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100 soldiers from the Tennessee Army National Guard's 252nd Military Police Company.

NASHVILLE -- Tennessee National Guard members with state handgun-carry permits, who were authorized last year to bring their firearms into state military facilities, will have both civil immunity and legal representation under a bill that passed the state Senate on Monday in a 32-0 vote.

Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, said the issue "was brought to our attention after the terrorist attacks in Chattanooga that killed five of our service members."

Tennessee Adj. Gen. Max Haston last year changed longstanding policy that prohibited National Guard members from carrying their personal firearms at state facilities.

The move came after 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez attacked a U.S. military recruiting station on Lee Highway and then went on to attack the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway, where he shot and killed or mortally wounded five Marine and Navy reservists.

"What [Haston] could not do and what he brought to our attention is that he could not extend any civil immunity in the event of another terrorist attack or if there was any attack on our members that they needed to defend themselves or others," Briggs told colleagues. "What this bill does, it extends civil immunity both for personal and property damage to our service members."

And, said Briggs, a retired U.S. Army colonel, "because this [legal defense] could result in financial ruin of our services members if there's ever litigation brought against them for their actions we provide legal counsel to those members also."

The House companion bill is scheduled to come up today for a subcommittee vote.

In other legislative activity, Tennessee senators spurred by a deadly December 2014 tragedy in Knox County on Monday cracked down on school bus drivers texting while driving, making it a Class A misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail for use of electronic devices while on the job.

"No parent should send their child off to school and that child not return to school because of a bus driver's texting," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, told colleagues.

The bill also permanently revokes a driver's ability to drive a school bus if they are texting or using electronic devices.

Massey's bill was prompted by the case of school bus driver James Davenport, 48, who according to news accounts was texting a prostitute while driving young children from Chilhowee Elementary when he swerved into oncoming traffic on Asheville Highway and struck another bus from Sunnyview Primary.

Two children and a teacher's aide died. Months later, Davenport was found dead at his mother's home. His death was attributed to natural causes, the Knoxville News Sentinel has reported.

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

This story was updated March 7 at 11:30 p.m.

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