A plan to tie welfare benefits to student performance is off the table in the General Assembly, for now.
The sponsor of the legislation — which has drawn the attention of late night TV shows and criticism across the country — has agreed to put the plan on hold to study the issue over the next year.
“I thought a lot of people were caught up in the misperception of what this legislation actually did and didn’t want to make a bad political move, necessarily, for something that they truly believed in as a good piece of legislation,” said Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) who sponsored the bill.
After about an hour of debate, Campfield put the bill in a “study committee” with plans to examine the issue in the political offseason and prepare it for a comeback in 2014 when the legislature returns.
Under the legislation, benefits given to parents under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program would be reduced 30 percent if a child fails to graduate to the next grade level. Parents could earn the money back by showing proof they attended at least two parent-teacher conferences, have taken parenting classes or have enrolled their student in tutoring programs or summer school.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle took issue with aspects of the bill, with several Republicans saying they are on board with the intent but worry there were too many concerns for them to support it.
Shortly before the vote, Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters he has “major problems” with the bill, but stopped short from threatening veto. He said legislating parental involvement should apply “to all families, not just to certain low-income families that we happen to have a hook on because they received benefits through us.”
Haslam also said the lack of data indicating whether the penalty would be effective also gave him pause.
Campfield said the plan is to study the issue in a “summer study” committee. Typically, moving the bill to a study committee saves face for legislators who see the bill lacks the support to pass. Many of those study committees never meet, although Campfield said he is dedicated to examining the issue