Opponents of a Vanderbilt University policy banning discrimination in student groups want to enact a law to strip the private school of its police powers if it doesn't change its ways.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Mae Beaver of Mt. Juliet and fellow Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon was the subject of competing press conferences at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville on Tuesday.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam last year vetoed a bill 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 argue the policy forces them to accept students who don't share their beliefs.
Haslam said he disagrees with Vanderbilt's policy, but opposes targeting a private institution.
"Vanderbilt wants its cake and eat it, too," said David Fowler, with Family Action of Tennessee.
Family Action of Tennessee visited Capitol Hill in support of the bill that would strip Vanderbilt's police force of its power.
It would stop the state from delegating police responsibilities to universities with discrimination policies like Vanderbilt's.
Fowler said he doesn't consider the bill payback, but instead protection for First Amendment rights.
"They want to say, 'I'm a private organization. Leave me alone. Oh, let me be an extension of the local government's police department," Fowler said. "They don't have any right to exercise that function."
Vanderbilt fired back, calling the bill misguided.
"This is not just about Vanderbilt. It actually impacts the overall safety to our metropolitan community," said Vanderbilt Police Chief August Washington.
Its police chief highlighted the need for the force, and so, too did the man who runs the hospital's emergency department.
"What we depend on is the Vanderbilt police force to immediately lockdown the emergency department when we have a trauma victim who is a victim of violence," said Dr. Corey Slovis. "If we can't lock down the ED immediately, we become an unsafe environment."
The bill would essentially make Vanderbilt's police officers security guards - a possible change that for both sides seems worth the fight.
The Metro Nashville Police Department opposes the bill, which comes up for discussion Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee.
Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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