Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville) said Friday he will introduce legislation in the 2013 legislative session to ban use of public school property owned by any government entity in Tennessee to promote the adoption or rejection of a referendum on the ballot. The move comes after controversy erupted regarding the use of marquee signs on public school property advocating the adoption of a wheel tax in Bradley County.
“I have been contacted by many constituents who have complained about the use of public school property to promote a referendum on the ballot,” said Senator Bell. “Tennessee law is currently unclear. While it specifically bans the practice for state-owned property, there is some ambiguity as to whether or not it is prohibited where state funds are used but the property is owned by a city or county government. Then there is the question of allowing the opposing side to also advertise their viewpoints. 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 a referendum.”
Tennessee law states 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 reasonably equal opportunity is provided for presentation of all sides or views, or reasonably equal access to the buildings or facilities is provided to all sides. The law defines "public buildings and facilities" as those owned and supported "principally by public money appropriated from the state treasury."
“This is not just about the referendum currently before Bradley County voters,” said Senator Bell. “You must also consider future measures. There are many other ways that those who are for or against a referendum can get out their message. Advocating for a referendum using school property is not a good practice and this legislation will clear it up once and for all.”