Tennessee House OKs bringing back electric chair

photo The Tennessee Capitol is seen in this file photo.
photo The execution chamber at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, shown in this file photo, has a gurney used for lethal injections and an electric chair.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee would be ready to electrocute death row inmates should lethal injection drugs be unavailable under a bill approved Wednesday by the House.

Representatives voted 68-13 for the measure. The bill was previously approved by the Senate, but a minor amendment added by the House sends it back to the Senate. If senators agree, it goes to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

Under the bill, lethal injection would remain the preferred method of execution. But in the event the drugs needed were unavailable or lethal injections were found unconstitutional by a court, the state would have a standby.

Not everyone was happy with that.

"I believe in allowing the law of God to punish a man for his sins," Rep. Johnny Shaw, R-Bolivar, a pastor, said on the House floor. "But it is not for me to say I should throw the rock, that rock ... because life or death is not in my hands."

Bill sponsor Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, said, "I agree with you it's not our job to judge; that's God's job to judge. Our job is to arrange the meeting."

The bill drew praise from Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, who told colleagues murderers "never afforded their victims a painless death or any sympathy or empathy in any way."

State lawmakers on Wednesday kicked into high gear, acting on any number of thorny remaining issues in hopes of ending their annual session today.

In other action:

• Haslam signed into law legislation ending Tennessee cities' ability to annex by ordinance.

The law, sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, requires cities annex by consent of a landowner or through referendum votes approved by a majority of the landowners to be annexed.

To protect farmers, land used primarily for agricultural purposes can't be annexed unless the farmer agrees.

"This was truly a movement by the people and would not have occurred without the teamwork of many making their wishes known to state government," Carter in a news release.

• The House took final action on a measure expected to save local governments money on some jail inmate medical costs, sending the bill to Gov. Bill Haslam.

"This is a very very important bill," said bill sponsor Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge. "This will save our local governments a lot of money."

The bill seeks to shift costs on some inmates' care under specific circumstances to the federal government through Medicaid, operated here as TennCare.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, sponsored the Senate bill, which passed 30-0 last week.

A bill to change how Erlanger Health System's board is appointed is poised for a state Senate vote today after its companion bill sailed through the House.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said he would bring up the Senate bill today as lawmakers scramble to conclude their annual session this week.

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House members passed the Erlanger measure in one fell swoop Wednesday along with 68 other local bills and resolutions, which were placed on a single "calendar" of measures and passed en masse on a single vote by representatives.

The Erlanger bill shifts power to appoint board members to the Hamilton County Commission and the legislative delegation, with one appointment by the Erlanger chief of staff. The city of Chattanooga, the Chancery Court judges and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society would lose their appointment power

If the Senate passes the bill, it would have to be approved by two-thirds of the Hamilton County Commission to go into effect.

• The House voted to adopt a special committee report that implements a one-year delay in the testing component of Tennessee's Common Core curriculum.

Representatives voted 85-8 to accept the conference committee report. Senators are expected to vote on it today.

Last month, a coalition of House Republican and Democratic members revolted and ran over both House Republican leaders and Haslam to seize a bill and use it to implement a two-year delay of both Common Core standards and testing.

The state had been planning to use tests developed by a consortium of states, which has drawn fierce opposition from social conservatives. That testing would begin at the end of the 2014-2015 school year.

• Efforts to restrict the sale of over-the-counter cold medications used to make methamphetamine is headed for a House and Senate conference committee after representatives overwhelmingly rejected the senators' tougher version of a Haslam administration bill.

The House voted 80-10 against an effort to go along with the Senate's version. Senators passed a 14.4-gram annual limit. The original House-passed version imposes a more liberal 28.8 gram limit -- about a five-month supply of products containing pseudoephedrine.

Some representatives want no limits at all. Others say the Senate's stricter version would punish law-abiding users. Haslam and many senators say meth production is such a scourge in Tennessee that tighter limits are justified.

Users who hit either chambers' limits would have to get a doctor's prescription to obtain more medication.

Drug manufacturers have lobbied heavily against the bill.

• A push by Americans for Prosperity to phase out the state's limited Hall income tax on investments and dividends is dead for the year.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, withdrew the bill from the Senate Finance Committee late Wednesday afternoon after panel members nervously wrangled over the measure for weeks.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.