special session

Business groups to lawmakers: Don’t do it

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A group of business associations including local and state chambers of commerce are urging Tennessee lawmakers not to pass legislation that conflicts with federal guidelines.

“Conflicting mandates will subject employers to potentially crippling litigation costs through new causes of action at both the federal and state levels,” the groups say in the letter. “We respectfully urge you to OPPOSE any proposals that have the potential to damage our state’s accelerating economic recovery or economic development efforts.”

Here’s the full communique:

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly: 

On behalf of the trade associations, businesses, and nonprofit associations listed below representing a variety of industry sectors which include large, medium, and small employers across our great state, we write to you regarding our concerns with legislation to be considered during the Third Extraordinary Session convened on October 27, 2021. The call of the special session notes that some policies and procedures implemented by private and nonprofit businesses and organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with a State of Emergency issued in Tennessee on March 12, 2020, will be considered. 

First, we acknowledge that our employees–your constituents–are our most important asset. Many businesses are implementing policies regarding employee vaccination, testing and masks with a view to achieving compliance with either Federal Executive Orders or recently announced Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emergency standards, which are expected to be released in the near future. Tennessee has a significant number of businesses designated as federal contractors and such businesses must work diligently to follow Executive Orders and/or applicable OSHA guidelines or risk substantial damage to their businesses. In addition, some businesses have made the decision that their workforce requires vaccination because of special risks to their employees or the customers that they serve. Overall, our businesses are working to comply with the federal requirements until such time that the requirements are withdrawn, overturned, or repealed.  

We must express our opposition to any proposed legislation that may conflict with these federal requirements and overly complicate or conflict with employer operations during the pandemic. We oppose any proposals that outright remove the ability of an employer to determine their own vaccination and mask policies. We believe that any legislation of this kind is unnecessary government intrusion into the operation of our businesses. Tennessee’s strong business climate is based on this fundamental principle, including the state’s employment-at-will law. We ask that you not place additional mandates on our employers, thus placing them in an impossible position between federal and state mandates. Conflicting mandates will subject employers to potentially crippling litigation costs through new causes of action at both the federal and state levels. We respectfully urge you to OPPOSE any proposals that have the potential to damage our state’s accelerating economic recovery or economic development efforts.  

In closing, we thank you, as a leader of our exceptional state who has worked to ensure our economy and business climate have excelled above our peer states during this challenging time. We know that you recognize the difficult position that businesses are in and greatly appreciate your commitment to Tennessee’s continued economic growth.  

Sincerely,

American Academy of Pediatrics – Tennessee Chapter 

American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Tennessee Chamber

American Council of Engineering Companies of Tennessee (ACEC Tennessee)

Associated Builders and Contractors- Greater Tennessee Chapter

Blount Partnership

Center for Nonprofit Management

Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

Community Health Systems

Discovery, Inc.

Greater Memphis Chamber 

HospitalityTN

Kingsport Chamber 

Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce

Momentum Nonprofit Partners

Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce 

Nashville Biosciences

NFIB

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Tennessee Business Roundtable

Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Tennessee Community Organizations

Tennessee Fuel and Convenience Store Association

Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association

Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association

Tennessee Manufacturers Association 

Tennessee Retail Association

Tennessee Trucking Association

Vanderbilt University Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Senate backbenchers: Two can play at that game

State Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) waits for the State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Not to be outdone by House backbenchers filing the bulk of the bills in the ongoing special session on dialing back COVID-19 mandates, a handful of Senators who otherwise have little legislative clout have followed suit in a big way.

Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) is sponsoring 27 bills, Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) has 12, Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) as signed on to 11, and Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) is backing 10. Together, the four senators account for 60 of 84 bills filed before the deadline, or 71% of the total.

Here’s full breakdown.

  • Mark Pody (R-Lebanon): 27
  • Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma): 12
  • Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald): 11
  • Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains): 10
  • Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge): 9
  • Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville): 4
  • Mike Bell (R-Riceville): 2
  • Paul Rose (R-Covington): 2
  • Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis): 2
  • Ed Jackson (R-Jackson): 2
  • Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield): 1
  • Steve Southerland (R-Morristown): 1
  • Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville): 1

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.  

