By David Tulis
We like to think Tennessee as an independent state partly co-opted by the federal government to serve its policies and enforce its law.
Only partly, we like to think.
A glimpse at a state law hiding like an adder in the weeds might disabuse us of this forebearing and patriotic attitude some of us continue to hold for our state.
The law looks to a time of crisis in which the national interest is so great that the government in Washington takes over an entire agency of the state executive branch.
The law went into effect in 2004 that lets the Washington, D.C., government “request” the state’s commissioner of safety and homeland security to convert state assets into federal ones.
The federal DHS boss doesn’t even have to go to the governor. The statute saves that bit of trouble by allowing “the office of homeland security” to “apply to” the commissioner of safety to “commission” officers and help in “law enforcement activities involved in countering or responding to acts of terrorism.”
The commissioner of safety and homeland security serves the governor’s executive branch. Gov. Bill Haslam’s man on the job is Bill Gibbons. At the top of the federal agency is Jeh Johnson.
TCA 38-3-114, billed “Acting as peace officers for the office of homeland security,” gives the federal authorities exclusive control of state troopers and others that department might corrall.
‘All the powers of a peace officer’
The governor comes into the picture, in this statute at least, to help pick the number of “peace officers” consigned to federal control during the crisis.
The federalized police are granted “all the powers of a peace officer, including the power to make arrests for public offenses anywhere in the state.” The rule drones on: “Further, such officers may serve process in criminal and penal prosecutions for such offenses, and shall have authority to carry weapons for the reasonable purposes of their offices and while in the performance of their assigned duties.”
These peace officers will have a federal badge and ID card, which they are supposed to “exhibit *** on demand and before making an arrest within a reasonable time.”
When Uncle Sam is done with his crisis and can relinquish his grip, the office of homeland security is expected to file a notice with the state homeland security commissioner.
“Thereupon, the powers of such peace officer shall cease and terminate.”
If the federal program involves “gun control,” state law prohibits any Tennessee official from assisting. (TCA 38-3-115)