Monthly Archives: May 2009

Bredesen Vetoes “Guns In Bars” Bill

With a group of law enforcement officers and district attorneys general standing behind him, Gov. Phil Bredesen on Thursday vetoed a bill that he said violates a basic safety premise: “Guns and alcohol don’t mix.”
The bill in question, HB962, would allow handgun permit holders to take their weapons into establishments that serve alcoholic beverages. It passed the House and Senate by lopsided margins.
“The notion that this bill would permit one to carry a concealed weapon into a crowded bar at midnight on a Saturday night defies common sense and I cannot sign such a measure into law,” Bredesen said in a veto message signed before the applauding audience of policemen and prosecutors.
Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who sponsored the bill in the House, said he would move promptly to override the veto next week. Only a simple majority of 50 votes in the House and 17 in the Senate is needed to override.
The bill passed the House 66-23 in its final version. The Senate approved the measure in a 26-7 vote.
“I think they’ll stick,” said Todd of those backing the bill with their votes.
Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said he would review the governor’s comments before taking action because “I owe him that much respect.” But he strongly defended the measure.
“Realistically, the Legislature has given this a great deal of time and thought and did this without passion or emotion. We did this based on facts,” he said. “What the facts show is that the law-abiding citizen who is permitted and armed is not a threat.
“It’s the bad guys who are a threat,” Jackson said, adding that such people already ignore the law.
The senator also noted that permit holders, while allowed to enter alcohol-serving establishments under the bill, are still prohibited from drinking when carrying guns.
Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen IV was on hand for Bredesen’s news conference and signing of the veto message, along with police chiefs of Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga. Owen is currently president of the state association of police chiefs, which was holding a meeting in Nashville Thursday.
“This is a matter of safety for officers and citizen safety,” Owen said.
Memphis Chief Larry Goodwin referred to two recent murders in Memphis where the alleged killers held handgun carry permits.
“In Memphis, we’re keeping score. It’s handgun permit holders two, unarmed citizens zero,” he said.
Bredesen acknowledged there is “the great potential, probably the likelihood” that his veto will be overridden, but said he felt obliged to try to get legislators to “re-think” their support of the bill.
“He’ll probably get overridden,” said House Speaker Kent Williams, who voted for the bill.
“I hate to vote against the governor on any issue, but this passed by a pretty large majority,” Williams said. “The governor is doing what he feels he needs to do. He’s entitled to his opinion. It counts almost as much as the Legislature’s (opinion).”
This is the sixth veto by Bredesen, but the first to involve such a high-profile issue. The topics included such matters as building codes for two schools in Henry County and persons eligible to serve on the Board of Licensing Contractors.
None of the prior vetoes was overidden.

Judicial Selection Bill Clears Senate and House

The Senate voted 27-5 Thursday to set up a revised system for selecting the state’s top judges. The House approved the same bill a few hours later on a 58-38 vote.
In both chambers, debate was long and sometimes testy.
The House added one amendment to the Senate version, meaning the bill must now return to the Senate next week for concurrence.
Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, the House sponsor, said he believes the Senate go along with the change. If so, SB1573 will go to Gov. Phil Bredesen, who has indicated support for the proposal.
With his signature, one of the most contentious issues of session would be put to rest for the bill’s two-year life span.
In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, and Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville.
Backers characterized it as a compromise that will avoid chaos in the judicial selection system if nothing is done. The Judicial Selection Commission, a centerpiece of the current system, is scheduled to cease to exist on July 1.
In the Senate, passage came after defeat of an amendment proposed by Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, that would have required popular election of the state’s Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges. The vote was 12 for the amendment, 22 against.
A similar amendment was also defeated in the House when offered by Rep. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown.
Also in the House, former Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, proposed an amendment that would have rewritten the bill to restore the present system as it stands. Naifeh won a preliminary vote, but then withdrew the amendment after McCord said the Senate was certain to reject the idea and create an impasse.
The bill creates a new commission to nominate persons to become judges. The new panel will have fewer lawyers and none of them must represent special lawyer interest groups, as is the case under the present system.
It also requires meetings of the commission to be open to the public, another change from the current system.
Under the bill, the governor could get up to six nominees for his consideration to fill a vacancy.
Under the Senate version, the governor could ignore the recommendations of the commission and “reach down” to pick any lawyer who had applied for the judgeship in question after stating his “good cause” reasons in writing.
The House amendment removed the “reach down” provision and that will be the issue when the bill returns to the Senate next week, probably on Monday.
During House debate, Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, an opponent of the bill, warned that a vote for the bill would be politically damaging. In the Senate, Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, made similar comments, comparing a vote for the measure to voting for a state income tax or against proposed amendment to the state constitution pushed by anti-abortion activists.
On the other hand, Norris declared in the Senate that opponents were “playing to the audience” when the bill is the only practical means of assuring stability in the court system.
Norris said he plans to push an amendment to the state constitution that will more properly establish a judicial selection system based on retention elections and screening of candidates by a commission. Many conservative legislators contend the present system – and the one created by the bill – violates the state constitution.

