The daily paper has landed with a splat out in the ditch puddle, so I'm pawing through the soggy mess to see what my elected representatives were up to yesterday at the state capitol. Sometimes turning the page of the paper feels a lot like it must feel to try to disarm a bomb... you have to move slowly, with fearful apprehension.
But even when you're expecting the worst, it always comes as a surprise. For our state legislature, every day is a new opportunity to show the rest of the country what a backwater bunch of yahoos we've assembled in Nashville.
For example, a House subcommittee approved a measure that would tighten up the state's sex education standards, making them exclusively abstinence-based, because as we all know, Just Say No works way better than actually learning how to avoid pregnancies and diseases. According to The Tennessean (motto: "We don't like this silly crap any more than you do, but someone has to report on the Legislature...") House Bill 3621 requires sex-ed discussions to "discourage gateway sexual activity", even if that "activity" doesn't result in actual intercourse. I have no idea what constitutes a "gateway sexual activity", but if I was sixteen and had a girlfriend as curious about it as I would be, we'd probably explore the possibilities.
Rep. Jim Gotto (R-Hermitage) says we need these new sex education guidelines because Tennessee still ranks near the top in teen pregnancies and the spread of new cases of STDs. A couple of school districts caught hell for encouraging discussions of sexual behavior that involved showing high schoolers, using plastic models, how to properly apply a condom. The bill also allows parents to sue a school or teacher if they believe these new guidelines have been violated.
So instead of teaching kids how to use a condom, we'll just tell them to not engage in sexual activity. There. Fixed it. Watch those pregnancy and STD statistics fall!
And if you think God's not on the Republican agenda in the Tennessee Legislature, you're not paying attention. Something called the "Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act" is advancing through committee, and it proposes to allow, by law, students to pray or make expressions of faith without recrimination from school districts or courts. Some of our school districts have found themselves under legal fire for allowing outside organizations to pass out Bibles, or for holding school sponsored prayers before the beginning of classes. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) had this to say in defense of the legislation:
"This is not a bill that is intended to give special advantages to those who hold a particular faith. This is to protect those who have a particular faith." and he went on to say, "...I do believe in the freedom of religion, but I do not believe in the freedom FROM religion."
But not ALL of the morning news was this backward and gloomy. Apparently, the sponsor of a bill that would require the state to publish the names of doctors who perform legal abortions in Tennessee has withdrawn that provision of his bill, citing threats from out-of-state liberals.
Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) says he felt threatened after his bill came up for discussion on MSNBC and was reported by a lot of bloggers (you're welcome, asshole!). He explained his withdrawal of the provision by saying his oppenents' “categorization of me as a terrorist, murderer or more has been used by their leftist friends to engender hatred and incite the threat of violence against me.” He also said he had contacted the authorities about unspecified threats made since he first proposed the bill to identify the state's abortion providers.
Another group of Tennessee Republicans in the U.S. Congress is vowing to kill the Independent Payment Advisory Board even before it is officially created, thus thwarting one of the provisions of President Obama's health care overhaul. The IPAB was designed to curb the rising costs of Medicare. Got that? Republicans moan and groan about how Medicare is going broke and needs to be reformed, but the first panel suggested to actually save the program's money is on the chopping block.
Maybe there's better news in the sports section...