Legislation To Prohibit Schools From Using Public Property To Support Or Oppose A Referendum Advances In State Senate

Thursday, February 14, 2013
Legislation that would ban use of public school property owned by any government entity in Tennessee to promote the adoption or rejection of any referendum on the ballot is headed to the Senate floor for final consideration. Senate Bill 547, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), prohibits public schools from displaying signs or messages in support of or opposition to a referendum or use of a school’s video, audio, telephone or electronic equipment for such purposes.
The move comes after controversy erupted last summer regarding the use of public school telephones and marquee signs advocating the adoption of a wheel tax in Bradley County.  Current law provides that it is unlawful to use public buildings or facilities for meetings or preparation of campaign activity in support of any particular candidate, party or measure unless reasonable equal opportunity is provided to all sides.    However, that law does not apply to referendums.  Bell’s legislation bans the use of public school property for both sides when a referendum issue is involved.
“I was contacted by many constituents who complained that taxpayer-funded school property was being used to promote a tax measure on the ballot,” said Senator Bell.  “We don’t need to let our school yard become a political battleground.  My legislation will make it clear that school property cannot be used to advertise for or against any referendum measure on the ballot.”
“This is a matter of fairness to those on both sides of a referendum issue,” said Senator Bell. “There are many other ways that those who are for or against a measure can get out their message.  Advocating for a ballot measure using school property is not a good practice and this legislation will clear it up once and for all.”

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