Senate Passes Judicial Selection Overhaul

After extended debate, the Senate voted 27-5 today to set up a revised system for selecting the state’s top judges.
Approval of SB1573 came after the Senate defeated an amendment by Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, that would have required popular election of the state’s Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges. The vote was 12 for the amendment, 22 against.
Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris portrayed SB1573 as a temporary compromise to a controversy that has gone on for years, more intensely in the past year.
As things stand now, the Judicial Selection Commission will cease to exist on July 1. Under the current system, the commission nominates three persons for a judicial vacancy and the governor must pick one of them.
The bill sets up a new 17-member nominating commission, including seven non-lawyers. Under the current system, the selection commission members must be appointed from a list submitted by various attorney organizations. That is not a part of the bill.
Another provision of the bill lets the governor pick from six nominees and, if he or she explains “good cause” for doing so, pick anyone else who applied for the job.
In the House, debate on the bill began about an hour after the measure passed the Senate.

Republican Majority on Election Commission Approved

The House’s 50 Republicans, including Speaker Kent Williams, united today to give their party control of the State Election Commission.
SB547, which has already passed the Senate, would add two Republicans to the commission, which now has a 3-2 Democratic majority. With the 50-45 approval of the House today, the bill now goes to the governor.
Democrats roundly criticized the bill. For example, Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville, said it was part of a Republican “assault” on the election process.
House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower, however, said the bill is fair. Republicans now have a majority of legislative seats and control all 95 county election commissions.
If Democrats win a majority of legislative seats in the future, Mumpower said the bill will apply to give Democrats a majority on the State Election Commission.
At one point, Rep. Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, proposed an amendment to give Republicans and Democrats two seats each on the commission with one seat for an independent, who would be chosen jointly by the four partisan commissioners.
Kernell’s amendment was killed with all 50 Republicans voting against it and the 46 Democrats present for it. Kernell said he plans to bring the proposal back as a separate piece of legislation next year.

