2020 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 2020 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.

Overview:

❌ Adjustments to State Business Taxes

Legislation was filed this year that would lower the excise tax rate on businesses when the state is experiencing high revenue growth. HB 2301/SB 2686 (Gant/Haile) would create a range from 6 to 6.5 percent for the tax which would fluctuate up and down by 0.1 percent increments based on state revenue collections. The proposal had significant support and momentum early in session, and it would have cut business taxes by tens of millions of dollars.

Chamber Position

The Chamber supported this bill to provide tax relief to Tennessee businesses.

Status

The General Assembly did not pass this legislation due to the revenue shortfall created by the COVID-19 pandemic. No recorded vote.



✅ Caps on Local Property Taxes

HB 2638/SB 2751 (Holt/Bell) was filed to limit a county legislative body from raising property taxes above a capped rate without the approval of the voters. This bill raised concerns around local governments not being able to address budget issues while also jeopardizing the bond ratings of these governments. Following these concerns being raised by local governments, chambers of commerce, and the State Comptroller, the bill was taken off notice. It is expected to be filed again next year.

The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber’s position. The House bill was taken off notice, and the Senate bill was not scheduled for a hearing.

✅ Criminal Justice Reform

HB 2517/SB 2734 (Curcio/Bell) was filed this year to address several areas of criminal justice reform with the most significant section amending the Drug-Free School Zone Act. Under present law, the provisions of the Act are triggered if a drug offense is committed within 1,000 feet of school property, and this violation includes a mandatory minimum sentence for offenders. Testimony revealed that many urban and suburban areas are within 1,000 feet of school property without the knowledge of many offenders including dozens of miles on state interstates and highways. Under the bill, this distance is reduced to 500 feet, and a rebuttable presumption is created that the offender should not serve the mandatory minimum sentence. It also increases the penalty for offenders who are actually in these zones with the intent to target schools and children.

Chamber Position

The Chamber supported this bill to amend the code to keep low level offenders out of prison for long sentences.

Status

The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. The bill passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. In this scorecard, votes are tracked on this legislation. See recorded vote.

✅ Employment-Related Discrimination

Under state law, employers are prohibited from discriminating with employment decisions based on a person’s race, creed, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin. Many courts across the country have defined “creed” as being related to religious beliefs, but HB 2764/SB 2827 (Ogles/Akbari) would have specifically defined the word in Tennessee. With the language of the proposal, “creed” would be defined as well-grounded and firmly held set of moral beliefs and guiding principles.

Chamber Position

The Chamber opposed this bill as the language was too broad and would subject employers to more lawsuits.

Status

The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. The House bill was taken off notice, and the Senate bill was deferred to next year. No recorded vote.

✅ Hiring Restrictions

Legislation was again filed this year to restrict the hiring practices of private employers. HB 2545/SB 2641 (Potts/Yarbro) would prevent private employers with 50 or more employees from making employment decisions based on an applicant or employee’s salary history.

Chamber Position

The Chamber opposed this bill, believing private employers need all available tools with their hiring practices.

Status

The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. The House bill was taken off notice, and the Senate bill was deferred until next year. No recorded vote.

✅ Minimum Wage Requirements

Bills were again filed this year to establish a statewide minimum wage for employees. HB 1918/SB 1788 (Hodges/Kyle) and HB 2038/SB 1904 (Love/Robinson) would have raised the minimum wage in Tennessee to $15 and $10, respectively.

Chamber Position

The Chamber opposed these bills and believes that the minimum wage should be established at the federal level, not the state.

Status

The General Assembly took actions supporting the Chamber's positions. HB 1918/SB 1788 was never scheduled for a vote, and HB 2038/SB 1904 failed in a House Subcommittee for a lack of a motion. No recorded vote.

✅ Right to Work Constitutional Amendment

For 70 years, state law has recognized Tennessee’s right to work status. Several states have recently seen statutory and/or legal challenges to such a status, and as a result, SJR 648 (Kelsey) was filed this year as the first step to allowing the voters to decide if such a provision should be in the Tennessee Constitution.

Chamber Position

The Chamber supported this legislation to allow voters to decide if Tennessee’s right to work status should be protected by the Constitution.

Status

The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. The resolution was adopted, and it will need to be adopted by both bodies during the next legislative session by a 2/3 supermajority in order to be placed on the ballot. In this scorecard, votes are tracked on this legislation. See recorded vote.

❌ Safe Harbor Legislation

In April, as businesses across the state began to prepare to return to work, concerns grew about the likelihood of frivolous lawsuits being filed alleging contact to or contracting of COVID-19. While some felt this concern was unfounded, businesses across the country began to see hundreds of lawsuits filed. While these businesses are likely to succeed in court, the costs and time associated with defending them will take an unneeded, additional toll. To prevent this problem in Tennessee, the Chamber and dozens of other associations and trade groups formed the Tennessee Business Recovery & Safe Harbor Coalition and began to discuss legislative solutions with lawmakers. HB 2623/SB 2381 (Curcio/Bell) was filed to protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits who are making reasonable efforts to protect the public. The legislation would not impede the ability of citizens to file lawsuits against establishments acting with gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Chamber Position

The Chamber supported this legislation to provide clarity and confidence to businesses as they return to work.

