Stockard on the Stump: Democratic chairman to push for state handgun registry

June 3, 2022 7:01 am
Outgoing Democratic House Caucus Chair Vincent Dixie says House Speaker Cameron Sexton interfered in his recent defeat.(Photo: John Partipilo)

Outgoing Democratic House Caucus Chair Vincent Dixie says House Speaker Cameron Sexton interfered in his recent defeat.(Photo: John Partipilo)

Frustrated with the constant mass shootings across the nation, Rep. Vincent Dixie wants to do a little more than pray.

He says he plans to sponsor a bill in 2023 requiring handgun buyers to register with the state, though he considers such a slight measure a “slap in the face.”

The legislation would enact rules similar to those in North Carolina that mandate handgun purchasers to go to the sheriff’s office and get a pistol purchase permit. They wouldn’t have to go through this step if they have a concealed handgun permit issued by the state.

In the wake of the Texas elementary school massacre, the Nashville Democrat contends this should be the “bare minimum” for people who buy handguns. It also would be required for private sales, gifts and inheritances, based on the North Carolina law.

“We need to stop the sale of guns to people who should not have them,” Dixie says.

While many people are digging in their heels and arguing that guns aren’t responsible for the deaths of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the recent spate of mass killings, including the racist shooting spree in Buffalo, is finally catching the nation’s attention.

And while most would agree an 18-year-old shouldn’t be able to walk into a store and buy an AR-15-type gun and boxes of ammo without a second thought, even pro-gun people are starting to think twice about the ease with which this mass killer got his weapons.

We can create policy to make sure people who have guns are the ones that are supposed to have them. And we can create a registration like we do for cars.

– Democratic House Caucus Chair Vincent Dixie, Nashville, of sensible gun laws.

Whether a gun registry would stop such killings as the Robb Elementary School massacre is unknown, of course. And it’ll be a hard sell in Tennessee.

Introducing legislation this session allowing 18-year-olds to walk around armed with handguns under the state’s permit-less carry law, Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, contended that God and the Constitution allow them to do it.

How God came into the picture is unclear, since the creator is nowhere to be found in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

But even if the heavenly father were mentioned in the Second Amendment, which comes after the First Amendment, no doubt the creator is sobbing over the deaths of these innocent children and wondering how and where humans went wrong. 

Dixie and a host of Democrats voted against Todd’s bill in the House, where it passed with relative ease, even though a handful of Republicans voted against. 

As reported previously, it died in the Senate after sponsoring Sen. Mike Bell opted against taking it through the committee system. Even someone as conservative as Bell thought it was a bad idea.

Yet 64 House members thought it was a great idea. Maybe they felt it didn’t matter since it was going nowhere in the Senate anyway. Or maybe they thought it would sell well at re-election time this year. After all, few lawmakers want to be seen as anti-gun in rural Tennessee.

Dixie isn’t worried about losing votes.

“We can create policy to make sure people who have guns are the ones that are supposed to have them. And we can create a registration like we do for cars,” Dixie says.

He’s going to run into a brick wall, though, because the Legislature just passed the permit-less carry law a year ago at Gov. Bill Lee’s request. 

Early in his administration, Lee announced an initiative for state employees to take family leave. When that didn’t float, he went into conservative mode, introducing the permitless carry bill, which allows anyone 21 and over to carry a pistol, as long as they don’t have a felony or domestic violence conviction. Dadgumit, don’t you hate it when they stop stalkers from carrying handguns. It ruins all the potential for horror movies.

Scary flicks aside, lobbyists from hither and yon will descend on Dixie’s plan like buzzards on roadkill.

Considering how much flack lawmakers got this year from the National Rifle Association when they passed an ethics reform bill requiring 501(c)4 groups to report dark money spending before elections, you can imagine what the NRA would do if they tried to go back to the state’s handgun permit policy, which seemed to work pretty well.

Dixie’s efforts would first force a repeal of the permit-less carry, which Lee has referred to as “constitutional carry,” then re-creation of the handgun permit rules, plus another set of bureaucracy through sheriff’s offices to register weapons. I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth now. “How am I going to make it through the Wal-Mart parking lot if I don’t have my Glock?”

Well, North Carolina, which is a “shall issue” state, meaning it hands out gun permits by the thousands, appears to be doing it without much problem at all. 

Good luck to Dixie with the Tennessee Legislature, though, because he’ll need it and more.

(Warning to self: Beware of writing about legislation before it’s in print, because it could be killed before it hits the cutting-room floor.)

I want my, I want my TCAP score

The state’s TNReady test is running into problems for the umpteenth time in a row. 

After technological glitches, COVID-19 postponements and general discombobulation in recent years, the testing process appeared to be running well this spring. The Department of Education thought everything was hunky-dory as students got back into classrooms and took their tests on time.

Not so fast, my friends.

