NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to bar public universities and colleges from implementing nondiscrimination policies for student groups is headed to the governor for his consideration.
The measure unanimously passed the Senate 30-0 on Wednesday. It was approved in the House 75-21 earlier this month.
The legislation does not include private institutions like Vanderbilt University — a provision that caused Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to veto last year’s version. The governor’s office says it’s OK with the current legislation.
Sponsors say the measure is aimed at preventing colleges from creating policies requiring student groups to open membership to all students and allow all members to seek leadership posts.
Christian groups have protested a similar policy at Vanderbilt, saying it forces them to allow nonbelievers and gay students to join. Officials say about 15 student groups have refused to comply with the policy, while 480 have accepted it.
A bill that would strip Vanderbilt University of its police powers is being dropped by its sponsor after an opinion from the Tennessee attorney general that it violates the U.S. constitution, according to Chas Sisk. State Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, announced Monday that he will withdraw House Bill 1150. The measure would have taken away the Vanderbilt University Police Department’s ability to make arrests and enforce criminal laws unless the school abandons its “all-comers” nondiscrimination policy.
“I want to be sure to stand up for our students’ religious rights without overstepping our state authority,” Pody said in a prepared statement announcing he would not pursue the bill. “At this point, I am still not satisfied with the ‘all-comers policy’ at some private institutions. However, it needs to be addressed in a different way.”
Vanderbilt has battled with several student groups over a requirement that all organizations it recognizes abide by the university’s nondiscrimination policy. Religious groups say the policy tramples on their freedom of worship.
Tennessee lawmakers on Tuesday revived an effort to pressure Vanderbilt University to drop its controversial nondiscrimination policy for student clubs, reports Chas Sisk — this time with an attack on the school’s police powers. A pair of Middle Tennessee lawmakers said they will press ahead with a bill that would strip the Vanderbilt University Police Department of state recognition unless the school abandons its “all-comers” policy. That policy requires university-sponsored clubs to follow its rules against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
The bill would defy the wishes of Gov. Bill Haslam, who vetoed a measure last year that attacked the all-comers rule from a different angle. Backers said the new measure would stand a better chance of holding up in the courts and protect students from arbitrary use of police power to break up protests against the policy.
“Who will hold Nicholas Zeppos accountable?” said David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, referring to Vanderbilt’s chancellor.
But university officials said the measure flies in the face of efforts to tighten security in the wake of mass shootings. Without state recognition, Vanderbilt’s police effectively would become security guards, they said.
“I just find it unbelievable,” said August Washington, chief of the Vanderbilt University Police Department.
Senate Bill 1241/House Bill 1150, sponsored by state Rep. Mark Pody and state Sen. Mae Beavers, would take police powers away from any university that has adopted policies that “discriminate” against religious student organizations. Seventeen universities in Tennessee have their own police departments.
But it is geared toward Vanderbilt, which has implemented a rule requiring recognized student groups to follow school policies that bar discrimination.
A bill vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam last year was characterized as “constitutionally suspect” in a state attorney general’s opinion released Wednesday.
The sponsor of the bill, meanwhile, said he hopes an “amicable agreement” can be worked out with Vanderbilt University to resolve a dispute that revolves around religious freedom of students. If not, Rep. Mark Pody said he will push similar legislation this year with the legal opinion in mind.
The bill in question was aimed at blocking Vanderbilt University’s so-called “all comers” policy for campus student organizations. Under the policy, all groups must accept all students as members – even in one controversial case where a Catholic students organization was told to accept an atheist member.
State Rep. Mark Pody delivered “a scorcher of a speech” at the Wilson County GOP Reagan Day Dinner, reports Chas Sisk, vowing to continue his push against Vanderbilt University’s requirement that all school clubs, including religious groups, adhere to rules against discrimination on the grounds of creed, sexual orientation or religion.
Pody was sponsor of the bill, which Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed after the 107th General Assembly had adjourned for the year, meaning there was no chance to override. Proponents will thus have to start all over with passage again next year. “We actually made history. We were the very first veto in the last two year’s of this administration. But I am going to back,” Pody said, slamming his fist on the lectern at Friday night’s Wilson County GOP event. “I am not going to be pushed around, and if the only thing that I do is to stand up and say Christians will not be pushed around.”
“We do have a right to be here,” he continued as the crowd of about 100 or so GOP activists whooped and cheered. “We are a constitution. We believe it. We’re conservative. We came to fight now.”
…Pody’s speech proved to be the most emotionally charged moment of the night, surpassing addresses from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik, state Rep. Linda Elam and former state Rep. Susan Lynn, Elam’s primary rival.
— Note: Pody was also sponsor of the Health Care Compact bill, which failed on the House floor on the last day of the session.
House Democrats today succeeded in attaching several amendments to a bill that lays the groundwork for Tennessee taking over federal health care programs, throwing a cloud over whether the proposal can win final approval in a frantic push to adjourn the 107th General Assembly.
The first successful Democrat-sponsored amendment declares that Tennessee will not participate in the Health Care Compact, “if participation includes expanding abortion rights, especially late term abortion.”
Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon tried to table, or kill, that proposal – as he had successfully done with earlier Democrat amendments. But only 35 representatives backed him, so the effort failed. The amendment was then adopted.
From there, Democrat-sponsored amendments were approved to declare veterans health care benefits could not be impacted by the Health Care Compact; that senior citizens and the disabled would be “held harmless” by any compact actions; and that nothing in the compact should be seen as supporting “any United Nations health plans.”
And, finally, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner proposed that the line in the bill (SB326) declaring Tennessee “shall” become a member of the Health Care Compact be changed to “may” become a member. That, of course, would appear to negate the entire bill. But that amendment, too, was approved.
The measure now returns to the Senate for concurrence -or non-concurrence – on the amendments.
Legislators are again trying to wrap up the 107th General Assembly today.
Legislation that lays the groundwork for state government taking over the federal Medicare program in Tennessee was approved Wednesday in a House committee where it stalled last year.
Five Democrats on the House Health and Human Resources Committee voted against the Health Care Compact bill, HB369. All 11 Republicans voted for it.
Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, who took over sponsorship of the measure this year, began his presentation in support of the bill with a video tape, saying “I have somebody on screen who can help me” with passage of the bill. The video showed President Obama saying that he is “open to states coming up with their own ideas” for health care reforms.