In the surprising opening round of a state legislative battle, Tennessee’s largest cities beat back an attempt to bar municipalities from enacting their own policies on discrimination, minimum wages, health care and family leave.
The conservative Christian-backed bill was filed in response to a proposed Metro Council ordinance that would extend protections against workplace discrimination to gays, lesbians and transgender people working at businesses contracting with the city government.
A House Commerce subcommittee voted 7-6 Wednesday against an amendment to the bill. Two Republicans joined Democrats and the legislature’s one independent, Rep. Kent Williams of Elizabethton, in defeating the amendment. The sponsor, Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, then postponed his bill for two weeks.
“The bill’s not dead,” Casada insisted afterward. “I’ll just circle back with members to see what’s palatable to them. The winds are blowing coldly. That’s true. But the bill is still alive. I’ll sit down with those seven who voted no and see if we can come up with something that they’re comfortable with.”
Conservative Christian leader David Fowler immediately vowed to try to punish lawmakers who opposed the bill. He said his group, the Family Action Council of Tennessee, would send an email blast to their constituents.
“We’ll have to make their constituents understand how their legislators have voted,” Fowler said.
He blamed the defeat on heavy lobbying by the state’s four largest cities — Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville.
“The big four cities that want to expand their powers beyond that of state and federal government have been lobbying against the bill in recent days. That’s exactly it,” Fowler said.
Rep. Williams criticized the measure for “stepping on the toes of local municipalities.”