The Daily Pulse:

Monkeys, Underwear, and Communist Plots: What Your Legislature Is Up to Now

Back in January, we pondered how serious the legislature would get this year.

Rep. Ryan Haynes of Farragut took the press to task for "covering silly issues" and not reporting on the Legislature enough.

"Go back to your newsroom and ask for more coverage," he suggested.

What Haynes terms "silly issues" are the pieces of legislation that turned into national news last session--Campfield's "Don't Say Gay" bill and Rep. Bill Dunn's anti-evolution "critical thinking" bill, for example.

Well, the silliness is out in full force this week, and we can't help but report on it.

First off, and most concerning to those of you out there who believe evolution is a thing, the Discovery Institute-written "critical thinking" legislation is set to pass in the Senate. (It passed the state House last session.) The National Center for Science Education reports:

Senate Bill 893 -- nicknamed, along with its counterpart House Bill 368, "the monkey bill" -- is back. In April 2011, its sponsor Bo Watson (R-District 11), assigned the bill to the general subcommittee of the Senate Education Committee, in effect shelving it for the remainder of the year. But on March 7, 2012, it was revived and placed on the committee's calendar; on March 14, 2012, the committee voted 7-1 (with one member abstaining) to pass an amended version of the bill, although the exact wording of the amended version is not yet listed on the legislature's website. The bill now proceeds to the Senate Select Committee on Calendar for scheduling for a floor vote.

Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga was the only committee member to vote against the legislation. (Is it any wonder he's leaving the legislature?) As we wrote last year, the legislation, sponsored in the House by Knoxville's own Rep. Bill Dunn, is model legislation handed to Dunn by David Fowler of the Focus on the Family's Family Action Council of Tennessee and written by the creationist Discovery Institute.

In fact, the main text of HB 368 is a revised version of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture "Academic Freedom Act" model legislation. The same text was the basis for bills that failed earlier this year in the Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, and New Mexico Legislatures. (A bill requiring schools to teach "a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution" is still moving through the Florida Legislature, and the Texas House is considering a bill prohibiting discrimination against faculty researching intelligent design.)

The Center is a well-funded think-tank based in Seattle that promotes intelligent design and what it calls "neo-Darwinism." The Institute purports to have no religious or political agenda, yet it has board members like Howard Ahmanson, whom the Washington Post says "once said his goal is 'the total integration of biblical law into our lives.'" It also actively promotes what the Center's website calls "free speech on evolution;" one page on the site states, "Groups like the ACLU are increasingly trying to use the federal courts to impose a gag order on honest discussions about evolution, and we must work aggressively to counter their efforts."

When reached by phone, Casey Luskin, a senior policy analyst with the Center, confirms he assisted Fowler with the legislation.

The NCSE seems to think Gov. Bill Haslam is likely to sign the bill. We don't know, since he's been sidestepping controversy as much as possible this session, but we can bet you our Knoxville area state senators are likely to vote in favor of the legislation. If it does pass and is signed by Haslam, Tennessee would be the second state in the U.S., after Louisiana, to have what NCSE calls "an antievolution 'academic freedom' law" on the books.

In other depressing legislative news, the House is now trying to regulate how your children dress at school. As WPLN reported Wednesday:

State lawmakers today took up a measure which allowed them to debate dress codes for students - including the proper dress for "young lady" athletes.

Memphis Democrat Joe Towns has tried for several years to make it against the law for young men to wear pants so loose that they sag below the waistline.

His current bill came up in the House Education Subcommittee, where it got more help than he expected. That's because it would ban any underwear from showing. Knoxville Republican Bill Dunn expressed his shock at the way women athletes dress.

".... having several children who play sports, it's pretty shocking to me that you go to practices and games and young ladies are walking around in sports bras...would that be considered underwear?"

We're guessing Dunn hasn't set foot inside a gym lately. Or been to a pool. Should swimsuits be banned next? According to the language of the bill, HB 3679, they could be, along with tank tops, cleavage-baring dresses, or just about anything prudish administrators set their minds to. 

An LEA shall include in its student discipline code a provision prohibiting
students from wearing, while on the grounds of a public school during the regular school day, clothing that exposes underwear or body parts in an indecent manner that disrupts the learning environment. (boldface ours)

That's some awfully vague language that applies to a lot more than saggy pants and sports bras.

And in your final legislative update, we bring you news that the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory has gone whole-hog insane. You may remember last year, during the heat of the Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan debate, opponents of the plan started saying crazy things like:

"I am also very concerned about the strong association the supporters of this plan have with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, an international global sustainability movement in Bonn, Germany. Even though their efforts seem noble on the outside, the goal of this organization, with the help of the United Nations, is to control every aspect of our individual lives through the local control of water use, fines and taxes for "carbon footprints," and other indefinable concepts."

The wackiness even spread to the mayoral race, such that we had to ask new Mayor Madeline Rogero about it when we interviewed her in January:

But connoisseurs of right-wing conspiracy theories are fond of regarding Rogero as a secret operative for the United Nation's ominous-sounding Agenda 21, which reputedly aims to force innocent suburbanites out of their houses. When we asked her directly if any of that were true, we watched her face closely for any tics that might belie her true status. It turns out she thinks it's all pretty funny. "I had to look that up, about a month ago, when I saw that surfacing about 'Agenda 21,'" she says, laughing. "I didn't even know what it was. So no, I'm not a part of that."

Well, Rogero may not have known what it is, but Agenda 21 is apparently the conspiracy du jour of the Tennessee legislature. Yesterday the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution that "recognizes the destructive and insidious nature of United Nations Agenda 21." Tom Humphreys reports:

During a lengthy debate on the House floor, Rep. Rick Womick called Agenda 21 "a step-by-step methodical process that denies United States citizens their property rights."

The Murfreesboro Republican said supporters of the agenda are working with local governments in Tennessee to try to impose the United Nations aims.

Womick said examples include a proposal in Cocke County to halt construction on land more than 1,500 feet above sea level and the city of Murfreesboro's attempts to require a local hot sauce merchant to re-paint his business and pave his parking lot.

"This is what we're talking about: aesthetics, government overreach, overstepping -- this is Agenda 21," he said. "And what we're saying in this resolution is: No, you cannot come in our country, in our backyard, on our property and tell us what we can and cannot do with our private property."

Hoo boy. You can read the Democratic response on Humphrey's blog here

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