For the past month, one major bill after another has zipped through committee en route to floor votes. A few have hit roadblocks, it’s true, but only to pop up again a week or two later, back on the fast track.
Considering that a whopping 4,000 bills have been introduced by this assembly in 2011-2012, why should we be surprised that a lot of bills are being expedited now?
Except that so many of them are, in a word, nutty.
One wants to allow the slaughter of healthy horses in this state so that the meat can be sold to fancy restaurants in other countries. Another would tax strippers. Still others would allow guns in the parking lots of workplaces and university campuses, or presume to let the state meddle in the affairs of local governments by warning of a vast — and fictitious — conspiracy by the U.N. to subvert the world order through environmental initiatives (right here, in Tennessee).
And two of these — a voter ID bill to combat a fictitious fraud problem and a bill to dumb down the teaching of science in public schools — already have become law.
There are other such bills that strain credulity and scare average Tennesseans out of their wits. Because they were brought forth by duly elected Tennessee legislators, we are supposed to accept them — but clearly, lawmakers are asking a lot: to close our eyes and plug our ears to irrational behavior.
Maybe there’s another factor at work.
Yes, we registered voters elected these senators and representatives. But we did not elect the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the National Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and the Eagle Forum. But they wrote many of these bills. These groups and their operatives are not from Tennessee, and frankly, they do not care about Tennessee except in how our acceptance of these bad bills serves their agendas.
If you’re looking for an actual vast conspiracy, this is pretty close.
Such “model” legislation, as it is known, is cooked up by these organizations to bring their extreme goals to fruition on a national scale. They only need to entice key legislators, usually with campaign contributions, to carry their bills for them as if they were their own — as if they were intended for the good of the people of Tennessee. They seldom are.
Through their bills, they are able to get laws passed that the majority of the people of this state would never approve of. So far, Tennesseans have let this happen, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Rep. Mike Turner, D-Nashville, knows that. Last year, he introduced legislation to require that bills connected to such out-of-state organizations publicly identify as such. The bill was quickly quashed. But the more residents of this state who know of this sleazy practice, the more likely it will end, through the ballot box or through a call for accountability like Rep. Turner’s.
That said, it’s important to note that Gov. Bill Haslam, who a week ago was quoted as complaining that the media spend too much time covering the crazy legislation while overlooking the good stuff, was right in part.
His administration should get credit and attention for sensible legislation that gets tough on violent felons and domestic abuse; cracks down on meth labs; encourages more students to complete college; and more.
But when he suggests that the crazy bills would wither on the vine if reporters weren’t shining a light on them, he’s quite mistaken. Groups like ALEC and the NRA don’t go away quietly with a little success — they just get greedier, and take time and resources away from good government.
As for the bill that will open the door to treating creationism and “intelligent design” as if they were scientific theory — that may or may not be model legislation. But the governor’s refusal to veto the bill suggests Tennessee has a little homegrown crazy going on, too.