Featured News NewsTracker Uncategorized

House GOP Votes to Explore ‘Bilateral Session’ with Federal Delegation

The Republican supermajority caucus of Tennessee’s House of Representatives wants state lawmakers to host a get-together with the state’s congressional delegation.

At least some do.

A majority of House Republicans who attended a caucus meeting at the Capitol on Wednesday voted 31-16 to form a steering committee tasked with organizing a joint “bilateral session” to be held in January or February.

As proposed, the meeting would be in the Tennessee House chambers, co-chaired by the speakers of the state House and Senate, Beth Harwell of Nashville and Ron Ramsey of Blountville.

The discussion would center around topics deemed relevant to Tennessee by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The subjects of discourse would be given to the federal legislative delegation in advance, said Tullahoma Rep. Judd Matheny, who last week announced the idea.

The chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, Matheny wants Tennessee’s nine U.S. Representatives and two Senators to publicly and formally meet with state lawmakers to discuss congressional issues that affect the people and government of Tennessee.

Only two of the state’s lawmakers in Washington are Democrats: Reps. Steve Cohen of Memphis and Jim Cooper of Nashville.

“We need to do something to reach out to our congressmen in Washington,” Matheny said Wednesday. “There’s no reason we can’t have a dadgum good meeting.”

Matheny said the aim of his proposal is to start a conversation that “will leave both levels of government with a clear understanding of each other’s needs and actions while rebuilding public confidence.”

Matheny’s long-range plan is to hold such conferences annually. A seven-member steering committee will be appointed by Speaker Harwell. The committee will have four state senate members, should the Senate Republican caucus choose to join.

House GOP caucus members who attended Wednesday’s meeting expressed a variety of reasons for wanting to hold the meeting. The gist is they want to “open the lines of communication” on a perceived disconnect between Tennessee and Washington. Supporters of the meeting want to discuss what a number of Republicans see as an undermining of state sovereignty by Congress and the federal government.

Not all caucus members were completely sold on the idea, though.

Ooltewah state Rep. Mike Carter worries about opening the Tennessee Legislature’s doors to congressional dysfunction. “If we bring the problems in Washington to Nashville, I will be disgraced,” he said.

Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, likes the idea of a developing a constructive forum for sharing ideas between Tennessee’s members of Congress and the General Assembly, but he suggested moving forward cautiously until all the details of the conference’s aims are hammered out. Haynes said he doesn’t see much point in organizing a meeting doomed to degenerate into an ideological war of words between Democrats and Republicans.

Matheny tried to assuage such concerns. He stressed that the purpose of his proposal isn’t to spark a “political witch hunt,” but rather facilitate a “political business-meeting about issues.”

Matheny said he’s not simply trying to give state lawmakers “an opportunity to vent” at Tennessee’s members of Congress.

Featured Liberty and Justice

Matheny to Chair New Subcommittee on Federal Powers, State Sovereignty

State Rep. Judd Matheny has plans for a small group of fellow House legislators to start dissecting federal laws that affect Tennessee and analyzing them to determine whether they adhere to a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

Speaking to members of the strongly conservative Tennessee Republican Assembly last month, Matheny, who chairs the state House Government Operations Committee, said that even with a GOP supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly, more work remains to be done to ensure that the Volunteer state “protects the rights and privileges of citizens,” from what he sees as federal overreaching.

The seven-term lawmaker and former speaker pro tem told the TRA that he is in the beginning stages of setting up a new House subcommittee to vet federal laws and policies that affect Tennessee and opine on their constitutionality.

The so-called Balance of Powers Subcommittee, Matheny said, came out of a failed bill with the same name from the 2013 session that he carried with state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet. The legislation would have given the assembly the statutory responsibility of similarly vetting federal rules.

Matheny explained that if lawmakers approached the committee with a specific state/federal issue, the committee would “rip it apart, tear it apart; we’re going to decide is it constitutional, does it violate our state’s rights.”

“And if we believe that it does,” Matheny continued, “we’re going to issue a report to both speakers, we’re going to issue a report to every member of the General Assembly.”

The Tullahoma Republican spoke candidly about how he sees the ideological breakdown amongst his Republican House colleagues, including those he thinks would be sympathetic to his ideas and those who aren’t conservative enough for his tastes.

Last year Matheny publicly mulled over the idea of challenging Nashville Republican Beth Harwell for the House speakership, but later backed off the bid. Matheny himself then lost the pro tem post in a challenge from Curtis Johnson, a Republican from Clarksville.

“Some of our most conservative people are in the dark and we are trying to emerge from that,” Matheny told the TRA crowd on April 20. “We have probably 25 to 28 of our 70 members who are like us, they being in this room. We have another 20 or so — 25 — that can go either way based on the merits of the arguments or how convincing we can be. And then we have another 20 or 22 that need to go.”

But beyond obliquely calling for primary challenges to more moderate members of his own caucus, Matheny hopes to further his conservative agenda by setting his sights on policies from Washington.

The Balance of Powers Subcommittee has only had one organizational meeting so far and hasn’t looked at any specific issues, but Matheny told TNReport last week, “We’re going to look at executive orders, we’re going to look at mandates, we’re going to look at legislation.”

Pressed for specifics, Matheny said “I’m not sure if these are going to be on the calendar or not, but an example would be the Common Core standards, educational standards that the state is adopting…those are a potential. Executive orders on gun control have been another example that have been brought forward.”

Yet even while Matheny described his new committee to TRA members as “revolutionary” and the first of its kind in the country, it remains unclear how effective it will be.

“We’re not going to do actions that are binding, we’re not going to amend bills,” Matheny told TNReport.

With only enough power to offer recommendations, any substantive actions to address federal policies still rests with General Assembly leadership and the body as a whole, including a Democratic superminority and more liberal Republican legislators.

Education NewsTracker

Turkey Trip Not Too Worrying to Lawmakers Concerned About Foreign Influence

Judd Matheny, chairman of the Government Operations Committee in the Tennessee House of Representatives, has concerns about anti-American ideas percolating into taxpayer-funded schools.

In the stated interest of addressing that potentiality, the Republican from Tullahoma sponsored successful legislation in 2012 giving local school boards the power to limit the number of foreign teachers working in Tennessee charter schools.

