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State Legislative Round Up – 3.29.12

State Legislative Round Up – 3.29.12

Mountaintop removal
ban dies in House
Erik Schelzig
Associated Press
Nashville (AP) — A House subcommittee Tuesday killed a bill seeking to ban mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee.
The House Conservation Subcommittee voted 6-4 to send the measure sponsored by Rep. Mike McDonald to a study committee after the Legislature adjourns for the year.
Republican Rep. Richard Floyd of Chattanooga made the motion to put off a vote on the bill because he said the panel needed more information about the measure.
McDonald, a Portland Democrat who is retiring from the Legislature this year, noted that versions of the bill have been before Tennessee lawmakers since 2008, and that opposing views have had ample opportunity to be heard.
A busload of members of the mining industry crowded into the hearing room in black t-shirts reading “Legalize Coal.”
Earlier in the day they held up signs near the entrance of the legislative office complex.
“We’re here to rally for our jobs,” said Barry Thacker, president of Knoxville-based Geo Environmental Associates Inc. “We just don’t understand how folks in this type of an environment would want to take our jobs from us.”
The bill sponsored by McDonald and Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Winchester, would ban any mining that alters ridgelines more than 2,000 feet above sea level. Supporters call the measure the “Scenic Vistas Protection Act,” and have been running television ads to drum up support for the bill.
Opponents argue that Tennessee doesn’t practice mountaintop removal mining.
The practice involves blasting apart mountain ridge tops to expose multiple coal seams. The resulting rock and debris is dumped in streams, creating what the industry calls valley fills.
“The mining we’re doing now is on land that was strip mined back in the 60s and 70s,” Thacker said.
“And coal companies are now going back and reclaiming that land using the forestry reclamation approach, which is that we plant trees on it.”
The bill would exclude mines with current mining permits, but opponents worry that it is a first step toward ending Tennessee coal mining.
“It will eventually impact and cause most if not all coal mining in the state to leave,” Thacker said.
“And we need coal mining.”

Guns in parking lots measure sent for Senate vote
Nashville (AP) — A measure to eliminate the rights of businesses, schools and universities to bar employees from storing firearms in parked vehicles is headed for a full Senate vote.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-1 on Tuesday to advance the bill after Chairwoman Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, refused a request to hear from representatives of FedEx Corp. or other large employers that oppose the bill.
“I don’t know that any more testimony is going to change anybody’s mind,” Beavers said.
The original version of the measure sponsored by Sen. Mike Faulk would have applied to any person with a legal firearm, but the Kingsport Republican narrowed the scope of the bill by having it apply only to the state’s 344,000 handgun carry permit holders.
The bill was subsequently expanded by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, to cover anyone with a Tennessee hunting license as long as they are at least 21 years old.
Unlike handgun carry permits, hunting licenses require no training or background check.
An AP reporter ordered one online during the committee hearing for $27.

Effort to repeal voter ID law dies in Tenn Senate
Nashville (AP) — A proposal to repeal Tennessee’s new voter ID law has stalled in the Legislature after being killed by a Senate panel on Tuesday.
Members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 3-6 against the measure sponsored by Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson.
The companion bill was to be heard in a similar committee later in the House.
The law requires a photo ID in order to vote. Supporters say it’s needed to protect the ballot box from fraudulent voting.
“Our world has changed … since 9/11”, said Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, a member of the committee and sponsor of the new law.
“To board a plane you have a photo ID, to pick up your child at school you have to have a photo ID. This is a tool to help.”
State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins said he favors the new law because it does provide a tool that wasn’t there before to more thoroughly identify the person seeking to vote.
“It’s kind of like when you’re speeding, you need a radar gun to prove that someone’s speeding,” he said.
“This is basically a radar gun if someone comes in now we’ve got their photo to compare.”

Medical marijuana bill advances in Tenn. House
Nashville (AP) — A proposal to legalize medical marijuana is advancing in the state House.
The House Health Subcommittee approved the measure on a voice vote on Tuesday after similar measures had quickly failed in previous years.
Democratic Rep. Jeanne Richardson of Memphis, the bill’s main sponsor, said the measure would create the toughest access standards among the states that have enacted similar laws.
In Richardson’s words: “Medical cannabis is no longer a radical idea — this is not Cheech and Chong with a bong.”
Republican Rep. Joey Hensley, a Hohenwald physician, raised concerns that doctors aren’t trained on how to prescribe marijuana.
The companion bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

WCP 3.29.12