Update: The "Safe Commute" bill sponsored by Sen. Ramsey passed Monday in the Tennessee State Senate on a 28-5 vote.
KINGSPORT — Employers realize legislation allowing gun permit holders to keep their weapons in locked personal vehicles on public or private property is “going to pass” in the Tennessee General Assembly this year, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Monday.
The Blountville Republican made the comment before addressing a Regional Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast at the MeadowView Marriott.
Ramsey is the prime sponsor of the gun bill that was expected to pass in the state Senate Monday night and get its first hearing in a House subcommittee on Wednesday.
A similar so-called “Safe Commute” measure, which was opposed by employers and education groups, didn’t come to a floor vote in the legislature last year.
Under current law, any business can prohibit gun possession on company property, while it is a misdemeanor offense for any person to possess or carry a firearm on the grounds of any municipal, county or state recreational property.
It is also a felony for someone to possess or carry a firearm on any public or private school property or bus.
Ramsey’s bill also grants businesses immunity from lawsuits resulting from death or injury to someone because of a gun kept inside a vehicle in accordance with the proposed law’s provisions.
“I do think we have made (the bill) palatable for most businesses,” Ramsey said during a short interview before the chamber event. “As you explain it to them, it only affects four percent of the population — the people with gun carry permits. You have to leave (the gun) in your automobile at all times. ...The people who get the gun-carry permits have proven they are responsible. I want to get this over with, and we will, so we can talk about important issues.”
Those issues, Ramsey told about 180 people at the chamber breakfast, include reforming Tennessee’s workers’ compensation system.
Workers’ comp reform is tops on the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s “10 for TN” agenda to create more jobs in the state.
“We’re one of only two states that still goes to court (with workers’ compensation cases),” Ramsey said. “The governor (Republican Bill Haslam) has introduced a bill to take it out of the court system and put it in the hands of an administrative law judge.”
Ramsey also promised a thorough review on whether Tennessee should expand enrollment in its federally supported Medicaid program known as TennCare.
“On paper, it looks like a no-brainer that the federal government will send us 100 percent of the money (for the expansion) for the first five years, and 90 percent after that,” Ramsey explained. “The philosophical issue is what happens after that, and will the federal government be true to its word.”
Other state lawmakers at the breakfast, meanwhile, talked about their individual legislative agendas.
State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, pitched his bill to allow localities to hold referendums on whether wine should be sold in Tennessee grocery stores.
“We know it better than anyone, but people are literally driving across the border not just to buy wine, but chicken and fish and everything else,” Lundberg said.
State Rep. Tony Shipley touted his legislation to increase fines for violations of the state’s safety belt law and give extra revenue to the Court Appointed Special Advocates program and Exchange Club Family Centers.
“When it comes to what’s important in our society, our children rank number one. ...The child advocacy programs in our state were woefully underfunded,” Shipley, R-Kingsport, insisted.
State Rep. Timothy Hill talked about his bill to allow tax exemptions for out-of-state people to come to Tennessee and buy farming equipment.
“They will be coming in from states to spend money and buy other things,” Hill, R-Blountville, said of his bill’s impact.
Also speaking at the breakfast was U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, who noted automatic federal spending cuts are on track to happen March 1 as part of a “sequestration” process approved by Congress in 2011.
Roe also warned another battle over raising the nation’s debt ceiling will happen this summer.
“Jobs is the single biggest issue in America,” Roe, R-Tenn., said. “A lot of your economic problems go away if you have money coming in. A real opportunity is right in front of our face with energy. We have the largest carbon (coal) reserves in the world.”