NASHVILLE — Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he sees no need for a special legislative session to require Tennessee's attorney general to defend local school districts over transgender student bathroom policies.
"Herbert Slatery, the attorney general, called me to say we're going to defend that wholeheartedly," Ramsey, the Republican Senate speaker, told Bradley County Republicans on Saturday night at their annual Lincoln Day Dinner.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada has been canvassing colleagues, seeking support for a possible special session to require Slatery to defend schools sued for violating President Barack Obama's transgender student policies.
A recent directive from the U.S. Justice and Education departments said students should be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, not biological sex.
The American Civil Liberties Union-Tennessee fanned conservative Republicans' ire last week by asking Education Department officials to enforce the directive against Sumner County schools. The ACLU complained the district is not complying with the policy, though Sumner officials say they try to be accommodating.
The Justice Department is suing North Carolina over its law restricting transgender students to bathrooms matching their biological sex.
After the dinner, Ramsey said Slatery told him Friday "he didn't feel like we needed a special session" to require him to defend Sumner County. He said Slatery is "100 percent on board with it."
"He feels confident they have statutory authority to [defend a local school system]," Ramsey added.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam last week criticized the federal directive as "heavy-handed" and said only Congress, not the executive branch, has authority to write law.
Haslam said no federal action has been taken against Tennessee so he didn't feel a need to call a special session to compel Slatery to sue.
The House and Senate can call themselves into special session by a two-thirds vote of each chamber. But without the Senate, it's a dead issue.
Before Ramsey spoke, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, backed the idea of a special session on the transgender bathroom issue. In the just-ended legislative session, Bell sponsored legislation requiring students to use facilities that match their biological sex at birth.
The House sponsor shelved the companion bill during the session's waning hours.
Bell said said he supports Casada's idea of directing the state AG to defend any school district that got sued.
"I'm for doing that. Now, I've not talked to any other senators," Bell said. Of the ACLU's complaint over Sumner County, he said, "this won't be the last."
Also present was Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge. He's seen as the next speaker following Ramsey's upcoming retirement. McNally also said he sees no need for a special session now.
Last week, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he had expressed his own concerns to Slatery and felt reassured. He said Slatery invited lawmakers to call him.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.