2021 State Legislative Scorecard
The Chamber values our partnership with elected officials as we work together to create jobs, develop workforce, and build communities. Every year, the Chamber’s board of directors adopts a State and Metro Legislative Agenda based on issues identified by our members in our annual policy survey. We share these agendas with state and local elected officials. Throughout the year, we work to provide information to our members and advocate as a collective business voice for Middle Tennessee. We are pleased to share our 2021 Legislative Scorecard, which reports how our elected leaders at the State Legislature have voted in the past year in four policy areas:
- Creating an environment where business can prosper.
- Promoting talent development of the region’s workforce.
- Ensuring quality of life that attracts and retains residents and workers.
- Leading regional efforts to ensure economic prosperity.
✅ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Tennessee started the 112th General Assembly with the largest reserve in the nation for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – money that is slated to be spent to help low-income families in times of need.
In 2019 half of all children ages 0 – 8 in Tennessee live in households with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level — that's $51,853 annually for a family of two adults and two children. The United Ways of Tennessee ALICE report (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) says a survival budget is $65,040 for that family of four and also that, pre-COVID, 47% of Tennessee households reported being one emergency away from financial ruin. The impact of COVID-19 will have only worsened these statistics.
The Families First Act acknowledges the importance of maintaining a reserve while also deploying these much-needed resources to mitigate the adverse effects of child poverty and give working families a leg-up to overcome economic hardship. Accordingly, the bill proposes establishing a reserve equal to a full year's annual federal TANF block grant — $191 million. The remaining monies will be spent primarily on grants to non-profit agencies that promote a doctrine of families' first in economic inclusion and on pilot projects brought to the state that lead to TAN
IF families becoming self-sufficient. These projects include addressing the lack of affordable childcare, better student outcomes, and an entry path into the workforce that promotes generational success.
The Chamber supported this legislation to promote economic inclusion and a stable workforce during the pandemic and in Tennessee's economic recovery.
The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. The bill has been signed into law as Public Chapter 515. See recorded vote.
✅ Right to Work Constitutional Amendment
For 70 years, state law has recognized Tennessee's right to work status. However, several states have recently seen statutory and legal challenges to such a status. As a result, legislation was passed in 2021, allowing the voters to decide if such a provision should be in the Tennessee Constitution. The issue will now be put on the ballot in the next gubernatorial election to be voted on. If a majority of voters vote in favor of the initiative, it will be formally added to the Tennessee State Constitution.
The Chamber supported this legislation to allow voters to decide if the Constitution should protect Tennessee's right to work status.
The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. The resolution was adopted, and it will need to be placed on the next gubernatorial ballot (2022) for inclusion in the State's Constitution. See recorded vote.
✅ Dual Enrollment
The bill uses Tennessee's lottery dollars to increase the dual enrollment program available to high school seniors from two total credits to four total credits available and paid for by the state. The newly minted public chapter will also pay for the mandatory fees at the in-state tuition rate. Dual enrollment allows college seniors to enter state institutions and other eligible institutions with college credits they earn while in high school, giving them a leg up and setting them up for success.
The Chamber supported this legislation. It is crucial to have students prepared and even ahead of the curve when it comes to college entrance. This bill meets both economic inclusion and workforce goals. This bill also directly benefits the Chamber's efforts to support Drive for 55.
Status The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. The bill has been signed into law as Public Chapter 536. See recorded vote.
✅ Mandates on Business Health Policy
The bill as proposed would prohibit a private business from denying an individual the full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of a place of public accommodation, resort, or amusement on the grounds of the wearing or use of a medical device like a mask, or whether the individual has received medical treatment like a vaccine. It is essentially mandating that a business could not set its own COVID restrictions or protections.
The Chamber opposed this legislation.
The bill was deferred to the first calendar of 2022.
No Action - Data Privacy
The proposed bill sought to make Tennessee one of only four states to have comprehensive data privacy laws at a state level. The bill would have done this by creating a regulatory scheme based within the Department of Commerce and Insurance and adding a private right of action in chancery court for data breaches by companies or people who did not have a direct agreement with the consumer whose data they were using.
The Chamber opposed this legislation as initially proposed. The bill, as proposed, affects any business that held a database or email list of more than one hundred and fifty people and derived more than 50% of the business' revenue from that data. This definition was too broad and left Chamber members with concerns. The Chamber continues to work with the sponsor to understand his intent and target regulation consumer protection while maintaining Tennessee's healthy and competitive business environment.
