NASHVILLE, Tennessee — After hearing the presentation and debate on a bill that would make it a felony for local officials to vote in conflict with state or federal laws on immigration or historical memorials, the House Criminal Justice Committee voted to send the bill to where many go to die — summer study, especially during an election year.
The sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro), told The Tennessee Star following a voice vote, “They just voted for sanctuary cities.”
White’s bill, sponsored by State Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) in the Senate, would make it a Class E felony for a local official to knowingly vote for an ordinance or resolution that is in direct conflict with state or federal laws relative to immigration, such as sanctuary cities, or historic monuments.
As previously reported by The Star, the crime would be punishable only by a fine, any elected official convicted of a felony is subject to the removal from office.
The bill passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee the week prior, and then headed to the full Committee where there was debate for more than 30 minutes, primarily coming from State Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) toward the bill sponsor.
Parkinson questioned the sponsor’s motives for bringing the bill, repeatedly bringing up the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Memphis. Parkinson did not seem satisfied that White’s bill is not retroactive and would have no impact on previous events in Memphis and that its purpose, as the sponsor told him repeatedly, is to protect history.
State Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) called the constitutionality of the bill suspect, a point that State Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville) subscribed to, prompting him to make the motion of sending the bill to summer study.
Speaking “on the merits of why it shouldn’t go to summer study,” State Rep. Tilman Goins (R-Morristown) aptly refuted the unconstitutionality of the bill. Goins argued that, “What a lot of people don’t understand is we’re not talking about binding future legislators, which we know we can’t do.” Goins continued,
We’re talking about binding those folks that, according to our constitution, county elected officials that is an extension of state government, and we absolutely set in parameters, for example the sheriff is a constitutional office. We can set parameters for who can run for sheriff, whether you’ve got certain requirements to run for sheriff. So I don’t see any reason why we can’t bind county commissioners to make sure that they’re upholding the will and the law of the state that we set.
City council members, on the other hand, in most cities don’t exist in the constitution. They exist by charter that we create and give them permission to do when they operate as an incorporated city, so there’s no reason why the constitution should even come into suspect.
If you think that this is somehow constitutionally suspect, us telling local elected people that if they choose to run for office you cannot use your office to circumvent state or federal law, then you also have to agree with me that we can’t tell who can run for sheriff or who can’t, or that our road superintendents have to have certain college degrees or not before they become road superintendent. All of those things exist constitutionally, and so does a county commissioner a city councilman, like I said, they exist because we allow cities to operate as a state.
State Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough) was then recognized by Chairman State Rep. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown), who also began his argument against summer study, by saying “The 10th amendment of the United States constitution delegates all powers that are not mentioned in the federal constitution to the states, not the cities not the counties.” Van Huss added, “We work under the federal constitution with the intention of a strong state presence and a strong state government.”
Van Huss then began a series of question to the bill sponsor, “To Leader White, I have a couple of questions for you. With this legislation, should we pass it, would it protect monuments to George Washington? Would this legislation protect the monument on the capital grounds to African Americans? Would this legislation protect monuments to Martin Luther King, Jr. who, at one point, said that LGBT individuals should be seeing a psychiatrist? Would this bill protect revolutionary war veterans who technically fought for slavery? Would this legislation protect memorials to Sargent Alvin York who single-handedly captured a company of German soldiers?”
White responded to each individual question in the affirmative, adding, “If the memorial was covered under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act.”
On the bill, Van Huss opined, “I do think this is a good piece of legislation. I do not want it to go to summer study. But that will be up to the committee,” before offering a more profound conclusion,
We, as a world, but also as a nation, have not a perfect past. I don’t know of any country that would have a perfect past. There have been sins committed by people at our founding with what went on, especially with slavery. We do not live in a perfect world and as you alluded to earlier, it is important to learn from mistakes from our ancestors, of the folks who have come before us in this world, and make sure that we do not commit those things again.
Before the vote was taken, White reminded the committee of the other equally important aspect of her bill, sanctuary cities. “I think there is also something, we‘ve talked about memorials and the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, but this is also for sanctuary cities. We know that one of our cities here in our state tried this summer to become a sanctuary city. This also, to keep in mind, is legislation for sanctuary cities as well as memorials.”
The ayes prevailed on a voice vote, sending the bill to summer study.
Four committee members – State Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett), State Rep. Tilman Goins (R-Morristown), State Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough) and Chairman William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) – requested to be recorded as voting No, leaving the vote, with two of the 11 committee members absent, at 5 in favor of and 4 against summer study.
By default, the interpretation is that three Republicans, State Rep. Michael Curcio (R-Dickson), State Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), and State Rep. Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta) voted with Democrats State Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) and State Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) for not passing a bill to protect Tennessee’s historic monuments and prevent sanctuary cities.
As White was exiting the committee room, Chairman Lamberth, in a nice moment of legislator camaraderie between two House members who sit next to each on the House Floor, told White, “I’ve not really weighed in on this very much on your bill.” And, “or the record,” Lamberth added
I know everyone else has had their say on this, I think it’s an important issue to look at. I know this bill just got sent to summer study. It’s something you’re very passionate about and something that I share your passion in. And there have been many comments today about the history of the great state of Tennessee. It may not be pretty sometimes, we may not agree with all of it, but it has made us who we are today. And, so, Representative White I just wanted to say that as your friend and colleague, I appreciate that you are fighting to try to preserve our history and I appreciate the fact that you brought the bill. I just wanted to say that before you left the room. “
The video of the March 14, 2018, Criminal Justice Subcommittee meeting, which included HB2552, can be viewed here.