Haslam Defends Plans to Veto ‘All Comers’ Bill

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story gave the impression that Gov. Bill Haslam had already vetoed the legislation described below. In fact, as of this story’s initial posting, the governor had only announced his intention to veto the bill.

Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s receiving “some” criticism over his announcement that he will veto a bill targeting Vanderbilt University’s discrimination policy imposed on student clubs.

But he says he stands by his belief that the legislation inappropriately interferes with the affairs of a private organization.

“I think when we explain to folks, ‘Hey, if the Legislature wanted to impose their will on a private institution that you didn’t like, how would you feel about that?’” he told reporters after a groundbreaking ceremony for Middle Tennessee State University’s Science Building Thursday. “I think once you explain it that way, people tend to understand.”

Haslam announced Wednesday he would use his his first veto to strike down the bill that requiring public colleges and universities and those accepting $24 million or more in taxpayer dollars to let religious student clubs chose their membership and leadership.

The governor said he was OK with the bill when it was aimed at public colleges, such as MTSU, but adding Vanderbilt to the bill was going too far.

The measure passed easily in both chambers of the Republican-run Legislature, with minority-party Democrats opposed.

“I just don’t think it’s a road that we should go down,” House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, the chamber’s leading Democrat said Wednesday, hours before the governor announced he wouldn’t allow the measure to become law. It “was just a pretty bad bill. It was the biggest in government intrusion of a private business or institution that I can ever remember.”

The governor said Thursday he’s still weighing what action he’ll take on the so-called “gateway sexual activity” bill that encourages education about abstinence and restricts teachers from distributing materials that “condone, encourage or promote student sexual activity.”

He said he’s not sure the bill, HB3621, will do much to change current law.

“I actually was reviewing the specifics of that this morning and reading through the language, comparing it to our current practice. I actually don’t think it’s a big departure from our current practice, but I, we haven’t made a final decision,” he told reporters when asked if he would veto that bill, too.

Haslam’s philosophy on vetoing legislation rests upon whether he “felt like the bill was bad for Tennessee,” he told reporters last month. “If I felt like maybe it wasn’t bad for Tennessee, but it just added confusion to a situation, maybe I just wouldn’t sign it in that case.”