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An FBI investigator investigates the scene of a shooting outside a military recruiting center on Friday, July 17, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez of Hixson, Tenn., attacked two military facilities on Thursday, in a shooting rampage that killed four Marines. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed 2016-17 budget makes a down payment of at least $1.58 million on security improvements at National Guard armories and recruiting centers after the July attack in Chattanooga that left five service members dead.

 

"It's starting down the road," state Adj. Gen. Max Haston said last week, noting the items still await approval by state lawmakers. "I've gotten very specific in what we want to spend it on — we've got cameras, magnetic locks and bollards."

Other "force protection" items include special film for windows, emergency phone systems and privacy screens.

Tennessee began some upgrades after Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez attacked the military recruiting center on Lee Highway and gunned down four Marines and a Navy man at the U.S. Navy Reserve Training Center on Amnicola Highway.

Abdulazeez, 24, died in a hail of bullets fired by Chattanooga police. Abdulazeez's family said he had suffered from depression. The FBI later characterized the shooting as a terrorist- inspired act.

Haston said some of the added security measures already are in place, paid for with existing funds. He is hoping for more money down the pike for heavy metal fencing to make armories more secure.

"The total cost of fencing everything in is like $16 million," Haston said. "But we're on the way. [The $1.58 million is] really going to help."

The federal government pays for 75 percent of capital improvements, Haston said.

"What we're doing right now is trying to work with the federal government and get more resources from the federal government to put that [fencing] in."

Haslam's total recommended Military Department spending is $12.76 million. Spending on security measures other than the specified $1.58 million is not specifically broken out of the general spending.

Ruckus on House floor

Debate last week on a controversial bill regarding removal of Confederate monuments resulted in a confrontation between a black lawmaker and his white colleague on the House floor.

The bill would make it harder for state and local governments to remove statues, names and plaques devoted to Confederate figures and events

WKRN-TV in Nashville described the confrontation between Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who is black, and Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who is white, as resembling a "near tussle."

The situation developed when Todd moved to cut off debate on the bill. His motion failed, but Hardaway marched to the back of the chamber where Todd sits and spoke heatedly to him.

WKRN video shows Hardaway gesticulating, walking away and then returning for more animated talk. Todd stands up and the men get in each other's faces although what is said can't be made out.

The video shows other lawmakers and Secretary of State Tre Hargett getting between the pair and Hardaway walking away.

The Nashville Scene quoted Hardaway saying "two gentlemen were having a passionate discussion." The Scene reported Hardaway denied calling Todd a "racist [expletive]."

"I would not have called him that," the Scene quoted Hardaway saying with a laugh.

Senate holds its nose and votes

Senators had their own stink on the Senate floor last week when a bill came up allowing Tennesseans to own, sell and buy pet skunks.

"They make great pets," enthused the bill's sponsor, Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, as skunk jokes, references and stories wafted through the upper chamber.

It's now a criminal offense to keep a skunk as a pet in Tennessee. But 17 states have made skunk ownership legal. The animals can fetch as much as $1,000.

Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, began the ribbing: "Are the skunks fixed or in their 'natural way?'"

Replied Bailey: "Your skunk should be fixed, Sen. Crowe."

Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, who is a farmer, told colleagues, "I'm probably the only senator up here who had a pet skunk when I was a child. My mother wanted a dog but they got me a skunk. I really don't recommend them."

Offered Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma: "I really don't think this bill passes the smell test."

As colleagues groaned, Bailey said, "Yes, a skunk should have its scent glands removed. And the skunk should be neutered."

The vote was 27-3 in favor. The bill is moving in the House.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timefreepress.com, 615-255-0550 or follow via Twitter at AndySher1.

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