Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2014 reelection campaign netted only about a $120,000 gain in the first six months of the year because of expenditures that included payments to three campaign workers who were also on the state’s payroll.
The campaign reported $347,913 in contributions from Jan. 15 until July 1 of this year, along with $226,968 in spending. Thanks to earlier fundraising and an $8,320 carryover from the 2010 campaign, the governor’s re-election fund still had a balance of more than $2 million cash on hand.
The disclosure also shows Haslam is continuing to list $3.5 million that he personally put into the 2010 campaign as a loan to the 2014 campaign, meaning he can use surplus funds from the 2014 effort to repay himself with campaign money if he chooses.
So far, Haslam has no announced opponent to his reelection.
Top donors on the contributor list include Tom Beasley, a founder of Corrections Corporation of America, and his wife, Wendy, and Joseph Gregory of Piney Flats, part of a family that became wealthy through King Pharmaceuticals, and his wife, Lucinda. Each donated $7,600, the maximum permitted by state law for an individual.
Tennessee employers, public and private, are declaring that the state’s “guns in parking lots” law, which took effect July 1, does nothing to change policies prohibiting their employees from bringing weapons onto their property, even if they have a handgun carry permit.
That has prompted Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a leading supporter of the new law, to declare that he will “probably” support an anticipated push to change the law next year to clarify that permit holders cannot be fired solely for having their gun in a locked car in their employers’ parking lots.
That runs counter to the declared wish of Gov. Bill Haslam that gun laws in Tennessee remain at the “status quo” in the 2014 session with no new gunfights.
“I hate that the attorney general has muddied the waters on this,” said Ramsey, who said he has been receiving complaints from employees of Eastman Chemical Co. this summer who were upset that the company’s prohibition on guns in parking lots is unchanged.
He referred a formal legal opinion from Attorney General Bob Cooper in May that says the new law — while forbidding any criminal prosecution of permit holders complying with its provisions — will have no impact on Tennessee law that otherwise generally allows a company to fire an employee “at will,” for any reason or no reason.
(Note: This updates, expands and replaces earlier post)
State attorney general Bob Cooper says a new state law protecting handgun permit holders from criminal prosecution for keeping their guns in locked cars still leaves them vulnerable to being fired by employers who prohibit weapons on their premises.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the opinion, made public Wednesday, “ignores the clear legislative intent of the law.” (Note: full text of opinion HERE)
John Harris, president of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said Cooper’s analysis is correct and echoes points that Second Amendment advocates raised during legislative debate, only to be ignored by Republican legislative leadership.
The attorney general’s opinion, requested by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, also addresses four legal questions raised about the so-called “guns in parking lots” law enacted earlier this year.
Two of them were the subject of considerable debate, including amendments offered on the House floor by Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, who had Harris’ help in drafting them.
State Rep. Jeremy Faison says he will sponsor legislation next year to lower the legal standard for a presumption of drunken driving in Tennessee from 0.08 blood alcohol content to 0.05 as recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.
“I think it’s an important thing to do. What we’ve been doing is not working and we have tens of thousands of Americans dying because of drunk driving,” said Faison, R-Cosby.
The NTSB this week recommended that states lower the threshold for a presumption of drunken driving from 0.08 to 0.05, the standard already in place for more than 100 other countries around the world. No state currently has a 0.05 general standard.
Faison said Tennessee was among the last states to lower its DUI standard from 0.10 to 0.08 and being the first to drop the standard to 0.05 would position Tennessee as leader in combating drunken driving instead of a follower.
While there has been “an awful lot of emphasis lately on guns with high-capacity magazines” in crime, Faison said drunken driving causes far more violent death and thus deserves far more attention “if we’re going to champion life.”
The legislator, who serves as vice chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, said his personal interest in the subjects dates to the death of his sister, Becky, in an accident caused by a drunken driver a week after her 16th birthday, when he was 14.
“He (the drunken driver) basically got off with probation,” said Faison, who said he would otherwise like to see DUI laws strengthened to include seizure of a first offender’s vehicle. Current law provides for seizure of a vehicle only after multiple convictions.
“If the punishment doesn’t outweigh the pleasure of the crime, people are going to keep on doing it,” he said.