Status

The General Assembly did not take action supporting the Chamber's position. While both the House and Senate passed related legislation, the two bodies could not agree on the conference committee report with the House specifically taking issue with a retroactive provision in the report. In this scorecard, votes are tracked for the initial proposals before the House and Senate as well as those cast on the conference committee report. The Governor, House leadership, and Senate leadership are in conversations about convening a special session to work on this legislation. See recorded vote.

✅ SPECIAL SESSION UPDATE: COVID-19 Recovery Act

On Monday, August 3, Governor Bill Lee issued a proclamation calling for the General Assembly to meet in special session which began on Monday, August 10. The call outlined three specific focuses, one of which was liability protections for businesses, schools, hospitals, and other entities from frivolous lawsuits associated with the contraction of or exposure to COVID-19.

HB 8001/SB 8002 (Lamberth/Johnson) was filed to provide such protections. It is titled the “COVID-19 Recovery Act,” and its intent is very similar to the “Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act,” which failed in the final minutes of the regular session.

The bill states that an individual or legal entity will not be liable for loss, damage, injury, or death that arises from COVID-19 unless the a plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that the person caused the injury by an act or omission constituting gross negligence or willful misconduct. At the time of filing a lawsuit, the law further requires the following: a verified complaint with specific facts that a jury could reasonably conclude that the injury was caused by gross negligence or willful misconduct; and a certificate of good faith stating that the plaintiff has a signed, written expert medical opinion that the injury was caused by an act or omission of the defendant. These requirements provide protection from frivolous lawsuits while not protecting businesses who ignore or outright defy guidance from local, state, and federal medical experts.

The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber’s position. The Senate bill passed with a vote of 27-4, and the House bill passed 80-10-1. It was signed into law and became effective on August 17, and the protections will be in place for all claims that allege an injury through June 30, 2022

✅ State Grants for Economic Development

Legislation was filed this year with the intent to generate more economic development in rural counties. HB 1586/SB 2596 (Griffey/Niceley) would require the Department of Economic and Community Development to develop a plan to ensure that two-thirds of state loans and grants were distributed only to rural counties.

Chamber Position

The Chamber opposed this bill to ensure that the Department maintained flexibility to issue grants as warranted to all areas.

Status

The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. The House bill was taken off notice, and the Senate bill was not debated. No recorded vote.

✅ Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

For years, employers have faced challenges navigating state and federal laws and regulations to understand their responsibilities for accommodating pregnant workers. HB 2708/SB 2520 (Hurt/Massey) was filed this year to clear up this confusion and to ensure that pregnant employees and their employers alike know what to expect from each other. This bill would require employers to provide pregnant workers with reasonable accommodations as directed by a physician if they do not create an undue hardship.

Chamber Position

The Chamber supported this bill to keep pregnant workers employed and to provide employers with clarity with their responsibilities.

Status

The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. The legislation passed without any negative votes, and it is effective on October 1, 2020. In this scorecard, votes are tracked on this legislation. See recorded vote.

✅ Tobacco Sales

For the past two years, the Chamber has advocated for raising the age of eligibility to purchase tobacco and vaping products from 18-years-old to 21-years-old. In December of last year, though, the federal government passed legislation requiring all states to implement this change. Despite this requirement, there was still a legislative battle to get the change passed which was filed by the administration.

Chamber Position

The Chamber supported this legislation to improve the health of the region’s workforce and to prevent early addictions to such products.

Status

The General Assembly took action supporting the Chamber's position. While it did pass, it only did so by a House vote of 64-24-6 and a Senate vote of 25-5-1. In this scorecard, votes are tracked on this legislation. See recorded vote.

❌ Transpotainment

The transpotainment industry is a new and rapidly growing industry in Nashville and other cities where vehicles such as party buses and wagons pulled by tractors entertain visitors. Under state law, though, cities are prohibited from regulating these types of vehicles that are designed to carry more than fifteen people. HB 2381/SB 2513 (Hazlewood/Dickerson) was filed to provide this regulatory authority to cities to ensure public safety and planning.

Chamber Position

The Chamber supported this bill to ensure appropriate regulations are in place to protect tourists and the tourism industry.

Status

The General Assembly did not take action supporting the Chamber’s position. This legislation was like dozens of other bills that were not considered essential following the return from adjournment of the General Assembly in June. In this scorecard, votes are tracked on this legislation for its Senate Committee hearing. See recorded vote.

View the Metro Legislative Scorecard

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