Bredesen Budget Update: The Press Release

Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration began briefing legislators today on a finalized state budget plan that includes proposal to abolish 717 filled state government job positions and 656 empty slots.
The administration also put out a news release on the plan. Here it is:
NASHVILLE – Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz today provided an overview of the administration budget amendment that will be filed later this week. Goetz delivered the overview in meetings of the Tennessee General Assembly’s House and Senate Finance Committees.
“As revenues have continued to deteriorate, we’ve had to identify an additional $112 million in savings from the current year’s budget and $161 million in savings for the FY 2009-2010 budget,” said Goetz. “However, under this proposal, we can still forestall some of the most painful reductions in state services and delay the immediate implementation of some of the planned staffing reductions. For example, the amended budget will allow us to restore key positions in the Department of Children’s Services and provide recurring funds for safety net services in the Department of Mental Health.”
The restoration of planned cuts to the Department of Children’s Service’s preserves 361 full-time employees in group homes and youth developmental centers. In the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, $10 million in recurring funds will provide mental health safety net services, including crisis stabilization and mobile crisis units.
The restorations to the Children’s Services and Mental Health budgets will be offset by $38 million generated through changes proposed in the administration’s technical corrections bill. The majority of the funds – $21 million – would be realized by improved efficiency of local gross receipts business tax collections.
“We’ve studied the effectiveness of this business tax administration closely, and we project a significant increase in collections, increasing both the state and local government shares, while holding county clerks, who realize fees from the collections, harmless with no loss of revenue,” said Goetz. “This would result in an additional $21 million in collections for the state and an additional $25 million for local governments with absolutely no change in the tax rate.”
Other aspects of the technical corrections bill that would offset the restoration of cuts to Children’s Services and Mental Health would close loopholes for national companies that sign hardware and software maintenance and warranty agreements out of state to avoid taxes; remove the exemption that currently allows cable companies to avoid paying taxes on cable boxes; and make business long distance tax rates equitable to the rates already paid by individuals.
Goetz said the state’s workforce will be reduced by approximately 700 currently filled positions over the next fiscal year. The positions are among those previously identified by state agencies in preparing the proposed budget that was presented to the legislature in March. Approximately 700 additional positions previously identified but currently unfilled would also be eliminated.
Other priorities funded in the budget amendment include an allocation of $13 million to assist in the acquisition and development of the West Tennessee Megasite in Haywood County, $5 million to convert the Saturn Northfield administration building into an advanced manufacturing technology education center.
In addition to the revenues generated by closing tax loopholes, the state anticipates approximately $16 million in increased TennCare federal matching dollars due to the state’s current unemployment rate.
The budget plan calls for drawing from the state’s reserve accounts while preserving sufficient cash to help ensure Tennessee can manage through the current national economic recession. The state’s Rainy Day fund, currently at a balance of $750 million, would decrease by $180 million to help close the current budget year and decrease by an additional $50 million in FY 2009-2010 to a balance of $520 million. Reserves from TennCare, currently at $474 million, would decrease to $347 million at the end of the current fiscal year and to $341 million in FY 2009-2010.
Additionally, as state agencies begin preparing their FY 2010-2011 budgets this fall, the state will be looking for even further budget reductions. Goetz said the cuts that will be made in the next budget are those for which state agencies have already planned and prepared.
“We know we’ll have to make more reductions as we prepare the next budget later this fall, but we believe this approach resolves the current budget challenges,” said Goetz. “The amended budget for FY 2009-2010 will allow us to reduce state spending according to department-prepared plans while restoring some of the most painful planned cuts in key areas like Children’s Services and Mental Health. It will also preserve the significant reserves that will be required if revenues continue to deteriorate.”

House Democrats Cave to GOP on Election Commission; Challenge on Budget

House Democrats have decided to back down from confrontation with Republicans on one issue while posing a challenge to the opposing party on another.
House Democratic Leader Gary Odom told a party caucus meeting today that, after a round of discussions, he now recommends that Democrats go along with passage of HB845, which adds two Republicans to the State Election Commission. That will give the GOP control of the commission, which otherwise would remain with a 3-2 Democrat majority until 2011.
Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris had declared that, if Democrats continue to hold up approval of the bill, Senate Republicans will hold up passage of a bill to continue the existence of the Election Commission itself. The commission, as things stand now, will “sunset” on July 1 unless the Legislature votes to renew it.
The result, Odom said, is a “dilemma” for Democrats – either go along with a Republican majority or face the prospect of abolishing the commission, which could lead to an array of problems in the state election system.
Going along with the Republicans, he said, “is the best option we’ve got.” The bill is scheduled for a House floor vote Thursday after being delayed for weeks. It has already passed the Senate.
Added House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner: “They’re trying to stack the Election Commission, obviously…. I’m going to have a hard time voting for it, but I probably will.”
On the other hand, Turner said he has told House Republican leaders that at least 30 members of the party must vote for Gov. Phil Bredesen’s budget “or we’re not going to vote for it either.”
Democrats do not want Republicans to make campaign issues out of the harsh cuts in the budget and the revenue-enhancement measures proposed to avoid further cuts. The budget calls for “tough decisions” and Republicans need to join in making them, he said.
House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower, who sponsors the Election Commission expansion bill, said is only logical for the GOP to have a majority on the commission since they have a majority in the Legislature and a majority on all county election commissions.
As for the budget challenge, Mumpower said the administration first needs to provide full details on what is in the budget – a process that got underway Wednesday.
Beyond that, he said, “I think the onus is on the governor’s party to carry the bulk of the weight on passing the budget.”
He said there is a “good chance there will be many Republican votes for the budget.”
“I am not – and my Caucus is not – looking to make a partisan issue of this budget,” Mumpower said. “We recognize there is a need to make the best of a bad situation…. I appreciate the governor stepping up and making some tough recommendations.”

