Democrats criticize Haslam for signing guns-in-parks bill

Democrats are criticizing Gov. Bill Haslam for signing the guns-in-parks bill, reports the Times-Free Press, including a tweet from House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, R-Ripley:

“Not vetoing #GunsInParks is an absolute failure of leadership.”

“All along the governor says one thing and then turns around and does another,” charged Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, in an interview. “And that’s just politics at its worst in my view. That’s what politicians do. And this on the face of it appears to be kind of cave in to the special interest groups, the NRA.”

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton was not as harsh in a long statement included at the end of the Commercial Appeal story on Haslam signing the bill. An excerpt:

“I’m disappointed in the legislation. I can understand precisely what the governor did: It would probably create a greater head of steam had he vetoed it. They (lawmakers) would have pulled right back together and did an override on the veto. But I’m very interested in what he said: It’s one thing to sign it but then look at it when it gets down to the local level, how do you operationalize it?

…Here’s what I worry about at the local level: Once someone is shot by somebody . . . in a park, they’re going to blame the police department. You know why? They’re going to say, your officer saw that man come in here with that automatic gun, yet your officer didn’t really watch him. If my officer watches him and he happens to be a black guy, guess what that officer just did. Profiling. How are we going to operationalize that, because we’ve got this law up here now out of the state about disproportionate minority contact.

Should TN Democrats abandon statewide primary elections?

Former Sullivan County Mayor John McKamey, who lost to “joke candidate” Charlie Brown in last year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, has proposed that Tennessee Democrats stop having primaries – and columnist Frank Cagle thinks that would be politically smart for the state’s minority party.

McKamey sent a letter to the Democratic Executive Committee recently that makes a lot of sense, so will no doubt be ignored. He proposes that the party do away with the statewide primary and have a convention in which the activist and committed members of the party could gather and pick a candidate that is credible and, well, possibly have a chance of winning. One that might be able to raise money. Get some control over who gets on the ballot to represent the Democratic Party.

A candidate picked in a convention wouldn’t have to spend money on a primary. Statewide candidates could focus on the Republican instead of spending it to prevent Democratic voters from electing Ace Aardvark because his name was first on the ballot.

Obama has pretty well destroyed the Democratic Party in Tennessee, producing a GOP supermajority in the Legislature, and Republicans as governor, in both U.S. Senate seats and in seven of nine congressional seats. The state has been trending Republican for some time, and Obama gave them the opening they needed to wrest control.

The Democratic Party these days is narrowed to the state’s major cities, where there are Democratic mayors in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville. The party elected Mary Mancini, a liberal more in tune with urban concerns, as the state chairwoman.

But outside these cities the picture is pretty bleak. Every election of late has merely added more Republican House and Senate members.

The party needs to try something and McKamey’s idea has merit….The Democrats have to convince some potential Democratic candidates that they will get the grassroots support and the money to be viable in statewide races. But any potential Democratic candidate running statewide has to know they won’t be defeated in the primary by Donald Duck.

Haslam says state will help push to cut Memphis poverty rate by 10 percentage points

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and other Memphis official smet with Gov. Bill Haslam and nearly half his cabinet Friday to talk about Wharton’s push to cut the city’s poverty rate by 10 percent in 10 years, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The mayor, city housing and community development director Robert Lipscomb and others told the governor and state officials they weren’t there asking for money but rather a “full partnership” with the state on the city’s “Blueprint for Prosperity,” a new approach to helping move more Memphis residents out of poverty. Its goal: cutting the city’s poverty rate from 27 percent to 17 percent in 10 years.

The plan takes a holistic approach to helping individuals and families increase income by creating jobs with living wages and reducing costs of living — through housing, transportation, education, health and other services.

“It’s not always a matter of being poor. Sometimes it’s about spending poorly,” Wharton said, recalling experiences as Shelby County’s longtime public defender.

