Categories
Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Legislature Could Dash Cops’ Practice of Taking Cash

Tennesseans, and anybody else traveling in the state, would get protection from improper seizure of their property under a proposal in the General Assembly with backers across the political spectrum, the Huffington Post reports:

According to the libertarian law firm Institute for Justice, every state in the country has some version of a civil asset forfeiture law. Under (Rep. Barrett Rich’s HB 1078), Tennessee would be the first to abolish it. …

Much of the call for reform over the years has come from alliances between conservatives, who are appalled by forfeiture laws’ disregard for property rights, and progressives, who are alarmed by the laws’ tendency to encourage racial profiling on the highways and their disproportionate effect on the poor. Simply carrying a lot of cash, for example, is often seen by police as an indication of illegal drug activity, and the poor and undocumented immigrants are more likely to carry cash.

The bill would make it harder for law enforcement to make a traffic stop, then seize cash or other private property without ever charging the owner with a crime. The bill is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in a House Criminal Justice subcommittee.

The money pads the coffers of law enforcement, with the burden of proof on the individual if they’re interested in getting their money back.

“Guilty until proven innocent,” is how the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee describes the situation. “Under current Tennessee law, no standard of probable cause is required to seize and hold private property – a hunch is all it takes.”

The bill would require the issuance of a forfeiture warrant prior to seizure and a conviction before the property can be forfeited.

The legislation follows a series of investigations by NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams into what amounts to “highway shakedowns,” according to one expert interviewed by Williams. Using public records, Williams discovered that cops focused their efforts on the westbound side of Interstate 40 outside Nashville – where they were more likely to collect cash – rather than the eastbound side as drugs travel into the city.

Categories
NewsTracker

Youth Head-Injury Bill Clears Legislature

Legislation that would establish guidelines for addressing concussion injuries among young Tennessee organized-sports participants has cleared the General Assembly and is headed to the governor’s desk. 

Senate Bill 882 was substituted for HB867 in House Thursday. The measure passed in both chambers by overwhelming majorities – 90-3 in the House, 30-0 last month in the Senate.

“What this does is protect youth who are injured in sports with concussions,” Rep. Cameron Sexton, sponsor of the House bill, told the lower chamber Thursday. “Unfortunately, right now, there’s a lot of people in the United States and in Tennessee who do not know what a concussion looks like.”

The Crossville Republican said the bill would require any youth athletic program to establish concussion policies that include what information is given to all parties, as well as how to evaluate athletes suspected of suffering from such injuries.

The bill covers public or private elementary, middle and high schools, as well as “any city, county, business or non-profit organization that organizes a community-based youth athletic activity for which an activity fee is charged.”

“TSSAA [Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association] has had this policy in effect for the last three years,” Sexton said. “We’re just mirroring their policy for all youth sports in the state of Tennessee.”

In addition, all coaches, whether employed or volunteer, as well as school athletic directors and directors of community-based youth athletic programs would be required to complete an annual safety program on recognizing concussions and head injuries.

Sexton said the Tennessee Department of Health will develop the Internet-based course that will be free for users. It will include a “concussion signs and symptoms checklist” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If Gov. Bill Haslam signs the legislation into law, Tennessee would join 42 other states and the District of Columbia in having such provisions on the books, which received praise only from the Democrats’ side of the aisle.

Democratic House Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Shipley joined Rep. Dennis Powell of Nashville and Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis in commending the sponsor for bringing the bill.

Fitzhugh praised “a good bipartisan effort,” while Powell, who noted that he “suffered several concussions” while playing high school and college football, said he wished the law had been in place then.

Hardaway added that from his experience in coaching four youth sports, “there are instances where ignorance is a dangerous thing, especially in an authority figure that’s exercising the control over our children.”

However, others cautioned that legislating such policies is not necessarily a good thing.

Republican Rep. Mark Pody told the sponsor that while it’s a good bill, “I always have to ponder why we’re continuing to tell the locals what they have to do.”

The Lebanon representative, along with fellow Republicans Rep. David Alexander of Winchester and Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, voted against the bill.

“I think there’s good merit for the bill,” Holt told TNReport.com after the session. “But I think the bill did dabble into a little bit too much of a mandating sense. We can’t mandate everything about every potential liability that’s out there.