The inevitable happened, and incorrect scores for third grade went out to school districts across the state, putting yet another glitch in the high-stakes test. Some districts decided it wasn’t worth it to include the scores in students’ grades and ditched them. 

Sumner and Metro Nashville districts, two of the largest in the state, notified parents the test results would not be calculated with their children’s final report cards, according to education reporter Andy Spears. Sumner County told parents they would receive their child’s full TNReady scores this fall.

No doubt, parents were heartbroken.

After all, we live and die by this test. Or, at least, they tell us we should.

CAP troubles! Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, pictured at right. with former Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, has run into another educational oopsie. (Photo: John Partipilo)
TCAP troubles! Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, pictured at right. with former Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, has run into another educational oopsie. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, the test results are supposed to make up a percentage of a student’s final grade, as well as portions of teacher, administrator and school assessments. 

Asked about the snafu, Department of Education spokesman Brian Blackley responded that every district in the state could have factored in the scores because they had the information in time. 

High school end-of-course tests were released to districts the evening of May 17, and grades 2-8 achievement files were sent to districts the evening of May 19. Those were sent out in advance of a May 20 target date for raw scores.

During a data review period, a small anomaly was found and traced back to a vendor scoring error that affected one version of the third-grade English language arts exam, according to Blackley. 

(Our third-graders often get a bad rap for poor reading skills. But the business testing them can’t even figure out what it’s doing. Maybe we should dock the multi-million-dollar contract of Pearson, or worse, put them in the Achievement School District, where few escape.)

Oh well. 

The mistake affected less than 5% of all third-grade English tests statewide and was corrected immediately with districts receiving updated data from the state’s vendor, Pearson, within two business days, according to Blackley. All districts had updates, corrected data by Tuesday, May 24, three days before school ended.

“From a process perspective, this is the system operating as it should with robust data review and quality checks,” Blackley said in a statement to Tennessee Lookout.

The law, nevertheless, allows districts to use the test scores for 0-25% in grades 3-5, 10-25% in grades 6-8 and 15-25% in grades 9-12. Thus, based on state law, districts can decide not to factor in the test scores for third-graders.

Ultimately, school districts were not forced to make these decisions but took those steps on their own, Blackley adds.

The state didn’t track the number of districts that declined to use the test scores in their final grades, an oddity considering the Department of Education follows everything else. And to give schools the ability to opt out of grades 3-5 is a little weird when the state gets all torn up about using these numbers to figure out how students are doing.

Ad nauseam, lawmakers cite the statistic that only 33% of third-graders are reading at grade level. If I hear that again, I’m going to jump off the Tennessee Tower. (Maybe not. That would kill my knees.)

But seriously, can we stop making these tests the end-all, be-all and let kids focus on important things? Whatever happened to pitching pennies, food fights and smoking in the boys room? School’s just no fun anymore.

Metro seeks voucher reconsideration

Fretting over the Tennessee Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of private school vouchers, Metro Nashville government this week asked the court to reconsider.

Metro contends the court simply got it wrong on two counts in determining the Home Rule Amendment doesn’t apply to Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account program, which targets Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools and, thus, the governments that fund them.

“You cannot pretend our system is not a part of Metro government,” Mayor John Cooper said at a Wednesday press conference.

Cooper warned that the decision puts Metro’s budget on shaky ground and could wind up forcing Metro Nashville to close some schools. Up to 5,000 students could use the vouchers to go to private schools.

Metro officials contend the school system was integrated into the government when the Metro charter was created in 1962. Thus, the court’s ruling that the law applies only to Metro Nashville Public Schools and not Metro Nashville, which sued to stop the voucher law, is incorrect.

In addition, Metro Law Director Wallace Dietz says the court’s decision conflicts with the text of the Home Rule Amendment as well as previous rulings in which it upheld the 1953 Home Rule Amendment, a provision designed to keep the Legislature from passing laws that affect individual counties without a referendum or vote by the local governing body. 

Metro Nashville officials are pushing back on a recent Tennessee Supreme Court decision that gives the okay for Gov. Bill Lee’s private school voucher program to proceed, but Nashville Mayor John Cooper says the decision will put the city’s budget on shaky ground and could force Nashville to close some schools.

“When the state Legislature passed the voucher legislation, there were not enough votes in the Legislature to make the program statewide. So they kept reducing the number of counties that were impacted ’til they got down to only two, Shelby County and Davidson County. And even with that it got a bare one-vote majority to pass,” Dietz noted in the press conference.  

No referendum or local vote is allowed in the education savings account act, which “forces” Metro Nashville and Shelby County school systems to use state funds to allow some low-income students to enroll in private schools, Dietz pointed out. 

Other questions about the law are still to be determined at the trial court level, but the Home Rule ruling – decided 3-2 by the court – was considered the key factor in Metro’s legal argument. 

Dietz argued that the Legislature passed the Home Rule Act 70 years ago to stop this type of “targeted meddling” in the affairs of one or two local governments.

