Press Releases

Hargett Premiers TN Capitol History Documentary

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett; July 3, 2013:

It has endured an army occupation, the interment of two of its founding fathers, and a car cruising through its hallways. Not to mention its role as the site of many of the most important events in Tennessee’s history. The Tennessee State Capitol building has many great stories to tell – and some of those stories were revealed in a documentary about the building that premiered last week. In attendance were state legislators, department commissioners, representatives from preservation groups and others.

The documentary was created by the staff of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. It is the first part of a project that will eventually include a virtual tour of the Capitol building and its grounds, and feature stories about the building and influential people in Tennessee history.

When completed, the entire project will be burned onto DVDs that will be distributed to schools throughout the state.

The project is a result of the Tennessee General Assembly’s approval of Public Chapter No. 557, sponsored by Representative Jim Coley and Senator Ken Yager.

“I appreciate the support of the Tennessee General Assembly in the passage of Public Chapter No. 557, which has led us to the creation of a comprehensive digital record of the Tennessee State Capitol’s history,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “That history will be available to people now and in the future – 24 hours a day, seven days a week and free of charge – over the Internet. There are many things about the Capitol’s history that will surprise people. This building doesn’t have its own Trivial Pursuit game, but it could.”

“The mission of the State Library and Archives is to preserve Tennessee’s history for everyone,” State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill said. “This video draws on some of the vast treasures contained in our archives to tell the story of the Capitol building.”

The original cornerstone of the Capitol building was laid on July 4, 1845. In the 14 years that followed, architect William Strickland – with assistance from Samuel Morgan, Francis Strickland and Harvey Ackroyd – designed and oversaw the building that is still in use today. Although the Capitol has gone through various renovations over nearly 170 years, many of the building’s original characteristics are unchanged. This historical national landmark is one of the nation’s oldest working statehouses still in use.

The documentary and information on the images used in the film are available at Additionally, the virtual tour, mini-features, and fun stories about the Tennessee State Capitol will be available soon.

Featured Tax and Budget

Lawmaker Per-Diem Limitation Passes Senate, Hotel Allowance Changed

The per diem bill affecting Tennessee legislators living within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol passed the Senate 28-2, but only after being amended, which will send it back to the House for reconciliation.

The Senate on Thursday substituted its own SB107 for HB80, which passed 72-15 earlier this month, but added an amendment from the State and Local Government Committee that changes the reimbursement for lodging on the occasion area lawmakers stay in Nashville instead of returning home.

The amendment uses the lodging allowance granted to federal employees instead of the actual costs of a hotel room, as in the House version, said Sen. Ken Yager, chair of the Senate State and Local Government Committee. That would keep their lodging payment at $107 a day, contingent on individual approval from the speaker of their respective chamber.

According to the bill, lawmakers whose primary residence is within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol would no longer automatically receive $107 a day for a hotel room, but instead would receive mileage reimbursement at 46 cents a mile. This would apply to each legislative day in Nashville or any day, except Friday, that the lawmaker participates in any other activity in Nashville and would be limited to one round trip per day.

Legislators would continue to receive $66 a day for meals and incidentals.

The House and Senate versions must now be reconciled before the legislation can go to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.

Neither of the two Republican senators who voted against the bill – Dolores Gresham of Somerville and Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga – live within the 50-mile radius.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, HB80 would save the state $253,616, based on figures from in 2012, when 33 legislators lived within 50 miles of the Capitol.

If the bill becomes law, the change will not impact sitting legislators, just those elected in 2014 forward.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

Press Releases

Senate OK’s Proposal to Allow Online Posting of Public Notices

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; March 14, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The State Senate approved legislation today requiring newspapers that print public notices to post them on the Internet. Senate Bill 461, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), is supported by the Tennessee Press Association.

Action on the bill was taken during “Sunshine Week,” an annual time to highlight the importance of maintaining open government nationwide. Yager said the legislation recognizes the growing use of the Internet as a source of information, while preserving the integrity of using an independent agency for public notice by newspapers of general circulation.

