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TN Senate agrees to let some teachers carry arms

8:47 AM, Apr 19, 2013   |    comments
Sen. Green/The Tennessean
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By Chas Sisk, The Tennessean

The Tennessee Senate approved legislation Thursday that would let some teachers carry arms, and the House of Representatives approved a bill that would give the State Board of Education final authority to rule on charter schools.

In a busy day as lawmakers enter the home stretch for the 2013 legislative session, senators voted 27-6 to approve House Bill 6, a measure that lets teachers who have worked as police officers in the past carry their guns with them at school. They also added an amendment that would make information about which teachers are carrying - or even if a school has any armed teachers - confidential.

House members signed off on the amendment later in the day, sending the measure to Gov. Bill Haslam.

The votes came a day after the U.S. Senate was unable to amass 60 votes in favor of taking up legislation expanding criminal background checks to Internet sales and gun shows, among other proposals.

State Sen. Mark Green, the Clarksville Republican who came up with the amendment in committee, argued that it would keep "bad guys" from knowing whether there are armed teachers when planning an attack. Opponents said it would take away parents' right to decide whether they want their children in a classroom with guns.

Critics also noted that because the law does not specify what guns could be carried, semiautomatic weapons such as Uzis and AK-47s theoretically could be allowed.

Supporters countered that local school and law enforcement officials would have to approve any plan for guns, including the types of weapons allowed.

The measure has been billed as a compromise between the various proposals filed in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December. Other suggestions in the Tennessee legislature ranged from letting any teacher with a permit to carry a handgun bring their weapons to school to requiring trained police, known as "school resource officers," in every school.

"Sometimes you just have to make a decision," said state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. "When you try to please everybody, in fact you please nobody."

Later in the day, the House voted 62-30 to give state officials the final say on charter schools in districts with failing schools. The vote represents the climax in a session-long debate over how to handle appeals when local districts reject a charter school application. It still needs Senate approval.

In other business:

• The Senate signed off on technical changes to the state's $32.7 billion budget and sent it to Gov. Bill Haslam.

• The House voted 66-23 to pass HB 639, which ends $15 per week unemployment benefit payments for dependents instituted during the recession. The bill also increases auditing of the unemployed.

• The House voted 78-16 to pass HB 475, which imposes a moratorium on annexation proceedings in some jurisdictions.

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