By Tom Humphrey -
NASHVILLE - After some convoluted maneuvers, a Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that will prohibit teachers from discussing homosexuality in kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms.
The measure (SB49) is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who unsuccessfully pushed the same idea - nicknamed the "don't say gay" bill - for six years as a member of the state House before he was elected to the Senate.
As introduced, the bill would have put into law a declaration that it is illegal to discuss any sexual behavior other than heterosexuality prior to the ninth grade.
But when it came before the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, contended current law already prohibits such instruction by deeming it a misdemeanor to teach any sex education that is not part of the "family life curriculum" adopted by the state Board of Education.
Tracy proposed an amendment to rewrite Campfield's bill to require the Board of Education to study the issue and determine whether any teaching about homosexuality is occurring and, if so, recommend what should be done about it.
Campfield contends homosexuality is being discussed in classrooms. Spokesmen for the Board of Education and the state Department of Education told the committee they are unaware of any such activity.
The Tracy amendment passed over Campfield's objections.
But then Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, proposed to change the Tracy amendment. The revision declares that, after its study to be completed by Feb. 1 of next year, the Board of Education "shall adopt" - as part of the family life curriculum - a ban on discussion of homosexuality in the same language used in Campfield's bill.
That amendment was adopted, too, and the revised bill was then approved 6-3 and sent to the Senate floor. All no votes came from Democrats.
Campfield has been criticized on some blogs this week for seeking a $1,000 "retainer" fee to debate the "don't say gay" bill with Del Shores, a Texas-based movie producer and director who has made films on homosexuality.
State law includes prohibitions on a legislator taking compensation for work related to legislative duties except for his or her salary and expense payments due from the state. Another statute prohibits legislators from accepting an honorarium except for travel expenses.
Campfield said his request, which came in an exchange of messages with Shores, was simply for a deposit to guarantee that his travel expenses would be paid.
"I'm not going to pay air fare to Texas and a hotel, then have the guy stiff me," he said, adding the retainer request came when he understood the debate would be in Texas.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said he did not believe the ban on extra compensation for legislative duties would apply in this case because a debate in Texas is "probably not part of his legislative duties."
Rawlins said there was a "potential violation" of the honorarium ban in the situation as he understood it, but that someone would have to file a formal complaint to trigger a formal investigation into that question.