Current law requires public notices be given on a variety of matters of importance to the public, including government meetings, bid announcements, notice of parental termination, foreclosure notices, public sale of private property, back tax notices, estate notices and zoning changes, to name a few. Local governments, looking for ways to reduce expenditures have suggested they can save money by posting notices on their websites rather than posting them in a local newspaper.

“My experience in local government gives me a greater appreciation of the importance of this issue,” said Yager, who served as Roane County Executive for 24 years before being elected to the State Senate. “Using an independent agency, the local newspaper, builds integrity in the process. To give even the appearance of manipulating mandatory public notices, tarnishes the reputation of government because it undermines the concept of independence and transparency.”

In addition, the legislation calls for the newspapers to post public notices on a central statewide website. Every newspaper that publishes public notices must post on their website homepage a link to the public notice section and another link to the Tennessee Press Association’s statewide repository website.

“This bill combines the best of both worlds. It keeps public notices in places where more people can find them by ensuring the widest distribution,” said Senator Yager. “This measure comes with no extra costs to taxpayers, and promotes government transparency, efficiency and public trust. I am pleased that it has been approved by the full Senate and honored for its passage during a week that embraces openness in government.”

NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Newspapers Back Online Notice Bill

Legal notices like public auctions and meeting announcements would have to be published online, as well as in newspapers, under a bill that is headed to both state House and Senate calendar committees to be scheduled for floor votes.

Newspapers that are eligible to print legal notices would be required to post them on their website and a site maintained by the Tennessee Press Association, starting April 1, 2014, under the amended versions of House Bill 1001 and Senate Bill 461. The notices would be published on the Internet for the same period of time notices are published in the newspaper and at no extra cost to the person or business.

The bill is backed by the association, sponsor Sen. Ken Yager said. The Senate bill passed in the State and Local Government Committee he chairs, while the House State Government Committee approved the bill earlier Tuesday morning.

“The reason we’re doing this is we’ve been faced in recent years with multiple attempts to remove public notices from newspapers and put them on government websites exclusively,” the TPA’s Frank Gibson said.

“Fewer than a third of households in Tennessee ever see a government website, but over two-thirds either read the newspaper or the newspaper’s website,” said Gibson, the association’s public policy director. “That combination vehicle is the way to reach the widest audience.”

Ken Yager

Yager, a Republican, told the committee that the bill will not only “put in practice a system that will ensure the widest circulation of legal notices, but most important, legal notices will continue to be published by those institutions that are independent of the government.”

The Harriman representative said he thinks the bill combines the best of both worlds.

“It keeps public notice in places where most people can find them, which promote government transparency and public trust.”

According to Gibson, many, if not most, newspapers currently post public notices on both their own websites and TPA’s statewide aggregate website for no additional charge.

“TPA has 122 newspapers. Only two do not have websites, and they are in the process of building websites now,” Gibson said, adding they will be fully operational months before the bill takes effect.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

Press Releases

Safe Harbor Act Passes Senate Health, Welfare Committee

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 28, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Legislation which aims to improve health outcomes for infants born to drug-addicted mothers won passage in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday. Senate Bill 459, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), encourages pregnant women who misuse prescription opioids to access early prenatal care and drug rehabilitation. In exchange, they would be given a safe harbor from having their parental rights terminated through a petition filed by the Department of Children’s Services due to prenatal drug abuse. The safe harbor only applies if the mother meets certain requirements set out in the bill to protect the health of the fetus.

“The Safe Harbor Act of 2013 provides a woman with a strong incentive to do the right thing for her baby,” said Senator Yager. “Children are the innocent victims of the prescription drug epidemic. Early prenatal intervention can help stabilize the mother and hopefully curb the number of premature births or deaths and a host of other severe symptoms the drugs can have on the baby.”

