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VOL. 127 | NO. 37 | Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tenn. GOP Puts Off 'Don't Say Gay' Ban in House

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press

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NASHVILLE (AP) – Supporters of a measure to ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students have put off consideration of the proposal after being told of fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's concerns.

The start of the House Education Committee meeting was delayed 15 minutes on Tuesday while Republicans huddled in Speaker Beth Harwell's office with a member of the Haslam administration.

Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald later announced that he was putting off the bill for a week. He did not explain to the committee why he had made his decision, but later told The Associated Press he plans to run the bill regardless of the governor's wishes.

"The governor has to deal with things that he has to deal with, and we deal with things we have to deal with," Hensley said. "We represent people just like he does."

Haslam told reporters after a speaking engagement later in the evening that lawmakers should be focused on other issues.

"I've said before, I don't think that should be a priority of the Legislature," he said of Hensley's legislation. "There are other things that we ... should be focused on right now."

The legislation limits all sexually related instruction to "natural human reproduction science" in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Opponents of the measure said it's too broad and fear it would prevent teachers and others from speaking out against the bullying of gay teens.

Democratic House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said he's planning to introduce an amendment that clarifies the bill won't interfere with the anti-bullying statute that was passed last year.

Rep. Bill Dunn has a more comprehensive proposal that won't prohibit "any school counselor, nurse or other authorized employee ... from appropriately responding to a student whose circumstances present issues involving human sexuality.

"It's more explicit in that teachers and principals can talk to students," said the Knoxville Republican.

Harwell said the legislation needs more work, and that she believes Dunn's proposal is "headed in the right direction."

Also Tuesday, legislation passed the House Education Committee that would allow school personnel to voluntarily participate in student-initiated, faith-based activities as long as they don't carry into the classroom.

Sponsor Phillip Johnson recalled a teacher who was prohibited from speaking at such an event that was held after school hours.

"That's a little too far-reaching," said the Pegram Republican.

Online:

Read HB0229 and HB3266 at capitol.tn.gov.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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