State Senator Mae Beavers, in her latest legislative report, says Tennessee lawmakers continued to make progress on Capitol Hill this week on some of the toughest issues facing the legislature in the 2009 legislative session. However, the biggest legislative hurdle before adjournment is the state’s budget, which is currently being revised by Governor Phil Bredesen to reflect the loss of another $160 to $300 million in anticipated revenues. The Funding Board, comprised of the state’s top economists, do not expect to see improvement in revenues until the first quarter of the next fiscal year and forecasted a continued decline until that time.
Bills in Brief
Abortion Resolution – The House of Representatives have passed Senate Joint Resolution 127, which aims to restore to the people of Tennessee their rightful authority to regulate abortion through their elected representatives with an overwhelming 77-21 vote. The constitutional amendment is in response to the 2001 Tennessee Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood vs Sundquist, when the court created a right to unregulated abortion. The decision also prohibited the Tennessee legislature from enacting regulations governing abortions, arguably making Tennessee the most liberal in the nation with regards to abortion laws. The resolution had passed the Senate for the last several years, but had never cleared the hurdle of passing through the House of Representatives.
Second Amendment Rights / Parks – Legislation met the final approval of the Senate this week to allow legal gun carry permit holders to posses a firearm in state or federal parks in Tennessee. The legislation, SB 976 sponsored by Chairman Mae Beavers, also allows local government bodies to maintain control of concealed carry within local parks. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Interior, there were 8 murders, 43 forcible rapes, 57 robberies and 274 instances of aggravated assault in parks nationwide in 2007. In January, the federal government lifted a regulation that banned guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.
Micro-stamping – The Judiciary Committee has approved SB 1908 to prohibit the sale of “micro-stamped” firearms or ammunition in Tennessee. Although micro-stamping legislation supporters claim it will help police solve crimes, many believe their real purpose is to price handguns beyond the reach of many Americans, by requiring firearms to be made with the gadgetry necessary to create the markings or to ban handguns by requiring that they "micro-stamp" more consistently than is technologically possible.
Real ID – The State Senate voted this week to make Tennessee the 12th state in the U.S. prohibiting the issuance of a REAL ID card. The bill, SB 1934, directs the Tennessee Department of Safety not to implement the provisions of the federal REAL ID program. The REAL ID Act was signed into law in 2005. The federal initiative forces states to standardize driver’s licenses cards across the nation into a single national identity card and database. It does this by stipulating that state driver’s licenses and state ID cards will not be accepted for “federal purposes” unless they are in compliance with the Act. If implemented, it would cost the state $30 million.
Government transparency – Legislation to provide oversight for Tennessee’s government transparency website advanced in the Senate Finance Committee this week. The bill, SB 149, would make the website subject to audit by the State Comptroller’s office. Ketron and other Republicans have pushed for years to implement an open government website where citizens can see how tax revenues are spent. The website was finally implemented earlier this year. This legislation will simply make sure there is oversight of the website.
Rules of the Road – Legislation adding two dangerous traffic violations to the list of current violations which are penalized under a Class A and Class B misdemeanors has been approved by the full Senate this week. The violations include crossing a double yellow line to hit another vehicle head-on and cutting off a vehicle while passing. The penalty would be a Class A misdemeanor if another person is killed and a Class B misdemeanor if they are seriously injured. The bill, SB 289, is sponsored by Senator Beavers.
Immigration Enforcement – The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved legislation, SB 1141, calling for Tennessee jails to send information to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE) regarding prisoners who do not have documentation that they are in the U.S. legally. The bill requires the jail keeper to fax, email or send a copy of the booking information within three business days of the person’s arrest.
Opposition to housing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in Tennessee – Members of the Senate Finance Committee voted this week to express Tennessee’s opposition to the utilization of any local, state, federal or private jail, prison or detention facility in the state to confine prisoners from the United States detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Small Businesses – Legislation to establish “The Tennessee Small Business Investment Company Credit Act (TSBIA)” overcame its first hurdle with passage by the Senate Commerce Committee this week. The bill, SB 1203, is an effort to provide benefits to small, medium-sized, and start-up businesses that do not enjoy the same economic development incentives that have been provided to the larger companies that invest capital in Tennessee.