During the closing days of the recently adjourned 2019 legislative session, Tennessee lawmakers approved a measure allowing online-gaming providers to begin legally offering internet-based sports betting in the state.

The bill initially passed the House on a vote of 58-37 and cleared the Senate 19-12. The Senate’s version was later adopted by the House, 51-40.

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville and Memphis Rep. Rick Staples, a Democrat, the online-only gaming legislation garnered support across party lines.

Proponents of the initiative project that legally-sanctioned internet-based sports betting in Tennessee could, as a result of taxes and licensing fees, increase state and local revenues by more than $50 million annually.

Staples said at least ten gaming companies have already committed to doing business in Tennessee should the measure become law.

Opposition in both chambers came mostly from majority-party Republicans, but didn’t rise to the level necessary to kill the legislation. They argued that the predicted financial windfalls to the state are exaggerated, and that the drawbacks — in particular, more Tennesseans becoming gambling addicts and squandering family resources — would prove significant.

House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, voted in favor of legalizing online sports-betting, while Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, voted against it.

Most state lawmakers whose districts encompass the Upper Cumberland region voted against the measure, including GOP Senators Mark Pody of Lebanon, Paul Bailey of Sparta and Janice Bolwing of Tullahoma.

House Republicans Ryan Williams of Cookeville and Cameron Sexton of Crossville voted in favor of the bill.

Gov. Bill Lee has expressed personal opposition to gambling and said he won’t sign the bill — but he doesn’t plan to veto it either.

“The governor has said he does not believe that the expansion of gambling is best, but he recognizes that many in the legislature found this to be an issue they want to explore further,” a spokeswoman for Lee said. “He plans to let this become law without signature.”

In Tennessee, the General Assembly can override a gubernatorial veto with simple majorities in both chambers.

Other states seriously considering legislation to legalize sports betting this year include Iowa, Montana, Louisiana, Illinois and Indiana. Sports betting is already allowed in Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

The Tennessee legislation prohibits online betting across state lines or by people under 21.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law strictly limiting state-level gambling, thus paving the way for legislatures to approve gaming.

Press Release from the Tennessee Firearms Association, May 3, 2019:

Link: https://tennesseefirearms.com/2019/05/legislature-adjourns-after-passage-of-bad-legislation-and-refusal-to-consider-constitutional-carry/

Legislature Adjourns after ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Session: Creates Unnecessary 2nd Class of ‘Concealed Only’ Permit

General Assembly passed bad bills and refused to consider constitutional carry

By John Harris
TFA Executive Director

The Tennessee Legislature adjourned from the first half of its two year session on May 2, 2019. Did the Republican super majority of “2nd Amendment supporting” legislators do great things to remove the infringements on the 2nd Amendment in Tennessee this year? No.

To the contrary, it demonstrated an absolute unwillingness to even put the major issues like constitutional carry, civil immunity, criminal investigative requirements, school carry and others on the floors of the respective houses for even the slightest debate!

This is not the TFA’s annual report but it is a summary of the bills that were active this week. The annual report will come later after the dust settles and we know for sure which bills become law and which might be vetoed.

Increased focus week was on a bill (Senate Bill 705 House Bill 1264) that was sponsored in the Senate by noted “anti” 2nd Amendment Senator John Stevens. Sen. Stevens earned that reputation over the years by, for example, being perhaps the swing vote that killed Sen. Mark Green’s constitutional carry legislation in 2016. This bill proposed initially to create a second class of handgun permit that was concealed only and good for only five years. It would have been free to the applicant but would have cost the taxpayers about $1 million per year for the Department of Safety to process. It would not have all the same carry locations that the existing permit had. Also, it would require less training – such as the hunter safety course or any NRA course.

The “concealed only” bill was amended in many ways. The length was changed from 5 to 8 years. The cost went from ZERO to the applicant to an application fee of $65 (contrasted with the $100 fee for the standard handgun permit that allows open or concealed carry). There are no discounts for certain categories of individuals. There are no lifetime permits. The applicant still has to submit two sets of fingerprints (which are outsourced to a third party) and be photographed. It is not available to 18-20 year old individuals who are in or retired military. It is not good on school grounds (existing permits are under limited circumstances). The training went from just a simple almost anything course to at least a 90 minute course which includes a written test and which also – in that 90 minutes – in the opinion of the Department of Safety “”conveys the basic knowledge and skills necessary for safe handling and storage of firearms and ammunition and includes firearm safety rules, handgun uses, features, basic skills and techniques, safe cleaning, transportation, and storage methods and … conveys the current state law on carrying handguns”. According to Senator Stevens statements on the Senate Floor on May 2, no such course presently exists.

