By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal to strip employers of the right to ban firearms on company property is advancing again in the House, even though Gov. Bill Haslam says he doesn’t think it will pass.
The amended measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. Eddie Bass of Prospect passed out of the House Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee on a voice vote on Tuesday.
The original bill would have allowed people to store legally-owned firearms in vehicles parked at work — regardless of their employers’ wishes.
The new version would limit the bill to people who have a state-issued handgun carry permit. It is similar to the companion bill that was withdrawn from consideration in the Senate.
However, Bass said he’s talked to the Senate sponsor and he’s agreed to revive the legislation, which has a provision that would allow individuals with state hunting licenses to store their firearms on company property.
Acquiring a handgun carry permit involves a training course and background check, while any state resident can order a hunting license off the Internet for $27.
Bass said Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Kingsport, has also agreed to remove the hunting license provision to comply with his House proposal.
Haslam and Republican speakers of the House and Senate have argued that the proposal is too broad.
House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville said she hasn’t had a chance to review the amended bill, but promised to give it a fair hearing, regardless.
“The bill is moving through the committee, which is what I promised would happen,” she said. “And I believe … both sides are being able to voice their opinion.”
Haslam said he doesn’t believe the legislation will pass this year.
“I just don’t think it will make its way through the committees and get voted on and approved on the floor,” said the Republican governor.
Supporters of the legislation backed by the National Rifle Association say they consider vehicles an extension of workers’ private property, even if they are parked on company lots.
Darren LaSorte, manager of hunting policy for the NRA, said he doesn’t like the fact that the amended bill would “disenfranchise a few million hunters or a few million target shooters,” but he’s glad to see it moving.
“Ultimately, this is about self-defense in Tennessee,” he said. “The only way you can really defend yourself with a firearm is to have a permit because you can’t have loaded firearms in your vehicle without one.”
Opponents of the measure contend it would actually create an unsafe working environment.
“If employees have ready access to a weapon on the grounds, if there’s a fight, if there’s a disgruntled former employee, all they have to do is go out to the parking lot and get their weapon,” said Michael Moschel, an attorney representing the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce. “If they weren’t allowed to have a weapon in the parking lot … they would at least have to go home and maybe have some time to cool down before they could use their weapon to hurt other workers.”
Frank Fischer, the CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga plant, told The Associated Press in an interview on Monday that he’s not comfortable with the legislation.
He said the guns-in-parking-lots measure is a rare instance where the German automaker has been at odds with Tennessee lawmakers.
“On the whole, the cooperation and mutual understanding has been excellent,” Fischer said. “The only thing we see critically as a company is the guns law.
We would not welcome people being able to carry weapons on factory grounds, probably just as little as the state House or Senate would like people to enter their building armed.”