NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee House Republicans overwhelmingly oppose holding a floor vote on a contentious proposal to guarantee workers the right to store firearms in vehicles parked on company lots, regardless of their employers' wishes, a GOP lawmaker told The Associated Press on Monday.
The result of the secret Republican Caucus ballot was heavily against a vote on the gun bill, according to the lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity Monday because members agreed to keep the internal deliberations of the caucus secret.
The bill backed by the National Rifle Association is opposed by business groups that say it would violate their property rights. But NRA lobbyist Darren LaSorte said the measure is far from dead for the year.
"As far as the vote count that supposedly happened behind closed doors in some dark room somewhere around here, who was counting the votes?" LaSorte said. "All we're asking for is a fair, open vote for the public to see."
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the speakers of both chambers have argued that the guns bill is too broad because it doesn't allow large employers to restrict guns on their property, and because it would allow firearms on the campuses of colleges and K-12 schools.
LaSorte dismissed those concerns as "excuses," saying that making exceptions wouldn't treat all people the same.
"If I'm a university professor or a school teacher, those are jobs we all appreciate, but you're treated as second-class citizens if those carve-outs are created," he said.
The measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. Eddie Bass of Prospect has cleared House committees but could get hung up in the committee that schedules bills for floor votes.
The NRA has also urged lawmakers to seek to circumvent the committee system by calling the measure directly to the floor. That would require a two-thirds vote in the 99-member chamber. The companion bill has also been sent for a floor vote in the Senate, but Republican Speaker Ron Ramsey has said he doesn't expect it to come up for a final vote before the Legislature adjourns for the year.
Democratic Rep. Lois DeBerry of Memphis, an opponent of the measure, said she expected the NRA to ratchet up the pressure on Republican lawmakers following the caucus vote Monday.
"You know they're going to be working the phone and the email tonight," she said with a laugh. "It ain't over yet."
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle sought to bring the companion bill to a vote in the upper chamber. While the maneuver gained a bare majority of 17 votes, it failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority to be adopted.
"I can't vote against this bill if the members won't allow it to be heard on the floor," the Memphis Democrat said in a statement.
The move was meant to put Republican members at odds with gun advocates over a procedural vote, Ramsey said.
"That was obviously playing games," the Blountville Republican said. "Obviously, he was just trying to put our members on the spot."