By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II
NASHVILLE — Supporters of a proposal that would prohibit students from dressing in an “indecent manner” at school say they would like to revisit the measure should it become law and make it stricter.
The measure was sent to the governor on Monday after it passed the Senate 29-0 and the House 81-9.
The legislation seeks to prohibit students from exposing “underwear or body parts in an indecent manner that disrupts the learning environment.”
A stricter version of the proposal failed to pass the Legislature three years ago. That measure targeted individuals who wear pants below the waistline and imposed a fine of up to $250 and 160 hours of community service.
Under the current proposal, school districts would decide a less severe punishment.
But Democratic Rep. Joe Towns of Memphis, the sponsor of the current proposal and the one three years ago, said he may try to put more teeth in the bill if it becomes law.
“We can look at it and see where the possibilities are to go to another level,” he said after the vote. “I would love to, because it’s out of control. There’s a lot of interest in the community about it.”
Rep. Antonio Parkinson said on the House floor that he too wants to see tougher legislation.
“I hate the fact it got watered down,” said the Memphis Democrat. “None of us have to stand there and look at anyone’s undergarments.”
Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said he supports the current proposal. He said that the way a student dresses reflects on the school.
“I think the way students dress sends a strong signal that a school has discipline,” Winters said. “So this bill seems to be a step in the right direction.”
Currently, Arkansas and Florida are the only states to target schools for a saggy pants ban, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Alabama is considering a similar bill that would ban saggy pants in public in one of its counties. That measure unanimously passed the Alabama House and is currently in the Senate.
In Tennessee’s case, female student athletes might be required to wear shirts over their sports bras if they were deemed inappropriate by school officials.
Jordan Fleming attends Anderson County High School in Clinton, near Knoxville. The 16-year-old was visiting the state Capitol with a group of students on Monday. He said he’s glad to see such legislation because the indecent exposure of some girls is a “huge distraction to the guys.”
“I walk through the school and I’m trying to keep my mind on my school work,” said Fleming. “It’s just distracting.”
Sixteen-year-old Chyan Smiddy, who attends Clinton High School, said the same goes for the boys.
“It’s gross and unattractive,” she said.
Towns said he hopes students will develop better dress habits in school, and that “will carry over into the communities.”
“The pipeline is the high schools,” he said.