The legislation was presented to Matheny by the Tennessee chapter of the Eagle Forum, a socially conservative lobbying group. At the time, the Eagle Forum was raising the alarm in opposition to the work of a Turkish Muslim Cleric named Fethullah Gülen, whose organization runs charter schools in multiple countries, including several in the American Southeast.

Now, as fate would have it, a group associated with Gülen is footing the tab for a troupe of Tennessee lawmakers to embark upon an all-expense-paid expedition to Turkey. The purpose of the journey is to foster economic ties between the Volunteer State and the predominantly Islamic transcontinental republic.

According to a recent report from News Channel 5’s Phil Williams, lawmakers planning to attend the 12-day junket include Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville; Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown; Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah; Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville; Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis; Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis; Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis; Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis; and Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Mt. Juliet.

While Matheny says he is still uncomfortable with foreign influence in Tennessee schools, including from Gülen, he appears to be giving his fellow lawmakers the benefit of the doubt.

Asked recently about his legislation in relation to the upcoming Turkey trip, Matheny told TNReport he believes “some of the Gülen schools…have brought in more foreign teachers than we would like to see in Tennessee.”

“I am very concerned about the proliferation of charter schools that are of non-United States origin and perhaps teach things that are contrary to our constitution here within our borders,” Metheny continued.

But Matheny also said that he’s not overly concerned about his colleagues being influenced by a free getaway.

“I’ve not talked personally with very many legislators that are going. Those that I have talked to seem to be in the frame of mind that they want to do the proper due diligence on both sides,” he said. “They also understand that those trips are not totally focused on charter schools.”

Matheny said that he had been invited on a past trip put on by the same group and declined the offer, but he was quick not to appear hostile.

“Turkey is a great ally, it’s not a country that we want to snub. It’s not a country that we don’t want to foster great relationships with,” he said. “I’m more worried about what’s happening domestically and what’s happening to our children. We want to make sure they are solid Americans.”

State Sen. Bill Ketron, who sponsored Matheny’s bill in the upper chamber, expressed similar sentiments, telling TNReport:

“I do not have a problem with it.  It is important that we have dialogue with decision makers abroad.  This is a cultural exchange and educational trip.  I have confidence that my colleagues will use good judgement as far as any potential effect on issues here in Tennessee.”

Bobbie Patray, state president of the Tennessee Eagle Forum declined to comment on the upcoming trip, saying only that TNReport should talk to the lawmakers who are attending.

Featured NewsTracker

Slight Reshuffling Among House Republican Leadership

House Speaker Beth Harwell on Monday won unanimous backing to be the GOP’s nominee for Speaker for a second term. But the party tossed Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny from his post in a Republican caucus meeting, replacing him with Rep. Curtis Johnson.

“As far as our caucus is concerned, one of my big roles is to bring our caucus together,” said Johnson, of Clarksville. “We’re going to have differences, we’re going to have constructive criticism … but I think we need to all work together to move our caucus forward.”

Matheny, R-Tullahoma, a Tea Party favorite, was at times critical of other House Republican leaders, and had for a time considered challenging Harwell for speaker.

GOP lawmakers also chose Glen Casada of Franklin to serve as the caucus chairman, a position he held previously before running against Harwell for the speaker’s post in 2010. Casada will take over for Hendersonville Rep. Debra Maggart, who was defeated in the August primary by Courtney Rogers.

“In the 107th General Assembly, we did a lot to change how the Capitol operates internally and created a better environment for job creation throughout the state. Now, it’s time to take the next step,” Casada said in a statement. “Over the next two years, I look forward to leading a solutions-based Caucus that answers the needs of our citizens, creates more opportunity for economic growth, and enhances the educational landscape for our children.”

The caucus also dumped Rep. Curry Todd, of Collierville, from his seat on the powerful Fiscal Review Committee.

Todd, sponsor of Tennessee’s guns-in-bars law, resigned as chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee last year after he was jailed and charged with drunken driving and possession of a handgun while under the influence. He pleaded not guilty, and a trial is set for Nov. 30.

A list of those winning GOP leadership offices can be found by clicking here.

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

Business and Economy Environment and Natural Resources Liberty and Justice NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Turner Laments ‘Extreme’ Shift of Legislature

As entertained as Democrats were watching Republican challengers pick off GOP incumbents in the primary election this month, the minority party says they’re concerned a wave of “extreme” right-leaning legislators would bad for legislative business.

But House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner wouldn’t go as far as to say whether that holds true if Speaker Tempore Judd Matheny chooses to seek the top seat in the House of Representatives.

“Judd’s kind of a mixture of things. He kind of votes for working people a lot, but yet he’s kind of out there on some of the social issues, and some of the gun issues. I don’t think you can stereotype him by any means,” said Turner, D-Old Hickory, in an interview with reporters last week.

Matheny, R-Tullahoma, has said it sometimes seems the more conservative Republicans are told by leadership in the House to take a back seat to GOP centrists.

Matheny was focused in 2011 on passing legislation banning the use of Sharia law, but the bill was eventually watered down. It’s an issue near and dear to at least some Republicans in the state. Party chapters in a handful of counties allege the governor is promoting Sharia by allowing his administration to hire a Muslim woman in its office of Economic and Community Development.

Turner says he calls Matheny a friend, but points out that Democrats have a good working relationship with sitting Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican who aligns herself as a moderate and the governor’s ally.

Turner stopped short of backing either Harwell or Matheny for the gavel.

“I think an endorsement from me for either one of them will probably kill their chances of being speaker, so I’m not going to get involved in their politics,” he laughed.

The Republican Caucus will elect its choice for the next speaker later this fall, but that vote will have to go to the House floor, where Democrats can voice their say.

Regardless who is selected the next speaker in the Republican-led chamber, Turner suspects the growing volume of conservative voices running for office will make compromising over key pieces of legislation more difficult.

“Some of the new crop that’s coming in are not that reasonable. And they don’t believe in compromise, and they don’t believe in reach across the aisle,” said Turner. Democrats work well with current Republican leadership, he said, although only one of their signature job bills was written into law last year.

“We work with them all the time. We get mad as heck at each other sometimes, but that’s part of the process. And that’s what makes a democracy strong when you have different point of views,” Turner said.

Environment and Natural Resources Featured Liberty and Justice

Bikers Butt Heads With Bean Counters

Even with Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny in the saddle of an effort to allow motorcycle riders to opt out of wearing helmets, he says he’s still only got a “50/50” shot of getting the bill to the floor next year.

