VOL. 124 | NO. 117 | Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Budget Not Only Issue Left for Tenn. Lawmakers
By ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) – A number of contentious issues other than the budget remain for lawmakers to consider in the waning days of the legislative session.
They include bills to extend or merge the Tennessee Ethics Commission, seal access to the state’s database of handgun carry permit holders and delay implementation of the law requiring a paper trail for ballots cast in the 2010 elections.
Democrats also expect Republicans to try to resurrect a proposal to expand eligibility for charter schools by attaching the measure onto unrelated education bills headed for floor votes.
Here is a look at some of the other major issues remaining:
Competing proposals on the future of the Tennessee Ethics Commission are headed for Senate floor votes. One would extend the body as an independent entity, while the other would merge it into the Registry of Election Finance.
If the Legislature does nothing, the Ethics Commission will cease to exist at the end of the month. The panel was created as the centerpiece of 2006 ethics reforms enacted in the aftermath of the FBI’s Tennessee Waltz corruption sting that led to convictions of five former lawmakers.
Supporters of merging it with the registry say it will make the groups more streamlined and economical. But opponents say the roles of both entities are different and that they should remain separate.
The merger bill is sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, while the extension is sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson of Brentwood. Both are Republicans.
Handgun permit records:
An effort to block public access to information about people who hold state-issued handgun carry permits passed the House in early May on an 83-12 vote.
But the measure sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, has yet to receive a vote in the upper chamber.
Open government advocates have said keeping information about the 218,000 people with handgun permits open to the public helps monitor whether the state is properly issuing and revoking permits.
If the bill becomes law, it would also make it largely impossible to track any effects of new laws passed this year that allow handguns to be carried in establishments where alcohol is served and in state and local parks.
The state has revoked or suspended 1,185 handgun permits since 2005, according to Safety Department records. Revocations are issued for felony convictions, while permits can be suspended for pending criminal charges or for court orders of protection.
Voting paper trail:
Republicans are trying to put the brakes on a law passed last year that requires counties to use optical-scan voting machines that create a paper trail.
Under the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, every county in the state was supposed to have the machines ready in time for the gubernatorial election in 2010.
But lawmakers calling for a delay cite cost and technical concerns for postponing the law from going into effect until 2012.
As much as $37 million in federal funding is available under the Help America Vote Act – passed in the aftermath of Florida’s disastrous 2000 election – to purchase the machines.
But several county election officials are concerned they will be stuck with costs that may exceed the federal funding.
The bill sponsored by Ketron is awaiting a full Senate vote, while the House version sponsored by Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, was advanced to a full floor vote on Monday.
A proposal to allow police to take electronic fingerprints of traffic violators has been repeatedly delayed in the Senate because of bipartisan concerns over the measure.
Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville and the bill’s main sponsor, says police already have the option of either getting a signature on the traffic ticket or taking an ink fingerprint.
Supporters of Tennessee’s proposal, which overwhelmingly passed the House, say it will help catch more criminals and save local governments money. But opponents cite privacy concerns for working against the bill.
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