In recent years, however, the Legislature has taken the attitude that it can and should tell the federal government and local governments what to do, because it created them all. This is far from the first time the General Assembly has targeted Davidson and Shelby.

The attitude of a supermajority Republican Legislature toward the blue islands of Davidson and Shelby counties, even though they bring in the bulk of the state’s revenue, tells the story as much as anything.

Interim health commissioner steps in

With Lisa Piercey bowing out after two years of dealing with COVID-19, Gov. Lee announced this week Dr. Morgan McDonald will take the reins as interim commissioner of the Department of Health, effective Friday. 

McDonald, who will serve until a permanent commissioner is named, was an assistant commissioner and the deputy commissioner for Population Health at the Health Department and was deputy medical director for Family, Health and Wellness.

Harwell draws anti-abortion group’s support

The Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group, announced this week its endorsement of former House Speaker Beth Harwell in the 5th Congressional District race.

“Beth Harwell is a faithful champion of the unborn who proves that pro-life is truly pro-woman,” Marilyn Mugrave, the group’s vice president of government affairs, said in a statement. “Beth’s dynamic efforts as House speaker led to a pro-life constitutional amendment, strongly approved by voters, paving the way for swift enactment of live-saving bans.”

A pro-life group, named for Susan B. Anthony, the champion of women’s suffrage who was not, in fact, vocal about abortion, has endorsed former Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell in her congressional campaign.

Musgrave added that Harwell “did not rest” after the amendment took effect, then supporting health and safety requirements for the “profit-driven abortion industry.”

The question is whether this type of backing will give Harwell much bounce.

Harwell reported $360,730 in receipts through March and nearly $17,000 in expenses. Her main opponent in August’s Republican primary, Kurt Winstead, reported raising more than $1 million and only $1,600 in expenses. 

Natisha Brooks reported raising $64,674 and spending $15,000; Geni Batchelor reported bringing $12,700; Timothy Lee filed $3,000 in contributions. Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles and state Senate staffer Tres Wittum have not filed reports.

Support for Campbell

Predictably, the Service Employees International Union this week endorsed state Sen. Heidi Campbell, the Democratic candidate for the 5th Congressional District seat. 

“Sen. Campbell has proven herself to be a fighter who isn’t afraid to take on the powerful special interests who are rigging our economy against working families,” said Russ Anthony, a retired Metro Nashville social worker and SEIU member. “We need more people in Congress like her who understand what our lives are like and the challenges we face. We’re proud to support her.”

Local 205 President Brad Rayson said, “We’ve seen Sen. Campbell’s pragmatic approach to governing in the Legislature, and that’s exactly what we need to get things done in Congress.”

Former Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton. (Photo By The Denver Post via Getty Images)
House Speaker Cameron Sexton this week lauded Tennessee’s governors, past and present. Think he meant to include Democrat Ray Blanton, who spent nearly two years in the hoosegow over scandals in his administration? (Photo By The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Dallas’ Law takes effect

The governor signed legislation dubbed “Dallas’ Law” this week, requiring those applying for security guard jobs to go through de-escalation training.

The measure stems from the death of Dallas “DJ” Barrett at Nashville’s Whiskey Row in August 2021 after an altercation with unlicensed security guards. His death was ruled a homicide by asphyxiation.

The measure was sponsored by state Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville.

As a former do-it-all worker for Go West Presents at the old Cannery in Nashville, I can attest that security workers need some training. All I knew how to do was bust knuckles and throw people out the door. Thank you, Lord, for letting me survive.

Ultimately, our security was handled by Rock Solid, whose motto was “Polite but firm.” Nobody messed with those guys.

Wiping the slate clean?

House Speaker Cameron Sexton tweeted Wednesday that as Tennessee celebrates Statehood Day, “we thank all who’ve led our great state – from our first governor, John Sevier, to our current governor, @BillLee. Tennessee has been blessed with outstanding leadership.”

Pardon me, Speaker, but does that include Ray Blanton?

Get back to work, or else

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson tweeted this week that early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Tennessee decided “the best way to get people back to work was to stop paying them to stay home. That decision paid off and today we’re seeing low unemployment across the state.”

Gov. Lee announced about this time last year he would be cutting off the extra federal unemployment benefits people had been receiving. It amounted to about two months of jobless benefits as state lawmakers whined about people sitting on their duffs.

If the jobless rate is as low as Franklin GOP Sen. Jack Johnson says, why are people standing in line for hours to get service at Krogers?

Whether there is a clear correlation with the current unemployment rate is unclear. Nevertheless, the state’s unemployment rate is about 3%, where it was before the pandemic struck. Williamson’s is at 2%, and the state’s highest is 5.1% in my beloved Perry County (Mama’s birthplace).

My question is: If the jobless rate is so low, why are people standing in line for hours at Kroger, and why can’t the post office find enough workers? Something ain’t computing.

“Give me a job/ Give me security/ I need a chance to survive.”

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial and Best Single Feature from the Tennessee Press Association.