Addiction to opiates can result in the infant having Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), which occurs when the mother’s drugs are cut off at birth. NAS can cause the infant to have poor nervous system irritability, tremors, weight loss, stiff muscles, seizures, inconsolable crying and gastrointestinal disorders. Carla Saunders, a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner and Advance Practice Coordinator for the Pediatrics Medical Group at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, told committee members their hospital is averaging about one baby per day born with NAS. She said NAS babies often require ongoing medical care costing an average of $40,000 before they are released from the hospital. This is in addition to later healthcare costs, additional school needs and social services to ensure that they reach their maximal potential through childhood.

The Safe Harbor provision only applies if the mother is seen by an obstetrician provider within the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy who determines that she has used prescription drugs that could jeopardize the fetus. After being referred to treatment, the woman must begin drug abuse or drug dependence treatment before her next regularly scheduled prenatal visit, and maintain compliance with both her prenatal care and substance abuse rehabilitation through the pregnancy. The bill requires treating physicians to give priority at public treatment centers to pregnant women seeking care through provisions of the legislation.

“As many law enforcement folks have said about the broader substance abuse epidemic, we cannot arrest our way out of the problem,” said Tennessee Commissioner of Health John Dreyzehner, who also testified before the Senate Health Committee. “I don’t think we benefit mother or child by discouraging her from seeking prenatal care in any way.”

Dreyzehner said approximately 60 percent of the 90 NAS cases reported so far this year in Tennessee are women who are in some type of medically supervised therapy.

Yager, who sponsored two laws passed during the 107th General Assembly to curb prescription drug abuse, said the bill dovetails with the Haslam Administration’s ongoing efforts to identify and curb the over-prescription of opiates. The bill now goes to the Senate floor for final consideration.

Press Releases

Yager Rejects Dems’ Push for Hearing on Voting Irregularities

Statement from Senate State & Local Gov’t Committee Chairman Ken Yager; September 25, 2012: 

(NASHVILLE, TN), September 25, 2012 — “There are two state agencies, the Division of Elections and the State Election Commission, which are charged with the responsibility of reviewing this matter and making any recommendation for changes. These are the most appropriate bodies to review any issues related to the August election.”

“The State Election Commission is a bipartisan board whose members are appointed by the General Assembly as recommended by the Republican and Democratic caucuses. ”

“Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins requested an independent audit by the office of the Comptroller of Treasury to fully investigate the matter.”

“Both of these agencies are currently discharging their responsibilities fully and appropriately. I have confidence that they will make any changes needed after reviewing all of the facts; therefore, I see no reason to duplicate their work at taxpayer’s expense.”

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.

Press Releases

Senate GOP Legislative Update, May 9-13

Press Release from the Republican Caucus of the Tennessee Senate, May 12, 2011:

State Senate passes Civil Justice Reform and other Major Bills as General Assembly works toward adjournment

(NASHVILLE, TN), May 12, 2011 – The Tennessee General Assembly worked in marathon floor and committee sessions this week towards the conclusion of the 2011 legislative session. Among major legislation approved by the State Senate is a civil justice law to help create jobs in Tennessee, several measures cracking down on child sex offenders and those who engage in human trafficking, and state’s rights legislation, to name a few.

The Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), was approved in the State Senate by a vote of 21 to 12. The legislation is included in Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative package. It is designed to provide certainty and predictability for businesses, while ensuring that injured plaintiffs receive all of the economic, quantifiable damages they suffer.

Norris said Tennessee’s current civil justice law puts the state at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting new businesses and jobs, especially since it is one of the few in the Southeast which has yet to reign in lawsuit abuse through tort reform.

“This is very important legislation,” said Senator Norris. “It is much more than tort reform, as we must be competitive with other states. The state of Tennessee has always been on the cutting edge of tort reform. We must remain competitive, not just in then South or in a regional economy, but in the global context. This bill is designed to put us on a level playing field so we have predictability and certainty for businesses which look to locate or expand their operations in Tennessee.”

