NFIB urges lawmakers to reject bills clearing way for more lawsuits

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to the National Federation of Independent Business at the Cordell Hull building in Nashville on Feb. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business is urging lawmakers not to pass legislation seeking to create “a new cause of action against private employers” during this week’s special session on COVID-19 mandates.

“Our most vulnerable businesses in Tennessee are struggling to keep their doors open and our communities thriving,” NFIB state director Jim Brown writes in the letter. “The legislature should be looking at legislation to help them recover, not to hinder their very survival.”

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Members of the 112th Tennessee General Assembly,

Thank you for all you have done to make Tennessee the great state it is in which to own, operate and grow a business. As you know, the last 18 months have been exceedingly challenging for many independent businesses, with the severe, persistent labor shortage, along with rising inflation and supply chain disruptions. Fifty-one percent of small business owners report job openings that cannot be filled – a 48-year record high for the third consecutive month. Their livelihoods are at stake, and uncertainty is at an all-time high.  As you enter the third extraordinary session of 2021, we ask you to consider what small businesses are facing before enacting any new laws.

NFIB has always strongly opposed any legislation, ordinance or policy that creates a new cause of action against private employers. Our review shows several bills would do just that, including HB 1643/SB 9001, HB9001/SB 9004, HB 9004, HB 9006, HB 9011, HB 9019, HB 9021 and HB 9026. Some expand the scope of the Tennessee Human Rights Act, which NFIB has opposed over a long period of time and in recent years. The last thing businesses need right now is the added cost and distraction of unnecessary legal actions. Of note, “Cost and Availability of Liability Insurance” was identified by NFIB members through our 2020 Research Center Problems and Priority report as one of the top ten biggest concerns.

Our most vulnerable businesses in Tennessee are struggling to keep their doors open and our communities thriving. The legislature should be looking at legislation to help them recover, not to hinder their very survival.

On behalf of NFIB’s 6,500 members in Tennessee, I respectfully ask you to oppose all legislation that would create new causes of action against Tennessee employers.  


Jim Brown

State Director, NFIB

Abortion law must take effect before judge considers injunction

The Tennessee Senate meets on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. District Judge Chip Campbell says he won’t decide about whether to impose an emergency injunction on sweeping abortion restrictions passed by the General Assembly until Gov. Bill Lee signs the legislation into law.

Despite earlier assurances that the Senate wouldn’t take up the abortion bill in its return from a 75-day coronavirus hiatus, the chamber abruptly brought the measure up for a vote after midnight on the last night of the session. It passed 23-5 in the Senate and 70-20 in House.

Neither House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) nor Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has yet signed the engrossed bill. Once that occurs, the governor has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign,  veto, or allow the bill to become law without his signature. Lee, who originally proposed the measure, is expected to sign the bill quickly once it reaches his desk.

The bill seeks to enact a nearly universal abortion ban once a fetal heartbeat is detected. If successfully challenged in court, the bill seeks to automatically impose successive abortion bans eight, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 weeks of gestation.

Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the law the same day the bill gained final approval in the General Assembly.

The plaintiffs asked Judge Campbell to take up their motion for an emergency temporary restraining order without waiting for the state to file its response, which is due by Friday. Campbell said he won’t rule on the injunction until the bill has been signed into law and that he will consider the state’s response if it is filed by the time the governor puts his signature on the bill.

Groups seek to block new Tennessee voter registration law

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), right, gestures at Rep. Cameron Sezton (R-Crossville) in Nashville on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Several groups are seeking to block a new Tennessee law placing restrictions on signing up voters from going into effect, the AP’s Jonathan Mattise reports.

The law, which is presumed to be the only one of its kind in the nation, imposes penalties — both fines and misdemeanor charges — on groups  submitting too many incomplete registrations. The law  is scheduled to take effect in October

The lawsuit was filed in May on behalf of the NCAAP, The Equity Alliance, The Andrew Goodman Foundation and Democracy Nashville-Democratic Communities. They argue that while the law purportedly only targets paid groups, it’s an unclear distinctions because many use grant money and pay stipends to workers signing up voters.

“Not only does this law create hurdles that prevent us from helping our community register to vote, it intimidates our members so that they do not want to become officers of the TN NAACP or the local units because they fear criminal penalties and civil fines if they are required to carry out a civic engagement plan that includes voter registration, which they all do,”  Gloria Jean Sweet-Love, president of the  Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, wrote in a legal filing.

Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett has defended the law adding penalties as bolstering election security, noting that up to 10,000 incomplete registration collected by the Tennessee Black Voter Project were submitted in the Memphis area on the last day to submit filings. His office declined to discuss pending litigation.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) and Sen. Ed Jackson (R-Jackson).



Nashville, Memphis school districts threaten to sue over vouchers

The school districts covering Nashville and Memphis are threatening to sue the state if the General Assembly passes legislation to enact an expanded school voucher program affecting only their students. The so-called Education Savings Account bill passed both the House and Senate last week, but in competing forms.

Here’s the full release from Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools:

State’s 2 Largest School Districts Oppose Education Savings Account Legislation as Unconstitutional

The Education Savings Account (ESA) legislation violates Article XI, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution because it is arbitrarily limited to only a portion of the state when the Constitution requires any Act of the General Assembly to apply statewide unless approved by a local legislative body or through a local referendum.

