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2022 Legislative Recap: Victories Achieved, Challenges Faced, and Looking Ahead

Alyssa Hansen
05 May, 2022
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Just over a week ago, the 112th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned sine die. In the span of roughly four months, the Republican supermajority once again proved that it is strongly anti-worker and used multiple pieces of legislation to do this. From attempts to manage matters that should be left up to private businesses and their employees, to repeated attacks on the productive, longstanding relationship between Ford and the UAW, legislators were not afraid to go after working families at what felt like every opportunity. Keep in mind that these were just two of the many bad bills that were introduced this year.

While some of you are familiar with the legislative games and tricks that take place at the Capitol, we know that not everyone has had an opportunity to see them on full display. Apart from Republicans having a supermajority, one of the reasons why the current environment at the state level is so difficult for working families to have any sort of leverage is due to the rules that are essentially made up or changed without notice as session moves along. Specifically, we draw your attention to this story, which aired on News Channel 5 in Nashville earlier this week. As you can see, with the majority party having so much unchecked power, committee chairs and other leadership are able to kill bills (often orchestrated ahead of time) and push through legislation without the public having any knowledge about major amendments. This is hardly the definition of transparency, a word which many legislators love to throw around constantly.

In spite of the hurdles we faced this year, it wasn't all bad news. First, we'd like to thank all of you who made calls or sent e-mails asking your legislators to vote against House Bill 1856/SB 1796 in the opening weeks of session. These initial calls to action played a major role in ultimately stopping the legislation, and we thank you once again for reaching out to your lawmakers so quickly. We also took several proactive steps on our own in an effort to curb some of the attacks on working families. For the first time in several years, we filed three pieces of legislation in an attempt to go on the offensive, even with a Republican supermajority. As we noted last month, we successfully passed one of those bills with bipartisan sponsors and support.

As amended, HB 2733/SB 2879 requires employers to allow their employees who are veterans to take Veterans Day as a non-paid holiday if the employee provides notice, shows proof of their veteran status, and the absence doesn't impact public health, safety, or cause the employer a significant disruption in their day-to-day operations. Under the bill, employers do have the option of allowing Veterans Day to be taken as a paid holiday.

While there are aspects of the legislation in its original form that we wish would have remained, a victory is still a victory. We also plan on reintroducing the other two bills in 2023, especially since one of them made it all of the way to the Finance, Ways & Means Committee in both chambers. Unless the supermajority loses a considerable number of seats in November, we unfortunately expect to see additional anti-worker bills introduced next year. Specifically, we would not be surprised to see lawmakers once again go after union elections, dues deduction, or one of several other issues that seem to have been on repeat over the past several legislative sessions. Currently, we do NOT expect any special legislative sessions between now and January.

Now, it's time to turn our focus towards election season. As we've done in years past, we'll still send out information on and encourage our members to support labor-endorsed candidates. However, the bulk of our attention will be on the fight to defeat Amendment 1, which would enshrine Tennessee's "Right to Work" law in the state constitution. After almost three years of talking non-stop about this issue, we know that it can get repetitive. While we and many others have been hard at work educating all Tennesseans about why they should vote against Amendment 1 this fall, most of our major action will take place after the primary election in early August. The last thing we want to do is confuse Tennesseans when they head to the polls in three months and look for a constitutional amendment that will be on the November ballot. In the meantime, if you have not done so already, order your "No on 1" bumper and hard hat stickers (yard signs coming later in the summer), keep an eye on our website for a special section with details about important election-related dates, endorsements, and "No on 1" information, and stay turned for updates on our media training and other events that are planned throughout the summer and fall. As we've said countless times, we know that this fight will be an uphill climb. Now more than ever, it's time to put the concept of solidarity into action. No one group or organization can win this alone; it will take a collective effort from working families and supporters throughout the entire state.

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

-HB 1856/SB 1796 & HB 2111/SB 2142: These two identical bills would tie the hands of private businesses that may want to locate in Tennessee in the future by making them ineligible to receive state monies or be required to return them if any votes on worker representation are not held by a secret ballot election.
Status: Both bills were taken off notice in their respective committees in each chamber. We could see this legislation make a return appearance in 2023.

-SB 2204/HB 2659: A sneaky caption bill, this was another dig at the strong working relationship between Ford and the UAW. The House version sought to prohibit organizations that contract with the Memphis Regional Megasite from giving any preference to union-friendly contractors AND would require them to report how much is spent on work performed by union members.
Status: Conference Committee report passed the House 72-16, Conference Committee report passed the Senate 28-0-1. Lawmakers adopted the Senate's version of the original legislation. As noted in previous updates, while we wish the bill didn't exist at all, the Senate version is much less harmful, and the reporting requirements will no longer be in effect after July 2025.

-HB 2143/SB 2396: The caption to this legislation carried Governor Bill Lee's proposed overhaul of Tennessee's K-12 school funding formula. It was signed into law earlier this week.
Status: Passed the House 66-28-1, Passed the Senate 26-5

-HB 2733/SB 2879: This bill requires employers to give their employees who are veterans an unpaid holiday on Veterans Day. 
Status: Passed the House 90-0-1, Passed the Senate 32-0, Signed into law on April 20th

-SB 2383/HB 2397: This piece of legislation requires that contracts for the construction, maintenance, etc. of public buildings contain a provision that the iron and steel used for the project be made in the United States
Status: Taken off notice in the House, Sent to General Subcommittee in the Senate

-HB 1201/SB 1005: In light of the ongoing federal investigation into several lawmakers, this bill sought to sharpen disclosure requirements and make additional ethics changes. 
Status: Conference Committee report passed the House 85-3, Conference Committee report passed the Senate 31-1

-HB 2246/SB 2077: A piece of legislation that made headlines this session, this will preempt local governments' ability to regulate the location of oil and gas pipelines. 
Status: Passed the House 68-25, Passed the Senate 23-7

-SB 2472/HB 2474: A good bill, this would enact the "Broadband Resiliency, Public Safety, and Quality Act."
Status: Not heard in the House, Sent to General Subcommittee in the Senate

-HB 2339/SB 2345: This good piece of legislation would raise the wages of preferred service employees in the Department of Correction by 15%. 
Status: Taken off notice in the House, Sent to General Subcommittee in the Senate

-SB 1610/HB 0978: A bill that passed the House last year, this essentially criminalizes homelessness. Under the legislation, it will now be a felony to camp or sleep on public property. Even though Governor Lee did not sign this bill, it will still take effect on July 1st.
Status: Passed the House 62-22-6, Passed the Senate 22-10