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Leftovers on Menu for New Legislative Year

Republicans cleaned a lot of bills off their plate in their first year controlling the General Assembly and the governor’s office, but they built up a pile of bills they were saving for later.

Lawmakers say they plan to get down to business right away after returning to Nashville Jan. 10 in hopes of adjourning in late April to begin campaign season. But until then, they’ll have a roughly $30 billion budget to haggle over, new bills to debate and old ones to decide whether they’re worth passing before the election.

Guns on Campus, In Employee Parking Lots

Lawmakers talked about but never passed a number of gun bills proposed last year, including letting handgun carry permit holders lock their weapons inside their car while at work, HB2021, which made it to the House floor but never came up for a vote. Another bill, HB2016, would let college faculty and staff carry guns on campus, although that measure never made it out of committee. Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle say they expect to see those issues introduced but probably sidelined this year. “Being an election year, I don’t see leadership letting that come to the surface,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, the Senate Republican Caucus Chairman from Murfreesboro.

Drug-Testing Unemployed, Welfare Recipients 

There’s a movement afoot to drug-test Tennesseans collecting public assistance. Two versions of the proposal were introduced early last year, SB48 and SB652, that would have focused on people collecting welfare. Both bills were immediately shelved in 2011, but Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is breathing new life into the idea with an eye on people collecting unemployment benefits and worker’s compensation. “I don’t think, again, that we need to be supporting that lifestyle with government money. I’m very much for that and I think you’ll see that passed this session.”

Income Tax Ban

This bill may have been left behind last Spring, but it’s expected to pass come 2012. The Senate OK’d a resolution, SJR221, asking voters to clearly ban an income tax by rewriting a portion of the Constitution. The legislation was held back in the House on the last few days of session. Lawmakers expect it will be one of the first they take up come January, but tax reform advocates plan to continue fighting for an income tax in exchange for lower food taxes. Debate over this bill is far from over — it would need a two-thirds vote in the 2013-14 General Assembly to get on the ballot.

Illegal Immigration

Republican lawmakers rallied to copycat Arizona’s illegal immigration bill and require drivers license exams be taken in English, but those bills never moved. In the midst of debate, another immigration bill filed that session fell just under the radar. HB1379 would require that governments check for proof of citizenship before issuing entitlements like TennCare, food stamps or unemployment benefits. GOP leaders say they’ll pick up this one and run with it and probably leave the others behind. “We’ve always wanted to ensure Tennessee wasn’t a magnet for illegal aliens,” said Rep. Debra Maggart, House Republican Caucus Chairwoman.

Picking Judges

Lawmakers kicked around the idea of changing how judges are selected, contending the current practice of the governor selecting judges who are later subject to retention elections is not in line with the state Constitution. “I think almost everyone agrees that’s a bad idea. I just don’t think everyone’s agreed on what is a good idea, yet,” said House GOP Leader Gerald McCormick. Democrats generally side with the Supreme Court, which has upheld the current system. One bill that remains from last year, SJR183, would ask voters to constitutionalize merit-based appointments. Other proposals have since popped up, like SJR475 which would require changing the Constitution to require the Senate OK the governor’s appointees.

Democrat’s Job Bills

Although they’re outnumbered, Democrats plan to take another stab at passing a stack of jobs bills that never got out of committee last year, such as calling for a small business tax holiday and giving tax credits to new entreprenuers. “We’re going to try again,” said House Democrat Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. “None of the jobs bills passed and none of them got out of committee but we’re going to have another go at it.” The same goes for Senate Democrats, said the chamber’s Democratic vice chairman, Andy Berke. “That’s really where we should begin 2012 in the legislature rather than most of the issues that have been named as priorities so far”

Wine in Supermarkets

This perennial bill doesn’t fall into any of the caucus’ priority lists but has become a staple piece of legislation to expect every year. SB316 seeks to allow certain retail food stores to sell wine instead of just beer. It would also let liquor stores sell items like cork screws and mixers. Last session, the bill never got out of committee. Advocates for wine in grocery stores say their new strategy is to convince the Legislature to let locals decide if they want wine in grocery stores through voter referendums, although legislative leaders say they haven’t heard any serious talk that the bill has momentum to pass this time around.