“I think that parents are smart enough. I think coaches and trainers are smart enough, and well positioned in addressing these issues without us having to file a piece of legislation that mandates it.”

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

Categories
Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Clandestine Video-Recording of Animal Abuse Spurs Bill Requiring Prompt Reporting

Legislation that would require individuals who record incidents of animal abuse to submit the unedited images to law enforcement within 24 hours is headed to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Brought by Rep. Andy Holt, an amendment to HB 1191 would make it a Class C misdemeanor punishable by fine only if someone fails to turn in a video or photographs taken of an animal being abused. Under Tennessee law, those found guilty of a Class C misdemeanor may be charged up to $10,000.

“This is a bill that I think has a legitimate purpose in the state and actually does a lot to quantify and clarify what should be done in an instance where a person should record evidence of animal abuse,” the Dresden Republican told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, which passed the bill Wednesday on a voice vote.

Rep. Ron Travis, a Republican from Dayton, asked about an amendment that he’d heard would exclude the media from the 24-hour requirement. Holt said one was presented to him, but he opted not to adopt it. Travis said he would not be able to vote for the bill without such an amendment.

Chairman Ron Lollar also seemed concerned that the amendment that would exclude the media wasn’t added. “I do feel that there will be some more discussion at some point on this without the amendment. I think we need to look at it closely,” said Loller, R-Bartlett.

Holt said he brought the bill because of “radical animal activist groups” who have spent months taking videos of animal abuse before notifying anyone.

Hold did not mention any specific incidents. But in May 2012, an undercover video of a Tennessee walking horse trainer abusing horses in Collierville aired nationally. An investigator with the Humane Society shot the footage.

The second-term representative recognized that in “some cases there has been abuse” recorded. Holt said he wanted it noted that “I think animal abuse in any form is reprehensible.

“That is why I want to bring this bill forward. Instead of being backed into a corner like I have some kind of defensive position where I want to protect those who are abusing animals, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Holt questioned why months should elapse before animal abuse is reported when the same does not occur when it comes to reporting child abuse or apprehending a murder suspect.

“I think this is something that we need to be doing, not only to protect our animal industries here in the state against these animal activists that have caused great economic harm to some, but also to protect the animals themselves. That is the ultimate intention of this bill,” Holt said.

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

Categories
NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Bill to Block College IDs for Voting Draws Dem Doubts

Questions from Democrats about the true intent of legislation drafted to clarify Tennessee’s voter ID law peppered discussion in a House committee Tuesday.

The legislation would have allowed voters to use college IDs as a form of accepted identification. The bill would rewrite a section of the current code that blocks their use. In HB 229’s original language, college IDs were simply not mentioned.

Rep. Jeremy DurhamJeremy Durham

However, that changed with freshman Rep. Jeremy Durham’s amendment that “basically just eliminates the college IDs part of the bill,” Durham told the Local Government Committee. “I think it’s good public policy to make sure the right people are voting.”

The amendment drew a slew of questions from Democratic committee members as to the true intent of the bill.

Rep. Bo Mitchell, of Nashville, made the argument that state-funded institutions of higher learning are “part of the state of Tennessee” because they receive funding from the state.

“There’s plenty of people who get direct money from the state, but I don’t want them to write down on a napkin who’s qualified to vote,” Durham, R-Franklin, said.

Rep. Larry Miller, of Memphis, was one of three Democratic members to ask either Durham or House sponsor Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, if they could describe any “real-world occurrences” where students had committed fraud using college IDs to vote. Neither could provide an example.

When Rep. Mike Stewart, of Nashville, asked Durham for an example of a problem with college IDs, Durham said, “I suppose that the real problem is if we stick with just state and federal, I think that’s better than having 20, 30 different forms of ID from all these different state-funded universities.”

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, of Memphis, questioned what effect the bill may have on a decision before the Tennessee Supreme Court regarding the use of photo library cards as acceptable ID. The bill forbids using them to vote as well.

“A court decision would not affect the current law,” Lynn said. “A judge is not a lawmaker, and a judge can’t just deem that local IDs are acceptable if the General Assembly has passed a law saying that they are not acceptable, and the governor has signed the law.”

The companion bill, SB125, passed the full Senate last week. However, it allows college IDs to be accepted as valid forms of identification but disallows library cards and out-of-state IDs.

