Legislative antics sure to land state in the spotlight

Robert Houk • Jan 27, 2014 at 9:27 AM

Let the countdown begin. When Tennessee lawmakers returned to work earlier this month, the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union launched a website to track the number of days it takes before the General Assembly once again makes the Volunteer state the punch line of a late-night comedian’s joke.It shouldn’t take long. This is an election year and that means nutty legislation is sure to flow on Capitol Hill. That’s too bad. State legislators could better use their time dealing with the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, which is operated through TennCare. Two weeks ago, officials with the Mountain States Health Alliance cited the state’s refusal to take additional Medicaid dollars under the Affordable Health Care Act as the reason for layoffs in their system.Last year, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey declared the GOP supermajority that controls the General Assembly wanted nothing to do with accepting those Obamacare dollars, which will now go to other states with more rational legislative leaders. In the meantime, state lawmakers will spend most of their time debating bills so ridiculous they sound concocted by the gifted writers of “The Colbert Report.” That’s one of the reasons officials with ACLU-Tennessee have dubbed their campaign: “Countdown to Colbert.”It’s an effort “to raise awareness about pending legislation in Tennessee that could limit our freedoms, and to engage Tennesseans in taking a stand against the kind of bills that land us on political comedy shows,” Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-Tennessee’s executive director, said in a recent news release.Weinberg noted that Tennessee has been featured regularly on late-night comedy shows, including “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show.” Our state has not been depicted favorably in these satirical pieces.“We know the legislation that has landed Tennessee on these shows in the past does not reflect Tennesseans’ core values of freedom, equality and fairness,” Weinberg said. “Capturing the national spotlight in a negative way is not inevitable if those of us who care about civil liberties and civil rights take action.”I would wager we won’t have to wait very long before Tennessee is mentioned on a comedy show. It’s just weeks into the session and lawmakers have already filed bills to do away with lunch breaks for service employees and allow local school boards to do their part to defend pupils from the so-called “War on Christmas.”My money is on Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville. His skill for legislative buffoonery is unequaled in the General Assembly.Last year, he was thoroughly lampooned on “The Daily Show” for his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Campfield also had a memorable appearance on MSNBC, where he defended his bill to reduce welfare payments to families with a child failing in school by saying that while he doesn’t expect poor children to be “rocket surgeons,” he does believe they should be getting good grades.It’s only a matter of time before Campfield’s antics are mentioned again on “The Colbert Report.”Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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