The Senate debates on May 2 are worth watching and begin at approximately 1 hour into the session.

Here are some highlights.

  • Sen. Stevens claimed the existing permit is not changed (other than its name – its now the “enhanced” permit but with no new enhancements this year). He claimed this bill makes the new concealed only permit less expensive and easier to get because of reduced number of hours required for the training (8 hours versus 1.5 hours).
  • Sen. Jeff Yarbro asked “how is concealed defined” (it is not). Sen. Stevens said “it is not changed from current law” which does not have a definition.
  • Sen. Yarbro asked if the concealed permits have the same “rights” as the current permits. Sen. Stevens said not with respect to “higher education” (an incomplete answer since it omits school employees who can carry with the existing permit and it fails to deal with the exceptions under the wildlife resources acts).
  • Sen. Yarbro pointed out that he has on two occasions in the last two days taken online courses in less than 3 minutes that would generate the required certificates. Sen. Stevens said that an applicant who did that would be subject to felony perjury charges (but no explanation on how that would be determined or enforced).
  • Sen. Yarbro objected about all the confusion and risks that the second permitting system creates for citizens and reciprocity issues.
  • Sen. Stevens said that there is not a single course online that presently complies with the training requirements of the law (because of the training on existing Tennessee laws that is required)
  • Sen. Janice Bowling argued against the bill and asserted that the state should be adopting Constitutional Carry. She argued correctly if its the “cost” then we should reduce the cost of the existing permit. She argued that the potential confusion of a 2 permit system rather than constitutional carry is of no advantage. She also said she has talked to her constituents and they are objecting to the “concealed permit” which she attributed to an unnamed “organization” (it was not TFA). She argued it has no wisdom, benefit and that she would vote no.
  • Sen. Kerry Roberts (who voted for it in Judiciary) said he was bothered that that they were talking about a second permit rather than constitutional carry. He objected that they were passing a law to force citizens to “buy back their constitutional right”. He pointed out that 16 states already have constitutional carry and Kentucky just adopted it. He stated he was struggling to understand why Tennessee is not passing constitutional carry rather than a “convoluted” second permitting system.
  • Sen. Paul Bailey said he agreed with Sen. Roberts that Tennessee should be talking about constitutional carry (although he later voted for the bill).
  • Sen. Mike Bell said he agreed with constitutional carry and “it’s coming.” He then moved to cutoff off debate and, despite his statement, voted for the bill.

18 Senators ignored the calls for constitutional carry and moved forward to pass the unnecessary, confusing second “concealed only” permit. These Senators were Bailey, Bell, Crowe, Gardenhire, Gresham, Hensley, Johnson, Kelsey, Lundberg. Powers, Reeves, Rose, Southerland, Stevens, Swann, Watson, White and Yager. That is an odd mixture of individuals who frequently vote against 2nd Amendment bills (Stevens, Kelsey, Lundberg) and some who typically do.

Senators voting no on the bill were Akbari, Bowling, Dickerson, Gilmore, Jackson, Kyle, Massey, Nicely, Pody, Robinson and Yarbro – again an odd mix but some of the 2nd Amendment most consistent supporters were in this group and we believe for the right reasons! Two senators were “present not voting” – Roberts and McNally. Two appear to have been agent Briggs and Haile.

TFA noted that it was a bad bill for many reasons. Most of those reasons were addressed by Senators Bowling, Roberts and Yarbro.

Now, some who identify as 2nd Amendment supporters have defended their “yes” votes by suggesting that this was a necessary “step” toward constitutional carry. Enacting a law that creates confusion, risks and delay is “necessary” or even a step in the right direction? That is not a credible excuse nor is it consistent with the campaign promises or constitutional oaths of office. What it evidences is in fact an unwillingness to actually run and pass constitutional carry, as 17 states including Kentucky have done, despite the fact that the Republican caucus is a super majority and it could do so even if every Democrat voted against it.

Comments on other bills this week…

The legislature passed a handful of other laws at the last minute which TFA has been tracking but none are truly significant toward removing infringements or establishing protections of our 2nd Amendment protected rights. For example, the legislature passed a technical fix to adopt the substantial equivalent of the federal “antique firearm” exception to the definition of a firearm under Tennessee for some purposes. It also removed an excise tax on ammunition which removed a projected $455,000 from the Wildlife Resources Fund annually (likely to be replaced with taxpayer revenue from the general fund).

