Anti-LGBTQ Adoption “License to Discriminate” Bill Passes TN House

A proposal to allow agencies to deny service to LGBTQ Tennesseans seeking to adopt a child passed the House of Representatives 67-22.

If enacted, House Bill 836 would permit private child-placing agencies to deny any person seeking to foster or adopt a child if the placement would “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions.”

Watch the Floor debate highlights HERE:

The bill—sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, District 34, and co-sponsored by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, District 33—passed the full House on April 1.

Democrats Rep. Bo Mitchell and Rep. John Ray Clemmons spoke out in opposition to the bill, questioning why we would deny any loving family the right to adopt if they so desired in light of the fact that 8000 children are currently in need of homes.

Mitchell questioned whether Jews could be denied adoption by certain agencies, to which Rudd responded:

“I have no idea.”

Mitchell said we’re on a “slippery slope”, and Clemmons said “we have gone too far” when it comes to discrimination.

Rep. Jeremy Faison was the loudest Republican in support, attempting to seize the mantle of “tolerance” and saying that “liberals” should be willing to extend the same tolerance to the intolerance of those agencies.

The question becomes: Is tolerance of intolerance actually tolerance? Or is it more intolerance? Is in “intolerant” to not want to “tolerate” bullying? Where do we draw that line?

The Tennessee Equality Project says the bill allows agencies to discriminate because LGBTQ citizens are not a “protected class” under federal law.

There are more than 8,000 children in the care of the Department of Children Services. The department works with a network of adoption agencies to find foster care and permanent homes for the children in state custody. Under the rules of the bill, DCS could not deny an agency’s license or service contract for discriminatory practices against LGBTQ families.

NOTE: JOHN MARK WINDLE WAS THE ONLY DEMOCRAT TO VOTE IN FAVOR.

How they voted: House Bill 836
Representatives voting to allow adoption agencies to deny adoptions to LGBTQ Tennesseans for “religious or moral” reasons:
Rep. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro, District 37
Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon, District 46
Rep. Rush Bricken, R-Tullahoma, District 47
Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, District 71
Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, District 32
Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, District 12
Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, District 29
Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, District 64
Rep. Mark Cochran, R-Englewood, District 23
Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, District 97
Rep. Michael Curcio, R-Dickson, District 69
Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, District 18
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, District 16
Rep. Rick Eldridge, R-Morristown, District 10
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, District 11
Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, District 17
Rep. Ron Gant, R-Rossville, District 94
Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, District 45
Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, District 75
Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer, District 79
Rep. Mark Hall, R-Cleveland, District 24
Rep. Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, District 72
Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, District 5
Rep. Patsy Hazelwood, R-Signal Mountain, District 27
Rep. Esther Helton, R-East Ridge, District 30
Rep. Gary Hicks, R-Rogersville, District 9
Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, District 7
Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, District 3
Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, District 76
Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, District 22
Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, District 2
Rep. Chris Hurt, R-Halls, District 82
Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, District 68
Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, District 38
Rep. Sabi Kumar, R-Springfield, District 66
Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville, District 89
Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, District 44
Rep. Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington, District 99
Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, District 78
Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, District 57
Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, District 62
Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, District 81
Rep. Jerome Moon, R-Maryville, District 8
Rep. Brandon Ogles, R-Franklin, District 61
Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, District 36
Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, District 33
Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, District 20
Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, District 74
Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, District 34
Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore, District 21
Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, District 77
Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, District 35
Rep. Paul Sherrell, R-Sparta, District 43
Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, District 26
Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, District 49
Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro, District 48
Rep. Rick Tillis, R-Lewisberg, District 92
Rep. Chris Todd, R-Jackson, District 73
Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, District 31
Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Gray, District 6
Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, District 40
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, District 83
Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, District 42
Rep. Dave Wright, R-Corryton, District 19
Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, District 14
Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, District 63

Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, District 41

Representatives voting No against the bill:
Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, District 51
Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, District 87
Rep. Jesse Chism, D-Memphis, District 85
Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, District 55
Rep. Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, District 86
Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, District 54
Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Nashville, District 56
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, District 28
Rep. G. A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, District 93
Rep. Jason Hodges, D-Clarksville, District 67
Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory, District 60
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, District 13
Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, District 91
Rep. Harold Love, Jr., D-Nashville, District 58
Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, District 88
Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, District 50
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, District 98
Rep. Jason Potts, D-Nashville, District 59
Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, District 53
Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, District 80
Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville, District 15
Rep. Joe Towns, Jr., D-Memphis, District 84

Representatives Present, Not Voting
Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, District 70
Rep. Iris Rudder, R-Winchester, District 39
Rep. Dwayne Thompson, D-Cordova, District 96

Absent or Missed Vote:
Rep. John Crawford, R-Kingsport, District 1
Rep. John Holsclaw, Jr., R-Elizabethton, District 4
Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, District 25
Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, District 95
Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, District 65

Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, District 90
Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, District 52

Rep. Byrd Co-Sponsored Child Rape Bill Hits House Floor Today (yes, seriously)

Another one from the You-Couldn’t-Make-This-Up-If-You-Tried file…

HB 0283, a bill being carried by Rep. Littleton (R-Dickson) in the house and Senator Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro) in the senate, will be voted on in the house today.

The summary of the bill states:

“Criminal Offenses – As introduced, increases the punishment for a conviction of aggravated rape of a child from 15 to 60 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. – Amends TCA Title 39, Chapter 13 and Title 40, Chapter 35.”

The bill is being co-sponsored by a long list of reps… including the one and only Rep. David Byrd, who as a reminder has apologized on tape to 1 of 3 women who accuse him of molesting them when they were in high school, and who was removed from his education subcommittee chairmanship just last week.

The week prior Byrd’s son was forced out of his coaching spot in Jackson for “inappropriate communication” with a minor.

Let’s just say Rep. Byrd has some nerve coming anywhere near this bill. Feel free to holler at him HERE and let him know.

And feel free to holler at Speaker Casada and Governor Lee and let them know it’s time to call for Byrd’s resignation.

Sen. Jack Johnson To Anti-Vouchers School Boards: “SHAME ON YOU!”

At a Williamson County “Legislative Update” Friday, Senator Jack Johnson took the microphone to offer a full-throated defense of Governor Bill Lee’s school vouchers program (aka “Education Savings Accounts”).

Supporters of the vouchers say they will help some kids in failing schools escape to a better education.

Opponents say we shouldn’t be steering public money away from already struggling public schools to do that, that it amounts to the privatization of education, and that the private schools in receipt of the money wouldn’t be subject to the same kind of accountability and would be able to discriminate against certain kids using public funds.

(Watch our highlights of the Education Committee debate HERE. The TEA says Vouchers have been a “disaster” where implemented and remains against them, as are a number of other organizations.)

Senator Johnson Brought up both pillars of Governor Lee’s education privatization platform – the statewide charter authorization board (which would be able to overrule local boards who decline to approve a charter), and vouchers.

Johnson accused school boards and other organizations of disseminating misinformation about the vouchers, and said while they care about public schools, he cares about the kid, offering harsh words for recent school boards (like his own in Williamson County) who have passed resolutions against charters:

“Do you understand the optics of that? We’re the wealthiest, whitest county in the state, and we’re saying we don’t want to do something to help inner-city kids who are poor and predominantly minorities. Shame on you. SHAME ON YOU.”