…The mayor wants to integrate the work of a broad range of state agencies with similar services at the local level. As a result, Friday’s participants included the commissioners or other top representatives of the state departments of Transportation, Human Services, Mental Health, Health, Education, Environment and Conservation and Economic and Community Development, along with the Tennessee Housing Development Agency and the state’s Achievement School District, which operates several Memphis schools.

…The governor pledged the partnership and told the Memphis group he appreciates the approach and of involving the state “on the front end” of a long-range plan. He commended city officials for engaging cabinet members instead of just the governor’s office.

“We want to be your partner. For Tennessee to do well, Memphis has to do well. We realize there’s some unique challenges there that other places don’t face. We get that. There’s no overnight deal here. A long-term strategy is where we can help,” said Haslam, the former mayor of Knoxville.

…After the session in a Capitol conference room, Haslam said his administration has “been working hand in hand with Memphis as they work toward a new blueprint on a lot of issues, whether it is health issues, education, crime and others. So what I salute them for is reaching out up front and saying let’s be part of a plan together instead of calling us on the back end.

“There’s clear roles of what local governments should do and what the state can do, but we need to make certain that we’re utilizing all the resources we have. We are literally working on a strategy to say who’s going to do what to make sure that Memphis is the greatest city it can be.”

Sex club sidesteps new law by becoming a church

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Nashville swingers club has undergone a conversion — it says it’s now a church — in order to win city approval so it can open next to a Christian school.

The story began last fall, when a fixture in downtown Nashville called The Social Club sold its building and purchased a new one in a run-down office park several miles to the east.

The new building is geographically isolated at the end of a dead-end street, but it is near the back of Goodpasture Christian School, a large private school serving pre-school through high school children.

It might have been years before school officials and parents learned what was going on inside The Social Club — its website says it is “a private club for the enjoyment of both men and women … to engage in any sexual activity” — if someone had not sent anonymous letters to the school president and the local councilwoman. Both say the person who tipped them off claimed to be a concerned club member, although they don’t know that for sure.

Parents and religious leaders were called on to pack the Metro Nashville Council chambers to support a zoning change to prevent the club from opening. That’s when the club, which had spent $750,000 on the building and begun renovations, suddenly transformed into a church.

The United Fellowship Center’s plans are nearly identical to those of The Social Club but with some different labels. The dance floor has become the sanctuary. Two rooms labeled “dungeon” are now “choir” and “handbells.” Forty-nine small, private rooms remain, but most of them have become prayer rooms.

Larry Roberts is the attorney for the club-turned-church. He previously vowed to take the city to court. Now, he says, it’s the city that will have to sue.

“The ball is in Metro’s court … We’ve now gotten a permit to meet as a church, and a church is something that cannot be defined under the U.S. Constitution,” he said.
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AP story on Haslam signing ‘guns-in-parks’ bill

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Local governments in Tennessee can no longer bar people with handgun carry permits from bringing firearms to parks, playgrounds and sports fields under legislation signed Friday by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

In a letter to the speakers of the House and Senate, Haslam said he remains concerned about potential unintended consequences for local leaders, but called the final version of the legislation a “vast improvement” from when it was first introduced.

“The final version of the bill made clear that guns are not allowed at school-related activities taking place in parks,” Haslam said in the letter. (Note: Full text HERE.)

Critics of the measure disagree, arguing that the language is still vague because it bans guns “within the immediate vicinity” of school activities, but does not define a specific distance. The law carries no exemptions for playgrounds, greenways or ball fields where no school activities are taking place.

The contentious bill was drafted as a welcome gift from gun-friendly Tennessee lawmakers to the more than 70,000 people who attended the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Nashville earlier this month.

Democrats have been vocal critics, arguing it would endanger children playing Little League or climbing on jungle gyms.
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ACLU claims victory in lawsuit over TN parents picking a new name for their children

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Department of Health has agreed to let a Brentwood couple give their child the surname of their choice, bringing to an end a contentious legal battle that began last year.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of the parents, hailed the state’s decision as a victory for the rights of the couple.

“This is a free speech issue and parents should be able to name their children what they want to name their children,” said Tom Castelli, legal director for the ACLU of Tennessee.

