NASHVILLE - The guns-in-parking lots bill could be on the House floor for a final vote next week after zipping through a major House committee Tuesday.
House Civil Justice Committee members approved the bill on a voice vote. It allows handgun-carry permit holders to store loaded firearms in their vehicles on parking lots owned by businesses, schools, colleges, churches and most government agencies.
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, the bill's sponsor, and a legislative attorney say the bill still would allow employers to discipline or fire workers who violate company policy.
But customers, visitors and clients with carry permits would be allowed to keep firearms in their vehicles despite owners' wishes. Tennessee has nearly 400,000 handgun-carry permit holders.
Airports, railroads or secure facilities like nuclear power plans, which are governed by federal law, still can ban guns from their property under the bill. And so can owners of single-family, detached homes.
The Tennessee Firearms Association, however, argues the legislation doesn't do enough to protect workers, lambasting it as the "Lose Your Job If You Commute Act."
In response to questions, legislative attorney Tom Tigue said the bill does allow employers to discipline or fire employees who violate company policies banning guns on their property.
"In an at-will employment state, you can still have employment consequences. This bill does not affect what happens in an employment situation," Tigue said.
Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, asked, "So I can fire employees but I can't do anything about customers?"
Replied Tigue: "Correct."
While Second Amendment advocates say the bill doesn't serve the primary purpose of allowing employees to carry guns to and from work, Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, called the measure "an excellent compromise.
"We should have done this two years ago. If an employer chooses to have a policy banning employees from bringing guns on their property, he can," Dennis said.
Faison's bill still must go before the House Calendar and Rules Committee. The committee schedules bills for floor action and unless GOP leaders who have indicated they back the bill change their minds, it's expected to have an easy time there and then go to the floor.
Senators approved the companion bill, sponsored by Republican Speaker Ron Ramsey, this month on a 28-5 vote. Republican leaders see the bill as a way to resolve a four-year battle over guns in parking lots that has left GOP lawmakers caught in the middle of a fierce fight between gun rights advocates and businesses.