2024 Legislative Preview: Tensions Run High As Lawmakers Prepare for the Second Half of the 113th Tennessee General Assembly
You don't have to be a devoted follower of Tennessee politics to notice it: the current environment at the Capitol is messier than ever.
Between legislators making national news for all of the wrong reasons multiple times this year (unjust expulsions, a special session on gun violence that produced no meaningful change, and Governor Bill Lee's recent announcement that he plans to expand the state's school voucher program to all 95 counties), it's clear that leadership is out-of-control and hyper-focused on playing partisan games and pushing extremist ideas rather than actually governing.
Before we can fully turn our focus to slowly chipping away at the supermajority and electing more labor-friendly lawmakers next year, we need to tackle the second half of the 113th Tennessee General Assembly. Set to reconvene on Tuesday, January 9th at 12:00 p.m. CT, we anticipate that a difficult legislative session for working families is likely on the horizon. From expanding vouchers, to the (possible) elimination of automatic payroll dues deduction for public employees, we will need to keep an eye out for dangerous bills at every turn.
Don't forget: because this year 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 in 2024. Lawmakers can play lots of games to suspend the rules and bring back bills that were previously assumed to no longer be a threat.
Given that there weren't any federal or state elections in 2023, there will be no two-week reorganization period when session reconvenes; lawmakers will simply begin their regular business after the first week. Because of this, we expect that bills will tentatively begin moving during the week of January 15th or 22nd, and committee calendars will start filling up very quickly.
As of right now, our weekly legislative updates will likely start in mid-to-late January. This timeline has the potential to be altered to accommodate any early calls to action that may need to be issued. We'll also share important dates like bill-filing deadlines and a potential adjournment timeline once they're available.
Because 2024 is an election year, we anticipate that business will move fairly quickly over the next few months so that legislators who are running for re-election can continue raising money (this is not able to happen while they are in session).
When it comes to numbers, the makeup of the Tennessee General Assembly remains the same (75 Republicans and 24 Democrats in the House, 27 Republicans and six Democrats in the Senate) with the Republicans holding a supermajority in both chambers. However, there are some new faces serving in the House. Following the sudden death of Representative Bill Beck in June, a special election was held to fill his seat. Newly-elected (and labor-endorsed candidate) Representative Aftyn Behn now represents House District 51, which includes downtown Nashville. In East Tennessee, former Representative Timothy Hill won the special election to replace Representative Scotty Campbell, who resigned in April after news broke that he had violated the legislature's sexual harassment policy. We'd like to once again thank our union sister, Lori Love, for stepping up to run in this special election in an attempt to have more labor-friendly voices in the legislature.
Now for a quick recap of what happened last year and what we expect to see in the coming weeks. For a full summary of where things left off in the spring, click here. You can also access any of our legislative updates from 2023 by clicking on the "Legislative Updates" section of our website.
Below are some of the bills or issues we expect to see during this legislative session. Please keep in mind that this is by no means a full or complete list, just a summary of some of the major issues that we anticipate facing over the coming months. As always, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out. We look forward to working with all of you to ensure that Tennessee's labor movement has a strong voice during this legislative session.
Filed & Potentially Soon-to-be-Filed Legislation
Several of the bills/issues listed below will likely sound very familiar, especially if they did not pass both chambers this year and have a high likelihood of coming back in 2024. If a particular piece of legislation was introduced in 2023, we've also included its current status heading into a new legislative session.
-Expanding school vouchers statewide. Given Governor Bill Lee's announcement at the end of November that he'll push to expand Tennessee's school voucher program to all 95 counties, it's essentially guaranteed that we'll see legislation dealing with this topic. In fact, we expect (at this point) that it will be the most significant issue this session. The bottom line is this: public dollars should go towards public schools. Period.
-Legislation banning automatic payroll dues deduction for public employees. After successfully eliminating automatic payroll dues deduction for professional educators' organizations (like the Tennessee Education Association) and creating an unnecessary financial burden for the group earlier this year, lawmakers will likely feel emboldened to finally do the same for all public employees. This is an issue that would have a significant impact on many of our members. If this legislation becomes a reality, we'll be in for a fight that carries even more importance than enshrining "Right to Work" in the state constitution. We'll be watching caption bills very closely in the event lawmakers try to introduce this quietly.
-General anti-union/labor legislation. After targeting union elections this past session, this pro-business legislature will take any opportunity that it's given to go after Tennessee's labor movement and working families while catering to corporate special interest groups.
-Legislation dealing with equal pay for equal work, paid leave policies, and pre-empting the decisions of local governments. We repeat these concepts at the start of each session, but there's a good reason for it. These are some of theissues that we see discussed nearly every year, so we'll be watching for any bills on these topics.
-Voting restrictions. With critical federal and state elections on the ballot this fall, lawmakers could use this session as an opportunity to attempt to make it more difficult for Tennesseans to vote. For example, a bill was filed earlier this year that would have ended the practice of early voting in the state. While the legislation didn't go anywhere, it's not out-of-the-question that we couldn't see it (or something even worse) again next year.