Because the two chambers’ versions differ, it is possible that a conference committee will be appointed to try and reach an agreement, which is necessary before final passage is possible.

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

Categories
Featured NewsTracker

Conservative Group Backs Effort to Ban Mountaintop Mining

Legislation to protect Tennessee’s mountains has new, if somewhat unexpected, support: the Tennessee Conservative Union.

Citing the involvement of the “Red Chinese” in mountaintop removal mining, the conservative organization has launched a statewide media effort to ban the harvesting of coal by blowing the tops off Tennessee’s mountains.

“Tennessee has become the first state in our great nation to permit the Red Chinese to destroy our mountains and take our coal,” a gravelly, male voice warns in the ad released by the TCU, alluding to a Chinese company reportedly indicating an intention last year to invest in the Tennessee-based Triple H Coal Company.

According to the company’s website, Triple H is “one of the fastest growing coal mining operations in the Tennessee Coal Mining Reserve. We supply the increasing demand for clean coal energy to the U.S. domestic market as well as rapid expanding emerging markets such as China. Triple H’s Tennessee mines cover a surface area of over 30,000 mineral acres and consist of nine seams that are located throughout the Tennessee Coal Reserve.”

An email to the company asking for comment went unanswered.

The conservative Tennessee group joins environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices in pushing back against mountaintop removal.

Appalachian Voices is eager to work with “anyone who supports protecting Tennessee’s mountains,” said JW Randolph, director of the Tennessee branch of the environmental group.

“From my perspective, we don’t care if they’re from China or Chattanooga – they can be from anywhere. Blowing up mountains is a bad idea,” Randolph said. “The fact that everybody from the most liberal and progressive people in the state support protecting our mountains, and the most conservative people in our state support protecting our mountains, I think, gives me a lot of hope.”

The “Scenic Vistas Protection Act,” HB43/SB99, sponsored by Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, would seek to prevent mountaintop removal operations by prohibiting the issuance of water quality control permits for certain projects. The bill would affect projects altering ridgelines at an elevation higher than 2,000 feet above sea level.

That’s on the low end of the height range for the Great Smoky Mountains, which range from 875 feet to 6,643 feet – the elevation of Clingmans Dome.

According to the bill, previously issued permits for mountaintop removal activities could only be renewed by the original applicant. The measure doesn’t expand or change the allowed surface area of mining operations or previously allowed actions and is not otherwise against the law. The bill also does not allow permits to be transferred from one person to another.

Although both the bill’s primary sponsors are Democrats, it appears to have at least some bipartisan support. Two Republicans in the House have signed on as co-prime sponsors: Bill Dunn, of Knoxville, who has been honored as the TCU Legislator of the Year, and Bob Ramsey of Maryville.

Gloria JohnsonGloria Johnson

“I think that the citizens – the majority of citizens of Tennessee – are supportive of that bill and don’t want to see any more mountaintop removal,” Johnson said.

During the 2012 legislative session the bill was sent to a summer study panel, where no action was taken on it.

The bill, important because of its intent to “preserve” one of the state’s “greatest assets,” has been heard before the state Legislature in various forms over the last three years, said sponsor Sen. Lowe Finney, of Jackson.

“What you’re seeing is a lot of people realize that this is an issue that can be addressed, that should be addressed and people from all over the state are taking an interest in it,” said Finney, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Coal could be mined more responsibly, and it would benefit Tennesseans to not destroy and desecrate one of the powerful symbols of the state’s history, said Charles White, an active member of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. He added that coal can be mined in other ways that would provide more jobs and be more “environmentally” cost-effective.

“It’s high time for our elected officials to give this legislation a chance to be discussed by the full House and Senate,” White said.

The Scenic Vistas Act is scheduled to be heard in both the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources committee and the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee Wednesday.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, also have a bill (HB0875/SB1139) that aims to stem water pollution from surface mining. The bill would prohibit the issuance of permits that allow mining waste within 100 feet of any stream’s high water mark. The bill has not been scheduled for a hearing.

Categories
Health Care NewsTracker

Governor’s Workers’ Comp Revamp Chugging Forward

Gov. Bill Haslam’s pro-business workers’ compensation reform legislation sailed through committees in the House and Senate last week and is headed for the next round of hearings in both chambers this week.

