Opinion » Editorial

Tennessee General Assembly 2016: Here We Go Again!


By an interesting fact of the governmental calendar, the Tennessee General Assembly convened for its 2016 legislative session on Tuesday, mere hours before President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address. To

further the coincidence, the gathered lawmakers of Tennessee are scheduled to be living it up at the annual pre-session gala sponsored by AT&T in one of the best-known edifices of the Nashville skyline, the so-called "Batman building." No disrespect meant to the giant communications corporation, but the nickname of its landmark building seems appropriate in view of the annual fantasies that are cooked up in the nearby state Capitol building.

According to advance forecasts, one of the issues to be taken up, both by the president in his address and by the legislature, when it gets down to business, concerns the increased incidence of deadly weaponry in the body politic. Obama is expected to dilate even further on the measures he took last week to secure some extremely modest curbs on the sale of firearms to certifiably mentally ill persons and on the ridiculously wide-open availability of guns that can be sold at gun shows without buyers having to undergo even minimal background checks.

As the president noted last week, there was a time when the National Rifle Association itself favored such safeguards, but the N.R.A.'s position these days is an adamant resistance and an apparent conviction that the only remedy to the violence stemming from an ever-increasing supply of guns is more guns.

As it happens, the majority of members of the General Assembly in Nashville have seemed to be of that persuasion in recent years as well. As the 2015 legislature left matters, there were virtually no gun-free zones left, and there are likely to be moves to follow in the wake of nearby states such as Arkansas and Mississippi, which have opted for open-carry laws so permissive as to basically be nonexistent. An opinion issued last year by Tennessee's Attorney General may save the legislators the bother of having to pass new laws to catch up with our neighbors, but that won't keep some of the gun nuts in the General Assembly from trying.

Even as the president in Washington may be boasting about the increasing numbers of Americans now covered by health insurance and medical attention fostered by the Affordable Care Act, there is a consensus that a firewall will continue to exist in Nashville against the kind of legislation, such as Governor Bill Haslam's rejected Insure Tennessee proposal, that could secure an overdue expansion of health care in Tennessee. Nor is the General Assembly likely to consider a gasoline tax or any other form of serious revenue enhancement to tackle the task of overhauling the state's clearly deteriorating infrastructure. That, too, will evidently be left to the feds to do something about. 

Ah, but the General Assembly does have its priorities — such as the kind of restrictions on abortion and same-sex marriage that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against an infinite number of times in the former case and is sure to disapprove in the latter case as well. And there is a new bill on file from Nashville state Representative Glen Casada to preempt affordable housing legislation by localities, just as previous measures succeeded in depriving cities and counties from establishing their own wage and ethics standards.

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