5/3/2011 8:08 PM
The showdown between the business community and Second Amendment advocates continue. After verification, the House voted 70-67 to reject an amendment backed by Texans for Lawsuit Reform that would have provided liability protections to businesses on account of employees who have concealed handgun permits to keep a gun locked in their car in a workplace parking lot.
The commuter carry bill is a top priority of the Texas State Rifle Association. But business groups have raised objections to the bill, and managed to stymie it in the House Calendars Committee the last three sessions. This session, it emerged from calendars. But with the rejection of the TLR amendment (sponsored by Rep. Tryon Lewis [R-Odessa]), Gov. Rick Perry may face an awkward situation.
Vetoing a TSRA-backed bill would ruin the governor's perfect record on second amendment issues, not something done lightly. But there is precedent for Perry siding with major trade associations over conservative grass-roots when they conflict, namely the omnibus property rights bill from 2007. Perry vetoed the bill, despite strong support from conservative farm and ranch associations. In his rhetoric justifying the veto, Perry claimed the property rights bill would have created a payday for attorneys. So Perry has used the rhetoric of tort reform before to justify a veto of bills popular with conservatives.
The Lewis amendment would have stated that employers are exempt from all except wrongful death suits and clarified that there is no duty of care on an employer's part relating to an employee's storage of a firearm in the parking lot, as provided for by the bill. It also clearly states that someone who uses a firearm at a business is liable for wrongful death, and the immunity does not apply to the shooter.
The bill's house sponsor, Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lexington) moved to table the TLR-backed amendment. The Lewis amendment touched off a passionate debate. The chairman of the committee that heard the bill, Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), questioned the actions of bill opponents, noting he held the bill in committee and tried to address the concerns of oil and gas associations by exempting many refineries from the bill. He told house colleagues that additional liability-based objections only were brought forward after the bill was set on the calendar. Some supporters of the amendment noted that the state is requiring employers to allow weapons in the parking lot, and the Lewis amendment simply ensured that can't be sued for obeying the law. (The bill out of committee requires gross negligence on the part of the employer, a provision that Lewis argued does not protect businesses from lawsuits for obeying the law.)
Most Democrats voted against the Lewis amendment. The vote among Republicans is much harder to characterize, with both urban and rural Republicans voting on both sides and even some previously strong supporters of lawsuit reform voting against the Lewis amendment.
The bill as it cleared the House is similar to its Senate Counterpart, so it may be headed to the governor's desk soon. The bill's detractors hired the governor's pollster, Mike Bacelice, to do survey research (i.e. develop talking points to justify opposition to the bill). And TLR is one of the governor's favorite organizations.
That said, supporters of the Second Amendment vote, often on that issue alone. And we've learned never to try and predict what Gov. Rick Perry will do when faced with a situation like this. But it will be interesting to watch.