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Press Releases

TFA: Citizens Wonder What Happened To GOP Campaign Promises

Newsletter from the Tennessee Firearms Association; Dec. 27, 2011: 

For years, Republican leadership in the State of Tennessee has touted the Republican party in general as the best friend of Tennessee firearms owners, hunters, collectors, and dealers.  That pattern may have been genuine for some who fall under the Republican umbrella but it certainly cannot be rejected at this point that for others it was nothing more than an empty campaign slogan to obtain votes at a time when Democratic leadership was highlighted by Jimmy Naifeh and his vendetta with the NRA and thus Tennessee’s firearms owners.

Despite these and other often repeated assurances to Tennessee’s conservatives, constitutionalists and advocates of individual freedoms, very little has materialized as reality once the Republicans gained total control of the Governor’s office, Senate and House in 2011.  Compared with the benefits and attention paid to “big business” such as AT&T and Amazon, Tennessee’s rank and file citizen voters have been left wondering what happened to the promises that they were made on issues like smaller government, tax reductions, illegal immigration reform (prosecution), opposition to an ever expanding federal government, resistence to federalized mandates, and removal of the infringements on 2nd Amendment rights.

On the eve of the 2012 session, we see public announcements from the House leadership that Speaker Beth Harwell (who has never had an acceptable voting record on firearms issues) has assembled is the word that the House does not plan to spend time working on 2nd Amendment issues.  This was easily predicted knowing that Beth Harwell was speaker and in light of the 2011 legislative session.

Channel 4 News in Nashville reports:

http://www.wsmv.com/story/16374305/lawmakers-prepare-to-tackle-controversial-issues

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) –

Lawmakers won’t waste any time before tackling some controversial issues when they come back to town next month.

When they come back in a matter of weeks, one of the first things they’ll take up could be one of the most controversial.

They will unveil the lines they’ve drawn for legislative and congressional districts.

“We’ll be prepared and ready to move the first week in session,” said House Speaker Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville.

Every year the only thing lawmakers have to do is balance a budget, so obviously that will be a priority.

Following the governor’s formation of a task force on vouchers, lawmakers plan to slow down on that issue.

While the Senate wants to pursue a bill to allow carry permit holders to leave their guns in their workplace parking lots, House leaders said guns won’t be a priority.

“I think our focus will not be on gun issues, it will be on economic development and jobs, job creation,” said Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.

So what can you expect?

Expect to see some changes to the unemployment system and worker compensation.

Lawmakers also favor drug testing those who receive state benefits as long as it’s financially feasible.

“We want to make sure that the people that benefit from the state are living up to their part of the deal,” said Harwell. “We have to weigh the cost factor there. How costly will it be to drug test the recipients.”

Perhaps state lawmakers’ biggest goal doesn’t have anything to do with legislation at all. They are hoping to get out of session early, targeting the end of April.

Last week, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, floated the idea of a special session on health care reform.

Harwell said no one wants a special session. She understands it’s difficult to vote on a health care program when an election or Supreme Court ruling could change everything.

House Republicans can learn, and perhaps already have, that it was a mistake from the perspective of constitutionalists and conservatives to select Beth Harwell as speaker and to allow her unchecked discretion in the appointment of substantially all leadership positions in the House.  As to the other caucus leadership seats which are filled by vote of the caucus, some of the rank and file may now be better aware as to whether those seats were filled with the best conservatives for the tasks.

Now certainly, there are big issues of government which require attention other than firearms issues.  These include the budget, the 10th Amendment sovereignty of the state, illegal immigration, political corruption, fair and logical redistricting for similar communities, a cost-effective education system, and other functions which are properly the venue of state government.

But does this mean that constitutionally recognized and protected rights deserve no attention?  Does this mean that promises to repeal infringements can be placed at most on a back burner?  Does this mean that pet projects and “big business” demands (greased with financial support and perks) should take a priority?

When the primary mission is partisan politics, the constitution, the role of government and the rights of the citizen take a second seat to re-election and making decisions based primarily on the political perception thereof for campaign enhancements.

If Tennessee’s firearms owners and other conservative groups want to see a government that functions with priority on constitutional and conservative standards as the litmus test of proposed legislation rather than “how can this be used against a Republican in the next election” then perhaps Tennesseans need to elect and demand leadership who can put those priorities of stewardship first.

