Senator's Traffic Stop Part Of Vanderbilt Police Debate
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The effort to strip Vanderbilt University of its police force over a nondiscrimination policy for student groups has brought up a traffic stop involving a state senator, but the lawmaker said she didn't know why the incident has become part of the debate.
David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, said Tuesday the senator, whom he did not identify, had been stopped on a major Nashville thoroughfare bordering campus.
University spokesman Jim Patterson confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that Republican Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham of Somerville was given a verbal warning after being stopped in February for driving without her headlights on.
He said she was "very thankful" to the officer.
Gresham said she would speak to Fowler about why he mentioned the incident.
Opponents of a Vanderbilt University policy banning discrimination in student groups said Tuesday they wanted to enact a law to strip the private school of its police powers if it didn't change the police.
The bill sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet and fellow Republican Representative Mark Pody of Lebanon was the subject of competing press conferences at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville on Tuesday.
Republican Governor Bill Haslam vetoed a bill last year to do away with Vanderbilt's "all comers" policy, which requires student groups at the school to allow any interested students to join and run for office.
Religious groups have argued the policy forces them to accept students who don't share their beliefs.
Haslam said he disagreed with Vanderbilt's policy, but opposed targeting a private institution.
Legislation proposed by Pody advanced last week that sought to prevent public higher education institutions in Tennessee from discriminating against religious groups.
The measure was approved 7-2 in the House Education Subcommittee on February 27. The proposal was similar to the legislation that was vetoed by Haslam, but made no reference to private institutions.
Opponents of the measure said it's unnecessary because they're not aware of problems at public colleges and universities that it needs to address.
Beavers said the new bill would not prohibit a private institution of higher learning from discrimination, but would strip the university of police powers authorized by the state.
"(The proposed bill) simply provides that the state's police authority shall not be used by any institution of higher learning that engages in specific forms of religious discrimination," said Beavers.