House OKs mandate that cities pay triple lawyer fees if they lose gun rights lawsuits

The House approved 70-24 Wednesday a bill that, according to the Times-Free Press, would give Tennessee cities and counties an ultimatum: buy metal detectors, hire security guards and check bags at many public buildings, parks and buses; or let people with handgun permits bring in their guns.

The proposal (HB508) is drawing support from many Republican lawmakers and the NRA, which said it would hold local governments responsible for keeping citizens safe.

The gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and some cities think the legislation would give local officials two bad choices, or put them at risk of lawsuits under the bill’s expanded protections for gun-rights groups to sue on behalf of individuals who feel slighted by local gun restrictions. They would be eligible for triple attorney’s fees.

In House floor debate, Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, and other critics said the provision for giving lawyers for gunowners bringing lawsuits triple the fees they are due for work on a lawsuit is unprecedented in Tennessee. There are several statutes providing for courts to award “treble damages” – multiplying the actual costs/expenses incurred by a wronged party by three and requiring payment from the lawsuit loser – but none requiring lawyers to get three times their billing from losers, which would be cities and county governments under provisions of the bill. The lawyers would get triple fees even if there are no actual financial losses by the plaintiff, Dunn said, opening the door for lawsuits by “out-of-state special interests” that would enrich trial lawyers at the expense of local taxpayers.

Dunn pushed an amendment to delete the triple lawyer fees provision. It was killed, 60 voting against Dunn, 32 with him. Democrats also offered amendments that were killed, including one from House Minority Leader Mike Stewart that would have included state government, as well as local governments, in the bill’s provisions.

Sponsor Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, said the bill “levels the playing field for our citizens when they are trying to protect their Second Amendment rights” against taxpayer-funded lawyers for local governments. He said that state government is not included in the bill because “we are in charge” with the legislature overseeing state government actions while showing support of gun rights as opposed local governments such as that in Knoxville, where officials have maneuvered to avoid a state law declaring handgun permit holders can carry their weapons in city parks.

Further from the TFP article:

Under the proposal, local governments couldn’t ban guns on most of their property unless they have at least one security guard at each public entrance to operate a handheld, walkthrough, or other type of metal detector and check people’s bags.

Some local facilities could still ban guns without metal detectors and additional security, including: mental health facilities; Department of Children Services offices; libraries; schools; parks used by schools; buildings where judicial proceedings take place; buildings that hold law enforcement agencies; and Head Start facilities.

Lawmakers have resisted efforts to exempt public transit stations and buses from the tougher security requirements. The Tennessee Public Transportation Association, which thinks the bill would also apply to buses, estimated that the new security requirements could cost the four large urban public transit systems $3.8 million in one-time costs and $36 million in yearly costs, while likely throwing off bus scheduling.

The bill has cleared committees in the Senate and awaits almost-certain approval in a floor vote. It’s on Thursday’s calendar.

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