“The uncertainties of life command that we balance the need to quantify the risk with our compassion,” he added. “This will strengthen our judicial system and our state as a whole.”

“Our current civil justice system threatens Tennessee’s business climate and hampers our ability to create jobs,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey (R-Blountville). “Unlimited exposure to costly litigation drives up business costs and drives away new jobs. Every citizen should have access to the courts but it is critical that damage awards do not spin out of control and hurt our ability to grow jobs in Tennessee.”

“The legislation will provide certainty and predictability for businesses that want to locate in Tennessee,” said Senator Kelsey. “When we attract businesses, we attract jobs. Without this law, Tennessee is the only state in the Southeast that has no limits on possible punitive damage awards. With this law, Tennessee can become the number one state in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

Key provisions of Senate Bill 1522 include:

• The bill limits the maximum appeal bond amount from $75 million to $25 million or 125 percent of the judgment amount.

• It defines two components of compensatory damages: economic and non-

economic damages.

• The measure places a cap on non-economic damages, which are subjective damages like pain and suffering, at $750,000 per injured plaintiff for both healthcare liability action and other personal injury actions. However, if the harm suffered is intentional, the caps would not apply.

• As amended, the bill raises the cap to $1.0 million if the plaintiff becomes a paraplegic or quadriplegic because of spinal cord injury, sustains third degree burns over 40 percent or more of his or her body or face, has an amputation of a hand or foot, or wrongfully dies leaving one or more minor children.

• There is no cap, under the measure, on economic damages and any damages that can be objectively quantified may be recovered.

• Caps punitive damages, which must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, at two times compensatory damage or $500,000, whichever is greater unless the defendant intended to injure the plaintiff, was under then influence of drugs or alcohol, or intentionally falsified records to avoid liability.

• Prevents punitive damages in products liability actions, unless the seller had substantial control over the design or manufacturing of the product or had actual knowledge of the defect in the product at the time it was sold.

 Norris pointed to the success of the 2008 medical tort reform law which he sponsored and that has been successful in reducing lawsuits since its implementation. The law has resulted in a reduction in non-meritorious claims by 50 percent.

The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives for approval of an amendment before it is sent to the governor for his signature. It will take effect October 1, 2011, and apply to all liability actions for injuries after that date.

Legislation cracks down on the growing problem of human trafficking in Tennessee

Legislation sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) designed to attack the growing problem of child prostitution and human trafficking in Tennessee was approved Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 64 would enhance penalties against those who patronize or promote the illegal act, as well as gives law enforcement powers to impound a vehicle used in the commission of the offense.

Approval of the bill came only days after a joint operation between the FBI and the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department resulted in the arrest of nine individuals for human trafficking. According to law enforcement, the women were lured from Mexico to East Tennessee with the promise of employment, but were forced into prostitution. In November, federal authorities broke up a human trafficking ring that provided underage prostitutes involving 29 Somali men and women with ties to gangs. According to the indictment, one of the intentions of those involved was to identify, recruit and obtain girls under age 14 for prostitution. The ring operated in Nashville, Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio.

“These predators and criminal gangs target children because of their vulnerability, as well as the market demand for these young victims,” added Overbey. “That is why it is so important to strengthen penalties against those who exploit them. It is intolerable that in 2011, this crime is growing rather than decreasing. We must continue to take the steps needed to address it.”

Currently, patronizing prostitution is a Class B misdemeanor in Tennessee, unless the crimes are committed within 100 feet of a church or 1.5 miles of a school, which is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor. The legislation would make patronizing prostitution from a person who is younger than 18 years of age or has an intellectual disability a Class E felony. Penalties for promoting prostitution would be increased from a Class E to a Class D felony when a minor is involved, under the bill. Additionally, the proposal specifies that if it is determined that a person charged with prostitution is under age 18, they would be immune from prosecution for prostitution and would be released to a parent or guardian after receiving information regarding resources available to put them on the right track.

