State lawmakers unexpectedly slapped down a bill Wednesday that was meant to stop a non-discrimination measure in Nashville.
The proposed state legislation would have prevented Metro from requiring contractors to treat gay and lesbian employees the same as other workers.
Representative Glen Casada wants a state law that keeps cities and counties from imposing anti-discrimination standards that are stricter than the ones the state has.
But on a 7 to 6 vote, the House Commerce Subcommittee rejected a fine-tuned amendment to his bill that would do exactly that.
Three Republicans joined four Democrats voting against the measure.
The Williamson County Republican blamed unnamed “special interests” for the setback.
“I’m concerned special interests may have gotten the attention of some folks, and they didn’t listen to the majority of voters in their district.”
Casada’s bill would have tried to retroactively undo local government decisions, like a Memphis requirement that a living wage be paid to workers on city project.
Chris Sanders, a spokesman for the Tennessee Equality Project, says lawmakers grew uneasy at the scope of the bill
“I think the bill was aimed at our community, the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender community, but I think again the damage is the precedent it sets for micro-managing cities’ and counties’ power.”
Representative Casada says he’ll change the bill to try to overcome the objections of some of the seven who voted against him.
The state legislation surfaced after the Metro Council began considering the anti-discrimination measure that affected gays and lesbians. That proposed ordinance is up for a final Council vote on March 15th
The bill is HB 598 Casada/SB 630 Ketron.
Republicans Steve McManus of Memphis, Dennis Roach of Rutledge, and Kent Williams (“Carter County Republican,” although elected as an independent) joined four Democrats on the House Commerce Subcommittee in stopping the bill.
Supporters of the bill have argued that if local governments across the state have different policies on family leave, required insurance, or anti-discrimination clauses, then businesses would have a difficult time trying to comply in different jurisdictions.
But Chris Sanders, the Nashville chair for the Tennessee Equality Project, says that’s a non-issue.
“Now the funny thing is, they’re saying they are trying to be pro-business, and set a uniform business climate across the state. But over 40 businesses have endorsed the Metro ordinance, so the Metro ordinance is not anti-business.”
Former Senator David Fowler, now the president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, says the concern that cities will require different actions by businesses is a real fear.
“…and you’ve got 348 cities, that can ostensibly now, if this bill doesn’t pass, go out and decide, ‘Well, let’s let people have a day off if their dog dies.’”
Fowler says Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville are responsible for stopping the bill.
“Well, the big four cities, who want to expand their powers beyond that of state and federal government, have been lobbying against the bill in recent days, and that’s exactly it, that this bill is about limiting the growth of big government at a local level.”