The lawsuit against the state was dismissed Thursday and a birth certificate has been issued with the parents’ chosen surname, he said.

Dr. Carl Abramson and Kimberly Sarubbi sued in October after the state refused to allow the couple to give their third child the last name Sabr. The name is a combination of both their last names. Their two older children, who had been born in other states, were allowed to have the last name Sabr. But the state refused to put the name on their youngest child’s birth certificate, and instead listed the child’s surname as Abramson on the official birth record.

A state Attorney General’s opinion issued last year said Tennessee law does not allow the surname of a child listed on a birth certificate to contain only a portion of the father’s last name and a portion of the mother’s last name.

It’s not clear whether the state is interpreting the law differently and will now give Tennessee parents more leeway in deciding what last names they can give their children, or if this was just an isolated case where the government relented simply because officials wanted the lawsuit to go away.
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Bills signed by the governor through April 20 (third batch)

Here is a list of bills signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam from April 15 through April 20, as provided by the governor’s communications office. The April 15 listing includes some measures not reported in prior list of signings on that date.

April 15, 2015

HB29: Passed House as amended 93-0-1; Passed Senate 30-0-1
This bill permits a landlord to provide three days’ notice as sufficient notice of termination for eviction if the tenants engage in violent or drug-related activities.

HB135: Passed House as amended 91-0; Passed Senate as amended 30-1; House concurred in Senate amendment
This bill specifies that it is not an offense to kill or injure a threatening wild animal in self-defense.

HB277: Passed House 87-0; Passed Senate 32-0
This bill revises the property tax rate for the Trenton special school district.

HB384: Passed House 92-0-2; Passed Senate 33-0
This bill extends the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission until June 30, 2021.

HB399: Passed House 92-0-2; Passed Senate 32-0
This bill decreases the property tax rate for the Bradford special school district.

HB547: Passed House as amended 92-1-0; Passed Senate 31-0
This bill requires entities that process certain payment card transactions for a merchant to disclose certain details to the merchant regarding the agreement and the fees charged to the merchant.

HB639: Passed House 73-9-6; Passed Senate 27-0-1
This bill make applicable statewide the authority for a beer manufacturer to operate as a retailer at the manufacturer’s location or a site contiguous thereto.

HB817: Passed House 93-0; Passed Senate 33-0
This bill requires county election commissions to notify the Secretary of State’s Division of Elections prior to implementing an electronic filing process.

HB1385: Passed House 92-0-2; Passed Senate 32-0
This bill replaces the existing Madison County Civil Service Commission system with a new Civil Service Board.
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Haslam: Still concerned about ‘guns-in-parks’ bill, but I’m signing it anyhow

Gov. Bill Haslam today signed into law the “guns-in-parks” bill, though saying in a letter to legislators that he still has concerns about the measure (HB995).

“Overall, I believe the legislation in its final form is a vast improvement from the bill as initially introduced,” the governor wrote. “However, I am concerned that an unintended consequence may be the operational challenges for local leaders in managing their parks in a safe, consistent and effective manner, due to events and situations that could not have been anticipated in drafting this law.”

“I think that it is critical going forward that we work together with local leaders to assess the impact of this law and that we all listen and respond to the questions and concerns of those leaders as they work to implement it successfully,” Haslam said.

(Note: Text of the governor’s letter is available by clicking on this link: HB 995 letter )

Under provisions of the bill, the new law took effect upon the governor’s signature. Legislators originally intended to have it in place when the National Rifle Association held its annual convention in Nashville — but a series of legislative maneuvering delayed passage until after the convention left town.

As ultimately approved, the bill has some interesting provisions. The compromise plan was worked out by a House-Senate conference committee. It says, for example, that local governments can leave in place signs declaring that guns are prohibited in their parks, even though the sign is now invalid. And it’s it makes a stab at resolving a potential conflict with other provisions of state law that declare guns cannot be brought onto property being used for school activities.

