Nichole “Nikki” Goesner first appeared on the Tennessee political stage during the 2009 debate over “guns in bars” legislation, invited by a state senator to tell the story of how her husband was killed in cold blood as she watched and how she has wished ever since that she had a pistol in her purse on that night.
“Had I not been disarmed, I could have had a chance to save Ben,” she writes as she retells the story in the recently published book “Denied a Chance: How Gun Control Helped a Stalker Murder My Husband.”
In her mind, Goesner writes, she constantly replayed scenarios in which she would have acted differently if the .38 she was licensed to carry had been with her. It was left in her car because state law at the time forbade carrying a gun into a restaurant where alcohol was served.
She was there to help her husband, as a second job in the evenings, run a karaoke operation. He was setting up the equipment when she spotted the man who had been stalking her, she writes, and asked the manager to evict him. The manager was talking with him when the man turned, unzipped his jacket, pulled a .45 from underneath his coat and shot her husband, who fell on the first blast and then was shot another five times.
State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says Republicans showed an inclination to “put petty politics above the safety of our students” during the legislative session by killing one of his bills.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada says that’s not so and Fitzhugh is “seeing a ghost behind every tree.”
The bill in issue (HB494) passed the Senate unanimously and cleared House committees system until it reached the Calendar Committee at the end of the session, where Casada declared it unneeded and “duplicative” of present law. He made a motion that, in effect, killed it for the year. The panel’s Republican majority backed him, scuttling the bill.
As amended, the bill declares that the Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission and the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy, upon request of any school system, will provide advice on school security systems.
Fitzhugh said the move was retaliation for his vote against the state budget bill.
“This was a good bill that had bipartisan support throughout the legislative session. Had I known they would take it out on our students and teachers, I would have voted for their budget,” Fitzhugh said in a news release distributed by the House Democratic Caucus.
“Republicans leaders warned us about voting against the budget, but I never thought that in the wake of the horrors at Sandy Hook that they’d risk the safety and security of our children and grandchildren just to prove a point,” he said.
Casada said, when asked last week, that was “absolutely not” the case. Current law already allows the POST Commission to give advice to schools and the bill was “just playing politics” by Democrats seeking to claim credit for enhancing school security.
Current law apparently contains nothing that would prohibit the POST Commission from offering security advice to school systems, but nothing that explicitly authorizes it either.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to redraw Tennessee’s judicial districts for the first time since 1984 was killed on Friday when House members voted against it.
The lower chamber voted 66-28 to defeat the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol. The companion bill was approved 27-4 earlier this month.
The plan from Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville would affect 22 counties in eight districts. The number of judicial districts has been reduced from 31 to 29.
Most of the House members against the measure said they felt if they were being dictated to by the Senate, particularly Ramsey.
“This bill came from the Senate, plain and simple,” said Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton. “They have been dictating from the get go how this session should run. Let’s draw a line in the sand. Vote no on the bill, because it’s not our bill.”
The proposal included input from the public and stakeholder groups and would have created separate judicial districts for Rutherford and Williamson counties because of population growth in the Nashville suburbs over the last three decades.
Two judicial districts in northeastern Tennessee made up of Lake, Dyer, Obion and Weakley county would be merged into a single district. Meanwhile, Coffee County would cease to have its own district and instead be folded into one with Cannon, Warren and Van Buren counties.
Ramsey has said the changes were not expected to affect the positions of existing judges, but that the elimination of two judicial districts will reduce the positions of two prosecutors and public defenders.
He estimated the cost savings of eliminating those four positions would be more than $600,000.
Rep. Tim Wirgau said before Friday’s vote that he’d like to see the measure held off for at least a year and lawmakers consider a plan where redistricting is done every two years or longer.
“Let’s put something in place so there’s a standard,” said the Buchanan Republican
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A bill calling for a comprehensive study of lawmaker allowances has been killed in a House committee after unanimously passing the Senate.
Republican state Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville made the motion in the House State Government Committee on Tuesday to delay consideration of the measure until after the Legislature adjourns next year.
The resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet calls for the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to study the daily allowances paid to lawmakers when they are conducting business at the Capitol. It passed the Senate on a 32-0 vote.
Todd called the study unnecessary because the information about costs is already available.
A separate bill would strip the $107 daily hotel allowance from lawmakers living within 50 miles of the Capitol.
A bill to raise the penalty for not wearing a seat belt in Tennessee was approved by a Senate committee Tuesday only to be shot down two hours later in a House committee.
Proponents of the bill (SB487) contended that raising the fine from $10 to $50 would motivate more motorists to buckle up and thus reduce fatalities and injuries in traffic accidents.
A recent survey indicated that Tennessee seat belt useage fell from 87 percent to 83 percent last year, according to Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott.
But some legislator critics questioned that proposition. Others said the measure appeared aimed more at collecting revenue than safety. And Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, said he disliked the whole idea of government using fines to prod people into changing behavior in the interest of their personal safety.
“We’re all grown men and women. It not up to the state to protect us from our folly. It up to us,” said Henry.
After winning approval in a House committee, legislation to prohibit Tennessee insurance companies from participating in health care exchanges set under the Affordable Care Act has failed in the Senate.
The bill (SB666) got only one vote in the Senate Commerce Committee — that of the sponsor, Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville — after critical commentary from insurance company representatives and state officials. Gov. Bill Haslam said after the House vote that he opposes the bill.
The measure earlier won 6-2 approval in a House panel where sponsor Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, said it would exploit “the Achilles’ heel of Obamacare.” Since states control insurance companies, sponsors argued legislators can block the federal law by prohibiting state-licensed insurance firms from participating in the program.