The bill status report and the bill calendar can be accessed through the TFA’s website: https://tennesseefirearms.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TFA-BillReport-2019-05-03.pdf

Press Release from the Office of Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, May 2, 2019:

Gov. Bill Lee Lauds General Assembly in Working Together to Pass Conservative Reforms

$38.5 Billion Budget Passes Unanimously

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee marked the close of the 2019 legislative session, a session which included the unanimous passage of his budget as well as the passage of his full agenda as outlined during his State of the State address in March.

“In March, I presented our budget and a series of priorities which I believe will be foundational to making Tennessee a leader in the nation,” said Lee. “Working with the General Assembly leadership and members, we passed reforms that will continue to build on the momentum our state has seen in recent years.”

Gov. Lee’s slate of priorities included 16 legislative initiatives to work towards strengthening public education and school choice, enhancing workforce development, addressing criminal justice reform and public safety, promoting good government and developing solutions for rural Tennessee.

The passage of the fiscal year 2020 budget marked the first unanimous budget approval from the General Assembly since 2011. Notably, this budget includes a historic deposit to the state’s Rainy Day Fund that will elevate reserves to over $1.1 billion. Tax cuts included a full repeal of the Gym Tax, the elimination of sales and use tax on agricultural trailers and a reduction to the professional privilege tax.

“I commend the General Assembly for their work this session and I look forward to joining members in their districts in the coming months to highlight all that was accomplished this session” said Lee. “I am especially pleased with the outcome of the budget and our joint commitment to making sure Tennessee is well-managed and fiscally sound.”

Highlights from Gov. Lee’s legislative agenda include the following:

Strengthening Public Education and Expanding School Choice:

  • Creating the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) to expand access to vocational and technical training to students
  • Establishing an education savings account program to expand school choice for low-income students in Davidson and Shelby counties
  • Creating the Future Workforce Initiative to prepare students for the jobs of the future in science, technology, engineering and math
  • A $71 million investment in pay raises for teachers across Tennessee and investment in professional development programming
  • A three-year pilot program to provide support services for high school students in Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties
  • Establish the Governor’s Civics Instructional Seal to support and recognize schools that prioritize teaching our nation’s history and civic values
  • Investing an additional $175 million in new funding to support teachers and students in public schools
  • Establishing an independent statewide charter school authorizer and adding $6 million to the charter school facilities fund

Enhancing Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform

  • Investing $40 million in school safety enhancements
  • Increasing penalties for trafficking fentanyl
  • Increasing the training pay supplement for firefighters and police officers
  • Increasing salaries for corrections professionals
  • Expanding the Electronic Monitoring Indigency fund to reduce needs for pre-trial incarceration
  • Eliminating the state fee for the expungement of records for those who have paid their debt to society
  • $5 million to expand recovery courts and services for people in the justice system with drug abuse issues
  • $4 million investment in pre-release rehabilitation and education for incarcerated individuals

Investing in Health Care and Good Government Initiatives

  • Establishing the Office of Faith Based Initiatives to support partnerships with the non-profit community
  • Expanding the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit with an additional 24 positions dedicated to identifying fraud and waste
  • Investing an additional $11 million to support mental health services through the behavioral health safety net and regional mental institutes.
  • Increasing funding for graduate medical education at Tennessee’s medical schools and critical incentive programs that provide financial support to resident physicians who commit to living and working in our rural communities
  • Investing an additional $2 million recurring for the primary care safety net for federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs) and community- and faith-based clinics, providing primary care services to low-income, uninsured adults
  • A $3 million recurring increase to support medical students who agree to work in an underserved area after graduation. These state dollars would draw down an additional $5.7 million in federal funds
  • $11.9 million investment to maintain pay increases funded in last year’s budget for providers delivering services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Press Release from United States Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, May 1, 2019:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) questioned Attorney General William Barr on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

On the Politicization of Law Enforcement Agencies

BLACKBURN: What seems to have happened at the FBI is that there is a seedy, cynical, political culture within a group that developed, and these individuals, collectively, seemed to think that they could work within the power of their jobs and their roles with the federal government. There was an elitism and an arrogance there and it speaks to a very unhealthy work culture.
Watch this clip HERE.

On the Special Counsel Team’s Investigation and Findings

BLACKBURN: Are they meticulous investigators who will hunt down every witness and every piece of evidence?
BARR: I think they are tenacious investigators.
BLACKBURN: Are they devoted to finding the truth?
BARR: Yes.
BLACKBURN: Are they masters at taking down hardened criminals foreign and domestic?
BARR: Yes.
BLACKBURN: If there were evidence to warrant a recommendation for collusion charges against the president do you believe the Special Counsel team would have found it?
BARR: Yes.
BLACKBURN: And if there were evidence to warrant a recommendation for obstruction of justice charges against the president, do you believe the Mueller team would have found it?
BARR: I think that they canvassed the evidence exhaustively and they didn’t reach a decision on that.
Watch this clip HERE.

