NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee House on Thursday passed legislation requiring that all doctors who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges in the county where the procedure is performed or in an adjacent county.
Opponents charged the bill is intended to make it harder for women to find abortion services in Tennessee, especially in smaller communities.
In another major development, the Senate voted 30-0 for a compromise bill regarding the entity that investigates complaints against judges.
The would measure eliminate the 10-member Court of the Judiciary and replace it with a 16-member Board of Judicial Conduct. It also would make changes in who names members, with some appointments made by the governor and House and Senate speakers in additional to various conferences of judges.
House members have yet to move on the measure, which grew out of complaints that the Court of the Judiciary rarely took public action.
The abortion measure, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, was approved on a 72-24 vote. The Republican-backed bill, which drew support from eight Democrats, has not yet been acted on in the Senate.
Hill said the bill is needed to protect women's health and safety if problems occur during abortions performed by outpatient surgical centers or in doctors' offices.
"To continue to make the false assertion that abortions only take place in surgical centers is ludicrous," Hill said. "They take place in many, many locations other than surgical centers."
Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, charged that abortion providers are being unfairly singled out because the legislation doesn't place requirements on doctors at other ambulatory clinics or offices performing eye, foot and similar surgical procedures to have hospital admitting privileges.
"I think it's intended to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to place another requirement on a physician that makes it more difficult for a woman to seek out the services that they want that are legal in the state of Tennessee," he said.
Republicans moved to cut off debate, leaving Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, to complain later that all floor discussion had been between men and that she and other women had been left out.
"We have made it painfully clear to the women and men in Tennessee who is in charge of women's bodies and their health care decisions, and the decisions ultimately about their lives," she charged.
Hill recently dropped from the bill more controversial provisions that would have publicly posted on a state website the names of doctors performing abortions as well as county-by-county demographic information about women undergoing the procedures.
In other legislative matters Thursday:
• Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said bills eliminating the rights of businesses and schools to block people from storing guns in locked vehicles on their parking lots "go too far."
The Senate Judiciary Committee this week approved the measure, allowing anyone with a state-issued handgun carry permit or anyone over age 21 with a state-issued hunting license to keep their weapons out of sight in their locked vehicles when the vehicle is parked on private or public parking lots.
Businesses ranging from Volkswagen in Chattanooga to FedEx Corp. in Memphis are battling the legislation, saying it infringes on their property rights and could harm security.
Ramsey said he considers himself "the biggest Second Amendment rights person that's ever lived," but the bill needs to apply only to handgun permit holders.
"And I'm still one that [thinks] there should be some form of posting, I've still not settled on exactly what yet, that allows certain businesses to post [against guns on] their parking lot," Ramsey said.
• The House voted 75-15 for a bill by Judiciary Committee Chairman Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, that would increase by sevenfold fees for Tennesseans wishing to expunge their criminal arrests following successful completion of a judicial diversion program.
Watson said increasing the fee from $50 to $350 was necessary given a huge influx in recent years of requests to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which handles expungement requests. There are about 28,000 such requests annually, he said.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...