Critics said that the result would likely be authorization from the federal government for out-of-state companies to sell insurance within Tennessee instead.
The two Democratic senators on the Commerce Committee voted against the bill. All Republicans on the panel — except Gresham — either abstained or were not present when the vote was taken.
A House subcommittee has killed legislation that could have allowed some counties, including Knox, to elect school superintendents rather than have them appointed by school boards.
Only three members of the House Education Subcommittee supported Rep. Kelly Keisling’s bill (HB417) while six voted against it. After failure in the House panel, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, did not put the Senate companion bill to a scheduled vote in a Senate committee.
Similar legislation has failed repeatedly in past years. This year’s version would have applied only in counties that elected school superintendents prior to 1992, then a law was enacted mandating that all superintendents be appointed.
In those counties, the bill authorized county commissions to set up a local referendum on returning to an elected superintendent system.
Keisling, R-Byrdstown, said turnover of appointed superintendents has been higher in many counties than under the elected superintendent systems. His home county of Pickett is currently paying for two superintendents, one who was fired as well as his replacement.
He also said the bill sets higher requirements for elected superintendents than those now in place for appointed superintendents – mandating a masters degree rather than a bachelor’s degree and requiring at least five years teaching experiences.
A spokesman for the Tennessee Education Association testified in support of the measure while spokesmen for the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, the Tennessee School Boards Association and the state Department of Education spoke against it.
Stephen Smith, speaking for the department, said superintendents should be appointed on the basis of ability, “not limited to someone who happens to live in the distrit and is willing to run.” He also said there is greater accountability to voters with an elected school board and an appointed superintendent. With both board members and superintendents elected, Smith said, accountability is “diffused.”
Those voting for the bill were Reps. Harry Brooks and Roger Kane, both Knoxville Republicans, and Rep. Harold Love Jr., D-Nashville. Voting no were Reps. John DeBerry, D-Memphis; John Fogerty, R-Athens; Debra Moody, R-Covington; Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville; Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro; and Mark White, R-Memphis.
The Senate Judiciary killed Thursday a proposal to add a $2 fine on all convictions involving a crime committed with a gun, then use the resulting funds to finance gun “buy-back” programs.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, sponsor of the bill (SB1092) was peppered with critical questions by Republican senators.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he was concerned guns destroyed after a buy-back program could have been used in a crime and the possibility of ballistic evidence to solve the crime would be lost. Kyle said that is possible, but the gun was evidence that would not be available without a buy-back program. He also said buy-back programs keep ballistic evidence and serial numbers of destroyed weapons.
Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, questioned charging the $2 fee statewide and earmarking for a purpose that may be used only in limited areas. Memphis has had gun buy-back programs recently.
And Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said the proposal raise the “question of whether guns really are a problem with public safety. I tend to think they are not.”
The bill got only three yes votes while six senators voted no.
A bill stripping the state attorney general of most responsibilities and giving them to a “solicitor general” was killed in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday.
The new office of solicitor general, under HB1072, would have been filled by appointment of the state House and Senate, meeting in joint session. Tennessee’s attorney general is now appointed by the state Supreme Court under a provision of the state constitution.
House sponsor Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, said the bill had been brought to him by the Fayette County Tea party and was priority legislation for tea party members statewide. Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, sponsored the measure in the Senate.
Many tea party members were upset when Attorney General Bob Cooper last year failed to file a lawsuit against the federal Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, as did attorneys general in other states.
“If we determine, as a Legislature, that we should file an injunction (against a federal law considered unconstitutional), the attorney general would not have to pursue that,” Rich said.
With enactment of the bill, the solicitor general would be obliged to file such a lawsuit to “fend off the federal government,” Rich said.
Rich said the creation of a solicitor general position is permissible under the state Constitution because, while granting the Supreme Court authority to name the attorney general, the document gives the position no duties other than reporting decisions of the Supreme Court. Thus, he said current attorney general duties such as representing the state in lawsuits and issuing legal opinions can be assigned by statute to a solicitor general.
But other legislators questioned that contention. They included Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, also an attorney, and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ootelwah, a former judge.
Carter said he “understands the frustration behind this,” but believes that the bill might lead to a lawsuit rather than correcting the problem and to situations of “the state of Tennessee suing the state of Tennessee.” Appropriately addressing the situation, Carter said, “may require a constitutional amendment, to be honest with you.”
Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, asked how members of the judiciary felt about the bill. Rich said he did not know, but conceded “they probably wouldn’t like it.”
The bill was killed on a voice vote. Only one member of the eight-member subcommittee, Republican Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah, had himself recorded as supporting the measure.
NASHVILLE – A bill clearing the way for sale of wine and grocery stores was killed in a House committee Tuesday, shattering hopes of proponents who had thought they were on the verge of breaking a six-year run of defeats.
Eight members of the House Local Government Committee voted against HB610 while just seven voted for it. The sponsor, Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, had asked that the vote be postponed a week, but his request was rejected after Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said members “should hear it and make a decision today.”
The bill, in a change from most versions of the bill in prior years, did not directly allow wine in grocery stores. Instead, it let any city council or county commission – where liquor-by-the-drink is now legal – to schedule hold a local referendum on whether to expand wine sales to convenience stores and supermarkets.
Currently, only liquor stores can sell wine and they are forbidden to sell anything other than alcoholic beverages. Multiple amendments had been filed – 10 in the House committee – and most would have granted new rights to liquor stores faced with new competition. The amendments included proposals to allow sale of other products in liquor stores, to allow them to open on Sundays and holidays and to allow the same person to own more than one liquor store.