School Protection Act Stalls in Senate

May 3, 2019 by Will Burns

Tennessee Capitol
The last week of the legislative session started with great promise, but its promise was muted by the Senate. It began strong Tuesday when the House overwhelmingly passed the School Protection Act, HB 1274, by a vote of 72-23. The bill would provide local schools with a legal defense from the state if they are sued for having a locker room and bathroom policy that respects the bodily privacy of biological boys and girls.

The next day, when the full Senate took up the companion bill to the one passed by the House, SB 1499, it was quickly referred back to a committee. Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) made a surprise motion to send the bill from the floor to the State and Local Government Committee to be heard next year.

Even though Sen. Dickerson’s motion was subject to debate under the Senate rules, Lt. Gov. and Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) ignored that rule by immediatelycalling for a voice vote on the motion. Catching the majority in support of the bill off guard, Speaker McNally quickly ruled that the motion was adopted on an unrecorded voice vote. His actions, therefore, prevented senators opposed to the bill and those in favor of the bill from having their votes recorded.

We are grateful to both our sponsors, Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) and Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), for their hard work navigating the bill through their respective houses; to the House members who voted so overwhelmingly for the bill; and to the majority of the senators who said they would vote for it. We look forward to it becoming law after it passes in the Senate next year.

In other activity, both the House and Senate passed a bill to authorize online sports betting in Tennessee. The bill, HB 1 by Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) and SB 16 by Sen. Dickerson, now goes to the governor, who, under the constitution, must sign or veto it within 10 days or it will become law without his signature, which is what he reportedly plans to do.

Finally, Sen. Paul Rose (R-Covington) deferred Senate action on his bill, SB 1304, until next year. This bill would provide protection to child-placing adoption and foster care agencies from some types of legal actions if they choose not to place children in homes with a same-sex couple based on their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs. The House companion bill, HB 836 by Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), previously passed in the House.

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