When Tennessee’s General Assembly reconvened for the 2012 session, state lawmakers made much of their intent to get in and out without any funny business. As it turns out though, they just can’t help themselves when it comes to legislative tomfoolery, and while their goal of an early exit is theoretically possible, that would require an as-yet-elusive ability to focus.
To Gov. Bill Haslam’s credit, he’s made a regular habit of telling the pesky other branch, privately and in the press, to knock it off and get down to more serious issues. For now, we’ll call that a developing story. Check back ... later.
Back here, on the other hand, our priorities are a bit different. These types of distractions are precisely the kind of thing that necessitates an “Etc.” section in a paper. So this week, we’re working for you, with an account of some particularly notable rabbit holes legislators have discovered over the past couple of months. Sadly, though, it’s not an exhaustive list.
No Sagging Pants
Passed House committee; awaiting vote in Senate committee
This is actually progress of a kind. Memphis Democrat Rep. Joe Towns has tried in the past to criminalize low-riding in public, but failed. This bill would require schools to have pants-at-the-waist policies. That doesn’t necessarily offend us, but we assume they’re already taking care of the sagging-pants epidemic on their own.
Don’t Say Gay
Deferred to last committee calendar, or dead.
Here’s what you might not have heard about the state’s Embarrassment Stimulus Package: The Department of Education confirms that the bill is consistent with current curriculum. That is to say, it’s good for nothing but facilitating legislators’ swipes at homosexuals and Hollywood sitcoms.
Passed in the House; awaiting Senate vote
By authorizing historical displays in local government buildings, this bill aims to slip the stone
tablets in between documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta with the hope no one will notice which one is not like the others.
Passed in the Senate; awaiting House vote
The bill’s sponsors say it simply protects teachers when discussing “strengths and scientific weaknesses” of theories such as evolution and climate change. Critics, including one Nobel laureate, say it would miseducate students. Our point is, Tennessee already wins the Wikipedia Trophy on this issue, for the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925. Why not let another state take the lead here?
Awaiting votes in House and Senate committees
This bill would require sex education programs to encourage abstinence and avoid promoting “gateway sexual activity.” That’s basically what happens in classrooms now, and a representative from the state’s Board of Education told a House subcommittee as much. But we’re actually happy about this bill. It provided us the opportunity to watch old men tiptoe their way through a vague discussion of the sexual bases — and we wouldn’t trade that for ... well, we just wouldn’t trade it.
License to Bully
This bill aimed to prevent “bullying prevention task forces” (which sound rather intimidating to us) from placing the scarlet “B” on students whose taunts are based on political, philosophical or religious views. A good idea, really. You wouldn’t want those young kids to feel singled out and humiliated.
Dear Peyton Letter
Passed in the House
To be fair, this resolution in support of the Titans’ effort to sign Peyton Manning couldn’t have taken long to write. It reads like a middle school blog post, with a few “whereas” clauses thrown in. The real embarrassment here is that the state joined in the growing Bieber-like hysteria, reinforcing an appearance of hopeless desperation that would have scared off a girl looking for a prom date, never mind a future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Passed in the House
State Republicans are worried about the United Nation’s two-decades-old non-binding sustainable development action plan, Agenda 21. The plan basically calls on member nations to combat global warming and poverty by embracing sustainability and implementing policies toward that end. An argument that the plan isn’t really feasible probably has some legs. But House Republicans ate up a good portion of a floor session two weeks ago warning about something that sounded more like a trailer for The Hunger Games.
Equal Access to the Principal’s Office
Passed in the Senate; awaiting vote in House subcommittee
We’ve never been in a classroom we couldn’t be removed from by a teacher. But just in case,
this bill protects their right to do just that. With all that power, who needs collective bargaining rights?
Police the Potty
This bill didn’t even make it to February, but it would have required people to use public restrooms and dressing rooms consistent with the sex of their birth. Putting aside legislators’ self-evident paranoia about transgender people, how did they plan to enforce this? The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Richard Floyd, explained to the Chattanooga Times Free Press: “I believe if I was standing at a dressing room and my wife or one of my daughters was in the dressing room and a man tried to go in there — I don’t care if he thinks he’s a woman and tries on clothes with them in there — I’d just try to stomp a mudhole in him and then stomp him dry.”