Watch the VIDEO:

Johnson, the Senate Majority Leader, also brought up the Governor’s friendship with Jeb Bush and used Florida as evidence of the success of vouchers and charter schools:

“Jeb Bush was elected in 1998 and he ran on a platform of education reform, including education choice (vouchers) and expansion of charter schools. The state of Florida went from 40th in the nation for 4th grade reading among poor and minority students to 1st. 40th to 1st. You cannot argue with the results, they work.”
Johnson says nothing about a time frame, and offers no clues about how the success is attributed to charters and vouchers, so it has been difficult to verify this claim. Florida does not appear to be “#1” in anything, according to state rankings on the National Assessment of Education Progress, aka the nation’s report card.
The top performer on the NAEP every year for decades has been Massachusetts which has a cap on the number of charters allowed in the state and does not have a voucher program. The bottom performer is Louisiana which has had charter schools and extensive voucher programs for many years.
Extensive research on the education impact of vouchers has consistently found negative results.
Research on the impact of charters is mixed at best, with overall results usually comparable to public schools, and this op-ed from the Sun-Sentinal editorial board in March called “CHARTER SCHOOL COMPANIES FEAST AT THE PUBLIC TROUGH” makes it clear that in Florida the main beneficiaries of charters schools have been private companies raking in public dough:
“Florida has become Exhibit A of both counts: profiteering and interest group politics. Under the uncritical eyes of an indulgent Legislature, for-profit education companies now manage nearly half of the state’s 650 publicly financed charter schools and enroll more than 130,000 students, but with woefully insufficient controls on what they spend and to whom they pay it. Like the private prison industry and other banqueters at the public trough, they’re investing heavily in lobbying — $5.3 million in just over 10 years — and in political expenditures.”
They go on:
“During a charter school visit last month, Gov. DeSantis said he wanted to do something about “bad actors” in the industry, but he has yet to say what that would be. However “bad actors” might be defined, the root of the problem is larger. It’s the very existence of the for-profit sector. Charter schools should be non-profit in all respects, not just on paper.”
Some say Florida vouchers are helping certain kids get into college, but a recent Orlando Sun-Sentinel report exposed a windfall going to private schools through public vouchers with little oversight.
As education expert Jeff Bryant of Education Opportunity Network puts it:
“What the charter/voucher proponents (in Tennessee) may be referring to with their claim of Florida being #1 in reading is the most recent round of NAEP scores that found the state was one of few to make significant gains in reading scores. But that can in no way be attributed to vouchers and charters. The jump likely has multiple causes. Florida 4th graders out-perform the national average on the NAEP reading exam but 8th graders are about average. The boost on the NAEP for 4th graders could be attributed to the state law that requires retaining 3rd graders who flunk state reading tests, which could artificially inflate the 4th grade NAEP reading scores.”
Johnson also implies that Governor Lee will be reimbursing the money lost by schools when kids go elsewhere, but is also careful to say “for 3 years”. No word on what happens after that.
The idea that public schools won’t be losing money on account of vouchers is contradicted by all evidence. If you agree public money belongs in public schools, holler at Senator Jack Johnson HERE.

Betsy Devos In Nashville TODAY To Help “Advance God’s Kingdom” With Lee’s School Vouchers

Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy Devos – most recently seen trying to cut funding from the Special Olympics (because that’s What Jesus Would Do, right?) – is in town TODAY to help Governor Lee push his school vouchers plan (aka “Education Savings Accounts”) which passed the House Education Committee last week.

Supporters of the vouchers say they will help some kids in failing schools escape to a better education.

Opponents say we shouldn’t be steering public money away from already struggling public schools to do that, that it amounts to the privatization of education, and that the private schools in receipt of the money wouldn’t be subject to the same kind of accountability, and would be able to discriminate against certain kids using public funds.

(Watch our highlights of the Education Committee debate HERE.)

The TEA says Vouchers have been a “disaster” where implemented and remains against them, as are a number of other organizations.

Many of the schools on the list of Tennessee schools which would accept the vouchers are small Christian schools. This is noteworthy because of an interview Devos and her husband gave in 2001 in which they answered the question of why she wasn’t just focused on funding private Christian schools on her own by saying they were looking for a greater opportunity to “advance God’s kingdom”.

Listen to 90 seconds of the interview:

The audio clip, which was exclusively obtained by Politico, reveals how the religion of the Devos family fuels their drive to reform public education. It comes from the 2001 edition of a conference known as The Gathering, an annual meeting of some of the nation’s most wealthy Christians.

