by Steven Hale
A bill prohibiting public universities from adopting all-comers policies for student organizations came up twice in the state House yesterday, but arguably took a step backward procedurally. Such is life at the end of this legislative session, during which discord among the GOP majority has repeatedly delayed progress on various matters.
State Rep. Mark Pody's bill would keep state-run public universities from enacting a policy implemented by Vanderbilt this year, which prohibits student organizations from discriminating when it comes to who can join or take leadership positions. Certain religious organizations have taken issue with the policy, saying it prevented them from operating according to their particular religious principles.
Yesterday afternoon, though, when the bill first came up on the House floor, Rep. Bill Dunn offered an amendment, which he had previously withdrawn in committee. His proposal targeted Vanderbilt — a private school that does receive some state funds in various forms — and would have required them to either do away with the policy or expand it to include fraternities and sororities as well.
The Republican chairman of the House Education Committee, Rep. Richard Montgomery, moved to table the amendment, an attempt that failed but was supported by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and House Speaker Beth Harwell.
Undeterred, Dunn argued for the amendment again when the bill resurfaced after the House eventually passed the budget last night. After Dunn's lengthy speech decrying Vanderbilt's policy and defending his amendment, he was met with disapproval from the leadership of both parties and a reprimand from McCormick for not passing the amendment through the committee system.
“Would a better way to have done it not have been to have passed it through the committee system?” said a visibly perturbed McCormick. “Did you consider that or did you think, ‘Well, I’ll just wait and get it passed into law and then they’ll have to take me seriously?’ ”
Actually, Vanderbilt doesn't seem to be taking Dunn or his amendment seriously at all. As The City Paper's Pierce Greenberg reported, Dunn and 22 other Republican legislators wrote a letter to the school's board of trust, asking them to reconsider the policy and warning that the amendment could resurface. Last night, Dunn told House members he had heard back from Vandy representatives and that, basically, they said they'd do whatever they pleased.
After both sides claimed divine endorsement, and ranking Republicans repeatedly huddled with each other and around Dunn's desk, the sponsor Pody placed the bill on the desk, meaning a two-third's vote will be needed to take it up again.
The Senate version of the bill is scheduled to be taken up today, but as that chamber is currently picking apart the budget, a delay would be less than surprising.
While Democrats have taken every opportunity to chime in on contentious issues and slow the process, they're probably just as happy to sit back and watch the majority bicker. On issue after issue this week, GOP leadership has been forced to stop the proceedings and gather the caucus to bend the will of their more rebellious members. With the encouragement of Democrats, Senate and House Republicans are now engaged in a budget squabble that seems certain to bring legislators back to the Hill next week.
At the moment, the only thing standing between Republicans and the efficient governance they exalt, is Republicans themselves.