NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey chided the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday for focusing their lobbying efforts on opposing a bill to guarantee workers the right to store firearms in vehicles parked on company lots.
The Blountville Republican said in a speech to the group that there are far more important business issues pending in the Legislature, like making it easier to deny unemployment insurance to fired employees.
"I realize you put G-U-N in a sentence and the subject becomes emotional," he said. "But let me assure you there are issues that affect us more every day than this that we could use your help on."
While Ramsey acknowledged that the guns-in-parking-lots measure involves prickly property rights issues, he expects to reach a compromise before the bill heads for a vote.
Business, higher education and law enforcement groups opposed the original version of the guns-in-parking-lots measure backed by the National Rifle Association because it would have allowed any legally-owned firearm to be stored in a vehicle — regardless of the company's wishes.
The bill was later changed in a Senate committee to only apply to the state's 350,000 handgun carry permit holders and to any person over age 21 with a state hunting license. The latest version of the bill has no provision for businesses to decide whether to ban guns, but that could change.
"I've told them from Day One that the bill's not going to pass like that," Ramsey told The Associated Press after the speech. "And they're going to have to take my word for it."
Deb Woolley, a spokeswoman for the state Chamber of Commerce, said the measures are important.
"The responsibility employers have for the safety of their employees, guests and customers as well as our fundamental rights as property owners make these bills very much a concern of the business community," she said in an e-mail.
Ramsey also criticized the Chamber's support for expanding pre-kindergarten funding when the state has in recent years shifted its focus to K-12 education changes, like ending teachers' collective bargaining rights, changing evaluation standards and making tenure more difficult to obtain.
"We haven't talked about pre-K investments for years," said Ramsey, a longtime critic of the pre-K program. "And since that time, we've actually I think revolutionized K-12 education in this state."
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