Oscar Brock on Kent Williams

In a response to an earlier posting, Republican state Treasurer Oscar Brock, candidate for state GOP chairman, sends the following email on the possibility of bringing House Speaker Kent Williams back into the party fold:
I am manifestly opposed to allowing Kent Williams to run as a Republican next
year. Williams used deception to gain power. He abused the public trust. He
abandoned critical principals that I hold dear and I am very unlikely to ever
trust the man. He has proven that he has no honesty, no integrity. And for
those reasons, I cannot respect him.
The decision to remove Kent Williams from the Republican Party was a State
Executive Committee decision. I supported the resolution we passed to remove
him from the party. We are a member-driven committee, and no effort to
re-instate Kent Williams to the party without the overwhelming support of our
committee will have my support.
Thanks for allowing me to correct the record.
Oscar Brock

Kent Williams on RNC Chair Michael Steele

In response to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steel’s vow to “take out” House Speaker Kent Williams for his “betrayal” of the GOP, Williams today issued this statement via press release:
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has publicly stated that he is going to take me out. He came in from Washington to speak in Kingsport, Tennessee. I believe it was his first trip here ever. I was not present when he made his remarks and he has had no contact with me. I have never met the gentleman. Still, I have been asked by the press for comments on his remarks.
Based on a Kingsport Times-News online poll it does not appear that his remarks resonate with the people here in Tennessee, or at least in the area where he made his remarks. The poll showed that 72% of the people disagreed with Mr. Steele’s remarks about me. Perhaps this is because of my actual performance on the job.
I have made it my goal to move past all the rhetoric and distractions and focus on issues that are important to the people of Tennessee. I have remained true to the core principles of the Republican Party.
I own a small business and as reported in the Tennessean earlier this year I have a 100% voting record with the National Federation of Independent Businesses. I am a supporter of Second Amendment Rights to bear arms. Under my tenure as Speaker, I have guided to the House floor legislation which has allowed legally permitted handgun owners to carry their guns in additional areas for their self-protection.
I am a supporter of SJR 127, the pro-life constitutional amendment. We have moved to the floor of the House and passed for the first time ever Senate Joint Resolution 127 allowing the people to vote on a pro-life amendment to our constitution. Under our constitution it takes a second vote by another General Assembly to actually put the proposed amendment on the ballot for a vote by the people. I hope to be here in the next General Assembly to cast another vote for this resolution.
I do not want government involved in all aspects of our citizens’ lives. I am a proponent of a small, efficient government. I believe in balanced budgets, where we live within our means. I believe in working to improve our schools, bringing in and keeping good jobs and keeping the government off the backs of working families.
Perhaps, it is because of my record, my holding to these core principles that keep the people here in Tennessee supportive of me and not the politics of Washington telling them to think otherwise.
This is a challenging time in our history. I will not let rhetoric and outside distractions keep me from the work we have at hand. The people of Tennessee expect and deserve our very best as we move our state forward.
Let’s all work together to address the challenges before us.

‘Guns in Parks’ Bill Goes to Governor

The House gave final legislative approval Tuesday to a bill that will allow holders of handgun carry permits to take their weapons into state, local and national parks.
Approval came when the House voted 54-41 to accept Senate amendments to the measure, HB716.
The key change was in treatment of local parks. The House had voted earlier to continue the current prohibition on carrying firearms in local parks, but to give city councils and county commissions the right to authorize guns in all or part of each park the government controls.
The Senate version legalized the carrying of guns in all local parks, but gives each local government body the right to continue the prohibition if a majority votes to do so.
Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, sponsor of the bill said the change is consistent with a bill approved earlier allowing guns in restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages, unless the restaurant owner posts signs prohibiting weapons. Local governments can now “opt out” of having guns in their parks, just as restaurant owners can, Niceley said.
But critics said the bill still means the state is dictating to cities and counties about situations in their parks.
“Here we are also stepping on the toes of local government,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville.
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill had cleared the way for permit holders to take their guns into state parks. Both bills also have a provision authorizing guns in national parks, provided federal laws permit. Congress recently approved a law that will allow handgun permit holders to take their weapons into national parks if state laws allow.
Also given final approval was a bill (HB390) that gives handgun permits holders broader protection from prosecution for carrying rifles and shotguns, with ammunition, in their cars or trucks. That came when the House approved Senate amendments with an 83-12 vote.
As amended by the Senate, the bill allows permit holders to carry a rifle or shotgun in cars and trucks with ammunition in the magazine, though not in the chamber.