NASHVILLE — It's not every day a Republican representative in Tennessee's GOP-dominated House draws praise from Democrats on a gun bill he or she is sponsoring.
But several Democrats are doing just that on an amended version of a bill sponsored by Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, a former Tennessee Republican Party chairman.
Smith's measure, House Bill 754, would make it a Class A criminal misdemeanor in Tennessee for anyone transferring a firearm to a person if they know that person has been judicially committed to a mental institution or adjudicated by a court as a "mental defective" or is receiving inpatient treatment.
Those convicted would face up to a year in jail as well as up to $2,500 in fines. It wouldn't apply if the mentally ill person's right to possess firearms has been legally restored.
It's scheduled to come on the House floor on Monday.
During recent testimony as the bill came through House committees, Smith said the amendment "only addresses the knowing and willing transfer of weapons to someone who has been either certified and committed" due to being a danger to themselves or to others.
The bill's amendment to her original bill, she said, came at the suggestion of state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services officials. And, Smith said, it relates to last year's Waffle House shooting in Nashville that left four people dead and two others wounded.
According to authorities, Jason Reinking, an Illinois man with a history of hospitalization and treatment for schizophrenia, was living in Nashville when he assaulted the restaurant with a semi-automatic rifle that authorities say had been returned to him by his father, who still lived in Illinois.
Illinois authorities later charged the man's father, according to news accounts.
"This only addresses the fact of a third party such as, again, like the Waffle House shooter's father, who knowingly transferred and gave access to a patient who is known to be a harm to themselves," Smith said.
During discussion in the House Constitutional Protections & Sentencing Subcommittee last month, Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, often a thorn in GOP members' sides, told Smith "I want to thank you for bringing this. In my eight years here in the General Assembly, I think this is the first piece of sensible gun legislation I've seen. Thank you for bringing this."
Chuckling, Smith replied "as a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, as a carry permit holder duly and legally assigned to carry a gun in the state of Tennessee, it is not lost on me that we do have a duty to public safety."
In this case, she added, "not only is this the right thing to do, I think we can all stand together despite our partnership and understand a mental illness diagnosis carries the weight."
Later as it came through the full Judiciary Committee, Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, said he liked the bill too.
"I think this is a great bill," said Parkinson, who went on to quip, "I'm surprised this bill has gotten this far. Maybe I shouldn't sign on [as a co-sponsor] since it's moving."
The Senate companion bill is sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, a staunch gun-rights advocate. It has yet to start moving.
Gardenhire: Brownfields bill
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, has the amended version of his "brownfields" bill up on the Senate floor for final action on Monday.
The senator's original Senate Bill 355 triggered a case of serious heartburn for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and a group of local developers. That's because it took Hamilton County out of a 2011 law that Berke passed when he was a senator to create the program.
Owners of the 141-acre former Wheland and U.S. Pipe foundries sites are looking to redevelop the property using tax-increment financing provisions allowed by the 2011 law. It permits sales tax collections from within a targeted area to pay for development at previously developed sites which may be complicated by hazardous substances or contaminants.
Gardenhire, whose bill extends the impact to other counties across the state, had criticized Berke's original law. But he has since agreed to bring Hamilton and the state's other large counties back into the bill.
When his amended bill came through the Senate State and Local Government Committee last month, Gardenhire said that "after working with many stakeholders to improve the first bill passed in 2011 by clarifying ambiguous language that caused no one to use these provisions, we have come up with an amendment that would expand these benefits to all counties and especially those small and medium-size counties that have brownfields."
"I think I made a point about excluding populations on a broad basis," Gardenhire added. "That was the point because the original law that was adopted only applied to the largest counties."
Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, is scheduled to have the House companion bill on the House floor Wednesday. It is House Bill 327.
Hakeems's first bill
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, has his first bill up for consideration on the House floor Monday as well.
Under an amendment, House Bill 888 would require county election commission officials to recuse themselves if a member of their immediate family is on the ballot for public office. It also requires the State Election Commission to appoint a temporary replacement for the election.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.