Why Representative Debra Maggart Must Be Defeated

During the 2012 legislative session, the NRA had two bills that were its legislative priorities for the year.  They constituted the Safe Commute Act.  HB 3560 prevented employers, other property owners and government entities from prohibiting Tennessee’s 350,000 handgun carry permit holders from storing their legally possessed firearms out of sight in their locked private vehicle, as long as the vehicle is permitted to be on the property.  This would have ensured that gun owners were able to defend themselves during their commute away from home.  HB 3559 prohibited employers from discriminating against current and prospective employees for choosing to exercise their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms outside of work.

While Representative Maggart had a history of supporting gun rights earlier in her career, she played the instrumental role this year as Republican Caucus Chairman in killing this life-saving legislation.  She led the effort to deny the bills a full and fair vote by the citizens’ 99 democratically elected representatives on the House Floor.  The bills had earned a floor vote after passing through the Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee with overwhelming, bi-partisan support.  Representative Maggart’s successful effort to deny the citizens their vote is not how our cherished representative democracy was ever intended to work.  

Of course, so much effort was expended in denying the bills their vote because passage was virtually assured.  This would have upset many members of the business community, including Fed Ex, Volkswagen and Bridgestone, because it would have prohibited them from rendering their employees defenseless during their commute to and from work.  Disregarding the positive experience of 16 other states with similar laws, they claimed that legally transported firearms stored out of sight in the locked vehicles of employees while they are in the workplace would present too much danger of facilitating workplace violence.  

Opponents claimed that the Safe Commute Act violated private property rights.  The truth is that this legislation found the perfect balance between the private property rights of vehicle owners and the rights of parking lot owners.  It can be said that these rights intersect literally where the rubber meets the asphalt.  Law-abiding citizens should be able to store legal products, such as firearms, in their personal vehicle while at work without having to worry about losing their job.  And, while the opponents may not consider the right to self-defense an important factor in finding this balance, proponents do.  

Property owners must accept that the rights they enjoy on their own residential property are necessarily different from those they enjoy on their other property once they choose to invite others to regularly park on that property.  Parking lots are already subject to a vast array of government mandates and regulation.  Those who believe it is appropriate and reasonable to draw a line against regulation at a place that leaves hundreds of thousands of good Tennesseans defenseless as they go about their day outside of their homes are simply wrong.  The current state of the law allows for parking lot owners to effectively negate the concealed handgun carry law adopted 15 years ago.  This is unacceptable and must be addressed.  Unfortunately, Debra Maggart used her position in House republican leadership to do the bidding for big business and kill the Safe Commute Act.

How Debra Maggart Denied the People Their Vote

After the bills had passed through the Committee on Consumer and Employee Affairs, Representative Maggart orchestrated a vote of her republican caucus members behind closed doors.  According to her obviously biased report, the vote showed that members did not want to do their jobs and hold a public up-or-down vote on the bills.  They knew this would upset big business interests.  By no measure, was this a display of courage by elected public officials.  This is also not how the legislative process in Tennessee is intended to work.

In order to officially deny the vote, the bills still had to be killed.  The House Calendar and Rules Committee is a procedural committee that is intended to organize and schedule bills for floor action once they have passed their committee of jurisdiction.  It is not supposed to consider the merits of legislation.  Representative Maggart and other House leaders convinced many of their fellow republicans to vote to send the bills to “summer study” – an underhanded way to kill bills without voting against them.  All of the democrats on the committee voted against this killing motion, knowing that it was an abuse of the legislative process.

The argument used to send the bills to “summer study” was that the Senate was not acting on the companion bills in that body.  This was demonstrably false.  The senate bills had passed through their committees by a cumulative vote of 12-4 and were awaiting action in the Senate Calendar Committee – a committee chaired by the sponsor of the Safe Commute Act, Senator Mike Faulk.  After receiving the news of the procedural gamesmanship in the House, Senator Faulk publicly announced that his senate bills were still very much alive.  Represented Maggart knew the truth but she didn’t allow it to stand in the way of her ultimate objective of killing the Safe Commute Act.

Debra Maggart must be defeated because the citizens deserve to see all of their elected representatives vote on bills that have passed through committee with strong support.  Partisan political games that pervert our hard-won representative democracy have no place in the Capitol, especially when life-saving legislation is hanging in the balance.