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Some Teachers Could Carry Guns Under Bill Passed by Legislature

Legislation drafted by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration that would give local boards of education the authority to allow certain teachers to carry firearms into the classroom heads to his desk for his signature.

House Bill 6 passed the Senate 27-6 on Thursday, with Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey joining Democrats in voting no.

Kelsey is chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee, where the “comprehensive” amendment that rewrote the bill was drafted. The House signed off on the new version later in the day.

The legislation would allows teachers or staff members who meet four criteria to carry a firearm of any kind onto a school campus – provided the person receives written authorization from the director of schools and the school’s principal. (See criteria list below.)

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Once the person has met all of the requirements and receives permission, the director of schools has 10 days to notify the head of the appropriate local law enforcement agency information about this individual. These are the only individuals who will know which teachers or staff members are carrying, an issue with critics of the bill.

“I truly believe your constituents who have children in school would like to know if the teacher has a gun in the classroom,” said Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis.

Republican Sen. Mark Green, who came up with the amendment in committee, disagreed.

“A person who is intent on assaulting a school, one of the best pieces of information that person could have is where guns are in the school and where they’re located,” said the senator from Clarksville. “Keeping that information private protects the students in that school.”

However, each year the director of schools will be required to submit a report to the two chambers’ chief clerks a report containing just the number of schools and persons participating.

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, questioned whether or not the amendment placed any restrictions on the type of guns a school employee may legally carry.

“No, it did not. It simply mentions firearms,” Kelsey said.

“So a teacher could carry an AK-47 or an Uzi fully automatic if they so chose?” Campfield asked.

“Yes, the language drafted by the administration would allow a teacher to carry an AK-47 in the school,” the Germantown senator replied.

“Far be it from me to stand in the way of the governor,” Campfield said.

Campfield, who ended up voting for the bill, also noted that currently there are currently only about 100 teachers throughout the state who might meet the qualifications to carry a gun to school.

“I support the concept of this, but I really think it’s so watered down and weak, it really doesn’t do any of the goals that we all have,” he said. “And actually by shutting off all information to find out if its successful or not, we’ve neutered it about as much as it can be neutered.”

In his closing remarks, Kelsey said, “You’re not really providing true safety to anybody with this type of approach that’s half-hearted at best. If we’re truly are concerned about safety in our schools, then we’re going to have to suck it up and pay for it.”

Just before the vote, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, who sponsored the legislation in the upper chamber, noted that the amended bill “represents the consensus language from the governor, the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce and Insurance, the Sheriff’s Association, the school boards and the Chiefs of Police. Now if that many people can agree on this, it can’t be all bad.”

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.

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Press Releases

Kelsey Renews School Voucher Push

Press Release from Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, Oct. 11, 2011:

(NASHVILLE, TN), October 11, 2011 – State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) today announced he will push passage of legislation to give low income students in Shelby, Davidson, Knox, and Hamilton counties an “Equal Opportunity Scholarship” to attend the school of their choice. The education reform measure is the 2nd in a series of announcements by Kelsey in his “12 for ’12” initiative, a list comprised of 12 bills he will introduce for the 2012 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, which begins in January.

“Equal Opportunity Scholarships provide impoverished children with hope for a better education and choice in the school they attend,” said Senator Brian Kelsey. “Children should not be forced to attend a failing school just because they live in a certain neighborhood. Equal Opportunity Scholarships will allow all children to receive the quality education they deserve.”

Senate Bill 2135, filed today, is similar to Sen. Kelsey’s bill that was approved by the State Senate in April. The House Education Subcommittee decided to study the bill further before acting on the bill in January. Kelsey said the main difference in the new bill is the addition of an accountability measure to ensure that schools receiving the scholarships will be measuring academic success. He added this provision in response to suggestions from many community voices.

“The bill is gaining new supporters every day,” said Sen. Kelsey. “I look forward to passing this legislation through the House of Representatives next year.”

Senate Bill 2135 applies to students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch in the four largest counties in the state. For a family of four, that would include students in households with incomes below $42,000 per year. The scholarships would be in the amount of half the money that state and local school systems spend on each child, which amounts to $5,400 per year in Memphis City Schools, $4,200 in Shelby County Schools, $5,400 in Nashville Schools, $4,600 in Chattanooga Schools, and $4,300 in Knoxville Schools. The scholarship money could be used to attend any school that parents choose, including parochial schools, independent schools, or other public schools within the district if space is available.

In the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, students receiving the scholarship graduated at a rate 12-20% higher than those low-income students who lost the lottery to receive a scholarship. Also, twenty-one of the twenty-two empirical studies of the effects of opportunity scholarships on public schools have shown that public school student scores increase 3-15% when opportunity scholarships are offered.

“We now have solid data from other states showing this program works to significantly boost student achievement,” added Sen. Kelsey. “That’s why so many other states are now passing this law.”

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is set to release his version of the bill for that state later today. A similar bill was enacted in May in Indiana, and huge expansions of the program passed earlier this year in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, and Washington, D.C.

“This train is moving. It’s time for Tennesseans to jump on board,” concluded Sen. Kelsey.

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Press Releases

Ramsey Announces Judicial Evaluation Commission Pick

Press Release from Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, Aug. 16, 2011:

(Nashville) – Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey today announced the appointment of attorney J. Gregory Grisham to the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.

A highly qualified and experienced attorney, Grisham is currently a partner at Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan in Memphis. Admitted to practice before both the Tennessee and United States Supreme Courts, Grisham has represented employers in state and federal trial and appellate courts and before administrative agencies and arbitrators in 27 states.

“Maintaining a quality judiciary in Tennessee is of paramount importance,” said Lt. Gov. Ramsey. “The reality is that our laws are only as good as those interpreting them. Having great legal minds like Mr. Grisham on this commission go a long way to keeping judges accountable to the law and to voters.”

Mr. Grisham is very involved in the judicial selection issue, having organized several public programs on the subject and most recently participated in a panel discussion for the Conservative Heartland Leadership Conference.

Active in his local Federalist Society chapter, Grisham has served as a leader of the Tennessee State Court Project and as a member of the organization’s executive committee on labor and employment practices.

Grisham is a graduate of both the Cecil Humphreys School of Law and the University of Mississippi’s Masters of Business Administration program. Since 2007, Grisham has sat on the Tennessee Advisory Committee for to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He has twice been recognized by Law & Politics Magazine as one of the Mid-South’s “Super Lawyers.”

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) was effusive in his praise of the appointment.

“The lieutenant governor has made an excellent selection,” said Kelsey. “Mr. Grisham is an outstanding attorney, well-versed on the issues surrounding judicial evaluation. I’m happy to see his talents put to service for the state.”

The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission reviews the performance of appellate judges using surveys, interviews and other information, as required by law. The Commission uses these evaluations to publish a report in which the Commission recommends appellate judges for retention or replacement. Of the nine members of the Commission, two are appointed by the Speaker of the Senate, two are appointed by the Speaker of the House and five are appointed by the Judicial Council.

Among the qualities the commission looks for in the judges are integrity, knowledge and understanding of the law, an ability to communicate, preparation and attentiveness, service to the profession, effectiveness in working with other judges and court personnel.