Legislative round-up for Oct. 15, 2015

Bill could limit what educators teach on religion

quran, Tenn. — A newly proposed bill could prevent Tennessee public schools from including any “religious doctrine” in courses until grades 10-12.

The timing of House Bill 1418, proposed by Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia), troubles some Muslim advocates because it follows some parental complaints on middle school children learning about Islam.

Educators have argued that the information gives historical context about how a religion has influenced world regions.

The bill was filed for introduction on Oct. 9, and it would amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10. It proposes to add the following points (paraphrased):

  • The state board of education can’t include religious doctrine in public schools’ curriculum standards for any grades before 10-12.
  • If the curriculum for earlier grades refers to a specific religion or its role and importance in history or geography, the reference can’t amount to teaching the doctrine.
  • The state must provide curriculum standards for grades 10-12 on the teaching of comparative religion as it relates to history or geography, but no religion can be emphasized over another one.

Tennessee’s laws and this proposed bill do not yet define what “religious doctrine” means.

The nation’s largest Muslim advocacy organization, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), is urging opposition to the bill, saying students should not have their education delayed “because of anti-Muslim bigotry.” Read CAIR statements on this issue here.

Bill to close loophole: No background check, no gun

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senate Democrats are reportedly ready to unveil new legislation that would block guns from being sold without background checks. The bill, sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), would close a loophole that allows retailers to sell guns without a background check after 72 hours.

Maplight, a 501(c)3 research organization that tracks money’s influence on politics, provided the following relevant information.

Background check legislation last saw a Senate vote in April 2013 after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, when an amendment sponsored by Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) would have provided a stricter background check process to prevent criminals and those deemed mentally ill from purchasing a gun. The amendment failed to get the 60 votes required to override a filibuster; a vote of 54-46 stopped it.

Senators voting against the 2013 Manchin-Toomey Amendment received, on average, 11 times more money ($25,631) from pro-gun interest groups than senators voting for it ($2,340) between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2014.

In contrast, campaign contributions from anti-gun groups to senators in the same period were negligible.

Tennessee’s U.S. senators received funding and voted as follows:

  • U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) received no funding from interest groups supporting the legislation. He received $10,750 from interest groups opposing it. He voted “No.”
  • U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) received no funding from interest groups supporting the legislation. He received $6,890 from interest groups opposing it. He voted “No.”

Six senators received more than $50,000 from pro-gun interest groups between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2014. Of those, only one — Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), also a co-sponsor of the amendment — supported the stricter background check process.

Methodology: MapLight analyzed campaign contributions from political action committees (PACs) and employees of pro-gun interest groups to members of the U.S. Senate from Jan. 1, 2009 through Dec. 31, 2014. See the full Maplight report at bit.ly/pro-gun-contributions.

Fincher files petition to save jobs supported by Ex-Im Bank

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Oct. 9, Congressmen Stephen Fincher (TN-08), Adam Kinzinger (IL-16), and Chris Collins (NY-27) released the following statement after filing a discharge petition to allow House consideration of their bill to reform and reauthorize the U.S. Export Import Bank. (Read the bill online at www.congress.gov/114/bills/hr3611/BILLS-114hr3611ih.pdf.) The bank supports thousands of jobs across the country by financing the export of U.S. goods and services.

Their joint statement said: “This Republican-led petition is a procedure to stand up to Washington’s broken system that is killing thousands of American jobs and jeopardizing thousands more. Our constituents expect us to fight for them and get the job done, but Congress has failed to even hold a vote to reform and reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank.”

The statement continued, “We refuse to look any more hardworking Americans in the eye and say, ‘you lost your job because Congress refused to hold a vote.’ This cannot wait any longer. If we do not get this done for the American people, the only thing our country will be exporting is jobs.”