Gov. Bill Haslam (center) speaks with the press May 1, 2012, at Legislative Plaza in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of TN.gov)
Throughout the 107th General Assembly, numerous bills made statewide – even national – headlines in newspapers, as well as some comments by television pundits and comedians.
While some of these bills passed, not all of them did.
Gov. Bill Haslam used his veto powers for the first time in his administration to kill one piece of legislation that passed after a long, arduous debate and discussion in the waning hours of the Tennessee House of Representatives’ final session, while others simply died in committees in the waning days of the session that ended last month.
Although Sen. Mike Faulk’s two bills regarding guns made it to the Senate Rules Committee, which he chaired, neither made it to the floor for a vote, despite efforts by Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis to do so April 23 by suspending the rules.
Senate Bill 3002 – known as the Employee Safe Passage Bill or guns in parking lots bill – would have allowed gun-carry permit holders to bring their firearms in their vehicles to and from work and park on company property with the guns in a locked glove compartment or lock box, out of sight.
The Church Hill Republican’s other bill, SB 2992, would have prohibited employment discrimination based on an applicant or current employee’s ownership, storage, transportation or possession of a firearm in accordance with state and federal law.
It, too, made it to the Rules Committee, but never to the Senate floor.
The two House companion bills were moved to summer study committee status.
• Both chambers passed a bill that would rescind Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers policy” that requires school organizations to allow any student to join and run for office – despite sometimes heated exchanges by legislators in both chambers.
The bills started out applying only to public institutions of higher education, but an amendment added a clause that it applied to any private school receiving $24 million or more in state funding. Essentially, the amendment singled out Vanderbilt.
The amendment gave Vanderbilt an opportunity to examine its policy and will sunset in 2013. There was no penalty clause in the bill if Vanderbilt fails to revise its policy.
However, despite the votes of 19-12 in the Senate and 61-22 in the House on the final Monday, Haslam vetoed the bill, saying in a press release, “Although I disagree with Vanderbilt’s policy, as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution.”
• A controversial bill that would have cut 5,000 students’ lottery scholarships in half by making them contingent on lottery revenues died. Despite passing the Senate, the House sponsor, Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville), took the bill off notice the final Monday in the House Budget Subcommittee.
Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) initiated and sponsored the bill, saying the move was needed because the state had dipped into the lottery’s $300 million-plus reserve for several years.
If it had passed, the bill would have reduced the $4,000 award by 50 percent to $2,000 for those students who do not achieve a 3.0 grade point average and a 21 ACT score beginning with the 2015-16 school year.
• Known as the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, Rep. Andy Holt’s bill passed through all of the House committees only to be held on the desk of the House of Representatives.
The bill would have prohibited a local education authority from discriminating against a student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject.
The Senate approved its version, SB 3632, by a vote of 29-0. However, despite being placed on the House calendar for an April 16 vote, the bill never made it to the floor.
• An attempt to constitutionally validate the current way Supreme and Appellate court judges are selected failed to make it to the House floor for vote, despite passing the Senate 21-9.
Despite the fact that the Tennessee Constitution states, “Judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state,” the state operates under what is called The Tennessee Plan.
Under the current plan, the governor appoints Supreme and Appellate court judges from a list of candidates assembled by the nominating commission. Every eight years, the judges face yes-no retention elections to renew their eight-year terms.
What did pass was a modified version of the federal practice of picking judges. SJR 710 passed the Senate by a vote of 22-9 and the House by a vote of 70-27 and would have the governor select the judges, who would then need the approval of the General Assembly.
Before any changes to the state Constitution can happen, legislators will need to approve it again with two-thirds majority before the 2014 general election when voters will vote for or against the change.