A proposed “Higher Education Equality Act,” designed to end most affirmative action programs at state colleges and universities, fell one vote short of passage in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.
The bill by Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, (SB8) had been debated at length over two previous weekly meetings of the panel with officials of the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems saying it could have unintended consequences hurting various college endeavors.
Before the final vote, the committee adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, that he described as addressing “every single objection” raised by higher education officials.
Still, only Campfield and three other senators voted for the bill on final vote. Two voted no and three abstained. A bill requires five yes votes to move out of the committee.
A proposed “Higher Education Equality Act,” intended to end affirmative action programs in the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems, was rewritten Wednesday to assure efforts involving federal funding and accreditation are not impacted.
But spokesmen for UT and the Regents said they still have concern with the measure (SB8), sponsored by Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, and the amendment offered by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.
Anthony Haynes, a UT vice president, and David Gregory, a Regents vice chancellor, said the revised version basically tracks existing federal law, but there are differences that could cause problems and lead to litigation in courts.
“It’s like a lawyer’s dream come true,” Haynes told the Senate Education Committee.
Gregory cited language in the bill banning “preferential treatment,” a phrase of “vagueness” in the legal sense that is subject to various interpretation. Federal law also prohibits discrimination based on race or gender when that discrimination is “solely” the cause of an action. The word “solely” is lacking in the proposed state law.
Haynes envision a young man rejected for general admission to UT-Knoxville bringing a lawsuit because UT, in trying to form “a women’s golf team,” granted admission to a woman with a lower ACT score.
After Haynes and Gregory spoke, Campfield and Summerville agreed to put off a committee vote for another week and hold further discussions to see if differences can be resolved.
Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham went along with the postponement, but added that she wanted to “admonish” those involved, then declared: “Don’t come back here unless you are ready to vote on this bill!”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to eliminate affirmative action initiatives from higher education institutions has stalled in the Senate.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Summerville of Dickson was deferred in the Senate Education Committee after committee members and higher education officials who spoke before the panel expressed concern with the bill’s language.
As written, the legislation would prohibit colleges and universities from granting preference “based on race, gender or ethnicity … to any student or employee of the public institution of higher education or any person with whom the public institution of higher education contracts.”
The committee deferred the bill for a week in order for the measure’s sponsor and the state’s legal staff to clarify the term “preference.”
One concern is that the current legislation could run afoul of federal law and possibly cost the state funding.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE), January 10, 2013 – State Senator Jim Summerville (R-Dickson) said today he plans to move forward with legislation filed in the State Senate to ban preferential treatment based on race, gender or ethnicity. Summerville has filed several bills which he said makes up the “Civil Rights Initiative of 2013” for consideration in the Tennessee General Assembly.
“Certainly we all need to strive towards the goal of protecting citizens from discrimination,” said Senator Summerville. “But, at the same time that goal is hard to achieve if preferential treatment is part of our state’s public policy. If we hire, promote or give preferential treatment by race, gender or ethnicity, we will continue to divide by race, gender or ethnicity. In the coming months, I will ask my good colleagues of both houses and both parties to fight and win the last battle of the civil rights movement.”
The bills filed would:
•provide that state government will not give preferential treatment based on gender, race, or ethnicity, except where required by federal law;
•abolish such group preferences from Tennessee’s public colleges and universities; abolish the job categories of “diversity officers;”
•eliminate race, gender, or ethnicity as considerations for hiring K-12 teachers;
•prohibit any and all entities of State government from compiling and keeping statistics, or other data by race, gender, and ethnicity.
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped to live to see an America where his children would be judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” Summerville added. “I think he’d be sad if he were among us today to see that this generation has failed in that hope. We can honor his memory by taking steps like California and Michigan have done. Tennessee, where Dr. King died, can become the first state in the South to realize his vision into law.”
“Although it took longer than it should have, our nation has opened the door of opportunity for all. Only character, intelligence, and hard work matter now,” he concluded.