Lawmakers join Governor Lee to Introduce Constitutional Carry Legislation
Members of the General Assembly joined Governor Bill Lee at a press conference on February 27th to announce major legislation cracking down on criminals who steal guns or possess them illegally, while allowing law-abiding citizens to exercise their constitutional right to carry firearms without a permit. The move would make Tennessee the 17th state in the nation to pass a “constitutional carry” law.
When amended, Senate Bill 2671 will allow law-abiding citizens in Tennessee who are at least 21 years old to carry a firearm without a permit, except in restricted areas. The legislation also includes increased penalties for firearm-related crime to promote public safety including:
•Increasing the penalty for theft of a firearm to a felony;
•Providing a sentencing enhancement for theft of a firearm in a car;
•Increasing the minimum sentence for theft of a firearm from 30 days to 180 days; and
•Increasing the sentences for unlawful possession of a firearm by violent felons and felony drug offenders, possession of a handgun by a felon, and unlawfully providing a handgun to a juvenile or allowing a juvenile to possess a handgun.
Under the bill, those who carry without a permit must still meet current requirements used to determine eligibility for a permit holder. Among those eligibility requirements are that persons who carry have no felony convictions, orders of protection in effect, misdemeanor domestic violence convictions, or stalking convictions. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration where it is scheduled for a hearing on March 3rd.
Legislation creates new judicial district for Tennessee — The Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation on creating a new judicial district in Tennessee. Senate Bill 561, which I sponsored in the Senate, adds District 32 to the state’s judicial districts, serving the citizens of Hickman, Lewis, and Perry Counties. Currently, the counties are comprised in the 21st district, along with Williamson County. The measure allows Williamson County to become its own standalone judicial district. Action on the bill follows recommendations made by the Advisory Task Force on Composition of Judicial Districts which was created by lawmakers in 2018 to increase resources to the state’s judicial system. The 32nd Judicial District will allow for more specialized legal attention to better address the unique needs of citizens in these counties by reducing the backlog of court cases currently on the books because of exponential growth. The measure now goes to Governor Bill Lee for his signature.
ECD Commissioner talks about New Jobs Report Card and efforts to expand broadband — Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bob Rolfe appeared before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee where he presented his department’s New Jobs Report Card for 2019. Last year, Tennessee secured 104 new projects, yielding a commitment of over 14,300 jobs and representing $3.3 billion in capital expenditures. Approximately 4,400 of these new job commitments were from foreign-owned businesses who directly invested $1.4 billion for 34 projects.
Rolfe also talked about the state’s Broadband Accessibility Grants which were distributed through his department in 2019. Since 2018, TNECD has awarded more than $25 million in broadband accessibility grants to support projects within 30 Tennessee counties. The department anticipates announcing nearly $20 million worth of additional broadband grants this spring.
Tennessee’s best practices include the Department of Economic and Community Development’s broadband accessibility grant program; the broadband adoption program; a partnership with the Tennessee State Library and Archives to fund digital literacy instruction; and the change in legislation that permits electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband. Lawmakers are considering increasing broadband accessibility through an additional $25 million investment as part of the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget. This would add to the significant investments phased in over the past four years.
Bill allowing counties without regional planning commission to open or close roads comes to Senate floor— The full Senate approved legislation that I sponsored, allowing 25 Tennessee counties without a Regional Planning Council to create a committee that can open, change or close certain roads in that county. Senate Bill 1734 allows the local county commission, by a two-thirds vote, to set up a five-member committee of the commissioners to only hear opening, changing and closing of roads.