Beth Harwell Unleashes Good Sense and Reason on the State Legislature



House Speaker Beth Harwell is on a roll today. After announcing this morning her proposal for seemingly sensible changes to several old rules in the state House, she followed with an eminently reasonable take on gun legislation and the idea that Tennessee should be arming teachers in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

First, from a release sent out this morning by her office, her proposed rule changes in the state House (emphasis my own):

The changes include:

Restructuring the committee system to balance the workload of each;

Adopting the annual ethics resolution into the House Rules which will ensure the body is abiding by an ethics policy from the first day;

Limiting the number of bills filed to 10 per member annually which will encourage members to prioritize;

Reaffirming that each member vote for only him or herself;

And deleting the requirement that every document be printed to reduce the amount of paper used in committee and for floor sessions.

It may be geeky inside baseball, but all of these proposals make good sense. (Though we offer condolences to friends in the local television media for the apparent death of Ghost Voting).

I bring special attention to the proposal to limit the number of bills each member can file annually, because one hopes — as Harwell suggests — that it will encourage legislators to file bills they believe are truly necessary, and forgo those directed at the Agenda 21 conspiracy, Saggy Pants, or bringing Peyton Manning to the Titans.

And then, this afternoon, The City Paper 's Andrea Zelinski reports that Harwell is opposed to arming teachers.

From the CP:

“I think it would be asking way too much of our teachers for them to be armed in a classroom, and I’m not in favor of going down that route,” she told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

“I really think you really have to be highly qualified to handle a gun in a high-stress situation, which is in fact what that was,” she said.

Lawmakers have begun floating several ideas to react to last week’s school shooting, which left 26 people dead, many of them children. Ideas so far have ranged from allowing certain faculty and staff to have a gun on campus to requiring all schools have an armed staff member of some kind.

Harwell said some of those decisions might be best decided by local city and school officials.

We'd be remiss, of course, if we didn't point out a certain whiff of hypocrisy in Harwell's statement as it pertains to "local city and school officials." It would seem rather odd indeed if one of the state's top Republicans thought the decision on whether to arm school teachers was best left to local officials, but didn't trust those same local officials to, say, assess the merits of a charter school application.

Nevertheless, Harwell's take on the idea of teachers packing heat seems undeniably reasonable. The idea that teachers, regardless of a little firearms training and a heroic devotion to their students, would suddenly find themselves in the possession of a particular set of skills that would allow them to successfully stop a madman wielding an assault rifle is patently absurd. (Here's a bit of light reading on the vigilante fantasy.)

Furthermore, she took a stance. She answered the question. Anyone who has spent the last two years watching Gov. Bill Haslam emerge from press conferences with a foot firmly planted on each side of the issue at hand may have forgotten what that looks like on the page.

But here we have a direct answer from Harwell on the idea of putting guns in the hands of teachers: "[She's] not in favor of going down the route."

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