Senate Blocks Campfield’s “Starve-the-Children” Bill, Shunts It Off to “Summer Study”

Majority Leader Norris takes lead in retarding measure that would reduce state aid to families with failing school children.



Campfield getting the bad news
  • Campfield getting the bad news
Faced with a barrage of skeptical questions from his Republican colleagues, State Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) took the hint on Thursday and agreed to refer his SB 0132 (referred to by opponents as “Starve-the-Children”) to a "summer study" committee.

The first hint of serious trouble for Campfield camp during floor debate when GOP majority leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) pronounced himself “queasy” about the bill, which would reduce state aid to dependent families whose children were experiencing grade trouble. The bill had already engendered a mid-week statement of opposition from Governor Bill Haslam and had been actively opposed by any number of agencies and institutions concerned with student welfare.

Norris told Campfield, “You’re fooling yourself” regarding the Knoxville senator’s claim that only parents and not children would be penalized by the withholding from the affected familyof failing children an average of $20 a month in state support payments . The majority leader also referred to the bill as “the sort of legislation that gets challenged in a court of law as vague and ambiguous, arbitrary and capricious.”

Consequently, said Norris, “It’s a very troublesome piece of legislation, and I regret I can’t support it.”
After Norris came the deluge.

Senator Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) pointed out that the bill’s penalties had the effect of “making the child responsible for the parent’s actions.”

Norris queasy about bill
  • Norris 'queasy' about bill
Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) concurred, somewhat earthily. “I agree with Senator Finney . You can’t legislate parent responsibility. I don’t care what you do.” He foresaw “unintended consequences” for the student. “The parent will beat the dog doo out of him for taking that $20 away from them, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Other senators offered objections to various contentions Campbell had made in summarizing his bill. He had said that no food allotments would be affected (an apparent response to the ‘starve-the-children’ phrase), but more than one colleague noted that manyof the affected families were already subsisting on an average of $166 a month.. He had said at one point the the state Department of Human Services had “signed off” on the bill but later acknowledged, when pressed, that DHS was at best “neutral,” while Governor Haslam had opposed it.

Campfield had contended that his bill was meant to encourage “discipline” rather than punishment and that parents could avail themselves of any number of remedies to the bill’s penalties, including participation in parent-teacher conferences, involvement with tutoring programs, or merely reading to their children. But several senators criticized what they saw as vagueness in the bill’s description of such activities or in the means of validating them.

In the end, with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville), the Senate Speaker, explicitly encouraging him to do so, Campfield offered to have the bill referred again to the Senate Health committee, chaired by Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), and to have it relegated to “summer study,' which would be coordinated with K-12 education sub-committees of the Senate and House.

Often, though not always, referral to summer-study status amounts to a death knell for a bill in the General Assembly.

The state House was also scheduled to consider the Campfield bill on Thursday, but the Senate’s action would appear to have made that process moot.

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