The interviewer asks:

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to simply fund Christian private schools and be done with it?”

Betsy Devos answers:

“There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education.”

The couple goes on to describe school choice as leading to “greater kingdom gain” explaining how public education has “displaced” the church as the center of communities, and said providing parents with school choice is one way to undo that displacement.

They say their work is an effort to remain active in the “Shephelah”, a region they learned about on a trip to Israel, which is supposedly where David and Goliath fought, which represents a public forum where the influence of the church is needed, rather than fleeing to the hills to live comfortably.

Betsy Devos:

“Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory.”

Her husband Dick then adds:

“We could run away and just go back up in the hills and live very safely and very comfortably — or are we going to exist in the Shephelah and try to impact the view of the community around us with the ideas we believe are more powerful ideas of a better way to live one’s life and a more meaningful and a more rewarding way to live one’s life as a Christian?”

(Their talk does not touch on LGBT issues, but Politico points out that “Other members of the DeVos family have contributed to anti-LGBT causes; there have been conflicting reports about the work by Betsy DeVos and her husband in this arena.”)

Governor Lee, who is a driving force behind this legislation, makes no secret about his religious beliefs, often bringing up his faith in ads and campaign stops during his race.

Tennessee is a largely Christian state, as is America on the whole, and everyone should be free to practice their own faith, but a valid question remains: Should government money help finance religious education?

Religion is central to the school choice debate. There’s concern about the effects of blurring the line of church-state separation, something which we see plenty of in the state legislature these days as the anti-LGBT “slate of hate” snakes it’s way through the process.

The courts have been mixed on the issue of sending public money to private schools, but in 2006 the Florida Supreme Court did strike down a school voucher plan in the state, saying that the program was unconstitutional and that it channeled tax dollars into “separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools.”

Tennessee is 45th in spending per pupil. 

The vouchers bill is heading towards a floor vote in the house, and it is likely to have support in the senate, where Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson has already said he supports them “1000%” but made it clear he intends to keep them far away from Williamson County, where he, Speaker Casada, and Governor Lee all live.

Devos will have company today. If you want to join Indivisible to *welcome* her to Tennessee, holler at them HERE. And holler at Governor Lee HERE.

VIDEO: Rep. Jim Cooper Fires Up The Crowd At The CLC Lunch

This week Rep. Jim Cooper visited the Central Labor Council lunch in Nashville and spoke to a rapt audience about the need for unity and togetherness in the coming election, when the labor movement would be a key part of a “winning strategy” in the hopes of preserving key programs like Medicare and social security.

Cooper spoke about rampant inequality the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Gilded Age, acknowledged that the system isn’t fair, but reminded everyone that “the rich people are out there voting”.

Watch the HIGHLIGHTS:

Rep. Cepicky Votes For Statewide Charters & Vouchers Despite Running on “Local” Control

This past couple of weeks we’ve seen two major pieces of education legislation pass through the education committee.

Last week it was the “Statewide Charter Authorization Board” which gives charter schools who don’t get local approval a way to appeal.

This week it was Lee’s “Education Savings Accounts” aka School Vouchers, which would allow public funds to be taken away and used at private schools.

Both are major steps forward in the Republican effort to privatize education, an effort we’ve seen in other states which we have yet to see positive results.

It has come to our attention that Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) was asked specifically about both of these issues in the one debate he had with Democrat A.J. Holmes during their race in 2018, and in both instances Cepicky said he believes vouchers and charters should be subject to “local control”:

Cepicky, a member of the Education committee, voted in favor of both bills, a clear departure from his campaign rhetoric.

The privatization effort nationwide is backed by the Koch Brothers, and it’s a big part of the reason Betsy Devos is where she is.

As a reminder, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson was recently heard saying he backs vouchers “1000%” – as long as they don’t affect Williamson County, where he, Speaker Casada, and Governor Lee are all from.