Sincerely,

Jim Brown

State Director, NFIB

Here are your House committees for Special Session III

Speaker Cameron Sexton presides over a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here are the committees House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has assigned for the third special session of the year. The Senate is sticking with its regular committees.

Banking

  • Chair: Powers
  • Vice Chair: Boyd
  • Alexander
  • Bricken
  • Halford
  • Hardaway
  • Harris
  • Hicks, T.
  • Jernigan
  • Mannis

Covid-19

  • Chair: Farmer
  • Vice Chair: Grills
  • Carr
  • Carringer
  • Cooper
  • Darby
  • Eldridge
  • Faison
  • Hall
  • Hodges
  • Howell
  • Hulsey
  • Johnson, C
  • Lamberth
  • Potts
  • Rudder
  • Sherrell
  • Thompson
  • Todd
  • Warner
  • Zachary

Elections

  • Chair: Moon
  • Vice Chair: Wright
  • Campbell
  • Casada
  • Cepicky
  • Dixie
  • Doggett
  • Lafferty
  • Mitchell
  • Ramsey

Emergency Orders

  • Chair: Littleton
  • Vice Chair: Leatherwood
  • Calfee
  • Chism
  • Clemmons
  • Kumar
  • Lynn
  • Moody
  • Ogles
  • Parkinson
  • Rudd
  • Stewart

Finance, Ways, & Means

  • Chair: Hazlewood
  • Vice Chair: Hicks, G
  • Baum
  • Campbell
  • Camper
  • Chism
  • Cochran
  • Crawford
  • Gant
  • Faison
  • Helton
  • Howell
  • Lamar
  • Lamberth
  • Miller
  • Moody
  • Russell
  • Shaw
  • Vital
  • Williams
  • Windle
  • Zachary

Public Health

  • Chair: Terry
  • Vice Chair: Hawk
  • Byrd
  • Gant
  • Gillespie
  • Haston
  • Holsclaw
  • Kiesling
  • Love
  • Marsh
  • McKenzie
  • Powell
  • Smith
  • Sparks
  • Towns
  • Vaughan
  • White
  • Whitson
  • Williams

Judiciary

  • Chair: Curcio
  • Vice Chair: Russell
  • Beck
  • Garrett
  • Griffey
  • Hakeem
  • Hurt
  • Johnson, G
  • Lamar
  • Ragan
  • Reedy
  • Travis
  • Weaver

Calendar & Rules

  • Chair: Zachary
  • Vice Chair: Darby
  • Camper
  • Curcio
  • Faison
  • Farmer
  • Freeman
  • Gant
  • Grills
  • Hazlewood
  • Howell
  • Lamberth
  • Littleton
  • Love
  • Moon
  • Powers
  • Shaw
  • Terry
  • Todd
  • White
  • Windle

Revenge of the backbenchers? Here is who is behind this week’s special session bills

House Republicans attend a caucus meeting in Nashville on Nov. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

As pointed out earlier, House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s package of eight bills (plus one more to pay for lawmaker expenses) are expected to get the most serious attention during this week’s special session aimed at dialing back COVID-19 mandates.

The remaining 65 Republican bills filed before the deadline are sponsored by 16 members who — with a few exceptions — are not particularly known for their legislative prowess. They include 14 filed by Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge, nine by Chris Todd of Jackson, six by Debra Moody of Covington, and five by Scott Cepicky of Culleoka.

Notably, only one of the members of Sexton’s special committee on redistricting, Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville), sponsored a special session bill. Redrawing district lines is considered one of the most serious matters facing lawmakers this fall. The bulk of this week’s special session bills, by contrast, aren’t expected to get more than cursory consideration.

Here’s the full breakdown of how many special session bills have been filed by each sponsor:

  • John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge): 14
  • Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville): 9
  • Chris Todd (R-Jackson): 9
  • Debra Moody (R-Covington): 6
  • London Lamar (D-Memphis): 5
  • Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport): 5
  • Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka): 5
  • Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin): 4
  • Bruce Griffey (R-Paris): 4
  • Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville): 3
  • Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville): 3
  • Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro): 3
  • Glen Casada (R-Franklin): 2
  • G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis): 2
  • Clay Doggett (R-Pulaski): 2
  • Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill): 2
  • Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster): 1
  • Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington): 1
  • Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville): 1

79 special session bills have been filed in the House, but here are the 8 that matter most

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to the House Republican Caucus on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House members have submitted 79 bills this week’s session aimed at dialing back COVID-19 mandates (among other things). But the last eight dropped in the hopper before the filing deadline are the ones most worth paying attention to.