On Americans’ Trust in Government Agencies

BLACKBURN: People want to see government held accountable. They want to see agencies act with accountability to the American people, and they don’t want to ever see this happen again. It doesn’t matter if a candidate is a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent. They never want to see this happen again.
Watch this clip HERE.

Press Release from the Office of Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, April 11, 2019:

McGee appointed to serve in the Western Section of the Court of Appeals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee appointed Carma Dennis McGee to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section. She will replace Judge Brandon O. Gibson who was appointed as a Senior Advisor in the Office of Governor earlier this year.

McGee, 48, has served as the Chancellor of the 24th Judicial District since 2014. Prior to becoming Chancellor, she practiced law as partner in the firm of McGee & Dennis. She also served as a Rule 31 Listed Family Mediator for ten years.

“Chancellor McGee’s experience and knowledge will make her an excellent judge on the Court of Appeals,” said Lee. “Tennessee is fortunate to have her in the Western Section, and I am grateful she has accepted this high honor.”

McGee earned a Bachelor of Arts from Union University and a Juris Doctor from the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis. McGee and her husband, Todd McGee, who is a teacher and coach with the Hardin County School System, have two teenage children, Sarah Beth and Caleb.

“I am proud to serve the people of West Tennessee, and I am honored that Gov. Lee has entrusted me with this opportunity,” said McGee. “Judge Brandon Gibson served in this role extraordinarily well, and I look forward to continuing the exceptional work being done in West Tennessee.”

Under an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution passed in 2014, the Governor’s appointments to appellate courts must be confirmed by the General Assembly. After she is confirmed by the General Assembly, Judge McGee will be subject to regular retention elections.

Once confirmed by the General Assembly, McGee will be one of 12 judges on the state Court of Appeals, which hears appeals in civil cases from state trial courts. Appeals from the Court of Appeals go to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar are petitioning the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether internet giants like Facebook and Google are handling users’ personal information in irresponsible or illegal fashion.

Blackburn, a Republican, and Klobuchar, a Democrat, made the request to FTC in a jointly signed letter this week. They said the message was drafted “in response to concerns regarding potential privacy, data security, and antitrust violations involving online platforms.”

Blackburn said in a statement that her constituents are worried not only about online privacy, but whether internet companies can gain possession and claim ownership of users’ personal information.

“The FTC has a responsibility to hold technology companies accountable for securing their platforms,” said Blackburn. She went on, “Companies like Facebook and Google have transformed society in revolutionary ways and need to recognize that with that power comes the responsibility to secure their online platforms.”

Klobuchar said “market dominance” established by immense online companies “has amplified concerns about how those companies protect consumers’ online information and about possible anticompetitive conduct that could harm consumers, innovation, and small business growth.”

The senators’ letter also asks that FTC break with its standard practice of keeping silent during investigations and instead inform the public forthrightly when major online platforms are under formal examination for potentially unscrupulous activity.

Klobuchar and Blackburn are the first women ever elected to represent their respective states in the U.S. Senate. Klobuchar announced last month that she’s running for president in 2020.

Their full letter to the Federal Trade Commission is below:

Dear Chairman Simons and Commissioners Phillips, Chopra, Slaughter, and Wilson:

We write to urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take action in response to concerns regarding potential privacy, data security, and antitrust violations involving online platforms. We also call on the FTC to provide additional transparency into its ongoing investigations to ensure that consumers are protected from harmful conduct relating to digital markets.

In the past few years, rapid changes in technology have reshaped our economy and transformed the daily lives of millions of Americans—in many ways for the better. But during that same time, a small number of firms have grown to dominate key digital markets. For example, in digital search, Google, Inc. now has approximately 90 percent of web search volume, and in digital advertising, Google and Facebook account for nearly 60 percent of U.S. digital ad spending, with Amazon a distant third at just under 9 percent. This type of market dominance has amplified concerns about how those companies protect consumers’ online information and about possible anticompetitive conduct that could harm consumers, innovation, and small business growth.

The intensive collection and monetization of consumers’ personal data by digital platforms, as well as reported breaches of consumer data held by these companies, has raised significant questions regarding privacy and data security. In particular, some have expressed concern that Facebook’s recently announced plans to integrate its three messaging platforms—WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger—may lead to Facebook sharing user data between its platforms. As Congress considers legislation to enact stronger safeguards for consumers’ online privacy, we urge the FTC to use its existing authority to protect the privacy and security of consumers’ online data.

