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2021 Legislative Recap: Breaking Down the First Half of the 112th Tennessee General Assembly

Alyssa Hansen
07 May, 2021
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On Wednesday evening, the 112th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned until January 11th, 2022. It goes without saying: this was undoubtedly one of the most difficult legislative sessions in quite some time for working families. Through multiple pieces of legislation, the Republican supermajority made it abundantly clear that it is pro-business and anti-worker. We've outlined some of the many bills that did just that below, and we'll also cover this more in-depth (but in a much more entertaining format than in past years) at our biennial convention this fall. This e-mail is lengthy (apologies in advance!), but we wanted to explain as many details as possible.

As we noted last week, a difficult legislative session does not take away from all of the hard work that so many of you have put into several of these fights over the past four months. From countless phone calls and nearly one thousand e-mails urging legislators to vote against the resolution that would enshrine Tennessee's "Right to Work" law in the state constitution, to meeting with lawmakers to voice concerns about dangerous, anti-worker legislation, we were inspired to see so many of our members, allies, and friends getting involved and speaking up like never before.

That being said, we don't want to sugar-coat anything or put a false narrative on the state of affairs for workers in Tennessee: it's been a challenging year and an especially difficult few months. Multiple bad bills passed both chambers, and the countless good bills that were filed hardly saw the light of the day or weren't even given a fair shot at a committee hearing. Make no mistake, working families have plenty of advocates who are willing to speak up on our behalf, but they are vastly outnumbered by the Republican supermajority. Until we have more of those voices in the General Assembly, we will unfortunately be facing a largely uphill battle.

Now, we move forward and look to the future. Because this was only the first half of the 112th Tennessee General Assembly, anything that was taken off notice, sent to general subcommittee, etc. can be brought back next year. We like to say that nothing is ever truly dead at the legislature, especially when it's only the first year of a particular session. Lawmakers can play lots of games to suspend the rules and bring back bills that were previously assumed to no longer be a threat. Although we don't anticipate it right now, we'll also be on the lookout for any hint of a potential special session between now and January. Be sure to keep an eye on your inboxes for any updates on this front, if necessary.

As of tomorrow (May 8th), we've got exactly 18 months until Tennessee voters will decide whether or not the constitution should be amended to include our state's "Right to Work" law. Just like we saw this session, our opponents will pull out all of the stops and spend whatever is necessary to ensure this passes. While it may be difficult to match their financial resources, we know who will work harder! Over the summer and into the fall, we'll be sharing updates, information, meetings, and ways that you can get involved in this statewide battle. We've already laid some solid groundwork this year, but that's only just the beginning! Remember, to defeat this at the ballot box, we'll need ALL Tennessee voters to join us in sending a clear message: "Right to Work" does not belong in our state constitution! Eventually, this ballot measure will also be assigned a number (example: Amendment 1). Once this happens, we'll really be able to ramp up our messaging against this initiative by telling our families, friends, and neighbors to vote "no" on this particular amendment number. We've got a year and a half to start educating folks about this issue, and that work begins today.

We are grateful to be on this legislative journey with all of you and look forward to what's ahead!

A Brief Look at Some of the Many Bills That We Monitored This Year

-SJR 0002 (HJR 0072): While no introduction is needed at this point, this is the resolution that would enshrine Tennessee's "Right to Work" law in the state constitution
Status: Passed the House 67-24-1, Passed the Senate 24-7, goes before voters in November of 2022

-HB 1039/SB 1402: Passed in the final two days of session, this bill reduces the amount of time that Tennesseans could draw unemployment benefits from 26 weeks, to as low as 12 weeks-the lowest in the country. While the number would fluctuate, no one could draw unemployment for more than 20 weeks. We issued a statement after this legislation passed both chambers, and you can read more about this bad bill here.
Status: Passed the House 69-25, Passed the Senate 26-7

-HB 580/SB 623: Amended by the House in the final hours of session and agreed to by the Senate, this horrendous piece of legislation would allow schools to be punished (including the potential withholding of funds) for discussing or teaching students about systemic racism. To read more about this shameful bill, click here.
Status: Passed the House 69-23-1, Passed the Senate 25-7 (conference committee report that adopted the major House amendment)

-HB 1130/SB 868: Amended slightly (but still not a good piece of legislation), this would allow a new three-judge panel to hear constitutional challenges to laws that have already been passed. While this no longer creates a "super" chancery court, it is a major, political overhaul of the judiciary. For more specifics, click here.
Status: Passed the House 67-22-1, Passed the Senate 27-2 (conference committee report)

-HB 513/SB 843: Sent to summer study in the Senate after powerful testimony by Justin Jones and others (but passed on the final day of session in the House), this bill would give immunity to anyone who claims while driving that they "unintentionally" hurt or killed someone who is protesting. This legislation also further criminalizes peaceful protesting and requires protestors to obtain a permit before any actions. We anticipate that this will come back in 2022.
Status: Passed the House 70-23, Sent to Summer Study in the Senate

-HB 1210/SB 878: A bad piece of legislation directed at the Tennessee Education Association, this was a caption bill that sought to eliminate automatic payroll dues deduction for TEA members, placing an unnecessary financial burden on the organization. Because this is still "alive" in the Senate, it could easily come back next year.
Status: Failed in the House, Passed the Senate Education Committee

-HB 110/SB 348: This good bill would enact the "Save Tennessee Call Center Jobs Act," the main goal of which is to stop companies from sending jobs overseas and keeping jobs in Tennessee.
Status: Sent to Summer Study in the House, Sent to General Subcommittee in the Senate

-HB 868/SB 816: This bill would have made much-needed improvements and updates to Tennessee's unemployment system.
Status: Failed in the House/Sent to General Subcommittee in the Senate

-HB 1112/SB 1150: Yet another attempt at pre-emption by the state, this piece of legislation would impact the relationship between local governments and contractors/subcontractors, including safety and health standards.
Status: Passed the House 71-18, Passed the Senate 27-6

-HB 1282/SB 379: A good piece of legislation, this bill would let local governments make decisions on whether to enact their own paid leave policies.
Status: Taken off notice in the House, Failed in the Senate