The bill was deferred to the first calendar of 2022.
✅ Unemployment Reform
Governor Lee and the legislature made significant changes to the unemployment fund to provide stimulus assistance that financially stabilizes the state's unemployment fund solvency and prevents increased taxes on all employers. In addition, the unemployment reform promotes human resources, employment, and labor law policies that balance employee rights and regulatory burdens on employers.
The Chamber supported a healthy unemployment fund that promotes solvency of the fund while not increasing a tax on employers of all sizes.
The General Assembly acted supporting the Chamber's position. The bill has been signed into law as Public Chapter 560. See recorded vote.
✅ Tennessee Apprenticeship Program Act
Tennessee Registered Apprenticeship Program Act creates the Tennessee Office of Apprenticeship within labor and workforce development. In addition, it establishes the Tennessee Apprenticeship Council and shows the appointment process for members to develop and maintain an apprenticeship program in the state in varying skills as needed.
The Chamber supports workforce development and teaching the technical skills that students need to leave high school and be ready for the workforce.
The General Assembly acted supporting the Chamber's position. The bill has been signed into law as Public Chapter 70. See recorded vote.
✅ Franchise and Exicse Tax Extension
The Chamber asked for an extension for business on filings for franchise and excise taxes severely affected by the economic downturn and the pandemic.
The Chamber supported this exemption allowing flexibility and recovery.
The General Assembly acted supporting the Chamber's position. The bill has been signed into law as Public Chapter 559. See recorded vote.
No Action - Marijuana Discrimination Act
This bill would prohibit an employer from taking any adverse action against an employee or prospective employee who drug test positive for marijuana.
The Chamber opposed this bill. Private businesses should be able to set their workplace drug policies.
The General Assembly supported the Chamber's position, and the bill never received a vote.
✅ Increased Investment in Infrastructure
The Governor proposed dedicated funds in this year's budget to address infrastructure needs across the state. The greatest need was additional resources dedicated to expanding the broadband footprint.
The Chamber has supported the increase in access to broadband throughout Middle Tennessee and the state. Access to reliable, affordable internet is a critical factor in employment, education, economic inclusion, workforce development, and regional prosperity.
The General Assembly supported the Chamber's position, adding $100 million of dedicated broadband funding and giving counites access to more than $100 million to address infrastructure and other needs. Further, federal American Rescue Plan funding addresses broadband needs not met by these unencumbered dollars.
✅ Reentry Success Act
The bill revises provisions regarding the release or preparation of the release of a person from incarceration, such as allowing parole hearings more often and limiting restrictions on probation. Further, the bill reinstates some rights removed during imprisonment, such as obtaining a driver's license. The bill is bolstered by an evidence-based jail programming project which provides $5 million for programs demonstrated to reduce recidivism rates and increase local collaboration to improve outcomes for convicted felons after release. The project is a tool developed to accompany the increased reimbursement rate program made available to jails.
The Chamber supported the Governor in his effort to reform incarceration so that people leaving the system can be supported in rehabilitation and contribute to the workforce and economic growth of the region.
The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. As a result, the bill has been signed into law as Public Chapter 410. See recorded vote.
✅ Tax Relief
The General Assembly proposed a change to how excise tax liability was determined due to the fiscal effects of COVID-19. Any amount received between March 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021, through the following programs (see below) funded by the coronavirus relief fund under the federal CARES Act, including any extension or modification thereof, or funded by appropriations under other federal law under Title VI of the Social Security Act, to mitigate the fiscal effects of COVID-19, be subtracted from the net earnings and losses to the extent such amount would otherwise be included in net earnings or loss for purposes of determining excise tax liability:
- The Tennessee business relief program or the supplemental employer recovery grant program administered by the department of revenue;
- The coronavirus agricultural and forestry business fund administered by the department of agriculture;
- The hospital staffing assistance program or the emergency medical services ambulance assistance program administered by the department of health; or
- The Tennessee small and rural hospital readiness grants program is administered by economic and community development and finance and administration departments.
The Chamber supported the General Assembly in providing much-needed relief to businesses during a global pandemic and economic downturn.
The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. As a result, the bill has been signed into law as Public Chapter 154. See recorded vote.