State Senator Mae Beavers’ Legislative Update


Senator Mae Beavers

Senator Mae Beavers

NASHVILLE-The State Senate tackled a number of important issues this week as several more committees closed for the 2009 legislative session. Several important issues still remain on the General Assembly’s agenda before it adjourns, including the state’s budget, which received a grim forecast this past week.

The State’s Funding Board, comprised of Tennessee’s top economists, met on Thursday to re-evaluate the state’s revenue picture.  They estimated that the state might have to tap into about $290 million from our reserve accounts, including the earlier budget proposal that called for utilizing $190 million to balance the budget for the current fiscal year.  Unlike Congress, Tennessee must balance the state’s budget under a Constitutional Amendment passed in 1977. 

The forecast for the 2009-10 year which will start in July is also grim.  Economic experts predict that the state could be looking at a $1.3 billion reduction in the state budget over the current budget year.

Although some federal funds may soften the blow of cuts by boosting spending in targeted state programs temporarily, Tennessee must chart a course to balance the budget by paying for programs on a recurring to recurring basis after the stimulus money dries up in 2011.

Firearms bills advance in State Senate

Several firearms bills advanced in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, including a measure to allow legal gun carry permit holders to posses a firearm in state or federal parks in Tennessee.  The legislation, SB 976 sponsored by Senator 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 national parks in 2007.  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.

“Law abiding citizens should have the right to protect themselves in some of Tennessee’s most beautiful, yet remote, areas,” urged Chairman Beavers as she presented her bill to the Judiciary Committee.  “No longer will a criminal or murderer know that their potential prey will be unarmed.”

Similarly, the Judiciary Committee approved a bill, SB 1519, extending those privileges to carry into wildlife refuges, public hunting areas, wildlife management areas or national forest land.

The committee also approved legislation, SB 19, authorizing judges who possess handgun carry permits to carry a firearm during judicial proceedings.

The Judiciary Committee also passed a bill to set forth a process for surrender of a firearm in cases where an order of protection has been granted in domestic violence cases.   The legislation, SB 314, aims to prevent further violence by setting up a procedure for the person to hand the gun over to a third party. 

Finally, SB 1992 was passed on the Senate Floor this week, which limits the power of government to confiscate firearms and restrict the sale of ammunition during times of martial law.  The bill prohibits the confiscation of weapons from law-abiding citizens or restricting the ability to purchase guns and ammunition during times of martial law. 

Senate approves legislation protecting soldiers from having their names used in anti-war demonstrations or fundraisers

Legislation designed to protect soldiers from having their names or likeness used in anti-war activities without permission, was approved in the Tennessee State Senate on Monday by a vote of 32 to 0.  The bill, SB 836 sponsored by Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), allows individuals to recover damages plus attorneys fees against those who knowingly use or infringe on the rights of an active member of the armed forces in violation of Tennessee’s “Personal Rights Protection Act.”

The legislation comes after several violations were reported, including T-shirts sold on the Internet using the names of about 1700 soldiers.  The T-shirts contained defaming information about their country with the names of soldiers on the back. 

Full Senate approves public charter school bill

Legislation that strengthens Tennessee’s public charter school law was approved by the full Senate upon final consideration on Thursday.  The legislation, SB 2133, is being described as a “conservative next step,” which widens eligibility, clarifies funding and addresses rules for renewal of the public charter schools.  Tennessee currently has one of the most restrictive public charter school laws in the nation.  The bill also puts into place a process so the best practices gained from the “laboratories of learning” go into traditional school programs.

Currently, public charter school enrollment is limited primarily to failing students and those from failing schools.  This legislation permits “at-risk” children to attend charter schools in those systems that have 12,000 or more students.

Tennessee now has 15 public charter schools, with six more opening in the fall.  Overall, the schools have shown success. 

Bills in Brief

Home school diplomas – State Senators have given final approval to legislation that requires home school diplomas to be recognized as a regular public high school diploma.    The measure, SB 433, makes sure that church related schools or home schools be recognized by all state and local governmental entities as having the same rights and privileges of diplomas issued by public school systems.

Ethics / General Assembly — Legislation that would end the rights of a member of the General Assembly to receive healthcare benefits if convicted of a felony was approved by the full Senate on Monday.  The bill, SB 2205 sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), would require the state to end the benefits upon conviction or upon a plea of guilty, if the charges are in relation to the member’s official capacity as a legislator. The family members eligible for benefits are not included under the bill.  The General Assembly has already passed similar legislation ending legislative pensions for those convicted of a crime in relation to their official capacity as a member of the General Assembly.  The bill would go into effect after the 2010 election.