With the legislature rapidly approaching adjournment, sponsors of SB 1912 and its companion bill HB 2248 came to a compromise on a bill that will defund the University of Tennessee- Knoxville’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The bill would restrict all state funds from being expended by the University to promote the use of gender neutral pronouns, to promote or inhibit the celebration of religious holidays, or to fund or support Sex Week at UT.
However, during Senate Education Committee last week, Senate sponsor Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R- Chattanooga) introduced amendatory language in contrast to the House edition. In the Senate version, the funds from the Office of Diversity’s 2016-17 fiscal year would be reallocated to a minority engineering scholarship program. But in the House version, sponsored by Rep. Micah VanHuss (R- Jonesborough), it stipulates that roughly $100,000 be diverted from the UTK Office of Diversity budget to UTK’s Graphic Design Program and Printing and Mail Services to create, print, and administer a decal program, which would go to the state Department of Finance and Administration and the decals would read “In God We Trust” for state and local law enforcement vehicles. The rest of the funds budgeted to the office for the upcoming year would then go to student recruitment.
Both sponsors during floor sessions on Thursday refused to concur with the companion version of their bills, and a Conference Committee was appointed to mediate the differences in the bill. The conference was not without its share of conflict, as Rep. VanHuss was adamant in his support of the decal program and insuring that the Office of Diversity be defunded beyond the upcoming fiscal year. Sen. Gardenhire supported his version of the bill by pointing out that his course of action gave the University a second chance and that an indefinite stripping of state funds to the Office of Diversity would be inappropriate.
Without a compromise, the bill was in danger of being killed, as the legislature is aiming to adjourn for the year by the end of the week. Once the legislature adjourns, all bills not completed or passed by both Houses are dead, as the upcoming legislative year is the beginning of a new General Assembly.
The committee, composed of six members of the House and Senate, eventually agreed to the Senate version of the bill, defunding the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for the 2016-17 fiscal year and reallocating over $400,000 to a minority engineering scholarship program. The House passed the compromised version 63-21, along with the Senate 27-3.
The University is disappointed in the actions of the legislature, but believe that the decision of the Conference Committee to adhere to the Senate version is a better course of action than the House version. In this version, the funds will at the very least still have a positive impact on the University and help promote a program that deserves support.
The bill now passes to Governor Haslam to be signed into law or vetoed.Tags: defund, diversity, TN