Tennessee's Legislature passed a slew of reprehensible bills last Friday in lawmakers' rush to adjourn their 2011 session.
Having already voted to slash TennCare and restrict teacher tenure, they voted Friday to end the teachers' union bargaining rights. They voted to revise the state constitution to limit women's abortion rights, to allow corporations to contribute directly to candidates' campaigns (even during session), to raise limits on allowable campaign contributions by 40 percent, to establish a range of charter schools (including Internet-based schools), and to require the purchase of photo IDs for vote - a restrictive poll tax and mean encroachment on voting rights. All these were rammed through the Republican dominated Legislature with a gleeful raspberry to Democrats' objections.
These ill-founded laws may please the Republican lawmakers, who held control over both chambers of the Legislature and the governor's office for the first time in 142 years. But the vast increase of cozy corporate lobbying power, the attacks on teachers' and women's rights and health care for the poor and disabled, and the dizzying dispersal of school money to untested upstart schools are not likely to benefit the state and Tennessee's citizens.
Rather, they are virtually certain to restrict civil and voting rights, to limit students' educational opportunities and to weaken both the state's safety net and the motivation and morale of teachers. They are also certain to entrench corporate power and indenture lawmakers to monied corporate interests and its rich lobbying organizations.
That lawmakers could pass these bills with a straight face is astonishing by itself. That they could do so while proclaiming to have focused on "two things - job creation and putting people back to work, and making sure there is a qualified teacher in each and every classroom," as Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey declared, is mind-boggling.
Legislators passed not a single bill that would improve job creation or put people back to work. And they did nothing to improve Tennesseans' health care prospects, abuse from insurers or their general welfare.
Gov. Bill Haslam's so-called economic development plans, moreover, ended the jobs of more than a score of regional economic development positions and virtually shut down initiatives to court large corporations, turning back the clock on his Democratic predecessors successes in that arena, including new plants here by Volkswagen, Alstom and Wacker Chemical.
The notion that lawmakers could leave Nashville celebrating such reversals and derogation of the needs of ordinary working people across the state is stunning. The only reason we can be glad that lawmakers finished the session is that it prevents them from wreaking more damage.