Free Speech: Go Vols!

A new year means new free speech protections on Tennessee college campuses. As of today, the “Campus Free Speech Protection Act” is law in the Volunteer State. That’s great news for any parent sending their kid to college.

This new law, signed last year by Governor Haslam, addresses many concerns those of us outside academia watched unfold over the last few years. Passing with overwhelming support, institutions of higher learning will send kids back to class with a new set of rules.

Here’s a look at a few of the goodies in SB 723:

*Schools must adopt policies consistent with the University Of Chicago’s Statement on Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression.

*All open, outdoor spaces of universities are to be considered “public forums” for free speech and expression.

*Goodbye and good riddance to “free speech zones.” Colleges may no longer designate an area in which students may freely express their views.

*No school gets to deny student groups activity fees because the school might disagree with the group’s viewpoint.

*Goodbye to the imposition of “security fees” for speakers invited to campus. The same goes to the tactic of “disinviting” a speaker a college may disagree with or find upsetting.

*Teachers are protected for speaking in class, unless the speech is “not reasonably germane to the subject matter of the class as broadly construed, and comprises a substantial portion of classroom instruction.”

*With regards to the issue of “student-on-student harassment,” schools must adopt policies consistent with the decision in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education. 

This is a massive win for free speech in the Volunteer State. It’s a step forward in reaffirming a bedrock principle of our country: the right to say, be, and do as you please. No longer will outrage culture or offense be considered when someone speaks on a Tennessee campus.

I’ve often joked when I see something pop up about an incident in Tennessee that “my people don’t always get it right.” This time my people didn’t just get it right, they knocked one out of the park. A strong commitment to free speech is important in higher education, and Tennessee just took a big set towards making sure students are educated instead of indoctrinated.

Tennessee: Operation Gideon

Tennessee won a battle with the Indigent Representation Task Force. In April the group will present their recommendations to the General Assembly. We can celebrate now, but there’s hard work to win this war.

All 99 House of Representative Seats are up in 2018.

Tennessee Representatives serve two year terms. It is on us, the people who care for the state’s poor and want to ensure their competent representation, to hold every legislator’s feet to the fire over these recommendations.

Their marching orders are very simple. You adopt the Task Force’s recommendations or you are out.

I will be watching which representatives adopt the recommendations and which reject. There will be a continually updated list on Mediation is Dead listing each accept and each reject. We will, as an organized force, eject every single candidate from office that rejects the recommendations.

Vote reject and you will be very uncomfortable. 

Technology is an amazing thing when it comes to influencing elections. Anybody with a smartphone can get on Periscope or Facebook Live and broadcast real news, in real time, to hundreds of thousands of people. Those Representatives who vote to reject the Task Force’s Recommendations will face quite a few bad days.

Imagine being a comfortably secure Tennessee representative, hosting a pancake breakfast for your constituency to spread your campaign platform. Suddenly as you’re speaking, a person with a smartphone pops up and asks you “Representative (x), you voted against the Task Force’s recommendations to provide better indigent defense in this state. Why do you hate poor people and the Constitution?”

Now imagine your answer and your response not just temporarily live streamed, but uploaded to YouTube for the world to enjoy.

People will go to town halls, Q&A sessions, ribbon cuttings, and more to put this question to any representative who rejects the Task Force’s recommendations.

Any gubernatorial candidate must endorse the Task Force’s recommendations to win. 

There’s a footnote on page 42 of the Task Force’s report regarding a peculiar member’s decision on raising compensation rates for court-appointed attorneys.

Task Force member Dwight Tarwater, who serves as counsel to Governor Bill Haslam, did not participate in the decision regarding the recommendation to change the hourly rate.

Why Dwight decided to abstain from this recommendation is unclear. It’s not as if his paycheck is in jeopardy should he decided to sit on the side of the Constitution. And his boss term limits in 2018, so it’s back to private practice or teaching somewhere.

The problem facing any candidate with an (R) on their names is the Republican governor’s private counsel decided to stay out of the decision to raise rates of pay for court appointed counsel. The lawyer to the businessman who promised up and down, honest to goodness, that he’d create more jobs in this state mysteriously “did not participate” in a measure that could create more jobs.

A rate raise to even $75 per hour means more attorneys can hire assistants and paralegals. That means more jobs right off the bat in the legal profession alone. It means the quicker payment of student loan debts. And it means bills get paid faster and children eat better at night. Finally, lawyers can do what they went to school to do and not have to drive for Uber or take side gigs to keep their practices alive.

If you’re running for a chance at the Governor’s mansion in Tennessee next year, and you run Republican, you’re going to need to address the Task Force’s recommendations now. You will need to endorse them. Show us you care or the mansion goes to the Democrats.

The fight begins today.

It’s time for those of us who give a damn about the mandate of Gideon to do something about it. I pissed off enough people on my own, and change came for the better. Now it’s time for the rest of us to put enormous pressure on the state’s House and Gubernatorial candidates to adopt the good in the Task Force’s hard work.

Join me. You won’t regret it.