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VOL. 37 | NO. 26 | Friday, June 28, 2013
Guns in parking lots among Tennessee new laws
NASHVILLE (AP) — A measure that allows people with handgun carry permits to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked is among a number of new state laws that take effect Monday.
The gun law will go into effect despite questions about what it means for employment law in Tennessee — the measure allows workers to store guns in cars while parked in their employers' parking lots.
The state attorney general said in a legal opinion released in May that under the law, employers would still be allowed to fire workers who violate gun bans.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey disagreed with the opinion, saying in a statement that the "General Assembly created a clear statutory right allowing permit holders to lawfully keep a firearm stored in their car while at work."
"Any employer explicitly terminating a permit holder for keeping a gun locked in his car would violate the state's clear public policy, opening himself or herself up to legal action," the Blountville Republican said.
Other measures taking effect include a law that allows school districts to let people with police training be armed in schools, and one that would require incoming students at public higher education institutions to show proof they've had meningitis shots.
The safety measure gives schools the option to hire retired law enforcement officers after they meet certain requirements, such as completing a 40-hour school security course.
It also makes information about which teachers are armed or which schools allow the guns confidential to anyone but law enforcement.
Gov. Bill Haslam included $34 million in his budget for local government officials to use on their priorities, which could include additional security measures for schools.
Jim Wrye, chief lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, said the new law will benefit financially strapped school districts, particularly those in rural areas.
"It's a way that school systems can now determine ways to expand their security options," he said. "And for our members across the state, that was an inherently good thing."
The vaccination law is named after Middle Tennessee State University freshman Jacob Nunley, who died less than 24 hours after contracting meningococcal meningitis in 2012. The contagious disease is a bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.
Currently, MTSU and most other public colleges and universities in Tennessee recommend but don't require the vaccination.
Chris Wilson, Nunley's uncle, believes his nephew would be alive today had the law been in place.
"If MTSU had been a school that required it, there's not a doubt in our minds that Jacob would still be here today," he said.
Another new law will cut a weekly $15-per-child allowance that was going to Tennesseans drawing unemployment benefits.
The Department of Labor and Workforce Development said the change will help bolster the state unemployment trust fund, which could lead to a reduction in unemployment taxes paid by businesses.
According to the department's projections, ending the allowance for dependent children in the budget year beginning July 1 will save the state $40 million per year.
Lawmakers created the child allowance in 2009 in order to qualify for a nearly $142 million federal stimulus grant. Now that that money had been spent, the Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year passed a bill to end the program.
Advocates for low-income families oppose the change.
"Over 150,000 kids in Tennessee live in a household where one or both parents are unemployed and looking for work," said Chris Coleman, an attorney with the Tennessee Justice Center. "The Legislature's decision to take money away from these children will only increase the financial strain on these already-struggling families. That's not what I call family values."