As explained by The Tennessean:

After a lengthy back and forth — which included proposals to allow guns in the statehouse and to ban squirt guns or other imitation weapons around school property — lawmakers came up with a compromise that includes language about guns and school events at parks.

The bill says that someone with a handgun permit may not be within the “immediate vicinity” of a school-sanctioned event at a park while that event is underway. The law doesn’t define “immediate vicinity,” but says once that (once a) person is made aware that they are within that “immediate vicinity” they must leave (the person can store their gun properly and return and be within the law).

“Our administration raised the need for clarification of this issue during the legislative process, and it received additional discussion on the floors of the Senate and the House as local schools boards weighed it with concerns,” Haslam wrote in the letter.

“To the sponsors’ credit, they were receptive to these concerns, and the final version of the bill made clear that guns are not allowed at school-related activities taking place in parks.”

On the other hand, if there are children around for an event not related to school activity — for example, a Little League baseball game — the permit holder may bring his or her gun into the local park.

Legislators fail to agree on procedure for confirming governor’s judicial nominations

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The state House and Senate have failed to agree on a method for rejecting the governor’s nominations for judicial vacancies.

In one of the final acts of this year’s legislative session on Wednesday night, the Senate voted 4-1 with 27 abstentions on the measure (SB1) sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown. That means the Legislature won’t be able to act on the bill until next year.

Tennessee voters in November approved a constitutional amendment that included giving lawmakers the power to refuse gubernatorial appointments.

The 99-member House wanted to decide over appointments through a joint convention, but the 33-member Senate worried its power would be diluted by the lower chamber’s votes.

The state’s attorney general has said without a law, the Legislature gives up its right to refuse judicial nominees.

Republicans hail success of 2015 legislative session; Democrats deem it a disappointment

Gov. Bill Haslam and Republican leaders of the House and Senate held a news conference Thursday to declare the 2015 session of the Tennessee General Assembly a success. Democrats, on the other hand, proclaimed it a disappointment.

From The Tennessean:

New education money and a compromise with nearly unanimous approval on how to proceed on education standards embody some of the work lawmakers completed during the 2015 legislative session, completed Wednesday, that made the session a success, Haslam said.

“Entering this (session), if I had said we’re going to have a discussion about how we’re going to move forward on standards in Tennessee and there’s going to be that kind of consensus, everybody in this room would have said I don’t think that can happen. So I think that’s remarkable leadership,” Haslam told reporters.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Speaker Beth Harwell and the majority leaders from the House and Senate echoed Haslam’s optimistic review of the session. They pointed to the new $170 million for education, highlighted bills that revised the way the state pays and trains workers and pointed to the need for a new tax that Haslam said “levels the playing field” for Tennessee.

Ramsey, R-Blountville, said lawmakers focused on efficient government during the 28 days they officially worked, noting that’s the fewest number of days for a session since 1970. Harwell thanked her members for working together well.

“We have kept this state a low-tax state, a low-debt state, and we prioritized making this a business-friendly state,” Harwell said.

In contrast to the positive attitude of the GOP press event, Democrats bemoaned a session where they thought Republicans failed to pass any meaningful legislation.

“While the Democrats were working to pass Insure Tennessee, Republicans were focused on naming the state book and naming the state sniper rifle,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.

“This was unfortunately not a session in which the majority was able to produce the legislation that was needed to address the needs of the state.”

Further, from the Times-Free Press:
And Democrats blasted the guns-in-parks bill, which says cities may not stop handgun-carry permit holders from bringing firearms into local parks, ball fields and playgrounds.

A Democratic amendment to let permit holders to go armed in the state Capitol complex — added after a Democratic colleague accused them of hypocrisy — was stripped away before the bill passed.

Fitzhugh said lawmakers in the past “allowed those who control the parks, those who pay for the parks, to make their own decisions about what to do with the parks. That’s local control and this bill took it away. I think from that perspective, it’s ripe for a veto.”

Democrats bemoaned the failure of the tuition equality bill, but noted that they had blocked — for the third straight year — a plan to use public money to let low-income children in failing schools to attend private and religious schools.