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Lawmakers Jockeying on Guns-in-Lots Legislation

by Mark Todd Engler on April 24, 2012

Seeking to pit Republicans against one another and to force them to choose between key conservative-leaning constituencies, Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle attempted Monday to suspend the chamber’s regular rules and place the controversial guns-in-parking-lots bill directly on the floor.

“I’m in somewhat of a quandary on this bill — I can’t vote against it if it is not brought to the floor,” quipped the Memphis lawmaker, garnering a few chuckles from both Republicans and Democrats. “And therefore it seems to me that the Senate and the folks of Tennessee need to be able to see where each and every one of us are on this piece of legislation.”

Kyle worried he won’t be able to “officially” demonstrate his opposition if it never gets a vote.

Currently, the guns-in-lots bills are parked in the floor-debate scheduling committees of both the House and Senate. Even though the bills have passed through committee-hearing process, Republican leaders have thus far indicated little interest in seeing the measures come to the floors for votes.

Also referred to as “Safe Commute” legislation by gun-rights supporters, one measure would thwart business owners from banning firearm-carry permit-holding employees from storing firearms in their automobiles on company property. Another would bar a company owner from requiring a prospective employee to disclose if he or she owns or carries a gun.

Both Republican speakers in the Tennessee Legislature, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Rep. Beth Harwell, have indicated they’re uncomfortable with the legislation, worrying the bills infringe upon the rights of employers to control what happens on their own property.

The 17-8-5 Senate vote breakdown on Kyle’s motion was as follows:

  • Yes: Barnes, Beavers, Bell, Berke, Campfield, Finney, Ford, Harper, Herron, Haynes, Henry, Kyle, Marrero, Norris, Overbey, Stewart, Tate
  • No: Burks, Gresham, Johnson, Ketron, Roberts, Summerville, Watson, Ramsey.
  • PNV: Kelsey, Massey, McNally, Tracey, Yager.
  • Sens. Crowe, Southerland and Faulk, the measure’s sponsor, did not vote

A press release from Kyle’s office noted, “Of the 13 members who voted no or registered as ‘present not voting,’ 12 were Republicans. Another three Republicans were in the Senate chamber, but did not press a button at all.”

Kyle promised to try it again at the next available opportunity, which will likely be Tuesday. A motion to suspend the rules of the Senate requires a two-thirds majority of those voting, so pressing the blue button signaling abstention is essentially the same as voting “no.”

Gerald McCormick, the majority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives, said most Republicans favor letting the guns-in-parking-lots bill die for the session. McCormick says the “sense of our caucus” is they do not want to vote on the measures.

“We’ve been working on jobs all year — that’s what our constituents have been telling us they want us to work on,” said the Chattanooga Republican. “We need to give the Second Amendment issues fair consideration, but we certainly don’t like doing it without taking our time and doing it right.”

McCormick, who has often said he opposes efforts to circumvent the committee processes in the Legislature in order to get bills to the floor, suggested that if gun-rights proponents feel more comfortable putting their political fortunes in the hands of a Democrat like Kyle, they should do so.

House sponsor Eddie Bass, a Democrat, said he plans to ask for a vote on the bills in Tuesday afternoon’s calendar committee.

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