NASHVILLE (AP) — The votes have been cast and the bill is awaiting Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature, but sponsors are still trying to clarify whether a contentious gun bill affects employment law in Tennessee.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and four fellow Republican co-sponsors on Thursday submitted a letter for inclusion into the Senate Journal elaborating on their legislative intent for the measure to allow people with handgun carry permits to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked.
While the letter states the bill does not seek to alter the state’s “employment-at-will doctrine,” it notes that businesses could run into trouble if they seek to enforce a gun ban on their property.
“Employers who terminate employees just for exercising this right may violate the state’s clear public policy that handgun carry permit holders are allowed to transport and store firearms or ammunition,” the sponsors wrote.
“An employee may have a claim for retaliatory or wrongful discharge if the employee is fired for exercising that right.”
That analysis appears to conflict with statements by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby and the main House sponsor, who stressed in committee and during floor debate that the bill wouldn’t affect employers’ abilities to fire anyone.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville questioned whether a letter in the Senate Journal would resolve questions about the bill.
“What they’re doing, I think it’s misleading to pass the bill saying one thing and then try to tell everybody it does something else,” he said. “You’re going to end up getting somebody in trouble for it.”
Legislative attorney Thomas Tigue during House noted during House debate over the measure that employers can also ban alcohol consumption at work even through the product is legal.
“If your employee manual says you can’t drink at work, and you’re over 21 and it’s legal for you to drink, you can still suffer employment consequences,” he said. “This bill does not affect what does happen or does not happen.”
The House also rejected a Democrat’s effort on the floor to amend the bill include enhanced protections for workers who bring guns to work. The bill passed both chambers by large margins despite the business community’s property rights concerns.
Turner said the Senate letter shows lingering confusion about what the bill authorizes.
“Most people now will think they can drive to work with a gun in their car and not get fired for it,” he said. “And that’s not true.”