NASHVILLE - The House sponsor of a bill letting handgun-carry permit holders go armed in restaurants selling alcohol angrily accused Gov. Phil Bredesen on Monday of showing "no courtesy" for lawmakers by keeping "his little plan secret" to veto the measure until the last minute.
"I won't tell you what the governor can do with that piece of paper he just sent," Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, told the House after the governor's veto message, signed last Thursday, was officially read in the chamber.
Rep. Todd served formal notice that he intends to override Gov. Bredesen's veto on Wednesday. Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, the bill's Senate sponsor, served notice on Friday. It was unclear whether the Senate override attempt would be made this morning or Wednesday.
Rep. Todd told the House that Sen. Jackson got word through back channels that a veto was pending, and Sen. Jackson reached the governor's office about 2:40 p.m., some 20 minutes before the governor's carefully choreographed news conference with law enforcement officials on Thursday.
"He had no intention of notifying us until Jackson called the governor's office," Rep. Todd said. "He has no courtesy for us as members of the General Assembly, to have the decency to let us know as sponsors of the bill really know what was going on."
Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said "courtesy calls were absolutely made to both sponsors of the bill before the governor vetoed" the measure. "That's part of the protocol."
She provided no time line on the calls. As for Rep. Todd's comments about what the governor "can do with that piece of paper," Ms. Lenker said, "those types of comments are disappointing. Reasonable people can disagree, and do it reasonably and the public expects a higher degree of civility in these types of discussions."
House Democratic Leader Mike Turner of Nashville chided Rep. Todd, saying his remarks were "a little out of line. ... I think it was inappropriate what he said about our governor. I hope he would refrain from doing those type statements in the future."
Earlier in the day, Gov. Bredesen told reporters he won't be "even faintly surprised" if lawmakers overrides his veto of House Bill 962. He said he simply wanted to give lawmakers another chance to think about the measure.
"For a couple hundred years in this country we have understood the rationale for not mixing guns and alcohol," The Associated Press quoted the governor saying. "And to change it in this way in this state, for reasons that don't seem the least bit clear, I just think is a real mistake."
Earlier in the day, Rep. Todd said, "I look forward to the veto. I got the votes."
This is Gov. Bredesen's sixth veto. Lawmakers have not attempted to override previous vetoes. But an override only requires a simple constitutional majority of 50 votes in the House and 17 votes in the Senate - the same number needed to pass a bill.
The bill passed the House 66-23 in its final version. The Senate approved the measure in a 26-7 vote.
The bill allows the state's estimated 222,000 permit holders to bring loaded handguns into restaurants selling alcohol as well as bars and night clubs provided they do not drink. It also allows establishments to post signs banning handguns, which are to be obeyed. Police say enforcement would be difficult at best.
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said the "guns in bars" bill is a major topic of conversation in Chattanooga.
"I have never had so many people stop me and talk with me about a single issue," said Sen. Berke, who has been in office for 18 months. "It's very hard to go to a restaurant and not have somebody ask me about what is going on the Legislature about guns."
During an online discussion Monday morning at the Times Free Press, most of the questions to Sen. Berke centered on gun legislation. Some questioners suggested Democrats were out of touch on the issue.
"Every lawmaker considers the political consequences of a vote," said Sen. Berke, who voted against the bill. "But I truly believe guns in bars is a bad idea, politics aside."