The new version of Tennessee’s overturned guns-in-bars law advanced in the Senate Tuesday over the objections of the state’s hotel and restaurant industry.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-2 to send the bill to the full Senate for almost certain passage as early as this week. The House Finance Committee wrangled over the companion bill for 90 minutes later in the day, beating back a flurry of Democratic amendments, then adjourned until next week.
"My idea was when a child was born they get their birth certificate, that at that time we also give them a gun permit certificate. Guns at birth is what I was looking at," Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, said apparently in jest at one point in the debate.
One defeated House amendment would have let cities and counties decide whether to allow guns in bars.
“What would be wrong with each individual community deciding this?” Rep. Mike Turner, D-Nashville, asked the sponsor, Rep. Curry Todd, R-Memphis. “If the city of Nashville doesn’t want this, you think it’s the state of Tennessee’s right to tell them they have to have it?”
Todd replied: “I think it’s another way to try to limit and kill this bill, allowing local governments to pre-empt state statute. Everyone in the state of Tennessee should have the right to carry.”
Last year’s law let state-licensed handgun carriers go armed into restaurants that serve alcohol as long as their “principle business is the service of food.” That was an attempt to keep armed citizens out of roadhouses, nightclubs and honky-tonks. But Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman struck down that law last year as unconstitutionally vague because it was difficult to tell where guns were legal and where they weren’t.
This year’s legislation tries to solve that problem by allowing the state’s 270,000 handgun permit holders to take their weapons into any establishment that serves alcohol.
“We’ve gone from a modest number of places, which may have been a thousand to 1,200 places, to some unknown number of places, mostly because nobody knows how many places are licensed in the state to serve beer for consumption on the premises. This is a lot bigger bill than anything you’ve seen in the past,” said Nashville lawyer Dan Haskell, representing the Tennessee Hospitality Association and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.
Those organizations oppose guns in bars because they say it will hurt tourism and endanger employees.
In other state legislative news:
* A bill purporting to nullify national health care reform in Tennessee cleared the House Commerce Committee despite the state attorney general’s opinion that it’s probably unconstitutional.
The committee voted 19-11 for the so-called Health Freedom Act, which the Senate already has adopted. The bill would give all Tennesseans the right to disobey the national law’s mandate to buy health insurance.
“That’s what this bill is about — it’s about freedom. It’s about giving people choice,” said the sponsor, Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville.
But in an advisory opinion, state Attorney General Bob Cooper already has stated bill likely won’t stand up in court because federal laws supersede those of the states.
* State Republican Party chairman Chris Devaney attacked state House Democrats for voting against a resolution urging Congress not to do what it already has done — enact national health care reform.
"These Democrats have been exposed," Devaney said in a press release. "This vote proves they favor a trillion-dollar government takeover of our health care system and don't seem to care that the majority of Tennesseans don't support it. They've deserted their constituents and put partisan politics ahead of the welfare of this state."
Twenty-nine Democrats voted against Rep. Susan Lynn's resolution Monday night.
* A House committee held a hearing on legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee. Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, said she would ask the committee next week to send her bill to the state Board of Pharmacy for a year of study. "We're moving the ball forward," she said.
Under her legislation, the state would license farmers to grow cannabis at tightly restricted compounds, then sell prescribed doses through pharmacies to alleviate the pain and suffering of the sick and dying. Tennessee would join 14 other state-run medical-marijuana programs either under way or in development in this country.
"Cheech and Chong smoking a bong — that is not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about compassion," Richardson told the House Health and Human Resources Committee.