re two different animals,” she said. Of the federal health legislation under consideration in Congress right now, Maggart said, “The costs are going to be out of this world.”

“But keeping sex offenders out of our community where they can prey on our children,” she added, “is a completely different thing.”

Michael Hough, a public safety specialist for the Washington D.C.-based American Legislative Exchange Council, said that elements of the Walsh Act, particularly the juvenile offender provisions, were upsetting to state lawmakers, many of them conservatives, from around the country who gathered in Atlanta last summer to discuss the law.

“Everyone basically agreed that parts of the law were very good, but — as happens a lot when the federal government passes things — they don’t really understand what’s going to happen when it is put out in the states.” said Hough, whose organization tends to promote state-level, small-government, market-oriented policy solutions.

Hough said many lawmakers complained of the costs associated with implementing much of the Walsh Act — that they’re in fact even higher than the potential Byrne grant cuts that would result from noncompliance.

Likewise, the National Conference of State Legislatures has stated that the Walsh Act works to “preempt many state laws and create an unfunded mandate for states.”

The Act was also found unconstitutional in April 2008 by a U.S. District Court judge in Florida, who declared that under the general reasoning inherent in the Walsh Act, “virtually all criminal activity would be subject to the power of the federal government.”

“Surely our founding fathers did not contemplate such a broad view of federalism,” wrote the judge.

His opinion was later overturned on appeal by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the provisions of the United States Constitution allowing for regulation of interstate commerce permitted Congress to pass laws that “track those offenders who move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”

To date, only Ohio has adopted the Walsh Act, and currently it is under review in the state supreme court.

“This is not about kids playing doctor when they’re 10 years old,” said Maggart. “The needs of the community to be protected by a 16-year-old that’s a rapist, it outweighs everything.”

But Nashville defense attorney Brent Horst, himself a former sex-crimes prosecutor in Florida, said situations where children “playing doctor” crosses a line could result in an individual being publicly labeled as a heinous sort of criminal for decades.

“No one wants to be soft on sex offenders,” said Horst, but requiring that juvenile offenders be added to the adult registry is an “incredibly stupid, unfair and unjust” idea. It could end up subjecting a “a poor kid who’s just a normal teenager experimenting with his sexuality” to years of societal contempt, he said.

“It’s all about the (federal) money,” Horst added.

If approved by both chambers and OK’d by the governor, the new law would require juvenile offenders to register if they have been found guilty of crimes such as rape, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated rape, rape of a child, aggravated rape of a child or an attempt to commit of those crimes.

Juveniles convicted as adults under Tennessee law must already register with the sex offender website.

Maggart, who, like Sen. Black, is from Sumner County, was the No. 2 co-sponsor of the HJR108 sovereignty resolution. A very popular measure, it passed 85-2 in the House and 31-0 in the Senate. Black didn’t appear to vote on the legilsation.

HJR108 reaffirmed Tennessee’s claim as a self-governing jurisdictional entity in keeping with the Tenth Amendment, which reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

HJR108 also lamented that while “the federal government was created by the states specifically to be an agent of the states…today, in 2009, the states are demonstrably treated as agents of the federal government.”

Similar measures were enacted in several other states, but on June 23 Phil Bredesen put pen to paper and made Tennessee’s the first such resolution in the country signed by a governor.

The resolution’s chief sponsor last spring, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, says she tends to agree with Maggart — that the Hendersonville Republican’s effort to list juveniles on public sex offender electronic bulletin boards is more an effort to improve public safety in Tennessee than an attempt to suck up to Washington, D.C.

“This would be a Tennessee law to put juveniles on a sex offender registry,” said Lynn, who supports the bill. “It would happen to be coincidence, as far as I’m concerned, that the federal government is mandating this.”

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Liberty and Justice News

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.

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Seeking Consensus on Traffic Cameras

Instead of slamming the brakes on red-light traffic cameras, House Transportation Committee members have tentatively agreed to try and hash out a three-part proposal to guide and regulate their use instead.

The rough plan, which includes a series of studies and a possible moratorium on new red light cameras, would give lawmakers more tools – and time – to decide the ultimate role the new technology will play in Tennessee communities.

Still, a number of lawmakers haven’t backed off their basic objections with the red-light cameras, saying both that the photos they take subvert civil liberties and that the private camera-vendors collect too much profit off the issuance of violations.

But the hope is to approve one comprehensive plan and move it through the Legislature, according to Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, who chairs the committee.

The panel batted around ideas Wednesday, including a plan by Maryville Republican Rep. Joe McCord to shuffle profits from citations to drivers education or trauma services statewide.

McCord, a vocal opponent of red light cameras, introduced legislation last year banning the technology. He has since dropped the ban, saying he now sees a safety value of the system, but he’s still uncomfortable with how the ticket-generated revenues are divvied up.

Many on the 12-member House Transportation Committee agree that the private traffic-camera service-providers currently have too much unchecked, profit-driven power over motorists.

The vendors capture alleged violations on camera, examine the pictures, cross reference the information with the Department of Motor Vehicles, then mail out the citations. In return, they receive the lion’s share of fines collected.

Harmon wants the state comptroller to take a hard look at the traffic cameras and report back to lawmakers on issues like what impact the systems have on vehicle crashes, the make-up of traffic-camera service contracts, and detail as to how citation revenues are spent.

Harmon also wishes to see the state Department of Transportation conduct an engineering study on each intersection proposed to use a traffic camera, and added he hopes to ban all unmanned speed cameras on state highways.

While many lawmakers on the panel generally seemed supportive of Harmon’s ideas, some still argue the cameras are unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy. “If it intrudes a little, it’s too much,” said Rep. Tony Shipley, a Kingsport Republican.

A study (pdf) by the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research released earlier this year argued that traffic-enforcement cameras are unwise, unnecessary and unsafe.

The City of Gallatin collected nearly $1 million in traffic citations linked to the traffic cameras in 2007, according to TCPR’s study. At least 16 Tennessee cities use some sort of traffic camera: Chattanooga, Clarksville, Cleveland, Gallatin, Germantown, Jackson, Jonesborough, Kingsport, Knoxville, Memphis, Morristown, Mount Carmel, Murfreesboro, Oak Ridge, Red Bank and Selmer.

“There’s a lot of money being made here,” said TCPR policy director Justin Owen, an attorney who co-authored the report.

Instead of installing cameras, he says lawmakers should require municipalities to extend the length of the yellow light, giving drivers more time to travel through the intersection instead of stopping short for fear of a traffic ticket.

“The mere presence of the watchful cameras encourages drivers to attempt to stop at yellow lights even if passing through the light would be safer. Coupled with a decrease in yellow light timing, this can readily explain the increase in the number of rear-end collisions that occur at intersections with red light cameras,” stated the TCPR report.

Rep. John Tidwell, an engineer from New Johnsonville, says he’ll push lengthening the yellow light next year.

The Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police maintains that the cameras help enforce the rules of the road, reduce crashes and generally improve safety, said Maggi Duncan, executive director. The association plans to push for the red light and speed cameras this legislative session.

The committee hopes to formulate an initial legislative proposal at their next meeting on Jan. 11.