And even then, that doesn’t mean it’ll get much more traction.

“I think it’s going to happen eventually. It’s manifest destiny,” said Matheny, a Tullahoma Republican who is trying to rev up support among lawmakers on the House Transportation Committee to allow bikers with at least $15,000 of medical insurance coverage to ditch their helmets if they’re at least 21 years old.

The issue has been cruising around Capitol Hill for almost a decade under different sponsors as advocates for a helmet-free lifestyle argue they should have the freedom to choose whether to wear a lid. They add that loosening up the laws will boost tourism revenues by attracting more bikers to the state.

Meanwhile, opponents say changing the law will lead to more fatalities and boost health care costs.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, passing the legislation would have an indirect increase in costs to public health systems for state and local governments, including an estimate that TennCare costs could increase by $2 million.

“I understand the proponents talk about freedom, nobody’s against freedom,” said Gary Zelizer, director of government affairs for the Tennessee Medical Association. Zelizer argues that the bill would lead to deaths of teenagers riding without a helmet, even though they would not be covered by the exemption. “I hear the tourism issue. But should those be at the expense of our kids?… Is that what you really want to do?”

Some 158,000 motorcycles were registered in Tennessee last year, according to state agencies. About 4,700 bikers are involved in crashes each year, with roughly one in five resulting in head injuries, according to the fiscal note.

When Florida implemented a law similar to Matheny’s proposal, the state saw a more than 80 percent increase in head injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Earlier this year, the bill languished in committee until the Transportation Subcommittee agreed to study the issue over the summer. Members plan to sit down with the Fiscal Review team to examine exactly how it developed its price tag, which Matheny says will help the measure get past a major road block.

Matheny, who rides horses instead of a hog, said he would be equally upset if the state required him to wear a helmet on horseback, and suggested bikers should have the choice to sign some sort of liability waiver stating they understand the risks of biking sans helmet.

“Giving personal responsibility back to people, and letting them be responsible for their own actions if they know the inherent risk, is not something that is alien to this General Assembly,” Matheny said.

Health Care

Matheny Predicts More Tort Reform at Doctors Town Hall

House Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny says the Legislature will probably seek more tort reform next year, and Gov. Bill Haslam, no fan of the new federal health care law, says it’s time to start talking about how to implement the new act anyway.

Those developments show that health care issues remain very much on the table for Tennessee. While tort reform is usually thought of as a legal issue, proponents of limiting malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits have cited litigation as a driver of health care costs.

Matheny, R-Tullahoma, told a Doctors Town Hall audience at Lipscomb University in Nashville on Saturday that he hopes this year’s tort reform legislation is only “the first step of several steps in issues we hope to deal with in regard to tort reform.”

During a break in the formal discussion, Matheny elaborated on those plans and pointed to a so-called “loser pays” effort that could be the next measure in tort liability in Tennessee.

“I just know the General Assembly is very interested in additional tort reform,” Matheny said.

“‘Loser-pays’-type scenarios are ones we will look at, especially with regard to what would be perceived as malicious lawsuits.”

Matheny said potential legislation would address situations where there are possibly second or third appeals in cases.

“A case in point would be if somebody filed a third appeal and the answer was the same as the first two, whether both are in the negative or both in the positive. That person would be responsible for the legal fees,” he said.

The approach would be to confront those who are seen as abusing the system. It would follow a tort reform measure passed this year and spearheaded by Haslam that put caps on non-economic damages in civil cases at $750,000, although the law creates exceptions in cases that involve intentional misconduct, destruction of records or activity under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Those caps go to $1 million in what are categorized as “catastrophic” cases, which are defined in the law as conditions of paraplegia, quadriplegia, amputation, especially severe burns or the wrongful death of a parent leaving minor children. The new law also caps punitive damages at two times compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.

Matheny said he would like to see the caps in the law go even lower — to around $250,000 or $300,000 — but he said he did not foresee the Legislature taking that path.

“There will probably be a lot of (tort reform) legislation filed, but there will probably be one thing that rises to the top and is carried by the body,” Matheny said. “I don’t know what that will be yet, but I think there will be some additional tightening.”

Matheny said he has not spoken to Haslam about further tort reform and that Haslam probably wants to give the most recent law a chance to take effect. But there seems to be little doubt that the Legislature is prepared to consider further steps on the topic.

“It’s important to remember that sometimes progress is made in baby steps and after a three- or four-year period maybe we can look back and really see some true progress,” Matheny said.

Spine surgeon says government doesn’t help

The town hall audience Saturday at Lipscomb was an overwhelmingly conservative crowd, with 10 panelists and audience members expressing dislike of the 2010 federal health care overhaul.

Dr. Lee Heib, a spine surgeon and president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, spoke of her practice as a small business owner.

“If you have to run a small business, if you have to produce something, when has the government come in and made your job easier or more cost-effective? It’s never done that. Trust me, it doesn’t do it in medicine either,” she said.

Andrew Schlafly, general counsel for AAPS, who went to law school with President Barack Obama, said the fundamental problem with the new health care law is that it forces citizens to purchase coverage.

“That is the foundation of it, and that is basically un-American,” Schlafly said. “To force people to buy something you don’t want to buy, it’s never been done before. You can look through the Constitution. You can read it backward and forward and ask yourself, ‘What gives the federal government the authority to force us to buy something we don’t want to buy?'”

That’s the question raised by the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan, which has asked the Supreme Court to review a lower court decision upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Cincinnati, ruled against the center earlier this summer, finding the law to be constitutional.

Legal challenges regarding the act also are pending in the Fourth and 11th circuits. It has not been determined if the high court will take up the issue.

The town hall meeting included state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, who spoke to the audience of about 125 people about her Tennessee Health Freedom Act (SB079), which Haslam has signed, which says government cannot force a person to purchase a product as the new federal law does, and prevents penalties against those who wish to opt out of the system.

Beavers also touted her Health Care Compact legislation (SB326), a states’ rights measure, which would allow states to join forces to control their health care funds. That bill passed in the state Senate this year but not in the House.

Ben Cunningham of Tennessee Tax Revolt told the audience the federal health care overhaul would be such a burden on the state it would force talk of a state income tax.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, spoke of Tennessee’s problems with TennCare as an example of what can go wrong with government-run health care.

