Business bill pits local governments against Christian conservatives

Legislation that prohibits state and local governments from taking discriminatory action against a business on the basis of the company’s  internal policies has been sidetracked in the state Senate amid some controversy..

City and county governments have voiced concerns about the measure, reports The Tennessean.

Roger Campbell, chairman of the policy/legislative committee for the Tennessee City Management Association, said…  “People were surprised by it, saying why is it needed, why is it coming so soon in the session,” Campbell said.

Campbell, the city manager in Maryville, said he and others are concerned about what could result if the measure is passed.

“We could be in court constantly over something,” he said.

On the other side, the Senate move last week sending the bill from the floor back to a committee has prompted an  “action alert” from the state’s largest Christian conservative organization, which is lobbying for the measure.

In an email Friday to supporters and Christian activists, the Family Action Council of Tennessee said SB127 “would protect private businesses from having cities and liberal elected officials meddle in their personnel and employee benefit policies.

“The state should not allow liberal elected officials or liberal cities to discriminate against a business owner because he or she does not provide abortion coverage to employees or provide special legal rights based on sexual orientation/gender identity!,” says the “action alert” urging people to call members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee and push for a “yes” vote.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville. It won unanimous approval in the Senate Commerce Committee earlier, but two Democrats raised multiple questions when it came up for a Senate floor vote Thursday. Then, on motion of Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, senators voted to send the bill to the State and Local Government Committee, which Yager chairs, rather than vote on it.

In the floor debate, Green said the measure would assure that ‘all personnel and employee benefits issues are the purview of the state” and that “we (legislators) are going to set those and the local communities can’t go beyond state or federal law.” Otherwise, he said, businesses could face a “patchwork” of complex and unwarranted local rules.

But Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville said the proposed law is “so broad and expansive” that it could block cities and counties from including requirements for data security, ethics, confidentiality, conflicts of interest and multiple other areas in contracts with private companies. Senate Majority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, joined in the criticism, questioning whether the measure would “in one fell swoop wash away” hiring preferences granted by local governments to veterans and the disable.

Yarbro said Nashville gives disabled veterans special hiring preferences, beyond somewhat limited preference in state law. Since federal law allows, but does not require, veteran preferences, he said the bill, if enacted, would block Nashville in helping disabled veterans get jobs.

Green insisted Yarbro was “absolutely wrong” and also rejected the Democrat’s contention that the bill was “inconsistent” with language used in a 2013 law that prohibits local governments from prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and creates “weird ambiguities.”

Yager said the discussion was “a very good debate” and he wanted to hear more in his committee. The panel meets Tuesday and the FACT “action alert” lists all the committee members with contact information.

“Things like this are already happening in Louisiana and Virginia, and Nashville is already trying to circumvent other state laws. We need to be proactive in stopping this kind of discrimination against conservative business owners before it happens in Tennessee,” says the alert.

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