The Legislature earlier this year voted to require for the first time that first DUI convicts be required to obtain an ignition interlock device, which requires the driver to take a breath alcohol test before his or her car will start.
According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Office website, fatalities caused by alcohol-impaired drivers declined by 31.8 percent in Tennessee from 2007 through 2011 — or from 377 to 257 in that period. The preliminary figure for 2012 is 246 fatalities involving an alcohol-impaired driver.
The office also says that Tennessee Highway Patrol arrests for DUI increased by 25.4 percent from 2007 through 2012.
Faison said he will either file a bill lowering the standard to 0.05 next year himself or sign on as a co-sponsor to a more senior member willing to push the measure.
Faison, who is in his second term as a representative, said he that “with the way things work” a veteran lawmaker likely would have a better chance of success with passage of a potentially controversial measure.
After long and contentious debate Monday night, the House joined the Senate in approving legislation that clears the way for a new moonshine distillery in Gatlinburg and a whiskey distillery in Chattanooga.
The bill (SB129) also allows new distilleries to locate in other cities that have approved liquor-by-the-drink and liquor package stores. Under a prior law enacted in 2009, only county governments – not cities – were allowed to authorize distilleries.
Sponsor Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, said the measure originated with Chattanooga officials desire to have a brand called Chattanooga Whiskey, now made in Indiana, manufactured in its namesake city even though Hamilton County has not authorized distilleries.
It was expanded to allow a new moonshine distillery, Sugarlands, to locate in Gatlinburg, even though local officials have turned down its application and make what Carr called “cleanup” revisions to state alcoholic beverage laws. Gatlinburg already has Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery operating near the site of the proposed Sugarlands distillery, which counts Nashville lobbyist David McMahan as a minority investor.
Thirteen amendments were filed on the House floor to change the bill. Only one was adopted, but that will send the bill back to the Senate for concurrence. The adopted amendment, proposed by Carr, says a distillery cannot be located within 2,000 feet of a church or school – unless the local government having jurisdiction decides to set a shorter limit. That is the same rule that now applies to beer sales, Carr said.
One of the rejected amendments, filed by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, would have had the effect of blocking Sugarlands by declaring local governments could reject a distillery application. Faison said the bills was influenced by “high-powered people who have a lot of money” and should not be “dictating” how many distilleries a town can have for “high-powered corn in a jar.”
“This amendment creates a monopoly in a particular part of the state. That’s a fact,” responded Carr, reminding colleagues that the Ole Smoky operators ran a newspaper ad charging that legislators were trying to “sneak through” a bill to curb local control over liquor.
Faison’s amendment was killed on a 55-28 vote. Other rejected amendments included one by Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, that would have prohibited distilleries and wineries from selling their products on Sunday.
The bill itself passed 57-31 with six lawmakers abstaining.
Legislation that would exclude newer cars and trucks from annual emissions testing sounds good to vehicle owners and to state lawmakers, who whisked it through a Senate committee and House subcommittee last week, reports Andy Sher. But state regulators and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry are nearly choking over the potential impact on existing and future businesses in six affected counties including Hamilton County, home to Volkswagen’s assembly plant.
In addition to Hamilton, Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties, and Memphis, require vehicles to pass annual emissions tests to get tags.
The county and city governments adopted the tests and other measures to comply with 2009 federal ozone standards aimed at improving air quality and health.
Receiving a “non-attainment” designation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can impact existing businesses or scare off new companies that might have to install costly pollution control equipment.
“We are opposed to the bill,” Wayne Scharber, the Tennessee Chamber’s vice president for environment and taxation, said last week.
The bill to exempt vehicles in the three most recent model years raised a dust storm in the House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Senate Transportation Committee last week.
“I understand that Volkswagen is under very stringent restrictions to stay within a certain [level] that EPA has put on them,” said Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer.
“If we stop doing this, is that going to put that particular facility in danger of being over the level that the EPA has given them … and consequently will that cause them large expenditures to get back underneath their limit there?”
Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation outlined a chain of circumstances they said could affect Volkswagen and other companies in the six counties and Memphis.
Barry Stephens, director of the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, said the state runs a complex model on sources of ozone emissions. The EPA awards credits for certain actions to keep down the emissions.