Haslam: State should prepare to implement health care act

Haslam, meanwhile, said in a recent interview that time is a factor in whether to address the new federal health care legislation, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” which has been overshadowed recently in Washington. The most significant aspects of the law do not kick in until 2014, but the law requires states to be ready in several ways when that time comes.

“I quite frankly am surprised that as the clock ticks closer to 2014 there’s not more conversation,” Haslam said.

But he noted one group is paying very close attention to the issue.

“There is a lot of conversation among governors, saying, ‘We need to be prepared to implement this if it does happen,'” Haslam said, adding that “it would be irresponsible not to.”

The 2010 election year brought a significant uproar about the new law, with talk of repealing it after a new Congress was put in place. But Haslam, who opposes the plan, said the furor about the law has seemed to subside since then.

“A year ago, in the middle of the campaign, that was all the talk,” Haslam said. “I don’t know if in Washington the whole budget and debt issue has eclipsed everything else. I don’t know if that’s the situation.”

The foremost issue in the new law is for states to set up exchanges — marketplaces involving competing insurance plans — where people would shop for what best fits their needs. States must set up their own exchanges or allow people to move into a federal exchange.

Tennessee is already working with various stakeholders and what are known as Technical Assistance Groups (TAGs) on the state’s options. The state is accepting comments and questions about the exchange process at

Haslam said the law’s implementation in Tennessee would likely be run through TennCare and the state Department of Finance and Administration. A finance spokeswoman referred questions on the matter to TennCare.

“We’re still watchfully waiting for guidance from CMS,” said Alyssa Lewis, communications manager for TennCare, referring to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “We’re seeing what’s going to happen when there is more certainty. It’s to see what the options are, and what the appropriate options are for Tennessee.” is an independent, nonprofit news organization supported by generous donors like you!

Press Releases

GOP Firearms Task Force Announced

Press Release from House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, July 13, 2011:

Majority Leader Gerald McCormick Appoints GOP Firearms Issue Task Force

(July 13, 2011, NASHVILLE) – On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R—Chattanooga) announced the appointment of seven Members of the House of Representatives to the Republican Caucus Firearms Issues Task Force. The group is charged with “studying current State laws to identify if any changes may need to be made” and will meet with outside groups to “gain a better understanding” of the issues surrounding the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans.

Representative Curry Todd (R—Collierville) was named the Chairman of the Task Force. Additionally, Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny (R—Tullahoma), Representative Joshua Evans (R—Greenbrier), Representative Andy Holt (R—Dresden), Representative Barrett Rich (R—Somerville), Representative Glen Casada (R—Franklin), and Representative John Forgety (R—Athens) were named to the group. The Task Force intends to meet when other scheduled legislative committees meet such as the Fiscal Review Committee or summer study groups meet.

“This Task Force will study ways we can protect the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans and will make recommendations to our Majority about good public policy we all can support,” said Majority Leader McCormick. “I think this is a worthwhile effort to streamline the process and build consensus within the General Assembly. I look forward to hearing what Chairman Todd and the group report back to us.”

Rep. Todd explained, “It is an honor to lead this working group so our Majority can craft responsible public policy that reflects the values of Tennesseans. This group will work hard to make common sense recommendations to the Majority in order to build consensus about what our legislative priorities for firearms need to be next session. ”

Rep. Rich added, “This group will examine all perspectives on the issues surrounding firearms and the Second Amendment and that is always good for public policy. Tennessee is well-known as a State that promotes responsible firearm ownership and we need to make sure our laws reflect that principle. I will always advocate for our law-abiding citizens’ right to own a gun and this is a way to do just that.”

“This is a unique way for us to hear directly from Tennesseans about how we can protect and potentially strengthen their gun rights,” said Rep. Holt. “I believe we can build consensus by bringing all sides together and creating sensible policy proposals from their feedback.”

Leader McCormick announced the appointments in a letter to all Members of the House Republican Majority. The full text of the letter is below:

July 13, 2011 

Fellow Caucus Members: 

I hope that this letter finds you well. I am very proud of the great things we accomplished together during this past legislative session, and confident that we will continue that positive momentum when we return in January. In order to accomplish that goal, it is vital that we devote time during recess to study important issues that impact all those that live across our great state.

With that in mind, I am writing this letter to advise you that I am appointing a Republican Caucus Firearms Issues Task Force. The rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment are sacred to many citizens, and we must ensure we craft responsible legislation to protect those rights. This task force will be responsible for studying current state laws to identify if any changes may need to be made. In addition, it will meet with outside groups to gain a better understanding of these issues. The task force will report back to members of the Republican Caucus with results of their study.

The Republican Caucus Firearms Issues Task Force will consist of the following members:

Rep. Curry Todd, Chairman

Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny

Rep. Joshua Evans

Rep. Andy Holt

Rep. Barrett Rich

Rep. Glen Casada

Rep. John Forgety

Please feel free to contact members of this task force if you have any additional questions about this important issue.


Gerald McCormick


Press Releases

TFA Offers End of Session Recap, Nothing Meaningful Passed for Gun Owners

Press Release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; June 6, 2011:

Tennessee Firearms Association, Inc. Legislative Action Committee

2011 TFALAC Legislative Summary

Summarized below are the bills which were enacted in 2011 from those that we tracked. None of them address any meaningful changes in the law that are significant to those who promote the 2nd Amendment, to hunters, to firearms owners, and/or to those concerned about self-defense. However, the events of 2011 do provide information that can be relevant to the decisions that 2nd Amendment supporters will need to make during the 2012 primary season and general elections.

Following the report on bills, there is a discussion about the 2011 session and what TFA will be looking for in 2012.

2011 Legislation

SB307 / HB947 Environment & Nature: No permit to hunt wild boars and wild hogs.

Sponsors: Sen. Steve Southerland Rep. John Mark Windle

Description: Removes wild hog from definition of “big game.” Removes permit requirements for hunting wild boars and wild hogs.

Public Chapter: PC283

SB519 / HB283 Labor Law: Employer allowing gun on property not TOSHA violation.

Sponsors: Sen. Mike Bell Rep. Vance Dennis

Description: Specifies that a corporation, business entity or governmental entity permitting a person with a handgun carry permit to carry a handgun on such entity’s property does not constitute a TOSHA occupational safety and health hazard.

Public Chapter: PC33

SB558 / HB395 Public Employees: Carrying of firearm by retired law enforcement officers.

