Both state actions involved state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland who represents the 24th Legislative District.
Brooks sponsored House Joint Resolution 587 that called for state lawmakers to go on record opposing the 288-page UN document most commonly recognized as Agenda 21. One of its most outspoken critics has become the national tea party.
Locally, Bradley County party members have assailed the UN nonbinding proposal over the past couple of years during government sessions, especially those aimed at economic development, sustainable growth, long-term planning and even newly deployed AMI (also known as SmartMeters) technology by Cleveland Utilities.
Agenda 21 opponents fear the 20-year-old UN resolution, originally passed in 1992, is a threat to individual freedom, privacy and private-property rights. The document originated from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development following discussions on “sustainable development.”
According to the House resolution’s wording, Brooks believes he has “probable cause” to question the UN document and that’s why he sponsored the hotly debated bill. In an Associated Press article published Friday and datelined out of Nashville, Brooks told reporters following the House floor debate, “We’re all about conservation, we’re all about protecting the environment. We’re not about losing our liberty.”
Another opponent, state Rep. Rick Womick, a Murfressboro Republican, agreed. He raised the bar of opposition by telling reporters he believes Agenda 21 supporters are working with local governments in Tennessee to try to impose the United Nations’ agenda, according to the AP report. Womick was quoted by AP as calling Agenda 21, “... a step-by-step methodical process that denies United States citizens their property rights.”
Brooks said the state House resolution follows a similar model passed earlier by the national Republican Party that encourages state affiliates to follow suit.
Agenda 21 opponents have long believed the UN resolution threatens the rights of private property owners and exemplifies governments overstepping their authority. The UN action reportedly encourages national, state and local governments to promote “sustainable development” in order to protect the globe against environmental, poverty and over-population concerns, among others.
Some Tennessee legislators, however, argued against Brooks’ resolution. One was Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, according to AP reports, who said he doesn’t see the United Nations imposing any such directives. He took Womick to task for some of his assertions.
The prolonged legislative debate and public discussions in its aftermath surprised many, including Brooks. Although Agenda 21 carries an emotional punch, Brooks conceded late Friday, “I’m as surprised as anyone it (House Bill 587) has generated this much attention.”
State headlines from last Thursday’s Agenda 21 House floor debate may have taken some luster off another bill described as “landmark legislation” that will continue a program that has helped many foster children transition into adulthood.
House Bill 2337 will maintain the Transitioning Youth Act, a program that provides assistance to foster children between the ages of 18 to 21 once they age out of the foster care system, according to a Legislative Summary distributed by Brooks’ office in Nashville.
Based on the summary description, the legislation helps individuals “bridge the gap from their teenage years to adulthood.” It passed almost unanimously on the House floor, 97-1. But it received nowhere near the news media attention as the Agenda 21 bill. In some coverage areas, it was ignored altogether.
The bill is especially personal to Brooks because he chairs the House Children and Family Affairs Subcommittee. He credited the work of fellow legislators who supported the proposal.
“It’s a joy to serve on this committee with Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, vice chairman of the subcommittee,” Brooks said. “Vice Chairman White truly carried this legislation through the House from start to finish.”
Brooks added, “It’s a pleasure to work alongside men and women who are committed to Tennessee’s youngest generation. This bill does so much good for the young people who need it most.”
The Cleveland lawmaker pointed out the legislation has served as a personal priority for country musician Jimmy Wayne who was a foster child and found himself homeless at the age of 16. To raise public awareness about teenage foster children, Wayne founded Project Meet Me Halfway and took his cause on the road by walking from Nashville to Phoenix in 2010.
According to Brooks’ summary, the Nashville musician has “consistently worked” with state legislators and Tennessee government representatives to advocate on behalf of foster youth. Wayne attended Thursday’s session in the House chambers to witness passage of the bill. He sang the National Anthem to open the legislative session.
Bill proponents report it will provide needed assistance to foster children as they emerge from the state system by offering educational, emotional and professional support. Brooks pointed out Gov. Bill Haslam and his administration pushed for the legislation and included its costs in the state’s annual budget. Haslam considered the bill a priority in the legislative session, Brooks explained.
Late Friday, Brooks praised the foster care bill and acknowledged the emotions surrounding Agenda 21 — by its opponents and supporters — probably distracted news media attention.
“There were 20 bills on the House regular calendar on Thursday morning,” Brooks told the Cleveland Daily Banner. “Each one of those 20 bills was very important to the sponsors and to their constituency. Each of us thinks our own bill is important to the people who sent us to Nashville.”
He added, “As a father and a husband, the foster care bill was very important to me as it directly affects the youngest generation of Tennesseans. It’s unfortunate that’s not always what sells and garners readers ... but it doesn’t make it any less important for the children.”
Brooks acknowledged in Friday’s interview with the Banner the House debate on Agenda 21 touched off a large media storm; however, he stressed his intent behind sponsoring the resolution in no way undermines economic development efforts, especially those in his Bradley County home.
“This is not intended in any way to curtail, inhibit or discourage economic development,” the Cleveland lawmaker said. “This is about personal property rights and personal freedoms.” He said he contacted Cleveland and Bradley County government representatives to assure them of his intent with the Agenda 21 legislation.
“This resolution has nothing to do with Amazon, Whirlpool, Wacker or Volkswagen,” he said, referring to a few of the region’s most prominent examples of economic development over the last couple of years.
Two states — Georgia and New Hampshire — have passed similar legislation opposing Agenda 21, as well as the national GOP, Brooks noted.
“We continue to find references and details within that 288-page document that are alarming,” he said. Brooks described Agenda 21 as being “large and vast,” and that House Bill 587 specifies Tennessee legislators are “uncomfortable” with much of its wording.
House debate over Agenda 21 may have overshadowed the foster care bill, but Brooks pointed out both were approved with bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats.
The Cleveland legislator praised the work of those who have advocated on behalf of foster children, including the country singer.
“Jimmy Wayne has been such a vocal advocate ... having come out of the foster care program,” Brooks stressed. “He said ‘if not for the benefits of this program, I would not be where I am today.’”
As musician and songwriter, Wayne released his self-titled, debut album in 2003. Two songs reached the Top 10 on the Billboard country music charts. A second album, “Do You Believe Me Now?” was released in August 2008. Its title track became his first Number 1 hit.
Wayne established Project Meet Me Halfway in 2010 and walked more than 1,700 miles across America to raise awareness for displaced teenagers who outgrow the foster care system. Wayne was named the national spokesman for CASA in the same year. He is the youngest ever recipient of the Salvation Army’s prestigious William Booth Award.