Legislature sends governor bill backing ‘monument to the unborn”

In the last hours of the legislative session, a bill favoring erection of a “monument to unborn children” on the state capitol grounds was sent to the governor after a House-Senate dispute over wording of the measure was resolved.

Apparently, the bill is to be viewed as making a request for the monument to the State Capitol Commission; not the mandate that was included in the original version. And Gov. Bill Haslam says he and his staff will be reviewing the bill before he decides whether to sign it.

The final version of HB2381 says, after a preamble, that “the General Assembly calls for the erection” of the monument. That was a change – made in the House — from the original version introduced by Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) and Sen. Steve Southerland (R-Morristown) which declared the State Capitol Commission “shall develop and implement” a plan for erecting the monument after gathering public input on the design.

The Senate amended the bill to eliminate the words “calls for” and substitute the word “urges.” The House refused to go along with the change, leaving the bill in limbo until the last hours of the session. Then the Senate reconsidered, retreated from the “urges” version” and accepted “calls for.”

Final approval came on a 25-3 Senate vote after discussion wherein supporters of the bill agreed there really wasn’t much difference in the two versions. Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Brentwood) said he initially proposed the use of “urges,” believing that made the intent clearer.

“Effectively, what you are doing (with ‘calls for’) is urging. Is that an accurate reflection of your legislative intent?,” Johnson asked Southerland.

“That’s correct,” replied Southerland.

Johnson noted that he is a member of the Capitol Commission and personally supports the monument, but still wanted to state for the record the legislative intent that the effect of the bill is to urge, not require.

If a law is challenged in court, judges often look the record of passage to determine “legislative intent” in enacting a statute.

The bill does declare what the inscription should be on the monument, if erected: “Tennessee Monument to Unborn Children, In Memory of the Victims of Abortion: Babies, Women, and Men.”

Haslam is quoted in the Times Free Press Saturday as saying “I need to see what the final language” is before deciding whether to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

“A lot of those things like that, we first check to make certain are there any constitutional issues. If not, if it’s one of those that we didn’t take a position on, we typically sign it if there are no constitutional issues.

“I think we were deferred on that, subject to the final language, as I remember,” Haslam added.

That usually means unless there is a legal problem, the governor is likely to sign it.

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