Sponsors: Sen. Randy McNally Rep. Eric Watson

Description: Requires a retired law officer certified to carry firearms that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce in the same manner and to the same extent as an active officer by satisfying specified conditions to meet standards established by the Tennessee POST commission every four years. Specifies that authorization under this method to carry a firearm in not valid outside the state of Tennessee.

Public Chapter: PC363

SB836 / HB799 Environment & Nature: Use of spotlight to hunt deer.

Sponsors: Sen. Mike Bell Rep. Vance Dennis

Description: Changes what constitutes the unlawful use of a spotlight from using a spotlight “in an apparent attempt or intent to locate deer by the use of such light” to making it unlawful to use a spotlight “with the intent of hunting deer”.

Public Chapter: PC191

SB850 / HB1089 Government Organization: Updates terminology regarding individuals with disabilities.

Sponsors: Sen. Douglas Henry Jr. Rep. Glen Casada

Description: Updates terminology related to individuals with disabilities throughout TN Code. Clarifies that nothing in the bill is meant to alter eligibility for services for individuals who are covered by these provisions prior to passage. Deletes the requirement that no marriage license shall be granted if either applicant is “insane” or “an imbecile”. (16 pp.)

Public Chapter: PC47

SB954 / HB1117 Criminal Law: Additional crimes that prohibit restoration of voting right.

Sponsors: Sen. Ken Yager Rep. Curry Todd

Description: Adds certain criminal convictions, containing the same elements and designated as a felony in any other state or federal court, to the current list of crimes that prohibit persons from being eligible to vote.

Public Chapter: PC184

SB1205 / HB1278 Economic Development: TN Adventure Tourism and Rural Development Act of 2011.

Sponsors: Sen. Ken Yager Rep. Judd Matheny

Description: Enacts the “Tennessee Adventure Tourism and Rural Development Act of 2011.” Directs the department of tourist development, the department of environment and conservation and the department of economic and community development to study and develop a plan for the promotion and development of adventure tourism and other recreational and economic development activities in rural areas of the state. Authorizes, after the department of tourist development has identified suitable areas of state for the promotion of adventure tourism, the local government, by a two-thirds vote of the governing body as a tourism district. Grants special permissions to such tourist districts. Broadly captioned.

Public Chapter: PC383

SB1558 / HB1176 Criminal Law: Exchanging confiscated firearms – law enforcement agencies.

Sponsors: Sen. Bill Ketron Rep. Barrett Rich

Description: Authorizes the commissioner of safety, the director of the TBI, the executive director of the TN Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the executive head of any municipal or county law enforcement agency, or the director of a judicial district drug task force to exchange confiscated firearms with other law enforcement agencies for body armor and ammunition as well as for other firearms.

Public Chapter: PC159

2011 Observations

Many of those now holding elected offices, both Republicans and Democrats, proclaim that they are “good on the 2nd Amendment” or “strong on the 2nd Amendment.” Truly, there are numerous individuals who have been and are serving as members of the General Assembly who individually have well established and credible voting records of supporting the rights protected by the Second Amendment and the State Constitution.

Since 1994, when Tennessee legislators first enacted a widely available civilian handgun permit law in Tennessee, we have seen the General Assembly slowly improve the process for issuing civilian carry permits and remove a few of the infringements on our 2nd Amendment and State constitutional rights. We have seen the passage of expanded range protection. We have seen the passage of laws to increase the amount of public hunting lands. We have seen also the defeat of numerous bills that would have further infringed these rights.

Over the years, these improvements came with sponsors and votes from both parties. These issues have generally obtained good support from conservatives in both parties and have often been opposed by liberals in both parties. A recent example of this would be the passage in 2009 and then again in 2010 of the two bills which addressed the statutory prohibition on civilian handgun permit holders carrying in places that served alcohol or beer. The two bills which were enacted were carried by former Senator Doug Jackson (D) and by Representative Curry Todd (R). In each year, Governor Bredesen (D) vetoed the bills and veto overrides were successful. These were not the only bills in those two years which appropriately addressed this issue because several versions of each bill in each year were introdcued by several other legislators and each bill had numerous co-sponsors. Of note, Beth Harwell (R), the current Speaker of the House, voted against the bills and the overrides in both 2009 and 2010 which underscores that not all legislators are good on the 2nd Amendment nor the constitutions.

Other progun legislation during the 2009 and 2010  legislative sessions that had broad bi-partisan support included the 10th Amendment based Firearms Freedom Act that was carried by Sen. Beavers (R) and former Rep. Fincher (D) and also the repeal of bans on permit holders carrying firearms in Federal and State parks that Sen. Beavers (R) and Rep. Niceley (R) carried.

Following the end of the 106th General Assembly (2009-2010 sessions) and the 2010 elections, the TFA was told by Senate leadership that they felt that they needed to work on other issues in 2011 and that they would not devote a lot of time to 2nd Amendment legislation in 2011. There was one exception, TFA was told that the employee parking lot protection legisation would be passed in 2011. TFA took the position that, in light of that request, it would not seek constitutional carry or other big changes in 2011 but that it would be involved with any bills in the topic areas that we watch if any such bills were to be introduced.

2011 represents the first time since the Civil War that the Governor’s office, the Senate and the House of Representatives have simultaneously been either held by or under the majority control of the Republican party in Tennessee. In 2011, Republicans held 20 of 33 seats in the Senate and 64 of 99 seats in the House of Representatives. Even though TFA had been told in 2010 that it should not expect a lot of 2nd Amendment legislation in 2011, specific legislation was promised, technical adjustments were expected and aid in killing anticipated bad legislation (including almost constant “class” legislation) was needed. TFA understood that the leadership in both houses in 2011 intended to focus on other issues which they felt were much more important than constitutional rights under the 2nd, 7th and 10th Amendments. Certainly, a review of the 391 Public Chapters that they did pass including those issues listed above demonstrates the comparative importance of what did get passed.

Of course, there are other bills which although not enacted into law this year, did receive time and resources which could not be allocated to working on 2nd Amendment, 7th Amendment and 10th Amendment issues such as HB0212 which went all the way to the House Floor on a vote of 72 to 12 and deals with a very pressing issue – unrestrained pets in motor vehicles:

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 55, Chapter 8, Part 2, is amended by adding a new section thereto, as follows:Section 55-8-202. No person shall operate a motor vehicle with an unrestrained animal in the front driver seat. For the purposes of this section, a restrained animal means an animal secured in a harness or vehicle seat, confined in a box, or hard or soft sided travel crate, or being held by a person in the front passenger seat or in a rear seat. A violation of this section is punishable as provided by § 55-8-136.

