AUSTIN — Texans would be allowed to stow their guns and ammo inside their locked cars or trucks while at work and parked on employer property under a controversial bill passed Wednesday by the state Senate.

The Senate voted 31-0 to prohibit employers from enforcing restrictions against employees possessing a legally owned handgun or ammunition inside a locked vehicle while in a company parking lot. Firearms and ammo must be stored out of sight.

“Here in Texas people like their firearms and … if they want to bring them to the workplace they are going to do it whether there’s an employee policy against it or not,” said state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the measure’s author. “This is designed to stop employers from punishing employees who legally bring weapons to work .”

Supporters say employer rules banning guns in a company parking lot infringe on their Second Amendment right and their ability to protect themselves as they travel to and from work.

Opponents, among them a number of influential business groups, argue the bill is an affront to an employer’s property rights and are wary of potential gun violence as a growing number of Texans lose their jobs.

“We believe it’s a basic property right that should be preserved,” said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business. “Someone who is terminated or laid off can go to a parking lot and in a matter of seconds be back with a weapon and it could be a disaster as a result of this legislation.”

Under the bill, employers would not be liable in most cases if an episode of workplace violence with a gun were to occur.

Businesses and employers still have the right to prohibit workers from bringing a firearm into an office building or into fenced parking lots where access is restricted.

Third time for bill
The issue — along with a separate proposal to let students and faculty with a concealed handgun license carry on campus — is a top priority for gun-lobby groups this session. This is the third consecutive session lawmakers will seek to pass the parking lot measure.

“This impacts public safety,” said Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association. “There are people who aren’t able to practice this form of self-defense during their daily lives going to and from work.”

The bill, which exempts schools, now heads to the House, where in 2007 it died.

State Rep. Stephen Frost, D-New Boston and vice chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, is carrying an identical measure.

An amendment to the bill by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, exempts workplaces where a contract prohibits weapons, such as oil and gas drilling sites situated on private property.