The Fashion & Decency Police are out in force. A House subcommittee voted last week to make it a misdemeanor to wear saggy pants. Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, wants to slap a $250 fine on anyone caught showing their underwear or ass in public. Plumbers are said to be preparing litigation.
"This bill has been coined the anti-crack bill," says Towns, seeming to enjoy his moment in the TV lights. "I think any respectable citizen would be against crack. It's a decency bill in terms of having our young people pull their britches up."
Rep. Karen Camper, another Memphis Democrat, was the only subcommittee member against the bill. She held up pictures of people's butts to try to pin down Towns on what's illegal under his legislation. Under the bill's definition of underwear, she said, she'd break the law by wearing a low-cut dress that showed her bra. "A woman working at Hooter's, that would be a violation," she said. Camper also suggested Towns is singling out black kids for punishment.
"I don't know what you're insinuating," Towns snapped back. "It's not minority kids. It's not white kids. It's not targeting anyone."
"There were people who didn't want me to wear hot pants in my day," Camper said, "but they didn't legislate it. You're trying to legislate fashion in my opinion."
"No," Towns said, "we're legislating decency."
At least Camper has Tennessee's titty bars on her side. The strip clubs' lobbyist, Tracy O'Neill, sent a letter to legislators stating her opposition. O'Neill says the bill would apply to strip clubs. She envisions police using the law to arrest strippers, and warns the courts have consistently struck down saggy pants laws.
"The fact that this bill proposes to dictate how Americans wear their clothing in public and private establishments should sound an alarm to everyone who values freedom of expression and personal autonomy," she wrote. "It is not the government's job to censor fashion statements and fads."
Champion of polluters
Our state legislature never has been what one might call eco-friendly. This session, Exhibit A is Joe McCord, chairman of the House Conservation and Environment Committee. That's right, the guy who's supposed to be in charge of protecting our environment is actually trying to destroy it.
Last year, McCord was instrumental in killing legislation to stop the environmentally devastating method of mining known as mountaintop removal. He's from Maryville, in the foothills of the Smokies. His hometown depends on tourists attracted by mountain scenery. But what's more important? Rolling over for coal companies or protecting the underpinning of a gazillion-dollar tourism industry?
This session, McCord is a sponsor of more bills on the Tennessee Clean Water Network's list of terrible bills than any other legislator. Among his great ideas: He wants to bar state regulators from checking pollution complaints if they're made anonymously. After all, polluters can't intimidate annoying neighbors unless they know their names.
But our particular favorite is the bill that redefines water to exclude some streams and creeks so that industries can pollute them at will. The TCWN calls it "perhaps the most dangerous of all water quality bills." According to the TCWN, a law like that could destroy 30,000 miles of streams—almost half the streams in Tennessee.
Apologizing for slavery
It's certain to bring a noisy invasion of Confederate flag-waving rednecks to the Capitol. State Rep. Brenda Gilmore is asking the legislature to express "profound regret" for slavery and segregation. Her resolution, which would make Tennessee the seventh state to express contrition for slavery, cleared a House subcommittee last week. But the chairman, Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, made a point of voting no.
As he explained, slavery wasn't his fault: "I voted no because it's something that happened 160 years ago. I wasn't alive when we had slavery so I didn't feel like I should apologize on behalf of the people of Tennessee. I do regret that it happened. It was a horrible, horrible thing. But I didn't have anything to do with it, so that's why I voted against it."
Gilmore, a black Democrat from Nashville, noted after that she's not asking the legislature to make an unambiguous apology—something that New Jersey, Alabama and North Carolina have done. Instead, her resolution merely expresses regret but stops short of saying we're sorry. Florida, Maryland and Virginia have already passed similar resolutions, and President Clinton did the same in 1998.
Asked whether she thinks her resolution will pass, Gilmore said, "I just don't really know. I'm simply asking for an expression of regret. I'm not asking for an apology. I'm certainly not asking for any monetary reparation or anything like that. So I'm not certain why anyone would feel they can't vote for this. But I'm going to pray and hope for the best."
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