2011 presents a paradox for voters. Although the Senate has been under Republican control for several years, 2011 represented the first time that Republicans truly controlled the House leadership and committee appointments. House Republicans elected Beth Harwell as Speaker on a 1 vote margin. This determination cast a light on the path we would expect in 2011.

So, what happened on the employee protections / parking lot bill in 2011?

  • Rep. Joshua Evans (R) introduced HB2021 which became the chosen bill on the expected employee protections/parking lots issue. There was a Democrat bill on the same issue but it was made clear unofficially that the Republicans would not let the Democrat bill go through because they would claim credit for passing it. So, apparently, the Republicans wanted credit for what would happen on the employee protections/parking lot issue.
  • HB2021 received heavy lobbying pressure from “big business” such as Federal Express. It has been suggested that as many as 15 business lobbyists were working against this bill – but, frankly, since the same issue was introduced in the prior 2 years, that was not unexpected.
  • HB2021 was amended, without TFA’s nor NRA’s support, in the House Judiciary. Rep. Evans apparently agreed to remove everything that TFA understood would pass this year. It was later determined that Rep. Evans had made a deal with at least one and perhaps two other Republicans who served on the Judiciary committee who agreed to cosponsor the bill and get it to the House floor but only if the employee protections were not added back into the bill. An agreement involving Rep. Evans (which he announced at a TFA meeting in Nashville) existed among a few Republicans that if any amendment were offered on the House floor that would restore the employee protections that Rep. Evans, as the sponsor, would pull the bill from the House floor and send it back to the House Judiciary committee for the purpose of killing the bill.
  • The co-sponsors on HB2021 were Dennis, McDonald, Bass, Rich, Weaver, Hill, Holt, Lundberg, Matheny, Watson, Faison, Shipley, Butt, Womick, and Todd. Of those, Republicans Watson, Dennis, Lundberg, Faison, Matheny, Rich also served on the House Judiciary committee and it is believed that one or more of these co-sponsors was/were the ones who would not support the employee protections effort. Based on subsequent discussions, I would probably eliminate Faison and Matheny from consideration.
  • When Rep. Eddie Bass (D) proposed an amendment on the House floor, which amendment TFA supported, Rep. Evans made a motion to “table” the proposed Bass amendment. A tabling motion is a procedural motion that can kill an amendment before it is debated. The motion to table the amendment failed with only 35 votes. As TFA previously reported, 33 Republicans voted with Rep. Evans’ lead to table the Bass Amendment. At this point, it is not clear how many of these 33 Republicans knew that Rep. Evans was trying to kill the entire bill. When the tabling motion failed, Rep. Evans sent the bill back to the House Judiciary committee. The vote on the tabling motion went as follows:





Present and not voting…………………..5

Representatives voting aye were: Brooks H, Brooks K, Butt, Carr, Casada, Coley, Dennis, Dunn, Eldridge, Ford, Harrison, Haynes, Hurley, Keisling, Kernell, Lundberg, Marsh, Matlock, McCormick, McManus, Miller D, Montgomery, Odom, Powers, Ramsey, Roach, Sargent, Sexton, Shipley, Sparks, Weaver, Williams R, Wirgau, Womick, Madam Speaker Harwell — 35.

Representatives voting no were: Alexander, Armstrong, Bass, Brown, Camper, Cobb, Cooper, Curtiss, Dean, DeBerry J, Favors, Fitzhugh, Floyd, Forgety, Gotto, Halford, Hardaway, Harmon, Hensley, Holt, Johnson C, Johnson P, Jones, Lollar, Matheny, McDaniel, McDonald, Miller L, Moore, Naifeh, Niceley, Parkinson, Pitts, Pody, Rich, Richardson, Sanderson, Shaw, Shepard, Sontany, Stewart, Swann, Tidwell, Tindell, Todd, Towns, Turner J, Turner M, Watson, Williams K, Windle — 51.

Representatives present and not voting were: Campbell, Faison, Gilmore, Hill, Ragan — 5.

When the Evans bill was calendared in Judiciary on May 3, TFA had people present from as far as Memphis who had requested to testify on the bill. Rep. Evans did not come to the committee hearing nor did he respond to calls and text messages that morning from TFA and NRA trying to determine what was going on with the bill or where he was.

With Rep. Evans not present, his bill and another pro-2nd Amendment bill by Rep. Andy Holt were both sent quietly back to the Judiciary’s subcommittee which was already closed. Although there is no recorded vote on which committee members voted to send these two bills to the closed subcommittee but it has been suggested by one Judiciary member to TFA that the initiative came from Rep. Coley and that it was “gaveled” without a recorded vote and without either sponsor being present.

TFA requested that a House procedural rule which has the ability to “recall” a bill from a committee be used to get a House vote on the bill this year, but no House member indicated a willing to make that motion.

Following these events, TFA has met with some House members and some in House leadership (not Harwell) about this bill and what Rep. Evans was believed to have done. It is clear that many in the House Republican party say that they did not know about the scheme of a few members and that they actually supported the objective of Rep. Bass’ amendment to protect commuting employees. We have asked those we talked with in the House to explain the votes and why an apparent plan existed to strip the employee protections from the bill, to substitute only an employer immunity clause and to implement a self-destruct plan if any amendment was offered to restore employee protections. We wanted to know whether this plan was explained in the caucus prior to the floor action and it has been suggested that the caucus was blind to the plans or series of events. To date, however, the House has not publicly identified who was involved with this beyond the sponsor. We have been told concerning the tabling motion by Rep. Evans that there was confusion among the caucus about what to do and that many apparently simply voted as the sponsor (Rep. Evans) wanted without really knowing what the amendment by Eddie Bass would do or why the sponsor was asking that it be tabled. It matters not because although the votes certainly were there to pass the bill as it was desired by TFA, the bill’s sponsor, a few co-sponsors would not allow it and ultimately the House did not do so.