In following, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved two other bills, Senate Bill 604 and Senate Bill 605, to provide a comprehensive statewide approach to deal with the problem of human trafficking in Tennessee. The first bill sets up an Anti-humanbTrafficking Fund within the Department of Finance and Administration to provide grants to not-for-profit or tax exempt groups that provide services to the victims. The bill also expands the list of items subject to judicial forfeiture for those convicted of this crime, with funds to be partially used for this purpose. The other bill requires the posting of a Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline in places where victims are more likely to be found so they can access help earlier.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Assistant Special Agent in Charge Margie Quinn told Judiciary Committee members that it is a widespread problem with 78 of the 95 counties in Tennessee reporting the presence of human sex trafficking during the last 24 months. The TBI has just completed a study of the matter. She said there is more human sex trafficking in the urban areas in Shelby County, Davidson County, Coffee County, Knox County, all which reported in excess of 100 cases of human sex trafficking in the last 24 months.

“Sixty-two of those same counties reported the presence of minor human sex trafficking,” Quinn said. “It is a significant problem when you compare it to the number of counties in 2009 that advised they had the presence of gangs in their counties. There are more counties affected by human sex trafficking than there are by the presence of gangs in our state.”

Bills passed in Committee and on the Floor of the Senate strengthen Tennessee’s sex offender laws

Several bills were approved this week with aim to strengthen Tennessee’s sex offender laws, including legislation passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee to clarify a Court may increase the sentence for rape of a child above the mandatory 25 years when appropriate. Currently, there has been confusion concerning additional punishment above the 25-year mandatory sentence for the crime. Senate Bill 755, sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), clears up any ambiguity. It spells out that rape of a child is a Class A felony and that punishment is subject to a minimum sentence of 25 years; however, the Court may increase the time when appropriate and in cases where the defendant’s prior history warrants an enhanced sentence of up to 60 years for the most egregious circumstances.

Likewise, the full Senate has approved Senate Bill 1938, sponsored by Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), which adds aggravated rape of a child and statutory rape by an authority figure to the list of offenses requiring HIV testing of the alleged perpetrator. Under present law, when a person is initially arrested for allegedly committing the offense of rape, aggravated rape, statutory rape, or rape of a child, that person must undergo HIV testing immediately. This bill specifies that testing must be performed no later than 48 hours after the presentment of the information or indictment and that it must be performed with or without the request of the victim.

The full Senate also approved Senate Bill 1051, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R- Riceville), which requires registered sexual offenders to notify their registering law enforcement agency before they leave the country and upon re-entering. This is the last part of the Adam Walsh Act Tennessee must pass to be in compliance with the federal law protecting children from child sexual predators. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation interacts with Interpol to notify the other country regarding the travel of an offender.

Finally, the full Senate has approved Senate Bill 1051, sponsored by Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), to ensure that convicted of sex offenders cannot contact their victim while they are in prison. The bill closes a loophole in the law which bans contact of a victim by the perpetrator upon release from prison, but does not clarify that communication cannot occur while the offender is jailed in prison.

Ballot bill would strengthen integrity of elections in Tennessee

The Legislature has approved and sent to Governor Bill Haslam legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) to strengthen the integrity of elections in Tennessee. The bill requires the Coordinator of Elections to compare the statewide voter registration database with the Department of Safety’s motor vehicle database to ensure non-United States citizens are not registered to vote in this state.

“This is the result of several years of efforts for us to abide by the constitutional requirement that only citizens of this country vote in this state,” said Senator Norris. “Other states have used this system with success.”

Under Senate Bill 352, if evidence exists that a registered voter is not a citizen, the Coordinator shall notify the county election commission who will send a notice to the voter inquiring about his or her eligibility to vote. The voter will then have 30 days to provide documentation regarding their citizenship. If the voter does not provide evidence of citizenship, that person would be purged from the voter registration database. The voter may appeal to the State Election Commission if they want to challenge the decision.

