Associated Press map highlighting the state of Tennessee
Chas Sisk, The Tennessean
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A bill that would let gun owners carry their weapons into workplace parking lots was rushed to the floor of the Tennessee Senate on Tuesday, despite questions raised by businesses, gun rights advocates and Gov. Bill Haslam.
The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a measure backed by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey that would force businesses to let their workers carry their guns to work, provided they leave their weapons in their vehicles. Ramsey, R-Blountville, has said he wants to pass the bill quickly and get it out of the headlines early in the session.
The committee rejected a request that it delay action until legal questions about the bill could be answered. It also acted hours after several members met with Haslam to discuss his objections to the bill.
State Sen. Jack Johnson, who presented the bill on Ramsey's behalf, said there was little point to a delay because the leader of the Senate had made his mind up. "The lieutenant governor is where the lieutenant governor is," Johnson said.
Committee members took slightly more than 20 minutes to approve the bill, with most of the time spent dealing with the legislation's technicalities.
Before the meeting, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry had sent the committee a list of nine legal questions its members had about the bill. Those issues included the types of guns that workers would be allowed to carry in their vehicles, where businesses would be able to restrict guns and who would be liable in the event of a workplace shooting.
Although language was included to protect businesses from lawsuits, Bill Ozier, the chamber's chairman, said most of the group's questions had not been addressed. Ozier said the chamber, which opposed the bill last year, favors a compromise measure that he said is in the works in the state House.
John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, likewise complained that the bill has major flaws. He cited its requirement that gun owners drive their own vehicles and a provision that says federal restrictions on guns would be enforced using state resources. "It's got too many holes in it," Harris said. "It's better to fix it right the first time than halfway do it."
The governor was not able to derail the measure, either. Haslam has asked lawmakers to consider exempting college campuses from the measure. He argued directly to the bill's supporters in the Senate in a meeting in his office, shortly before the committee vote.
But Johnson, R-Franklin, said Ramsey and other supporters told the governor they intended to move the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
"If we start exempting here and exempting here, it becomes a slippery slope," Johnson said.
The bill now goes to the Senate floor, where Republicans hold 26 of 33 seats.