Why Rename The ‘Human Rights’ Commission The ‘Affirmative Action’ Commission? State Senator Vague On Answer

A Tennessee state senator says he’s going ahead with a plan to rename the Human Rights Commission, and call it the Affirmative Action Commission instead.

It’s not clear why lawmakers would change the name of the state panel that investigates housing and workplace discrimination.

Sen. Mike Bell (left) is the main backer of the proposal, along with Rep. Jimmy Matlock (right). The two both head committees that can sometimes phase out government commissions and boards. Matlock declined to be interviewed by WPLN, saying he's looking forward to hearing Bell's explanation of the proposal Wednesday. (Photo: David Fine/FEMA)

Sen. Mike Bell (left) is the main backer of the proposal, along with Rep. Jimmy Matlock (right). The two head committees that can sometimes phase out government commissions and boards. Matlock declined to be interviewed by WPLN, saying he’s looking forward to hearing Bell’s explanation of the proposal Wednesday. (Photo: David Fine/FEMA)

Technically, affirmative action is still part of the Human Rights Commission’s purview, but officials say that’s not their focus, and hasn’t been for decades.  Its director worries the name change would make them look bad, with connotations of giving unfair advantages.  And there are fears the move could be a step toward de-funding.

Sen. Mike Bell, a key backer of the proposal, says officials “were just trying to come up with a name, and that’s where we’re at right now.”

“When you think of human rights you think of world hunger, world peace, communist countries,” Bell said, while narrowly missing an elevator after a senate meeting Monday night. “You don’t think of what their job is.  And their job mainly is to handle employment complaints.”

The bill is set to come up soon in a committee that renews boards and commissions, or sometimes phases them out—a committee Bell happens to be the chair of.

Commission Head Likes Its Current Name

Human Rights Commission Executive Director Beverly Watts says she met with Sen. Bell, and still doesn’t understand the rationale behind putting ‘Affirmative Action’ in the commission’s name.

Watts says doing so would require reworking everything from websites and business cards to public training materials to educate the public on what the commission actually does.  She estimates the cost could run to a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Asked about the suggestion the move could be a step toward de-funding the commission, Watts called it “speculation,” but said “that’s always a possibility.”

Please keep your community civil. Comments will be moderated prior to posting, and Nashville Public Radio reserves the right to approve them at its discretion. Comments containing links promoting goods, services - even noble organizations - will not be published. Your comments may include external links, but all comments with links will be delayed as they are reviewed. Comments containing profanity will be rejected.