State Senator Mae Beavers’ Legislative update


Senator Mae Beavers

Senator Mae Beavers

NASHVILLE-The pace quickened on Capitol Hill this week as the State Senate acted on a wide variety of bills, including several bills protecting our citizens’ second amendment rights.  Meanwhile, the General Assembly awaits details of the governor’s budget, which will be presented to a joint session of the House and Senate on Monday night.

Regarding the budget and stimulus money, the Senate Finance Committee met this week to hear an expansion request from Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely to begin work on ten bridges in the state to be funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The 10 bridge replacement projects are scheduled for construction letting this week, which Nicely said means work could be underway on the projects next month.

Once the budget is delivered to the legislature, State Senators will immediately go to work on reviewing the appropriations request.  The budget address is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. on Monday, March 23.

Firearms bills advance in Senate Subcommittee

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Firearms and Ammunitions Legislation recommended ten bills for passage this week aimed at revising Tennessee’s gun laws and assuring the Second Amendment rights of citizens “to keep and bear arms.”  Earlier this year, 47 bills were referred to the Subcommittee, ranging from permit confidentiality to a legal permit holder’s right to carry in public places. 

Thumbprint – Among the bills passed by the Subcommittee this week was SB 554, a bill that would delete the current requirement for a gun buyer to provide a thumbprint as part of the background check process.  Tennessee is the only state in the nation that requires a thumbprint from gun permit applicants.  Since the 1998 enactment of Tennessee’s conceal and carry law, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has only asked for one thumbprint due to a challenge from a person who was denied the right to purchase a firearm.  Ultimately, the print taken from that person was smudged and unusable.  Approximately 2.3 million guns have been sold in Tennessee since 1998.

Privacy of Information / Safety Course — Legislation also moved out of the committee with a recommendation that would clarify that neither the state nor an instructor or employee of a department-approved handgun safety course is authorized to require an applicant for a handgun carry permit to furnish or reveal private identifying information.  This includes information regarding any handgun the applicant owns, possesses, or uses during the safety course, or the serial number of the weapon.  The bill, SB 32, was filed in response to an incident late last year, when the Department of Safety sent letters to all firearms instructors requiring them to complete and return a roster of students and to provide information on each student including the name of the firearm owner, the name of the student using the firearm, and the make, model, and serial number of firearms used.  Gun advocates argued the request was the first step toward universal gun registration, but the Department of Safety claimed it was a clerical error.

Privacy of information / permit holder database — Two bills aiming to protect the confidential information of handgun permit holders were recommended for passage by the Firearms Subcommittee.  One bill, SB 1126, would protect the confidential information by removing the handgun permit holders’ database from provisions of the state’s open records law.  Many citizens have been offended by the publication of the database by newspapers and media websites.  Permit holders fear criminals will use the information to target their homes to steal weapons, while those who do not own guns are worried about the risk of being identified as a home without a firearm.  The second bill, SB 1932, would give gun permit holders the same privacy protections provided to driver’s license holders.  This bill takes another approach to protect those with a gun carry license by banning from disclosure any information gathered by the Department of Safety that is used for the purpose of granting the permit. 


Law enforcement officers right to carry — In addition, subcommittee members approved a bill authorizing off-duty law enforcement officers to carry firearms.  The legislation, SB 1394, would give officers, who are often targeted by criminals they have arrested, the ability to secure firearms both on and off the job.  Similarly, legislation was recommended to give commissioned reserve deputy sheriffs the same right to carry firearms as provided to law enforcement officers.  The measure, SB 1912, would only apply upon written authorization from the sheriff.

Citizens Right to carry — Three bills moved out of the committee that expand the places where legal permit holders can carry their guns.  The bills target many remote locations in the state where criminals often prey on victims who are not allowed to carry firearms, even if they have a legal permit.  These bills include SB 1518, sponsored by Senator Beavers, which would which would allow licensed handgun carry permit holders to possess a firearm in state and local parks.  Similarly, SB 976, was recommended that would allow permit holders to carry firearms in state parks.  Senate Bill 1519 passed out of the subcommittee and would extend those privileges to carry into wildlife refuges, public hunting areas, wildlife management areas or national forest land. In January, the federal government lifted a regulation that banned guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.  Previously, guns were only allowed if they were unloaded and inaccessible.  The new federal rule applies to legal permit holders in the 48 states that have a process for issuance of licenses to allow law-abiding citizens legally to carry firearms for self-defense, including Tennessee.

Tennessee’s Constitution also guarantees “that the citizens of this State have a right to keep and to bear arms.” Second amendment rights advocates have worked for the past two decades for restoration of their rights. 

“I am quite pleased with the bills that were recommended out of the subcommittee this week,” said Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers.  “We look forward to debating them further in the full Judiciary committee and eventually passing them through both chambers of the General Assembly later this year.” 

The subcommittee meets one more time on March 25, and the full committee plans to begin hearing the bills the following week.

Legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee would ban open containers of alcohol in vehicles

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Wednesday to ban open containers of alcohol in vehicles.  The bill, SB 291, addresses a gaping loophole in Tennessee’s current law that allows drinking drivers to “pass the bottle” to a passenger if they get pulled over by law enforcement. 

In addition to the safety issues involved with drunk driving, passage of the bill would also free up approximately $16 million dollars in much needed federal transportation funds that Tennessee could use for road and bridge construction.  Currently, Tennessee’s Department of Transportation is penalized by the federal government and is only allowed to use such funds on safety issues such as DUI commercials.  Those funds are also reduced every year by approximately one to two million dollars. 

“This bill must be passed and it must be passed this year,” urged Judiciary Chairman and bill sponsor Mae Beavers.  “As lawmakers, we cannot continue to turn the other cheek and ignore indisputable statistics.”  Beavers also stressed the financial importance of passage of such a bill, saying, “we not only punish our citizens by not having the laws to protect them, but we also financially penalize them by restricting financial funding.”

Tennessee is one of eleven states which do not comply with federal open-container guidelines.    Forbes magazine recently rated Tennessee as the eleventh-worst state when it comes to safety on roads and alcohol-related incidents.  Consequently, the other non-compliant states also stack the Forbes list ahead of Tennessee.