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge
Rep. Jimmy Eldridge

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, chair of the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee, said the “Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013” must pass through four more committees before reaching the House floor.

“I’d like to see this bill go to give all the members of the Tennessee General Assembly on the House side the opportunity to engage in the conversation and good debate on this important piece of legislation,” said the Republican from Jackson.

Despite its passage, it was clear not every member of Eldridge’s committee thinks the bill addresses the issues businesses say are driving costs upward.Tennessee workers' comp bill

“Where we’re messing up is in our medical costs. This bill doesn’t address that at all,” Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner told the committee. “I don’t care what they tell you, they’re not telling you the whole truth about this bill.”

House Bill 194 passed the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee along party lines, 7-3. Its companion, SB 200, sailed through the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, 9-0.

Jeff Bates, managing partner of TA Staffing in Nashville, and Brian Hunt, general manager of Southern Champion Tray in Chattanooga, both addressed the House committee in favor of the reforms.

Bates said 10 percent of the claims his company sees take 75 percent of money paid out for workers’ comp.

“You have to protect the truly injured worker, but at the same time you can’t have lingering claims controlling and bogging down the system to the point where it costs three to four times as much to settle a claim in Tennessee as it does in other states,” Bates said.

Hunt said 70 percent of the injuries at his company are “categorized as strains and sprains. They also account for 79 percent of our compensation dollars.” He noted that over the past five years the company has shelled out indemnity payments totaling nearly $1 million.

Rep. Kevin Brooks, who presented the bill on behalf of House sponsor Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, said these issues emerged from a two-year study:

  • Tennessee’s rates are higher than neighboring states.
  • Employees are being harmed by lengthy delays in the current system.
  • Employers and employees are having trouble “navigating what is a complex and difficult workmans’ compensation system.”

Rocky McElhaney, a Nashville attorney who spoke on behalf of the Tennessee Association for Justice, said higher costs were a “red herring” to distract from harm to workers.

Rocky McElhaney
Rocky McElhaney

“Since the 2004 reforms, benefits paid to injured workers in Tennessee have already decreased 41 percent,” McElhaney said. “We’re paying workers less on average than our competing states.”

McElhaney said payments to physicians are actually what’s driving costs. He said state statistics showing how long cases take to adjudicate were skewed because only a sampling of cases were used.

In 2012 cases took 166 days start-to-finish on average, down from 309 days in 2008, McElhaney said, citing data from the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Rep. Glen Casada disputed the claim that the bill is heavily skewed toward employers.

“We as legislators must look at the macro of this, which is when Goodyear leaves, and their number one statement on why they left was workmans’ comp costs,” the Franklin Republican said. “All of a sudden, we’re not looking at dozens, we’re looking at 1,900 that are no longer here in Tennessee working.

“If that were to have a ripple effect, Bridgestone, Nissan – and I could go down the list – all of a sudden thousands of folks that work no longer have jobs in Tennessee. That is my concern.”   

HB 194 goes before the House Government Operations Committee Tuesday. SB 200 goes before the Senate Government Operations Committee Wednesday.

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

Categories
Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Bills Easing Helmet Requirement, Increasing Seatbelt Fines Advance in Senate

Bikers over 25 who have met safety requirements would be able to ride sans helmet, under a bill that advanced Thursday at the Capitol.

The Senate Transportation Committee also voted to bump up the fine for not wearing a seatbelt, from $10 to $50.

The helmet bill, SB548, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, would allow older bikers to ride helmet-free if they meet minimum insurance requirements and complete a qualified safety course, as well as pay a $50 fee to the state.

The committee approved the measure to ease helmet restrictions by a vote of 6-3.

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, questioned whether the insurance requirements were high enough considering the cost of “traumatic brain injuries,” and speculated that the state may have to cover long-term health costs of those injured in an accident while not wearing a helmet.

Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, disagreed that any fiscal issues applied to the legislation.

“It’s obvious that if you’re not wearing a helmet, you’re in the morgue,” Niceley said. “That’s bad, that’s terrible, but that’s not something where we need to worry about dollars here. We can’t worry about that side of it.”

“It makes the undertakers money, but it saves the state money,” he added.

Sen. Bill Ketron said his seatbelt bill, SB 847, is needed to promote safety.

