Legislature keeps ‘vital’ bills on track

Friday, February 26, 2021, Vol. 45, No. 9

Like many others – including our mail carrier, newspaper deliverer, trash collector and Gigamunch meal provider – lawmakers recently took a snow break from duties.

Not to worry: Even before the freeze arrived, they had produced hundreds of bills, “the public welfare requiring it,” as the boilerplate legislative language asserts.

Much of the legislation is mundane, procedural, along the lines of “redefines ‘bed-and-breakfast establishment’ to include” blah blah blah.

Some stuff is potentially significant. I’m monitoring certain bills for later reporting. (Hint: I’m not keen on most of the COVID-19 responses.)

And at least one is seriously misguided: To make the ladder the official state tool. This same proposal came up last year. I again stand in strong opposition.

Otherwise, I include here some of the in-between measures, interesting but not momentous, starting with what may be my favorite:

A bill that would require proof of age when buying alcoholic beverages only for people WHO APPEAR YOUNGER THAN 50.

Those aren’t my capital letters; they appear in the bill as language to be included on a sign posted by vendors. But they do pretty much sum up my joy at the prospect of being freed from the proof-of-age requirement.

Granted, some younger than 50 might not be pleased when a (young, inevitably) store clerk decides to give them a pass. But the point is, none of us in the vicinity of 50 or beyond have looked under 21 for a long, long time.

Another age-related – but puzzling – bit of legislation is the bill that would dispense with the helmet requirement on motorcycles, scooters and such for anyone 26 or older, provided they’re covered by private health or medical insurance.

Do heads somehow get harder at age 26? I think mine’s been pretty hard all along, but I still wouldn’t trust it unprotected on a motorcycle.

Other puzzlers are the measures that would require new or existing public schools to have “at least one student-accessible water bottle filling station.” Have we been subjecting our precious young to waterless schools? Or do they lack the skill to fill a bottle at a normal drinking fountain?

Speaking of precious young in public schools: There is an effort to ban corporal punishment. The bill defines that as:

“(1) An act of physical force such as striking, spanking, or paddling inflicted on a student’s body; (2) Requiring a student to assume a painful physical position; and (3) The use of chemical sprays, electroshock weapon, or stun guns on a student’s body.”

I submit to you that if chemical sprays, electroshock weapons or stun guns are being employed against students nowadays, things are even worse than when I was on the receiving end of a paddle.

Among other below-the-radar measures are those that would designate, establish, adopt, enact or recognize:

• June as “African American Music Appreciation Month”

• April as “Barber, Beauty and Health Month”

• Sept. 14 of each year as “Star-Spangled Banner Day”

• The first Friday in October of each year as “Tennessee Manufacturing Day”

• The poem “My Beloved Tennessee” by Marlene Tidwell as an official state poem. Another returnee. The poem’s author is the founder of the Tennessee Governmental Prayer Alliance, which I’m sure has nothing to do with its support.

• “Amazing Grace,” as sung by Dolly Parton, as an official state song. Still more proof that legislators can’t heap enough praise on Dolly, including the call for a statue of her on the Capitol grounds.

Dolly finally responded to that idea last week, calling it inappropriate “at this time.”

“I hope, though,” she added in a statement, “that somewhere down the road several years from now or perhaps after I’m gone if you still feel I deserve it, then I’m certain I will stand proud in our great State Capitol as a grateful Tennessean.”

As for the Dolly “Amazing Grace”: Tennessee already has 10 state songs, including an Official Bicentennial Rap. Some might think that’s enough.

• June 19 as “Juneteenth,” in recognition of the day in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Texas

• “Tennessee Tree Day,” March 20, 2021, when “the Tennessee Environmental Council shall engage thousands of volunteer participants in planting 60,000 native trees across all 95 counties”

• The Algonquian, the Chickamaugan, the Iroquoian, the Muskogean, the Siouan and the Yuchean cultural groups as Tennessee’s first peoples.

If it becomes law, that first peoples measure would go into the same portion of the code that identifies state symbols like birds, flowers, amphibians, reptiles and – potentially a totally inappropriate state tool.

Call your legislator. Stop the ladder madness.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com