published Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Tennessee: Panel sends guns in parking lots bill for Senate vote

NASHVILLE — A measure to eliminate the rights of businesses, schools and universities to bar employees from storing firearms in parked vehicles is headed for a full Senate vote.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-1 on Tuesday to advance the bill after Chairwoman Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, refused a request to hear from representatives of FedEx Corp. or other large employers that oppose the bill.

"I don't know that any more testimony is going to change anybody's mind," Beaver said.

The original version of the measure sponsored by Sen. Mike Faulk would have applied to any person with a legal firearm, but the Kingsport Republican narrowed the scope of the bill by having it apply only to the state's 344,000 handgun carry permit holders.

The bill was subsequently expanded by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, to cover anyone with a Tennessee hunting license as long as they are at least 21 years old.

Unlike handgun carry permits, hunting licenses require no training or background check. An AP reporter ordered one online during the committee hearing for $27.

The bill has pitted gun rights advocates against business, higher education and law enforcement groups while Republicans eager to cater to both sides have been caught in the crossfire.

Deb Woolley, president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said she was disappointed that the concerns of businesses were ignored in the committee, but expressed hope that they will be addressed down the line.

"It still has to go through the full Senate and the full House, so I hope we'll still be listened to," Woolley said. "It's a hard situation when you have two groups with what they presume to be competing rights when they really aren't.

"This one is not respecting the rights of the private property owners," she said.

In other action:

• Medical marijuana: A bill legalizing the use of medical marijuana as prescribed by doctors passed out of the House Health and Human Resources Committee on a voice vote Tuesday.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, said the bill sets up a licensing and enrollment program allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana to cancer and other patients.

• Lottery cuts: A proposal that would make cutting some students' lottery scholarships in half contingent on lottery revenues is headed for a floor vote in the Senate after a legislative committee approved the measure 9-2 on Tuesday.

The legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham passed the Senate Finance Committee. The companion bill was delayed until next week in the House Education Committee.

Right now, students can get a scholarship worth $4,000 for each of four years if they either earn a 3.0 grade point average in high school or score a 21 on their ACT college entrance exam.

Under the new legislation, the lottery scholarship requirements won't change if lottery proceeds of at least $10 million -- or more -- are maintained through 2015.

• State jobs: State employees are speaking out against Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to dial back civil service protections, arguing that the move could result in cronyism.

Members of the Tennessee State Employees Association gathered outside the Capitol and the main state office building in Nashville on Tuesday to protest the bill that would make it easier for the governor to hire and fire state workers.

The measure would eliminate bumping rights, which the TSEA says would remove seniority as a protection for workers when layoffs are deemed necessary.

The Senate Finance Committee later voted to send the measure for a full floor vote.

• Voter IDs: A proposal to repeal Tennessee's new voter ID law has stalled in the Legislature after being killed by a Senate panel on Tuesday.

Members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 3-6 against the measure sponsored by Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson.

The law requires a photo ID in order to vote. Supporters say it's needed to protect the ballot box from fraudulent voting.

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