Little by little, Governor Bill Haslam is getting used to asserting himself vis-à-vis the Tennessee General Assembly. That's the clear lesson of Haslam's second term,
which began auspiciously at the turn of the year with a proposal to accept Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — a consummation (worth some $1 billion in federal health-care funds annually) devoutly to be wished by the state's hospital community, facing financial hard times and intolerable strains upon their emergency-room capacity.
That proposal, called Insure Tennessee, was made the subject of a special session by the governor but was nipped in the bud by an adverse vote of an ad hoc Health and Welfare Committee of the state Senate, hand-picked by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, who had gotten used in Haslam's first term to having his way with impunity. That did not deter Haslam from encouraging a bipartisan legislative coalition from bringing Insure Tennessee back up for another go-around. The proposal made it safely through two Senate committees but was next routed by Ramsey into a Commerce Committee known to contain sworn foes of the ACA (aka "Obamacare"), where it was killed again.
When all else fails, though, the GOP's ultras in Nashville put their energies behind whatever new bill they can find that extends even further the gun lobby's efforts to shrink what remains of local governments' effort to control unbridled firearms use within their jurisdictions. Here again, the governor is attempting to put the brakes on.
The latest gun bill gathering steam in the General Assembly would not only strike down the prerogatives of local jurisdictions to restrict the presence of firearms in public areas — a clear assertion of the "less-government" party's ongoing contempt for local authority — it would, as a result of a Senate amendment, allow gun-permit holders to strut around the state capitol grounds fully armed. Such is the reigning schizophrenia in Nashville that the shocking amendment was approved both by opponents of proliferating weaponry, who thought the amendment was so outrageous that it might sink the whole bill, and, at least in the Senate, by gun enthusiasts whose motto toward any extension of firearms seems to be the more, the merrier.
To its credit, the state House of Representatives has thus far rejected the guns-on-capitol-grounds provision, and the bill is next due for a House-Senate conference committee, where an effort will be made to reconcile competitive versions.
Once again, Haslam demurs. He has made explicit threats to veto the measure altogether and has said, sensibly enough, "This bill isn't so much a Second Amendment issue. It's a property issue," and he has urged "mayors and county commissioners and park directors" to assert themselves regarding the pending measure.
We're all for this newly resolute version of our governor, and we hope he's prepared to back up his words with the liberal use of his veto pen.