The U.S. Constitution already requires citizenship to vote. In addition, federal law makes it a crime knowingly to make a false statement or claim regarding citizenship upon registering to vote.

The bill, which also passed the House of Representatives, now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Minor parties — In other action, the State Senate approved legislation to make it easier for minor political parties to receive statewide recognition in order to place a slate of candidates on the ballot and hold a primary election. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), allows for voters to sign the petition to place a minor party on the ballot, regardless of whether they proclaim to be a member of that party. It reverses over 25 years of Democrat-led resistance to allowing more statewide parties on the Tennessee ballot.

“This bill eases the current qualification requirements for minor parties to be recognized,” said Senator Norris. “It eases requirements for those signing the petition and simplifies the timeline required. This eases the burden and extends the franchise to more Tennesseans.”

Prior to passage of SB 935, Tennessee law required a minor party to gain the signatures equivalent to 2.5 percent of the total number of those voting in the most recent race for governor. The law required those signing the petition to declare their party membership. The legislation changes that so any voter may sign the petition, regardless of association with the minor party.

The bill also gives a minor party wishing to gain recognition an additional 30 days to return their petition to the State Coordinator of Elections for their slate of candidates to be placed on the ballot. Currently, a minor party’s petition must be submitted 30 days before the two major parties filing deadline. The bill allows minor parties to simultaneously submit their petition to be recognized as a party on the filing deadline set for major parties, which is the first Thursday in April.

Finally, the bill gives the State Election Coordinator’s office 30 days to verify that the 2.5 percent is a valid number for recognition. If verified, the minor party would be allowed to have a primary in August. If there are not enough valid signatures, those individuals associated with the minor party revert back to independent status, and are listed on the ballot as an independent.

“This legislation gives minor party candidates more opportunities than any time in recent state history to be placed on the ballot and properly recognized,” added Norris. “I am pleased this legislation has been approved by the House and Senate.

The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

Bill stiffens punishment against looters who take advantage of storm victims

The Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced a timely measure in response to reports of looting taking place following the recent storms that tore through Tennessee. Senate Bill 1095, sponsored by Senator Steve Southerland (R-Morristown), provides a new offense whereby courts may require a criminal to perform public service at a disaster site as a result of looting. The bill authorizes judges to sentence a convicted looter who takes advantage of a natural disaster, like the recent storms, to public service work in addition to any fine or other punishment assessed by the court.

“We are talking about people who are victimized twice – once by the storms and then by criminals who take advantage of an already horrible situation,” said Senator Southerland. “This is a despicable crime when looters pick through the remainder of any items not already ravaged by the storm to steal. We must take additional steps to protect families who are already hurting and should not be subjected to this kind of criminal behavior. Hopefully, it will also help the criminal see the suffering associated with their crime. At the same time, this legislation will help our communities in cleaning up in the aftermath of the storms.”

The bill applies to looting which occurs during or within 30 days of the disaster and within the area affected, if the owner is unable to properly guard his or her property due to the destruction. The legislation also says that the person who violates the law under these circumstances shall be required to perform debris removal, clean-up, restoration or other necessary physical labor at the location of the disaster for a period of not less than 30 days or more than the maximum sentence authorized for the class of theft committed.

Additional counties declared federal disaster areas — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced this week that President Obama granted a request to declare 15 Tennessee counties as federal disaster areas due to a series of severe storms, straight-line winds, flash flooding and the record flooding of the Mississippi River, beginning on April 19, 2011. Benton, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Henderson, Henry, Houston, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, Montgomery, Obion, Shelby and Stewart were added to receive assistance for record river flooding

Senate Finance Committee approves McNally Resolution asking Congress to end unfunded mandates to states

The Senate Finance Committee approved legislation, sponsored by Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), asking Congress to submit to the states for ratification an amendment to stop the practice of passing unfunded mandates and programs to the states.