With the second lowest fine in the country for not wearing a seatbelt, Tennessee saw a decline of 4 percent in seatbelt use over the year 2011, the Murfreesboro Republican said.

Conversely, Ketron said, Washington state has the highest fine in the nation and the highest percentage of seatbelt usage.

“I know some people don’t like wearing them, but it is our law,” Ketron said.

Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said she thinks that people should be able to take care of themselves in situations like this without a law to guide them. Beavers said an increase in seatbelt enforcement would distract law enforcement from more important issues.

The committee approved the bill, 5-4.

Both bills have their next hearings in the Senate Finance committee.

The House bill to reduce the helmet restrictions for motorcyclists has already passed the House Transportation committee. The House version of the seatbelt bill is still awaiting a hearing.

Categories
Business and Economy Featured NewsTracker

House Limits Local Authority on Wage-Setting Mandates

Despite a rather testy exchange between the two parties’ caucus chairs about the “Tennessee Wage Protection Act” on the House floor Thursday, the bill passed 66-27-1 and heads for the Senate committee process beginning next week.

The chamber’s approval moves House Bill 501 one stop closer to ending a four-year battle to prohibit cities and counties from setting wages, family leave and insurance benefits that private businesses must offer employees as a condition of obtaining local-government contracts or operating in the jurisdiction.

“These are issues best left up to the state and federal governments, not local government,” Republican Caucus Chair Glen Casada said.

If the bill becomes law, it would nullify regulations passed in Nashville and Shelby County requiring businesses contracting with those governments to offer a certain level of wages and benefits to employees.

“Once again we have a piece of legislation that will tie the hands of the local government. You are preventing them from being able to negotiate good contracts,” said Democratic Rep. Larry Miller, whose amendment to exempt his home of Memphis and Shelby County was tabled.

The issue of prevailing wages brought Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner to the floor. He grilled Casada on whether he knew what a prevailing wage was, and a touchy back and forth ensued.

According to the bill, when awarding contracts local governments cannot “require a prevailing wage be paid in excess of the wages established by the prevailing wage commission for state highway construction projects in accordance with title (state law) or the Tennessee occupational wages prepared annually by the department of labor and workforce development, employment security division, labor market information for state building projects.”

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, of Memphis, questioned the differences in the costs of living in Shelby County and Crockett County, population 14,500, and suggested the local officials there know what’s best for their workers.

Casada fired back: “If a local government, and I’m not going to use any names, mandates 30 bucks an hour for a construction job, that drives up the cost of that construction, and it causes that entity go further in debt. In turn, that causes taxes to go up on the taxpayers of that community. This bill is an attempt to stop that.”

Parkinson complained of the hypocrisy he perceives in the Republican-run Legislature dictating mandates on local governments when often GOP lawmakers criticize federal intervention in state affairs.

“When the federal government puts things on us that take away personal freedom or economic freedom, that’s wrong,” Casada replied. “When local government does the same invasion on local folks, it’s up to us to protect the citizens of the state.”

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick got in the last word before the vote. Decisions made by local governments reach beyond their jurisdictional boundaries, he said.

“Big cities affect the whole state. They don’t just affect their city limits,” the fifth-term Republican from Hixson said. “They are economic generators for the surrounding counties. That alone is reason enough not to let them set up some little people’s republic in some city in the state of Tennessee.”

The vote went mostly along partisan lines. Republicans siding with Democrats against the bill included Mark Pody of Lebanon and David Alexander of Winchester. Joining them was Kent Williams, an independent. Charles Curtiss of Sparta was the only Democrat to vote in favor of HB501.

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

Categories
NewsTracker

On Food Tax Cut, Another Option

A bill aimed at encouraging Tennesseans to eat healthier by eliminating the sales tax on unprepared foods like fruits and vegetables is headed to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee next week.

But House Bill 484 still has a steep hill to climb before becoming law because of the huge estimated drop in tax revenue – more than $90 million for state and local governments. Still, Rep. Ron Lollar, chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, said there is a possibility some version of it could be rolled into Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiative to reduce the sales tax on groceries another quarter of a percent.