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Haslam Tweaks Gun Stance; McWherter Takes Shots

With just a week to go before election day, Republican Bill Haslam is backing away from comments he made recently about eliminating handgun carry permits.

“I’m in favor of leaving the law the way it is now. I’ve said that that night. I’ve said that ever since then. Somehow we keep coming back to this,” Haslam said Monday.

During a meeting with members of the Tennessee Firearms Association a week ago, the two-term Knoxville mayor indicated he would sign legislation allowing gun owners to carry their weapons in public without permits, should such a change in law pass in the Tennessee General Assembly. (Link to full video of TFA meeting)

Since then, Haslam has adjusted his stance, saying he’d in fact advocate against such changes to the law, but he has stopped short from retracting his comments before the gun-rights advocates.

Democrat Mike McWherter, who polls suggest is trailing considerably in the race for governor, pounced on Haslam’s comments last week with a commercial charging that the GOP candidate “caved under pressure and supports allowing even convicted felons and domestic abusers to carry a concealed gun, no questions asked.”

Haslam noted that even if the law was changed, background checks would still be required for the purchase of handguns.

With one week to go before election day, McWherter says his strategy during the remaining days of the campaign is to continually question Haslam’s leadership ability.

About one half million voters have already cast their ballots in Tennessee, according to state officials. Despite what appear to be long odds, McWherter maintains that he still has time to sway a majority of state voters his way.

Here are clips from both on the campaign trail Monday:

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McWherter: ‘Haslam Got Bullied’

Republican Bill Haslam wasn’t the only gubernatorial candidate feeling pressured by the Tennessee Firearms Association.

Democrat Mike McWherter tells TNReport that he had a “frank exchange” with the TFA about a month ago with members who were “civil to me but they were yelling at me, if you want to know the truth about it.”

“Obviously, Bill Haslam got bullied throughout that whole presentation,” McWherter continued.

Here’s what McWherter had to say:

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Press Releases

McWherter: Haslam Needs to Explain Stance on Gun Carry Permits

Press Release from Mike McWherter for Governor; Oct. 20, 2010:

Nashville – Gubernatorial Candidate Mike McWherter is demanding Bill Haslam clarify his position on handgun carry permits following statements made at a Tennessee Firearms Association meeting.

On Monday night, Bill Haslam was asked if he would sign a bill doing away with requiring permits to carry handguns and he responded, “”If the Legislature passed that and brought that to me, I said I would sign it.”

“Eliminating the permit process would allow anyone with a gun free reign in our communities and neighborhoods.” said Mike McWherter. “I am surprised that Bill Haslam, who fought alongside Mayor Bloomberg to remove guns from the streets, is now favoring the carry of handguns with reckless abandon, and I think he needs to explain the reasoning behind his decision to reverse his stance on the issue.”

There are roughly 300,000 handgun carry permit holders in Tennessee. To qualify, individuals must pass a handgun safety course, a criminal background check and pay a $115 fee. Carry permits are revoked for felony convictions and can be suspended for pending criminal charges or for court orders of protection.

“Does Bill Haslam oppose required handgun training and criminal background checks? Does he support convicted felons carrying concealed weapons? Is he ok allowing someone who’s under a restraining order to carry a firearm in public? asked McWherter. “I don’t think the people of Tennessee or our law enforcement officers want gang members, criminals and other unstable individuals carrying concealed weapons. Bill Haslam is willing to put the safety of Tennessee families at risk for political gain, this is irresponsible and speaks volumes about his character.”

About Mike McWherter

Mike McWherter, the only candidate in the race who is not a career politician, is a successful small business owner in West Tennessee. A native of Northwest Tennessee, he now lives in Jackson with his wife Mary Jane and their children Walker and Bess. The McWherter for Governor campaign can be found online at  www.mikemcwherter.com.

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Haslam: No NRA Endorsement = No Big Deal

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam weighs in on the National Rifle Association opting not to endorse anyone in the governor’s race, adding that at least he scored better than his opponent in the group’s candidates score card.

The NRA must have bought into Haslam’s “flip-flopped” stance on gun rights, Democrat McWherter said Wednesday.