The language, in both the House and Senate versions of the bill, reflects an arbitrary application to Shelby County Schools (SCS) and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MPNS), as there are school districts such as Madison and Fayette county with larger or nearly the same percentages of schools performing in the bottom 10 percent. The legislation also applies to only certain districts with priority schools from the state’s 2015 priority school list even though there is a more current list from 2018 that includes schools in Campbell, Fayette, Madison and Maury counties. These districts are arbitrarily left out of the legislation.

Should this legislation be signed into law, an immediate constitutional challenge is likely to ensure equal protection under the law. Shelby County is no stranger to asserting and prevailing on such constitutional challenges as reflected in the November 27, 2012 decision in the case of Board of Education of Shelby County Tennessee et al v. Memphis City Board of Education by federal Judge Hardy Mays which rendered a similar bill void that was local in effect.

“If the Governor and Legislature are determined to pass a general law that would apply arbitrarily only to us or a limited number of school systems, we will be sure to exhaust all of our legal options,” said SCS Superintendent, Dr. Joris M. Ray.

“No matter what you call them, vouchers are a bad idea. They are not what we need for public schools. We owe it to this generation of students — and to all of those who follow them – to fight for a system that is fairly funded,” said Dr. Adrienne Battle, the MNPS Interim Director.

If the ESA bill becomes law, Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools stand prepared to evaluate and pursue all legal remedies that ensure that the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law remain intact for the children and families of our districts and state.


Lawsuit challenging same-sex marriage dismissed in Bradley County

Former Sen. David Fowler (R-Signal Mountain), right, speaks to Rep. Darren Jernigan (D-Nashville) on March 7, 2018.

Different court, same result. A judge in Bradley County has dismissed a lawsuit filed by former state Sen. David Fowler, the head of the state chapter of the Family Action Council, seeking to challenge same-sex marriage licenses in Tennessee, the Cleveland Banner reports.

The case was filed on behalf of the Rev. Guinn E. Green, pastor of the Kinser Church of God, and Bradley County Commissioner Howard Thompson against County Clerk Donna Simpson for issuing the marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The lawsuit claimed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling had essentially voided Tennessee’s marriage laws, which define that union as being only being being a man and a woman.

In his ruling late last week, Circuit Court Judge Michael Pemberton noted a similar case, Grant et. al. v.  Elaine Anderson, was decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in May 2018. It found the petitioners did not have standing to bring the case.

“Given the identical nature in each case,” Pemberton said, he was “constrained to follow the law set down by the Court of Appeals.”

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Health partnership lauds bill targeting ‘bad drug’ ads

A bill targeting “bad drug” television advertisements is drawing the praise of  the Partnership to Protect Patient Health and Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi, a potential Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate next year. The measure passed the upper chamber on a 24-6 vote on Monday evening.

Here’s the full release from the Partnership to Protect Patient Health:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Partnership to Protect Patient Health today joined Manny Sethi, an orthopedic trauma surgeon in Nashville and founder of statewide non-profit Healthy Tennessee, in applauding introduction of legislation to safeguard Tennesseans from deceptive “bad drug” advertisements.

“I applaud Senator Briggs and Representative Sexton for their work to protect Tennesseans from deceptive ‘bag drug’ commercials – truth in these advertisements is critical to protect patient safety,” said Manny Sethi, an orthopedic trauma surgeon in Nashville and founder of statewide non-profit Healthy Tennessee. “Research shows, and I have seen firsthand, that these commercials lead patients who have been prescribed critically important medications to doubt or discontinue their treatment regimen without consulting a physician, putting patients’ health at risk. Without limiting or banning drug-injury advertisements, this common sense legislation will ensure vulnerable populations are protected and that they have the information needed to make the best decisions for their health. I thank Senator Briggs and Representative Sexton for their leadership and look forward to SB0352 and HB0352 becoming law.”

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Lawsuit challenges TN law requiring barbers to have high school diploma

Press release from Beacon Center of Tennessee

NASHVILLE –  The Beacon Center recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of aspiring Memphis barber Elias Zarate based on the unconstitutional law that requires barbers to have a high school degree as a prerequisite to getting a barber’s license. The Beacon Center has filed suit against the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barbers Examiners and its members in order to eliminate this unfair regulation.

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TN whistleblowers credited in $30M settlement of federal fraud complaint against nursing home chain

A nursing home chain with more than two dozen facilities in Tennessee has settled a $230 million Medicare fraud complaint with an agreement to pay a $30 million settlement, reports WPLN. Two women who worked at one of the facilities in Columbia are credited as key whistleblowers and will get $6 million.

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Doctor who sued Trump loses Vanderbilt position

A doctor who was among Twitter users successfully suing President Donald Trump in federal court is losing his job at Vanderbilt Medical Center, reports The Tennessean. A Vanderbilt spokesman says the move is not related to the lawsuit or frequent Twitter criticism of the president, though he suggests that it is.

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Judge rules Cohen opponent can run in Democratic primary, contrary to state party action

Shelby County Chancellor Walter Evans has ruled that M. LaTroy Alexandria-Williams can run as a Democrat against U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in the August primary, reports the Commercial Appeal.

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