“The premise behind the bill is we can still be conservative fiscally and reduce sales taxes, but also incentivize Tennesseans to purchase the kinds of food that would help incentivize them to eat well,” Rep. Ryan Williams, the bill’s sponsor, told the committee Wednesday afternoon.

Williams explained that the bill would eliminate the sales tax on unprepared food such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, raw meats or “things that are called building block ingredients, like flour, dried beans.

For example, if someone bought a bag of apples, a fresh chicken and a gallon of milk for $10, she would pay only $10, not $10.53, which is what it would cost today with the 5.25 percent sales tax added.

“We’re 12th in the nation in obesity. Last year alone, we spent $216 million in TennCare alone just to treat diabetes among Tennesseans,” Williams said.

The Cookeville Republican acknowledged that the fiscal note “is huge,” but said he is working with the Department of Revenue on ways to reduce the amount or the foods on which the taxes would be eliminated.

The fiscal note, which is attached to the Senate companion, SB550, predicts that the net decrease in state revenue for fiscal year 2013-2014 would be almost $87.5 million, while the net decrease in local revenue for the same period would be $3 million.

Williams explained that one of the challenges with the fiscal note is that unprepared food can be defined differently in economics than they are to the consumer.

“For example, a Milky Way® bar is defined as candy, while a Twix® bar is defined as food because it has flour in it,” Williams said in an interview after the committee meeting.

However, he said that the Department of Revenue has given him some ideas on how to narrow the definition of unprepared food as it relates to the bill to have less impact on the reduction of revenues.

Lollar acknowledged that the bill could be killed once it reaches the finance committee of either chamber.

“We’re not saying that it would definitely fit in with the governor’s plan, but it would certainly have an opportunity with this bill to then go on and explore some items in the cuts that the governor’s already set forward.”

SB 550, sponsored by Republican Sen. Frank Niceley from Strawberry Plains, is on the Monday calendar of the Senate Tax Subcommittee of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

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

Categories
Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Sanderson Seeks to Curb Self-Service Beer Sales

Troubled by the age-old problem of underage drinking, Rep. Bill Sanderson is pushing a bill to clamp down on grocery stores that use self-service lanes.

The Kenton Republican has put forward a proposal to limit self-checkout lanes – “Welcome, valued customer. Please scan your first item.” – to six per attendant. Sanderson says House Bill 304 will deter youths who scan a six-pack of Coca-Cola, then sneak a six-pack of Bud into their grocery bags.

Bill Sanderson

“The notion that one person can oversee an infinite amount of self-checkouts is not even practical,” Sanderson said Tuesday before the House Local Government Committee gave the nod to his bill. “So, this legislation says that if you’re monitoring self-checkouts it should be limited to four self-checkout lanes if you are selling alcohol in that store.”

The Senate version, sponsored by Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, is pending a hearing in a Local Government subcommittee.

But retailers already limit the number of self-checkout lanes they have in operation per employee, a lobbyist for the grocers told lawmakers, and a majority of stores in the state have no more than six per attendant.

“I would say that stores are watching those, and monitoring those in a way that they don’t want an infinite number of checkout stands for one person,” Jarron Springer, with the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, said. “But I think each individual store probably has a different determination on their number.”

Sanderson’s bill comes as the nation sees a drop in drunk-driving fatalities.

Thirty-two states including Tennessee recorded a decrease in drunk-driving fatalities from 2009 to 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nationally, deaths were down 4.9 percent.

The trend holds true among minors, with alcohol-impaired driving fatalities among youths down 60.7 percent since 2000, according to federal numbers tracked by the Century Council, a distilleries group.

Committee chairman Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, questioned the practicality of the legislation. After all, store workers are already required to check the ID of anyone buying alcohol before the checkout process can be completed.

Hill said that he was concerned that the state was “using the government to mandate the number of employees” stores employ.

During committee discussion, several legislators seemed supportive of the bill on the grounds that it would address the issue of alcohol accessibility to minors.

Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, likened the decision of grocery retailers to abide by their own guidelines in this situation to allowing them to determine their own rules in other areas.

“So, if we just say that we should just allow industry to just conduct their own measurable accountability in all these situations, maybe we should do away with several other programs as well, because businesses can just institute that for themselves in home,” Holt said. “Food safety, inventory controls, responsible vending, all of these things.”

Reps. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin; Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville; and Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, requested to be recorded as voting no on the measure.