by Steven Hale
At this point, you almost have to feel bad for Republican leadership. Even though they've dispensed with John Harris and seemingly buried Guns-in-Lots for the year, yesterday it raised its hand through the dirt. Despite public comments from the governor urging legislators to knock it off and a procedural move meant to let 'Don't Say Gay' die — moving it to the end of session — last night it lurched forward.
Forgive the mixed horror metaphors. Frankenstein. Zombies. These things were dead, and now they're alive again, to the shock and dismay of serious people everywhere.
Last night in the House Education Committee, some legislators did their best to keep this thing in the ground, but were overpowered. (First rule of fighting the undead: Never turn your back on them.)
If you need a reminder, HB229 limits sex education in kindergarten through eighth grade — where such instruction doesn't take place — to "natural reproduction science."
After some discussion and yet more testimony form state education officials, the committee's Republican chairman, Rep. Richard Montgomery, called for a voice vote on "Don't Say Gay," and loudly announced his "no" before declaring that the bill had been defeated. Of course, those in favor of the bill quickly called for a roll call vote. When the clerk called the tally, the count showed the bill had passed by a vote of 8-7-1.
A bewildered Montgomery asked if the count was right and, at the request of another legislator, called for a re-vote. That idea was defeated though and with the vote standing, Montgomery ended the meeting.
In the final tally, two Republicans voted no — Reps. Montgomery and John Forgety — while one Democrat voted yes — Rep. John Mark Windle. The abstention was Republican Rep. Harry Brooks.
During testimony on the bill representatives, executive director of the state Board of Education Dr. Gary Nixon and general counsel for the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents Chuck Cagle told the committee the same thing they have before — that this bill changes nothing about current practices in the state's schools, and that the types of discussions legislators are apparently worried about are not allowed as it is.
When asked, they also said they didn't believe there was a problem to be solved and confirmed that, in the grades the bill addresses, sex talk isn't allowed anyway.
Aside from gift-wrapping stories for the Huffington Post and providing a vehicle for legislators' paranoid swipes at homosexuals, the bill's effect is that it boxes in the state Board of Education by codifying the current curriculum, forcing them to come first to the legislature if they decide to change this portion of the curriculum in the future. They've indicated no intention of doing that and certainly not in the way legislators like Hensley and Sen. Stacey Campfield seem to fear.
In any event, the bill now heads to the Calendar and Rules Committee to be scheduled for a floor vote in the House. Campfield's companion bill passed the Senate last year.