Right To Self-Defense Bills Begin State Senate Journey
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NASHVILLE - Governor Bill Haslam released his administration’s “Top to Bottom Review” of state government departments this week.  Haslam instructed the commissioners of the state’s 22 departments to analyze operational and organizational efficiency thoroughly to see if they are functioning effectively and accomplishing their core mission.

“State government’s role is to provide services that taxpayers can’t get on their own,” Haslam said in a letter delivered to legislators. “I believe the Governor’s job is to make sure we’re providing those services in the most customer-friendly way and at the lowest cost.”

Each department listed recommendations in the report aimed at improving the use of public resources.  Some of the recommendations are already included in the Governor’s legislative package, while many other efficiencies can be implemented internally.

“We believe this process will result in meaningful change to the benefit of Tennessee taxpayers. While this Top to Bottom Review process is complete, this administration will continue on an ongoing basis to evaluate and improve efficiency and effectiveness in the way we deliver services,” Haslam concluded.

The report can be found at: http://forward.tn.gov/toptobottom/index.shtml.

Equal Access to Public Property Act -- Legislation which aims to create order in the use of Tennessee’s public lands received final approval by the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 2508 , called the “Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012,” comes after reports of potential health threats, theft, lewd behavior and other crimes on the Capitol’s War Memorial Plaza in association with the “Occupy Nashville” encampment.  

The bill makes it a misdemeanor offense to engage in the activity of camping on property owned by the state knowing that the area is not designated for that use. Any items associated with camping in violation of the proposed law would be subject to seizure and forfeiture.  

The legislation aims to protect the state’s interests that are jeopardized by unauthorized camping on state property in an area that is not compatible to or designated for such activity. The bill states it is in Tennessee’s interests to be “good stewards of public land” and to manage and protect it to ensure that future generations are able to continue to enjoy it by seeing that it is properly used.

The bill states that “perhaps more important are the health concerns that can reasonably be expected to follow from the use of public land by a group of people for an activity never contemplated on that location.  Without necessities such as sanitary facilities, the risk of communicable disease transforms an unauthorized use of public land into a potential public health problem.”

Reports show the “occupation” of the Legislative Plaza has not been without incident.  Metro Nashville Police have recorded 131 arrests and 1250 incident records, which include vandalism, assaults, lewd acts, a fire, complaints of human feces on the plaza, public drunkenness, possession of marijuana and disorderly conduct.   

The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives for approval of a severability clause amendment before it goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature.  Severability clauses are commonly found in legislation, and state that if some provisions of the law are found to be unconstitutional, the remainder of the statute will continue in force.

Judiciary Committee hears NRA bills - Two bills that would give gun owners the right to self-defense began their journey through the legislative process on Tuesday.  Senate Bills 3002 and 2992 were presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) and the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday, as several witnesses, including National Rifle Association (NRA) State Liasion Heidi Keisling, testified in support of the bill.
 
As introduced, Senate Bill 3002 would recognize that Tennesseans' right to self-defense does not end when they drive onto their employer's property or into publicly accessible parking lots. It will allow firearms to be stored out of sight in a locked vehicle, while providing employer immunity from liability for any damages.
 
Senate Bill 2992 is firearm discrimination prevention legislation that will protect law-abiding gun owners from anti-gun policies put in place by employers across the state, including forced employer firearm registration, random vehicle searches, and "gun zone" parking lots for gun owning employees.

Other witnesses testifying in support of the bill told lawmakers that they were employed in a high crime area and desired to carry a firearm for protection purposes traveling to and from their workplace.  

Debate will continue on the legislation on March 6 when members are expected to vote on the proposal.  In the meantime, lawmakers are working with business owners who have concerns regarding the bill to find a solution that balances the rights of gun owners with those of employers.

Comptroller Report / Civil Service System -- A report released by the Comptroller’s Division of State Audit this week suggests that Tennessee’s civil service system is inefficient, unfair and outdated.  The audit said the system, developed in 1939, centralizes the process for people who wish to apply for civil service jobs within the state’s Department of Human Resources. The department maintains lists, or registers, of potential candidates for job openings.

The report said the system is fundamentally flawed. For example, it said the human resources department ranks potential candidates and recommends them to whichever state departments or agencies have job openings. It says this is inefficient because in many cases the top-ranked candidates are not interested in or may not actually be qualified for the open positions. In addition, it said the ranking process itself lacks transparency, so neither the departments and neither agencies nor candidates know exactly how the process is conducted.

The report says registers are often top heavy with current state employees to the exclusion of people who wish to enter state service, as job openings are not always posted if human resources officials believe they have suitable pools of applicants for those positions.  The system allows employees with more seniority to “bump” less senior employees out of jobs, which can set off chain reactions that displace numerous employees.

The Comptroller’s report recommends that the current system be replaced with a decentralized system that would give departments and agencies the ability to screen and hire applicants directly. To view the report online, go to http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/SA/sr04056.pdf.

Electronic Fraud Hotline – The State Senate approved legislation this week calling for an electronic hotline for citizens to email any reports of fraud or abuse in state government spending. Senate Bill 2259 adds electronic notifications to the current telephone hotline authorized under the Advocacy for Honest and Appropriate Government Spending Act.
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