Opponents of both bills are warning that they are opening the “floodgates” for vouchers and charters to make their way everywhere throughout Tennessee.

A look into Cepicky’s campaign finance disclosures reveals a few noteworthy contributions on this topic. Cepicky received $1000 from “Tennesseans for Putting Students First”, a pro-voucher group:

Another $2000 from the PAC of House Majority Leader William Lamberth, who co-sponsored the vouchers bill:

And then another $1000 from Lord Casada himself, who just demoted Rep. David Byrd one day after Byrd voted against Lee’s Voucher proposal:

That all seemed to outweigh the $500 he received from the teachers union PAC:

When reached for comment, Cepicky’s 2018 opponent AJ Holmes had this to say:

“While this is indeed infuriating, this could create a moment of unity among us all. Independents, Republicans, and Democrats alike can still agree on a few things. We can all agree Rep. Cepicky’s move makes him one of the worst kinds of politicians, as it’s the move of one who sold to the highest bidder… we need campaign finance reform.”

When even Rep. David Byrd has more of a backbone on an issue than you do, it might be time to rethink somethings.

If you have a problem with representatives saying one thing during their campaigns then doing another when they get into office, holler at Cepicky HERE.

BREAKING: Casada Removes Byrd as Education Sub-Committee Chair

Sometimes, people do the right things for the wrong reasons.

At 10:30 a.m., the Tennessean broke the news Tennessee Speaker of the House Glen Casada had removed Rep. David Byrd as chair of the House Education Subcommittee.

Byrd, of course, is the former girls basketball coach accused by several of his former high school players of sexually assaulting them – some in exchange for court time – in the 1980s. In a taped conversation with Christi Rice, one of the victims, Byrd apologized to her saying he “prays every week” about what he did to her, although he doesn’t give specifics on what he asks forgiveness for.

For months, supporters of Rice and other women involved have been asking Casada to remove Byrd as chair of the committee: It’s a clear slap in the face of education supporters to appoint an accused sexual predator to chair an education committee, but Casada maintained in a taped face-to-face interview with former congressional candidate and Holler editor Justin Kanew: “(Byrd) will do a good job.”


However, today’s removal of Byrd comes one day after the former educator voted against one of Casada and right-wing Governor Bill Lee’s pet projects: Education vouchers.

So, did Casada strip Byrd of his duties because a) the pressure from victim advocates got to him, b) the father of daughters and grandfather of girls finally saw the problem with having a molester as chair of a committee, or c) he wanted retribution for Byrd’s vote?

Casada hasn’t said, but sometimes people do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Emily Tseffos, leader of Enough is Enough -Tennessee, had this to say:

“This is a good first step but it’s not enough. This campaign will continue until David Byrd is no longer in public office.”

Casada strips Byrd of chairmanship

This is a developing story.

VIDEO: VOUCHER VOTE HIGHLIGHTS

Governor Lee’s effort to steer public dollars to private schools through “Education Savings Accounts” aka School Vouchers passed committee yesterday with John Deberry, Jr. the only Democrat in support.

Watch the HIGHLIGHTS

And watch Rep. Harold Love and Rep. Antonio Parkinson react:

NEW VIDEO: “WILLIAMSON COUNTY’S DIVERSITY DILEMMA”

After a handful of incidents, Superintendent Mike Looney and Williamson County Schools formed a Diversity Council and made cultural sensitivity videos for teachers which mentioned “white privilege”, triggering some in the community.

A few fanned the flames of conflict.

Others are using it as a healthy, teachable moment. Dr. Looney still has the board’s support.

Watch HIGHLIGHTS from this week’s school board meeting:

Lee’s Vouchers Pass Committee, DEBERRY The Lone Dem Vote In Favor (again)

After a lengthy debate, Governor Bill Lee’s pet school vouchers initiative passed the education committee today with 14 votes in favor, 9 against, and 1 – Kirk Haston, a teacher from Lobelville – being recorded as “present not voting”.

Read more