“If you remove certain model years [of vehicles], then they reduce the amount of credits you get for the reduction,” Stephens said. “So if you remove three years, then we’ve got to find those tons [of emissions] somewhere else.”
That could come by requiring heavier vehicles now exempt from emissions testing, he said, or from requiring “stationary” source of emissions — power plants, heavy industry and petrochemical manufacturers — to cut back.
A small throng of protesters gathered at War Memorial Plaza on Sunday in a rally organized by conservative activists, including tea party members, to oppose extending TennCare to tens of thousands of Tennessee families, reports The Tennessean. They claimed that an expansion would undermine small government values and inflate the national debt. On a bright and breezy day, about 100 demonstrators carried handwritten signs suggesting that their anger stretched beyond the issue of TennCare expansion with messages like “entitlement programs create more dependency and harm.” Many of the speakers blasted President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul as an instance of the federal government overstepping its constitutional powers.
“There are always well-intended groups suggesting that we abandon our principles contrary to sound conservative judgment,” said Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, who filed a measure in the House to bar the state from expanding TennCare. “That’s the exact mindset that got our country into the dire fiscal straits we face today.”
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais spoke in broad terms about how Obamacare represents “the socialization of our health care system.” Asked by reporters after he spoke about his position on TennCare expansion, he said he opposes it. “To look at history and say, ‘let’s double down on a failed policy’ doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
For more reporting on the rally, see Andy Sher, and WPLN.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill to allow Tennesseans with handgun carry permits to store loaded firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked cleared its final legislative committee Wednesday before a full House vote.
The House Civil Justice Committee approved the measure on a voice vote. Supporters argued that companies still could prohibit employees from bringing weapons on their property, but the bill would eliminate criminal charges against violators.
“We’re not setting a policy of how a business deals with its employees,” said Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, the bill’s main sponsor in the House.
Legislative attorney Thomas Tigue said the bill would not alter company policies.
“If your employee manual says you can’t drink at work, and you’re over 21 and it’s legal for you to drink, you can still suffer employment consequences,” he said. “This bill does not affect what does happen or does not happen.”
The Senate approved its version 28-5 earlier this month as GOP leaders have sought to avoid a repeat of last year’s drawn-out fight between gun advocates and the business community.
A House panel on Wednesday quickly advanced a bill that would block employers, businesses, colleges and churches’ ability to bar handgun-carry permit holders from storing firearms in vehicles parked on their property, reports the Chattanooga TFP. But the bill’s sponsor acknowledges that nothing in the measure would prevent employers from legally firing permit-holding workers who keep guns in their vehicles while on the job.
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, said the Senate-passed bill doesn’t protect permit holders from Tennessee’s existing “at will” employment law.
That law allows employers to fire, suspend or discipline workers for any reason, good or bad, or for no reason at all.
“We are not going to dictate policy-setting at a business,” Faison said in response to a question posed to him during the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.
Faison said “if a business decides to fire someone or to reprimand someone, that is their rule. … You can fire, this is an at-will state and they’ll still be able to do whatever they want with a person who has a gun in their car.”
Speaking to reporters later, Faison said, “I would discourage [businesses firing workers] and I hope that businesses won’t go that way. I would say if there was an uprising in the state and you started seeing people being fired left and right I wouldn’t be surprised if the Legislature revisited it.”
But he said, “I don’t know of any company who’s just eager to go fire their employees. They already know who has guns” and don’t do it now.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill to prevent businesses, schools and colleges from banning firearms in their parking lots was approved by a House subcommittee after a six-minute hearing on Wednesday.
The measure, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, would give the state’s 390,343 handgun carry permit holders the ability to store firearms in their vehicles parked on company or school property.
Faison argued that permit holders who undergo background checks and meet training requirements are “worthy of carrying … and keeping a gun.”
Democratic Rep. Sherry Jones of Nashville was the only member of the panel to raise questions about the measure and to convey her opposition when the bill was advanced to the full House Civil Justice Committee on a voice vote .
“So you could go to church, school, drive down to the guy’s house down the block? Any restaurant, any business anywhere?” she asked, referring to those storing firearms in their vehicles.