This year, the Republicans, who by a substantial majority proclaim support and strength on the 2nd Amendment, 10th Amendment, etc., and almost always identify those issues on campaign materials, had the caucus numbers to do whatever they wanted in the House and Senate. Certainly there are specific Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate who stayed true to the 2nd Amendment as the bill introductions and sponsorships show. Perhaps, however, a significant number of specific House Republicans under Beth Harwell’s leadership and her committee appointments view 2nd Amendment and related Constitutional rights as just another issue and not as a core issue. Perhaps its an issue to be polled for popularity rather than what is constitutionally appropriate. Certainly, that is the message that Speaker Harwell has sent. In a recent comment to the Tennessean on these issues, she is reported as saying that the caucus is 100% committed to gun rights (of course that cannot be accurate if you include her prior votes since she herself pretty consistently votes against them and there are a few “left of center” Republicans who will go right along with her on gun issues). But Harwell’s statements to the news media clearly evidence that, at least for her, the issues pertaining to gun rights are just another topic to be taken up in rotation and perhaps when not likely to influence an election.

Harwell, whose candidacy for speaker was opposed by many gun rights groups, is viewed with particular skepticism. She said critics should remember the banner years enjoyed by gun rights groups in 2009 and 2010, when Republicans pushed through more permissive gun laws.

“They know that our Republican caucus is 100 percent committed to gun rights,” she said.– Notably, Harwell does not defend her own voting record but references passage of bills that she voted against.

In comments that Speaker Harwell made to the Nashville City Paper, she goes further and makes clear that she, as Speaker, had no intent of spending any time at all on firearms issues in 2011.

Even Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, an unabashed gun advocate, has admitted to reporters that he discouraged new gun bills to avoid media coverage that might make it appear that the legislature was distracted. The new House speaker, Nashville’s Beth Harwell, dismissed outright any need for new gun laws.

“We addressed a good number of gun bills last session,” Harwell told reporters shortly after Republicans nominated her late last year to preside over the House. “I feel that clearly we received a mandate from the public that we need to be focused on jobs and education and the economy this session.” (emphasis added)

Looking Forward to 2012

If things are going to change in 2012 – an election year – Tennessee’s constitutionally concerned citizens, Tennessee’s firearms owners, Tennessee’s hunters and Tennesseans in general need to step up and demand accountability of elected officials to 2nd Amendment and other constitutional issues. These issues should not be diminished because “big business” opposes the advancement of 2nd Amendment and other constitutional rights. Using these issues as a litmus test, it is possible to see where legislators stand and to take those votes and actions into consideration when those individual legislators ask for support in their re-election efforts. Legislators need to understand that the State and federal constitutional provisions are not just “platform” issues to be considered in rotation with other issues. Constitutional issues should require diligence and action to make sure that constitutionally protected rights are placed in proper regard.

TFA is not a Republican, Democrat, Tea Party or libertarian entity. TFA is issue oriented. We view the issue as a core constitutional issue that is completely independent of party affiliations although we realize that the degree of support between the parties varies substantially. TFA tries to keep party affiliation separate from pushing forward on the issue with elected officials who support the issue.

What are TFA’s issues for 2012 and beyond?

  • Constitutional carry a/k/a “Vermont carry.” TFA would actually prefer a system, somewhat similar to Arizona’s version of this bill, where citizens can obtain an optional state issued which would evidence that the individual has the right to carry in Tennessee. This optional permit would be at minimal cost but adequate to maintain reciprocity with other states. All existing permits would need to be grandfathered automatically.
  • Employee protections / parking lots. Legislation to protect employees who commute to work from being criminally prosecuted and/or terminated from employment if they are legally transporting a firearm for self-defense while commuting, to go hunting before or after work, to go to the range before or after work, etc.
  • Expanded exemptions for school grounds so that the current exemption is no longer limited to passenger pickup/dropoff but would allow anyone legally transporting a firearm to leave it secured in their vehicle while parked on school property.
  • Remove restrictions for those who can legally transport a firearm to possess it on college campuses (any educational facility beyond 12th grade including community college, trade schools, etc.).
  • Remove restriction regarding legal possession of firearms in any park during periods when the park may be in use by a school (e.g., current law is unclear on whether a state park automatically “closes” to firearms possession if any school is making any use of the park such as cross country runs, golf, tennis, nature hikes, etc.)
  • Remove all local options to regulate firearms possession by those who are legally carrying a firearm with respect to local public parks, greenways, etc.
  • Prohibit the public republication of the permit holder database and/or close it entirely. Allow non-individual specific requests for demographic and termination data.
  • Require actual verbal signage on properties that post – not simply the circle-slash over a picture of a gun. Exclude government, business and commercial parking lots.
  • Fix the purchase statute to REQUIRE TBI to respond to a purchase challenge in writing within 15 days to both the dealer and the proposed purchaser. Require TBI to pay all costs of a subsequent TICS check (including attorney’s fees) if it fails to deliver a response in writing by the 20th day from the date of the challenge.
  • Require local law enforcement to complete ATF Form 4 in all areas where local law enforcement is requested to respond and to do so on all form 4 requests including requests for suppressors. Provide that citizens may file mandamus actions against law enforcement for failing to respond or respond timely and that the costs of such actions are chargeable to the chief law enforcement officer in an individual and official capacity.
  • Require that gun ranges which are built or supported with tax dollars be made open to the public when not in active use by law enforcement.
  • Undo part of the castle doctrine that denies the legal presumption if the individual who resorted to self-defense was engaged in “illegal activity” or “unlawful activity” at the time in question. This language is too broad and could deny reliance on the presumption if there is a zoning violation and/or if the tags or insurance on the car had expired.
  • Repeal the law which prohibits those with non-violent felonies from owning or possessing a firearm once they have obtained a restoration of their rights.
  • Repeal any law which creates “classes” of citizens relative to firearms ownership, possession and/or self-defense standards (e.g., those laws which address “off duty” or “retired” individuals)
  • Make clear that pardons restore all civil rights.

The foregoing list is not exhaustive.

Featured Liberty and Justice News

Critics Say Anti-Terrorism Bill Went from Bad to Worse to Much, Much Better

The Legislature spent months flirting with ideas for broadening the power of the state to designate groups and individuals as suspected terrorist and punish people who provide them with “material support.”

But in the final days of the session, lawmakers voted simply to toughen existing penalties in the law after dropping provisions that drew global attention and allegations that Tennessee planned to target people based on their religion.

The issue galvanized Tennessee’s Muslim community, with so many supporters and practitioners of Islam and defenders of “Sharia Law” descending on Legislative Plaza that meetings at times had to be broadcast in multiple overflow-rooms — and many still, for lack of available seating, were left sitting on the floors to watch closed-circuit monitors.