They all have one key thing in common: their sponsor is House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

With the upper chamber’s filing deadline coming later, it will be most interesting to see whether Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) serves as cosponsor to Sexton’s package of bills. (UPDATE: McNally signed on to all of them).

Having spearheaded the effort to hold this special session, Sexton will be under enormous pressure to pass most or all of his agenda. It remains to be seen how far the Senate will be willing to go along — and how forcefully the business community will push back against efforts to interfere in their operations.

Here are the bills in question, in a rough order of controversy:

HB9078: Banning businesses from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination from customers or employees.

HB9077: Allowing employees fired for refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to collect unemployment benefits.

HB9072: Requiring partisan school board elections for school boards.

HB9076: Granting the governor exclusive authority over orders and directives regarding county health departments during a pandemic and giving county mayors the power to decide over local health matters.

HB9074: Requiring the state Attorney General to seek fines of $10,000 for failing to enforce or execute emergency orders.

HB9071: Allowing the state attorney general to request a replacement for a local prosecutor who “peremptorily and categorically refuses” to bring criminal charges on certain laws.

HB9075: Limiting the duration of states of emergency issued by the governor from 60 to 45 days.

HB9073: Allowing banks to use cash as a form of eligible collateral for purposes of securing public deposits amid the massive influx of federal recovery funds.

What’s on tap for latest special session?

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Lawmakers are back for yet another special session later this week, the third one this year. This time, Republicans are hoping to demonstrate to constituents they are doing something — anything — against what they see as federal overreach on COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates.

Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Press has taken a deep dive into the legislative proposals that could be taken up. They include:

— Banning private companies from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated.

— Ending the right of minors to decide whether to get vaccinated without the parents’ consent.

— Curbing the authority of the state’s six independent county health boards.

— Making workers who suffer side effects from required vaccinations eligible to sue their employers or file for workers’ compensation benefits.

— Writing into law Gov. Bill Lee’s executive orders allowing parent to opt their children out of school mask mandates.

— Converting school board elections into partisan contests.

“The call is broad enough where we can discuss what all the states have done and figure out if there’s a direction we want to go,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) told reporters last week. “We’ll see what direction that we want to come out on to protect individuals from who want to have their personal decision in what’s happening to them.

The petition to return into special session also includes an item that appears to have little to do with the pandemic. It would allow lawmakers to “address a district attorney general peremptorily refusing to prosecute all instances of a criminal offense without regard to facts or circumstances.”

The language appears to be in response to Nashville prosecutor Glenn Funk’s announcements that he won’t pursue criminal charges for the possession of small amounts of marijuana or those who violate a new state law requiring businesses to post warnings about policies allowing transgender people to use bathrooms of their own choosing.

Tennessee Chamber weighs in on special session

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

The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce is weighing in on next week’s special session called in response to federal mandates on COVID-19 vaccinations and masks.

Several GOP lawmakers are interested in enacting laws banning companies from requiring customers or employees to be vaccinated, a potential move raising flags with the Chamber.

“We do not believe government, at any level,  should unnecessarily interfere with health, safety and operational decisions of private businesses,” the Chamber said in a statement.

Here’s the full release:

As the Tennessee General Assembly returns for a special session to address COVID-19 related policies, the Tennessee Chamber looks forward to working with the Tennessee General Assembly. We hope to collaborate and work through their concerns to ensure legislation considered during the special session does not negatively impact our business climate or employers in our great state. We are thankful to our government leaders who have worked to set our state on a trend that has made Tennessee the best state in the nation for both economic growth and business regulations, especially during the recent pandemic. This has been achieved through a strong tradition of balancing and limiting government intervention into the operations of businesses. Tennessee businesses need the discretion, with limited government interference, to operate their business in a way they believe is most appropriate for their individual operations. 