We understand that the FTC does not typically comment on nonpublic investigations, but the public discussion surrounding Google and other companies’ conduct have made this a uniquely important national issue. Accordingly, we respectfully request that the FTC consider publicly disclosing whether it is conducting an investigation of Google and/or other major online platforms and describe, in general terms, the nature of the conduct under examination in any such investigations. Going forward, we also encourage the FTC to disclose the existence of non-public investigations that may be of significant public interest, consistent with the FTC’s legal obligations.

Thank you for your attention to these critical issues.

Sincerely,

Amy Klobuchar                                                  Marsha Blackburn

United States Senator                                       United States Senator

Press Release from the Office of Justin P. Wilson, Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, April 2, 2019:

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office is making it easier to understand the technical terms and jargon of public finance with its new glossary entitled Defining Tennessee Finance: A Glossary of Public Finance.

The Comptroller’s Office has many responsibilities related to Tennessee’s public finances including managing the state’s debt programs and working to maintain and monitor the financial health of state and local government entities.

This glossary will be a useful tool for government leaders, policymakers, government employees, and Tennessee citizens who are interested in learning more about Tennessee’s finances and understanding many commonly-used terms.

The glossary contains more than 180 entries covering many areas related to public finance. Sample terms include:

  • Amortization
  • Issuer
  • Balloon Indebtedness
  • Municipal Bond
  • Bond
  • Negotiated Sale
  • Commercial Paper
  • Note
  • Investment Grade
  • Par Value

“Tennessee is nationally recognized for its financial health and stability,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “We are grateful that our state’s leaders remain committed to fiscal integrity, and we hope this glossary provides them with an easy-to-use reference.”

The Public Finance Glossary can be found online by clicking here.

Follow the Comptroller’s Office on twitter @TNCOT

Statement from the Beacon Center of Tennessee, (Dec. 11, 2018):

Link: http://www.beacontn.org/time-to-rethink-our-approach-to-asset-forfeiture

By Branden H. Boucek

The practice of civil asset forfeiture – whereby law enforcement can confiscate a person’s property or money on a suspicion of criminal activity, leaving it to the person to establish his or her innocence – may be on rocky terrain. If the skeptical questions of the Supreme Court justices in the recently argued case of Timbs v. Indiana are any indication, civil asset forfeiture may soon be subject to the constitutional prohibition on excessive fines, putting at least some limits on the practice. Some justices were apparently unmoved by the contention that law enforcement could seize a Land Rover for speeding by 5 miles-per hour.

Civil asset forfeiture is, in addition to flying in the face of the Fifth Amendment and its prohibition of taking of property without due process, bad law enforcement. The law enforcement agency typically keeps the assets. By effectively allowing for law-enforcement to self fund, civil asset forfeiture sets up all the wrong incentives. There’s every reason to chase dollars instead of bad guys.

Imagine an investigation into an international drug cartel has been underway for years when an intercepted phone call reveals that sizable monetary assets are on the move. It isn’t difficult to imagine the pressure to succumb to short-term thinking by making a bad law enforcement decision: seize the known asset rather than wait. The problem is that arresting lower level targets compromises an investigation. It’s hard to ask cash strapped agencies under continuous pressure to do more with less. The temptation to compromise a serious, long-term investigation should not exist. Law enforcement should be funded through the regular budgetary process.

Tennessee would be wise to start thinking proactively about a new approach to seizing criminal assets. Fortunately, it is not an all–or–nothing approach between civil asset forfeiture and criminals keeping drug proceeds. We have another well–established approach. It is called criminal asset forfeiture.

Criminal asset forfeiture produces the same ultimate result: divesting the criminal of illegal gains. The difference is that criminal asset forfeiture uses the regular criminal process, and assesses the forfeiture as a penalty. Under criminal asset forfeiture, the accused can either plead guilty or ask for a jury to make the determination. In other words, this is what we are already doing to anyone accused of a crime. As pointed out above, civil asset forfeiture allows for property to be seized without anyone being charged ever.

To be sure, criminal asset forfeiture is not as quick as civil asset forfeiture. Law enforcement must wait until the proceedings resolve. And now prosecutors must add and resolve an additional charge. But all this is a small price to pay for a restoration of the Fifth Amendment.

Now is as good of a time as any to start rethinking our approach to asset forfeiture.

The Beacon Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing expert empirical research and timely free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee.