The third time was not the charm for Dickson Republican state Sen. Jim Summerville and his “Higher Education Equality Act.” After being held back from a vote at two previous meetings to hash out amendments and take input from higher education administrators, the anti-affirmative action measure died in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.
Senate Bill 8 would have prohibited Tennessee colleges and universities from giving preference in admissions or hiring decisions based on race, gender or ethnic identity.
Before the bill was brought up for a vote, committee member Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, introduced an amendment he said addressed “every single issue higher education brought up” in previous hearings, specifically concerns surrounding federal funding and athletics. But despite Campfield’s confidence, the measure failed to reach a majority of votes.
Campfield supported the bill, along with Republicans Brian Kelsey of Germantown, Joey Hensley of Hohenwald and committee chair Dolores Gresham of Somerville. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, voted against it. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville, and Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, passed on the vote, preventing it from leaving the committee.
Reacting to the defeat, Summerville told reporters that lobbying by higher education interests killed the bill. Summerville charged that they “believe that folks from these [diverse] backgrounds are not equal yet. They need to be made more equal…with discriminatory preferences.”
He also expressed disappointment with Republicans on the committee for refusing to vote. “We are the party that ended slavery,” said Summerville. “Any republican with a backbone should be in staunch support of this law.”
Summerville said he won’t try to revive the bill this session. However, pointing to other “civil rights” bills he has introduced including one dealing with state employees in K-12 education, Summerville noted that the discussion isn’t over for the year.