Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, speaks about his bill targeting Vanderbilt's "all-comers" policy for student groups during a House floor session in Nashville on Monday, April 30, 2012/ The Tennessean
By Chas Sisk, The Tennessean
scrambled to rewrite the state's campaign finance law, attacked a
Vanderbilt University antidiscrimination policy and passed the state
budget in a marathon session of last-minute lawmaking Monday.
moved to the floor of the House of Representatives that would let
insurance companies doing business with the state donate to political
campaigns, would delete a requirement that candidates report last-minute
contributions in the days before elections and would give corporations
more freedom to fund campaigns.
A vote on the measure, House Bill
3281, was expected before the legislature adjourns for 2012 but had not
been brought up on the House floor at press time. The Senate passed
companion legislation earlier in the year.
The campaign finance
bill was one of dozens to hit the floor of the House and the Senate in
what leaders had hoped would be the last day of the legislative session.
The House placed more than 50 bills on its calendar Monday, leading the
Senate to adjourn until this morning.
The state Senate also approved legislation, Senate Bill 3597, targeting Vanderbilt's all-comers policy.
The bill stems from an ongoing dispute between the school and campus
organizations over the limits of its antidiscrimination policy.
Vanderbilt officials say groups that receive university recognition and funds
must allow anyone who wants to join or serve in leadership, a policy it
refers to as "all-comers." But some campus organizations, particularly
religious groups, say the policy amounts to bias, because it prevents
them from requiring members to adhere to their beliefs.
originally barred only the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Board
of Regents systems from adopting all-comers, but its sponsor, Sen. Mae
Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, amended the measure on the Senate floor to
include any university that receives at least $24 million in state funding - a description unique to Vanderbilt.
The sum refers to compensation Vanderbilt University Medical Center receives for providing care free of charge.
bill would not strip the school of any funding, but supporters
suggested they could do so next year unless the school works with
religious groups on the all-comers policy.
"It gives Vanderbilt a choice," said Beavers.
said the legislature should not meddle in the affairs of a private
university. State Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, read a list of university
trustees, whose judgment he said lawmakers should respect.
"I would hate to hold a Democratic fundraiser out of that list," he said. "It is a pretty thoroughly Republican group."
Senate adopted the amendment 18-12 and then the bill itself by a
similar margin. The House subsequently adopted the Senate version on a
61-22 vote after more than an hour of debate.
"I thought this was a
joke," state Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, said. "You may win, but the
question is, are you really going to win? I hope you get this. This is
The measure's sponsor, Rep. Mark Pody, R-Mt. Juliet, said the bill stands up for Christian organizations.
don't care how good of a name they may have," he said, "if they're
going to tell Christians that they may not profess Jesus Christ as their
savior to remain on campus or they're going to tell Christian
organizations or any other organization who they can have as members or
in their leadership, I will stand up and will fight."
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, called on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to step into the dispute.
"If our governor's listening tonight, this is the one you need to veto," Turner said.
Haslam has not vetoed a bill since taking office in January 2011.
State budget passed
Both chambers also voted to accept a conference committee's report on the 2012-2013 state budget.
appropriations bill, House Bill 3835, passed the Senate by a large
majority, 31-2, but the House vote was closer, 64-28, and fell largely
along party lines.
House Democrats raised a last-minute objection
to $500,000 in state money being used to build a country music museum in
Bristol that lies on the Virginia side of the city. The
Smithsonian-backed project recognizes Bristol as the birthplace of
country and has already drawn commitments of about $3 million from the
state of Virginia.
Republicans argued that the museum would create economic growth on both sides of the state line.
with the budget, lawmakers approved legislation abolishing the state's
gift tax. The move follows earlier legislation that phased out
Tennessee's estate tax over four years and cut the state's sales tax on
food by one-quarter of a percentage point.
Other bills on the
floor Monday night would reorganize the Tennessee Regulatory Authority,
require applicants for public benefits to undergo immigration checks and
call for some welfare recipients to undergo drug tests based on the
results of a screening test.