NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he expects lawmakers to pass a bill this year to force businesses to allow workers to store firearms in vehicles parked on company lots, though he doesn't expect the measure to be as broad as originally introduced.
Haslam said he's trying to work out a compromise between gun rights supporters and business groups.
"A lot of government is like that, it's about getting the balance right," he told reporters after a speech to the Tennessee Hospitality Association. "This is one of those cases where you have property interests versus gun rights interests — both of which people in my party take very, very seriously."
Haslam didn't say what change he would make to the current version of a bill supported by the National Rifle Association that would apply to both private businesses and public institutions.
The measure would also cover any firearm owner, not just those with state-issued handgun carry permits.
"Essentially what this bill does is to allow a legally possessed firearm to be kept in your vehicle out of sight on private property," NRA lobbyist Heidi Keesling told a state Senate committee earlier in the week.
That argument appeared to resonate by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who described himself as a "guns-wide-open kind of guy," and questioned the basis of the property rights arguments.
"I always consider my person — my being — my own private property," Campfield said. "At what point is a concealed weapon considered private property on me, versus when I'm a car?"
But Democratic Sen. Beverly Marrero of Memphis argued that large employers have a responsibility to provide safe work environments for their employees, especially if a worker becomes upset .
"A disgruntled employee who has a gun might be a little bit more dangerous than a disgruntled employee who is unarmed," she said.
House Republicans had tried to delay consideration of a guns-in-parking-lots proposal until next year, and had succeeded in keeping GOP caucus members from sponsoring the bill in the lower chamber.
But that embargo was busted when the bill was sponsored by Rep. Eddie Bass, a Prospect Democrat who is considering switching parties.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, have since said they will support a more limited proposal.
"The only thing that I've ever wanted in this legislation is that if you are a gun carry permit holder and you have it locked in your car, then you should have the right to take it into certain parking lots," Ramsey told reporters recently.
Ramsey said Tennessee lawmakers might emulate a 2008 Georgia law that carved out several exemptions, like secure parking areas and visitors parking spots. Georgia also allows employees to ban workers from bringing weapons onto company property if they have been subject to disciplinary action.
Keesling, the NRA lobbyist, said in the Senate committee meeting that her organization is looking to update the Georgia law to make it more broad. The NRA issues grades to lawmakers based on how they vote on key issues, meaning the parking lot guns bill could become a campaign issue this fall.
Haslam downplayed questions about whether lawmakers will be cajoled into voting for a broader bill out of fear of losing NRA endorsements.
"I think most veteran lawmakers try to figure out how to weigh all of that in, and don't get overly swayed by that," he said in a press conference last week. "Five times a day I have somebody say, 'Oh boy, if you all don't do this, we're going to unleash all the power of fill-in-the-blank on you.'"
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