“States are struggling right now,” McNally added. “We cannot continue to fund federal programs or mandates without making substantial cuts to critical programs like education. Hopefully, this resolution will send Washington a message that states need stability in budgeting, rather than more federal mandates.”

The proposed amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 118, would ban unfunded mandates, except in a situation of financial emergency as declared by a two-thirds vote of theirnmembership. It would also prohibit the federal government from authorizing state participation in federal programs or services unless funding is guaranteed by the federal government for the full duration of the programs or services. If federal funds are not appropriated for the program or service, the law enacted or regulation promulgated would become null and void.

In Brief….

DUI / Blood Alcohol Testing — Legislation has advanced in the Senate Judiciary Committee which requires the testing of a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level in cases where the driver has previously been convicted of a DUI or when there is a child present in the vehicle. Tennessee’s DUI law already requires BAC testing when there is serious bodily injury to a victim or death. Senate Bill 1270, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), simply puts these two additional conditions into the law when testing must be performed, whether or not the driver consents. The test results may be offered into evidence, subject to the rules of evidence.

Fallen officers — The State Senate stood in a moment of silence on Thursday for the late State Trooper Andy Wall of Dickson, Tennessee who died last weekend in the line of duty. The Senate observed the passing of Trooper Wall and stood in a moment of prayer for his family at the request of State Senator Jim Summerville (R-Dickson).

Last week, the State Senate stood in prayer for the passing of Wartburg Police Captain, Ralph Braden, who was also killed recently in the line of duty. That recognition was done at the request of Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman). This week marks Police Week, a nationwide observance in which May 15th has been designated as Peace Officers Memorial Day to honor fallen officers.

Adventure Tourism / Rural Job Creation — The Senate Finance Committee has approved legislation to enact the Tennessee Adventure Tourism and Rural Development Act. The objective is to establish a plan for Tennessee to promote outdoor recreational opportunities in rural, high-employment areas of the state to create jobs. Senate Bill 1205, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), would direct the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Conservation and Environment to perform a study and create a plan to promote adventure tourism and other recreational and economic development activities in rural areas.

No state income tax resolution — A “No State Income Tax” amendment resolution was approved by the Senate Finance Committee and was read on the first of three required readings before the full Senate. The proposal would clarify that an income tax and a payroll tax are prohibited by the Tennessee Constitution if voters agree to amend the Constitution in a vote in 2014. Senate Joint Resolution 221, sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Collierville) specifies that the legislature as well as Tennessee counties and cities shall be prohibited from passing either an income tax or payroll tax, which is a tax on employers measured by the wages they pay their workers. In order for a constitutional amendment to pass, it must first be approved by a simple majority in both the House and the Senate this year. Then, it must be approved by a two-thirds vote in each chamber during the next General Assembly in 2013-2014 before it goes to voters for final consideration.

Cyberbullying — Two separate bills sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), strengthening Tennessee’s law against bullying and cyberbullying through the use of electronic devices, received approval in the State Senate this week. The action comes after several highly publicized cases of cyberbullying nationwide. The first measure, Senate Bill 488, clarifies that Tennessee’s elementary and secondary school laws dealing with harassment, intimidation, bullying and cyberbullying applies to after-school activities that create a hostile educational environment. The second bill, Senate Bill 487, calls for those convicted of using electronic devices to bully to serve up to 30 hours of community service work for transmitting or displaying an offensive image where there is a reasonable expectation the victim will see it. It would apply in cases where there is a malicious intent by a juvenile to frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress to the victim.

Foreign Refugees / Resettlement – The full Senate voted this week to require any entity or agency that administers the state’s refugee program to submit quarterly reports to state and local governments and appropriate legislative committees regarding certain resettlement information. Senate Bill 1670, sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R- Shelbyville), is designed to give city, county and state authorities information to help them plan for a variety of needs, including any demands on the education system or emergency services. Refugees are located as part of a federal government program to resettle those who have left their home country due to political or religious persecution. Last year about 1,800 refugees from 14 different countries were moved into Tennessee, with the same amount predicted this year. It does allow cities of counties to send a letter of request to the placement agency and the U.S. State Department regarding a particular resettlement within their boundaries.