Proponents say they’re happy with the final form of the bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, while Muslim activists, civil libertarians and other critics are breathing easier with many of the most worrisome elements of the bill scrapped — including specific mention of “Sharia Law” and dramatic expansion of the government’s power to designate people as terrorists and to punish those who in any way support them.

“It’s a sigh of relief knowing that the most controversial and most dangerous portions of the bill ultimately came out,” said activist Remziya Suleyman, policy coordinator for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, which opposed the bill.

Under the bill that passed, material support of terrorists would bring the same punishment as manslaughter, sexual crimes, burglary and drug crimes — a 15- to 60-year jail sentence and up to a $50,000 fine. The crime would be a Class A felony, more serious than the current Class B designation, punishable with eight to 30 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The more serious punishment would cost an average of $369,000 per inmate.

The plan is less far-reaching than what Sen. Bill Ketron originally proposed, but the Murfreesboro Republican said he’s satisfied with the final product.

Wrote Ketron in his hometown newspaper at the conclusion of the session last month:

There is no prosperity in Tennessee without security. Despite the best efforts of many to thwart legislation to strengthen our laws against homegrown terrorism, we succeeded in passing an anti-terrorism bill, which I sponsored, that updates Tennessee’s Terrorism Prevention Act that was passed shortly after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. There has been much misinformation published regarding this bill. The “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011” simply makes the provision of “material support” a Class A felony and helps to close the prevention gap left by the 2002 statute. This will help give our local law enforcement agencies the tools they need to prevent homegrown terrorism.

The Refugee Rights Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, and the Islamic Center of Nashville were among those that teamed up to fight the earlier versions of the bill.

“It was not just to protect our citizens. It was very clear it was targeting the Muslims,” Mohamed Ahmed, an imam at the center, told TNReport. “Is there anyone proposing a bill saying we’re going to damn the Jewish law? Of course not.”

“The bill as first drafted was very troubling, mean-spirited and ripe with constitutional problems,” said Hedi Weinberg, executive director of the state’s ACLU chapter. “The bill that passed essentially was gutted.”

In addition to prompting outrage in the Muslim community, Ketron’s plan hit snags with vocal members of his own party who refused to go along with it. First, because it seemed to single out a religious minority, then later because they felt it gave the governor and the attorney general too much power — outside the constitutionally established realms of due process in criminal court — in allowing them to ID individuals and groups as potential terrorists.

Among them was Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield, who called the bill a “Patriot Act Part Two for Tennessee.”

“I felt it could have led to targeting of groups that may not be guilty, but only unpopular at this time,” Campfield later said on the Senate floor. “As they come out for Muslims today, they could come out for the Tea Party tomorrow or the Republicans the next day or the Democrats the day after that.”

Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said the bill, prior to being dramatically reined-in, had disturbing “Big Brother” implications. Lundberg quietly promised he’d loudly oppose the bill on the House floor if the sponsors tried to run a version that he believed would legitimize the violation of people’s rights.

They didn’t. The next time the bill appeared before the Legislature, it had been scrubbed down to a version most all could support — or at least no longer passionately oppose.

“It looks decent,” said Ahmed who originally planned on challenging the earlier versions through the legal system had they passed but has since dropped that idea. “Don’t forget the original intent of the bill. It was not just to protect our citizens. It was very clear it was targeting the Muslims.”

Lundberg called the evolution of the bill “frankly, a pretty ugly process.”

“My concerns before were, were we targeting religion? Number two, then, we became ‘Big Brother,’ and we gave incredible power to a couple of people in this state,” Lundberg said on the floor before the vote. “This takes it back.”

Although a majority of Democrats opposed earlier versions of the bill, they aren’t taking credit for it’s paired down final version — it was the Republicans policing themselves, said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner.

“I think they were trying to play to a certain segment of their party and I think that it might have backfired on them,” he told reporters.

Indeed, once the “Sharia Law” aspects of the bill disappeared, some Democrats began to warm to the measure. Sen. Tim Barnes and Reps. Eddie Bass and Gary Moore voted for what Lundberg described as the “Big Brother” version in their respective chambers’ judiciary committees.

Sen. Barnes, D-Adams, remarked that if from the outset the measure had been dubbed the “Timothy McVeigh Bill,” rather than the “Sharia Bill,” not nearly so much outrage would likely have ensued.

Campfield, who unlike Barnes voted against Ketron’s bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, later noted that the debate brought to light the “weird divide” among tea-party conservatives.

“You had the people who didn’t want a whole bunch of government intrusion sort of competing against people who are strong on national security. A lot of times those are the same people,” Campfield told TNReport. “It was sort of a weird split that was going on at the time, but I think both sides are happy with what came out.”

The final version was hashed out behind closed doors between bill sponsors and high-level administrators in the Department of Safety and Office of Homeland Security. They stripped down the bill, deleting provisions that would have let the governor and attorney general designate possible terrorists and deny the accused the right to fight the classification before an administrative law judge.

They agreed to give the existing law more teeth and allowed for local district attorneys to report suspicions directly to the Department of State, which handles terrorist designations, instead of reporting to the FBI.

“We are pleased with the final version, which enhances the existing state penalty for groups or individuals who support terrorist organizations,” Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said in an emailed statement.

“I like where the bill ended, quite frankly,” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters. “I wasn’t quite sure why the governor and the attorney general had those roles in terms of whether that was appropriate.”

Still, some Democratic lawmakers held out, saying they still felt the measure got off on the wrong foot and they ultimately wanted no part of it in any way, shape or form.

“I am very concerned of the fact that we are demonizing certain people or putting a stigma on certain people because of their religion,” said Sen. Beverly Marrero, a Memphis Democrat who voted against the bill. “I believe so strongly that America is a place where people came for freedom of religion, I really want to speak up for people who feel like they are being prosecuted because of their religious beliefs.”

Also voting “No” in the Senate were Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis and Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, the Tennessee General Assembly’s longest serving member.

The measure passed overwhelmingly in both chambers, on a 26-3 vote in the Senate and 76-16 in the House. No Republicans in either chamber opposed the final version. Haslam is expected to sign the bill.

Andrea Zelinski is a staff writer for and can be reached at 615-489-7131 or TNReport is a not-for-profit news service supported by readers like you.