Previously noncommittal about his stance over a proposed nondiscrimination bill, Mayor Karl Dean late Friday said the idea “makes sense” and that he would sign the ordinance into law if the Metro Council approves it.
Meanwhile, citing several concerns with the ordinance in a letter to Metro Council members, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce asked the bill's sponsors to defer the legislation. The bill is set for the council’s second of three votes Tuesday night.
The ordinance, sponsored by council members Erica Gilmore, Jamie Hollin and Mike Jameson, would require companies that do business with the city to adopt nondiscrimination employment policies that include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Nashville is known as a welcoming and friendly city and as a city that doesn’t tolerate discrimination,” Dean said in a statement issued Friday. “The idea of requiring companies that do business with the city to adopt a nondiscrimination policy similar to our own makes sense.
“The council initiated this legislation,” Dean said. “If they pass it, I will sign it. If it does not move forward at this time, I will encourage those on all sides to come together in the spirit of cooperation to talk through the issues and continue working towards that goal.”
Contacted by The City Paper, Jameson, who represents parts of East Nashville, said he’s “grateful” the bill has received Dean’s endorsement.
“I’m grateful that he concurs that it makes sense and that he’ll sign it, if passed,” Jameson said.
Jameson also indicated he would not oblige the chamber’s request for deferral. If approved next week, the bill would come before the council for third and final reading at the second meeting in March.
A letter sent late Friday afternoon to council members from chamber CEO Ralph Schulz took exception with the bill, calling a proposal to require Metro contractors to adopt the city government’s nondiscrimination policy “well-intended” but with potential flaws.
“As currently written, the legislation does not reflect a process in which diligent and responsible research has been conducted by those seeking the creation of a locally protected nondiscrimination category, or by those who would be impacted by new legislated requirements,” the letter reads.
“With the short timeframe surrounding this specific bill process, only preliminary research has been done concerning the bill and its impact on both employees and employers, as well as the city’s identity and image,” the letter continues.
The letter cites a chamber survey in which 300 companies took part, Schulz says, and produced a number of questions about the bill. Jameson said he plans to ask the chamber for a public disclosure of its poll results.
Attached to the chamber’s letter are nine issues the chamber has identified with the ordinance. Among others, they include: the bill doesn’t define sexual orientation and gender identity; citizens haven’t been educated about the bill; implementing legislation could disrupt the workplace; the proposal would expand Metro policies beyond federal and state requirements; gay and lesbian people are not “readily apparent” in the same way race or gender identifies an individual; and “vague or impractical” rules could increase the cost of litigation for companies.
Jameson said he and the other sponsors have also been doing research in anticipation of public discourse with the chamber.
“There’s 181 cities and counties that have discrimination policies that do extend to the private sector,” Jameson said. “What I find encouraging in the chamber’s letter is that apparently, just like us, they were unable to locate a single instance of any of the negative economic impacts that some had been alleging.
“They’ve got a lot of questions, and we will certainly sit down and answer them to their satisfaction," Jameson said. “But, in the time they’ve had to be working on them, since January, there doesn’t appear to be any validation of the criticisms that have been speculated before.”