Illegal Immigration / Government Benefits – The Senate State and Local Government Committee has approved Senate Bill 1325, sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R- Franklin), that authorizes state departments or agencies to verify the lawful status of an alien in Tennessee. Under the “Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act,” the agency could then prohibit an unlawful alien who is an adult from receiving any “non- emergency” taxpayer-provided benefits in Tennessee.

Meth vehicles – The Senate voted 33 to 0 this week to require notice must be given on the title of a vehicle in cases where it has been impounded due to the manufacture of methamphetamines. The notification must be made within 30 days of the impoundment. Senate Bill 266, sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), applies when meth has been manufactured on or within the vehicle. Under the legislation, the Department of Revenue would be required to issue a new title denoting that it has been used in the manufacture of meth, in the same way that notification is given for flooded vehicles, so citizens have adequate notice.

Voting machines – The full Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 1203 to allow cash- strapped Tennessee counties determine whether or not to replace their voting machines under the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act. The vote came after both Democrat and Republican county mayors from across the state expressed strong support for flexibility regarding the law due to the costs to taxpayers and the fact that the machines will have to be replaced again in the next ten years to comply with new standards from Washington. Statewide, administrators estimate it would cost Tennessee taxpayers a combined $11.7 million for storage, printing and transporting the paper ballots. The bill, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), allows counties who so choose to replace their equipment to tap into HAVA (Help America Vote Act) funds to assist them with the purchase, and relieves Tennessee taxpayers in cash-strapped counties from a mandate to purchase new voting machines immediately if they are not financially ready. More than $25 million in taxpayer dollars have been spent on purchasing DRE voting machines since 2005 which include an audit trail and have been deemed reliable by federal authorities and state courts.

Emergency Response – The Governor announced this week that the Department of Military, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment & Conservation, Department of Health (EMS), Department of Human Services, Department of Transportation, Department of Safety, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Civil Air Patrol, American Red Cross and Tennessee Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters are responding to the current flooding emergency and providing protective services to help local efforts. Heavy snow-pack melting and above average rainfall in the Midwest raised the Mississippi River to record lood levels along Tennessee’s western border at the end of April. The rising Mississippi River added to flooding already occurring in many middle and west Tennessee counties due to severe storms and tornadoes in mid-April. Additional information about state and federal assistance for affected counties will be released as details become available. For more updates regarding the state’s response, visit the TEMA website at

Revenue Collections — Tennessee revenue collections continued a very modest positive growth trend in April. Overall April revenues were $1.264 billion, which is $600,000 more than the state budgeted. Sales tax collections recorded the 13th consecutive month of positive growth dating back to April of 2010. The general fund was under collected by $6.9 million, and the four other funds were over collected by $7.5 million. Sales tax collections were $22.8 million more than the budgeted estimate for April. The April growth rate was positive 3.52%. For nine months revenues are over collected by $140.6 million. The year-to-date growth rate for nine months was positive 4.34%.

New Leader for Tennessee’s Achievement School District — The Tennessee Department of Education announced Chris Barbic, founder and chief executive officer of YES Prep Public Schools in Houston, Texas, as Superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD). Barbic will lead the state’s groundbreaking efforts to turn around the State’s lowest performing schools in order to ensure that all Tennessee students have the chance to receive a high quality public education that will prepare them to be college and career-ready. The newly created Achievement School District was set up under the “First to the Top” legislation passed during the General Assembly’s Special Session on Education in January 2010.

Local Ordinances / Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act — The full Senate approved legislation, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), to provide that no local government can impose on any business or person, other than its own employees, any personnel practice, definition or provision relating to discrimination that deviates from the requirements of state law. Senate Bill 632 also makes null and void any nonconforming requirements imposed prior to its effective date.