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2023 Legislative Recap: An Infamous Session That Targeted Countless Tennesseans

Alyssa Hansen
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It goes without saying: the first half of the 113th Tennessee General Assembly (which adjourned about a week and a half ago) was one of the most disheartening and frustrating legislative sessions in quite some time. 

From attacking countless Tennesseans, to expelling lawmakers who were simply doing their jobs and speaking out for their constituents, the Republican supermajority put its near-constant abuse of power on full display for the entire country to see. It was a very unflattering look for the Volunteer State and revealed just how frequently most lawmakers do certain things just because they can.

Like last year, those in power were once again quick to tout their pro-business credentials while ignoring the very real needs of Tennessee's working families. Whether it was inserting themselves into matters that should be left up to private businesses and their employees or tying a pay raise for teachers to the elimination of automatic payroll dues deduction, it's clear that corporate special interest groups and big business are maintaining their tight grip on legislators. Look no further than the $56.2 billion budget passed in the final days of session. As we noted on social media, lawmakers once again did nothing to help working families. They were, however, eager to give major tax breaks to businesses and provide funds for toll lanes.

What was probably the most despicable action (or lack thereof) was the failure of leaders to discuss or pass ANY common sense gun reform laws following the March 27th mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville that left six people, including three nine-year-old children, dead. While Governor Bill Lee was supposedly planning to call a special session in the near future on this very topic, news broke earlier this week that this is unlikely to happen (if at all) until later in the year. Regardless, we're not particularly optimistic that any meaningful change will take place, although we hope that we're proven wrong.

While Tennesseans of all political stripes literally fought to preserve democracy in our state during the closing weeks of session, one very positive aspect emerged in the midst of the ugliness and hatred: awareness as to the behavior of many lawmakers and what actually happens behind closed chamber doors. As Representative Gloria Johnson pointed out a few weeks ago, it's crucial that folks know what's going on and pay attention to what's happening at the Capitol.That's absolutely been the case as of late, but that awareness needs to continue and we're committed to doing our part (as we've always done) to make that happen for our members and allies.

Because this was only the first half of the 113th 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, so it's important that we continue to stay vigilant. Because legislators were able to ban automatic payroll dues deduction for teachers this year, there's a VERY strong likelihood that they will try to do the same for ALL public employees in 2024. If that happens, we'll be in for a fight that carries even more significance than enshrining "Right to Work" in the state constitution. We'll need all hands on deck for that effort and will continue to keep you updated as January approaches. Without question, that will be thetime to put the concept of solidarity into action. It will take a collective effort from working families and supporters throughout the entire state to stop what could be the most chilling, anti-worker attack that we've seen in years.

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

-HB 1342/SB 650: A piece of legislation that we discussed almost every week and was our primary call to action this session, this proposal will 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. After the two chambers were unable to agree on a final version of the bill, a conference committee was appointed to resolve the differences. You can read the report here.We strongly encourage you towatch the videoof the discussion of the report to see the games that the supermajority played, including meeting without all committee members present.
Status: Passed the House 68-22 (Conference Committee report adopted by a vote of 67-23)/Passed the Senate 27-5 (Conference Committee reported adopted by a vote of 23-4)

-HB 329/SB 281: Another example of a bad (caption) bill that's filed almost every year, this eliminates automatic payroll dues deduction for professional educators' organizations (like the Tennessee Education Association) and creates an unnecessary financial burden. This year, however, a pay raise was deliberately included in the same bill.An important note:the section eliminating automatic payroll dues deduction was REMOVED in the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee before being added back in on the floor.
Status: Passed the House 90-8/Passed the Senate 25-6

-HB 774/SB 681:This piece of legislation enacts the "Protecting Tennessee Businesses and Workers Act," but this doesn't actually benefit workers. The complete opposite of HB 278/SB 166 (which was voted down), this prohibits local governments from enacting policies regarding scheduling, wages, etc. that private businesses in their community would need to follow.
Status: Passed the House 69-23/Passed the Senate 26-5; signed by Governor Lee on April 28th

-HB 1060/SB 1285:Yet another sneaky caption bill and only a couple of years after the legislature chose to cut the amount of time that someone could receive unemployment benefits, this adds to the work search requirements needed to keep those benefits.
Status: Passed the House 79-19/Passed the Senate 24-6

-HB 48/SB 87:One of the earliest headline-grabbing pieces of legislation this year, this was targeted directly at Nashville's Metro Council and caps the number of members on the governing body of a metropolitan government at 20. However, a three-judge panel issued an injunction in April that temporarily stops this from going into effect. Two other major bills targeting Nashville (HB 1197/SB 1335 and HB 1176/SB 1326) also passed along mostly party lines; these bills are just a snapshot of the legislation targeting the Capitol city.
Status: Passed the House 72-25/Passed the Senate 23-7; signed by Governor Lee (in record time) on March 9th

-HB 324/SB 276: After promising to enact a paid family leave program for state employees in his State of the State Address in February, this caption enacts Governor Lee's proposal. Originally, those who are eligible would have been given 12 weeks of paid leave, but this was amended to six weeks in the final version.
Status: Passed the House 75-19/Passed the Senate 28-0; signed by Governor Lee on April 25th

-HB 747/SB 1511:A good bill, this would enact the "CEO Pay Disparity Tax Act" and impose a pay disparity surcharge on each company whose top executive is paid at least 100 times more than the average income of their employees.
Status: Failed in the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee/Never Heard in the Senate

-HB 1099/SB 1101:A very bad bill, this would end the practice of early voting in Tennessee.
Status: Withdrawn in the House/Never Heard in the Senate

-HB 139/SB 83: A proposal that was monitored by our ATU affiliates, this would require a driver to only be present behind the wheel of a lead vehicle of a platoon instead of each vehicle.
Status: Never Heard in the House/Sent to General Subcommittee in the Senate

-HB 278/SB 166:This bill would allow local governments to set the standards on leave policies for government contractors or businesses in their community. 
Status: Never Heard in the House/Failed in the Senate

-HB 625/SB 356:This bill would allow a labor representative to be present during mediation for a workers' compensation claim.
Status: Never Heard in the House/Never Heard in the Senate; could be brought back next year