Regarding federal vaccine mandates, in September, the Tennessee Chamber voiced concerns regarding announced OSHA emergency standards from the Biden administration which requires all employers of 100 or more to mandate and enforce employee COVID-19 vaccination and testing protocols. Our position has and will remain consistent at all levels of government. We do not believe government, at any level,  should unnecessarily interfere with health, safety and operational decisions of private businesses. We look forward to discussing this with our elected leaders in the Tennessee General Assembly who have expressed their commitment to ensuring that Tennessee remains one of the best states in the country to do business.

Lawmakers call selves back into session to fight COVID-19 mandates

A very special place.

Tennessee lawmakers have called themselves into special session for just the third time in state history. They will return next week after concluding the current special session called by Gov. Bill Lee to approve the Blue Oval City joint venture between Ford Motor Co. and SK Innovation.

Here’s the release from Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville):

NASHVILLE — Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) today formally issued a call for the third extraordinary session of the 112th General Assembly. As outlined in Article 2, Section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution, this call was at the request of both chambers of the General Assembly. The session will cover a number of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including overreaching health care mandates.

“The members of the Senate and their constituents have been clear about the need for this session,” said Lt. Governor McNally. “The Covid-19 crisis — and how various institutions have adapted and reacted to it — has created new and unique legislative challenges. This is an opportunity to make the General Assembly’s voice heard on issues regarding masks, vaccines, executive power, and federal mandates.”

“For several weeks, we have heard from Tennesseans that have significant concerns over the unconstitutional and burdensome mandates being imposed upon them,” said Speaker Sexton. “As an elected body, it is our responsibility to let the distinctive voices of our communities be heard on these issues. I look forward to working together with Lt. Gov. McNally, the House, and Senate to create solutions that preserve the individual choices, freedoms, and liberties of all Tennesseans.”  

Signed by over two-thirds of the members of both chambers, the call will bring both the House and the Senate back into session on October 27, 2021, at 4:00 p.m. The call would allow legislation related to vaccines, masks, and other restrictions relative to COVID-19. Legislation to address the various unconstitutional federal mandates issued by the Biden administration would also meet the call guidelines. Additionally, legislation regarding the independent health departments and restrictions on monoclonal antibodies would also be appropriate under the call.

Here are the House committees for the special session

Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to colleagues on the House floor in Nashville on Oct. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate is keeping its regular committees in place for the special session, but House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) is appointing special panels to hear the Ford incentive bills and other legislation.

Here are the special House committees:

Commerce

  • Chair: Vaughan
  • Vice Chair: Todd
  • Bricken
  • Chism
  • Freeman
  • Gillespie
  • Griffey
  • Halford
  • Harris
  • Hurt
  • Leatherwood
  • Miller
  • Moody
  • Parkinson
  • Powers
  • Ramsey
  • Travis
  • Vital
  • White

Health and Safety

  • Chair: Terry
  • Vice Chair: Grills
  • Calfee
  • Campbell
  • Carringer
  • Cepicky
  • Cooper
  • Doggett
  • Hakeem
  • Hardaway
  • Howell
  • Johnson of Knox
  • Lafferty
  • Ogles
  • Ragan
  • Rudder
  • Smith
  • Thompson

Finance, Ways & Means

  • Chair: Hazlewood
  • Vice Chair: Hicks of Hawkins
  • Baum
  • Boyd
  • Camper
  • Carr
  • Faison
  • Farmer
  • Gant
  • Garrett
  • Haston
  • Hawk
  • Helton
  • Hodges
  • Lamar
  • Lamberth
  • Littleton
  • Lynn
  • Shaw
  • Whitson
  • Williams
  • Windle

Calendar & Rules

  • Chair: Zachary
  • Vice Chair: Russell
  • Beck
  • Camper
  • Curcio
  • Darby
  • Faison
  • Halford
  • Hazlewood
  • Howell
  • Jernigan
  • Keisling
  • Kumar
  • McKenzie
  • Mitchell
  • Lamberth
  • Marsh
  • Reedy
  • Terry
  • Warner
  • Weaver