Bill Impacting UT Diversity Advances; Diversity Amendment Fails

Stack of files

A newly amended version of SB 1912 was passed out of full Senate Education Committee Wednesday afternoon by a 7-1 vote. The bill, which targets the University of Tennessee- Knoxville, 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.

While in committee, bill sponsor Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R- Chattanooga) introduced an amendment that would reallocate all $436,722 budgeted for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for the upcoming fiscal year to scholarships to be awarded solely through the minority engineering scholarship program. The proposed amendment was passed unanimously by the committee. Sen. Gardenhire justified his amendment by referencing suggestions he had received from concerned constituents in his district.

This is the last piece of legislation targeting UTK’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion following the defeat of the Senate Education Committee’s proposed budget amendment stripping the office’s funding in Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday evening. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Dolores Gresham (R- Somerville), was introduced earlier in session during UT’s proposed budget presentation to the Senate. The amendment restricted the university by redirecting $8 million from the UT Knoxville budget to UT Extension and to rural outreach through UT Martin and UT Chattanooga. The amendment language then went on to state “only federal funds shall be expended to support the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.” Since the office receives no federal funding, the amendment’s intent was to strip the office of all funding sources. The amendment also would have essentially eliminated the majority of new funding proposed for UTK for its performance under the Complete College Tennessee Act, which is roughly expected to be $10 million. The House version of the amendment, House Budget Amendment 199, was also filed last week, but is now not expected to move.

The House version of SB 1912, HB 2248 sponsored by Rep. Micah VanHuss (R- Jonesborough), also advanced this week, passing out of full House Finance, Ways and Means Committee Tuesday evening. The House version has yet to conform to the newly amended Senate version. In VanHuss’s version, the amendatory language stipulates that roughly $100,000 be diverted from the UTK Office of Diversity and Inclusion budget to UTK’s Graphic Design Program and Printing and Mail Services to create, print, and administer a decal program. The decals would go to the state Department of Finance and Administration and read “In God We Trust” for state and local law enforcement vehicles. It also would require that all other funds budgeted to the UTK Office of Diversity and Inclusion for the upcoming fiscal year be allocated to student recruitment.

SB 1912 was previously sent to the “General Subcommittee” by Sen. Gardenhire before ultimately being resurrected to pursue this newly amended version. The University still opposes this legislation, however the new amendment proposed in the senate version would be the more favorable option.

Advocates can view footage of the Senate Education Committee from Wednesday at the following link. Discussion on SB 1912 begins at approximately the 31-minute mark.

The bill now heads to Senate Finance Committee.

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