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2024 Legislative Recap: Partisanship Peaks as Lawmakers Cater to Big Business

Alyssa Hansen
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After a long three-and-a-half months, the 113th Tennessee General Assembly finally adjourned sine die on April 25th, just under three weeks ago.

Along with many of you, we couldn't have been happier when the gavel fell for the final time this year.

Much of what we saw in 2024 was a carbon copy of what happened in 2023.

From partisanship reaching an all-time high on multiple fronts, to working families once again getting pushed aside in favor of big business and corporate special interest groups, it often feels like we're fighting the same uphill battles in one of the most toxic environments imaginable.

In spite of this, there are several major accomplishments that are worth celebrating.

Whether it was the defeat (at least for this year) of Governor Bill Lee's plan to expand Tennessee's school voucher scheme statewide thanks to multiple organizations, or the fact that lawmakers were so focused on countless other shiny, legislative objects that they didn't bother attempting to eliminate automatic payroll dues deduction for public employees, we could have had a much more difficult year than what we experienced.

So what's the catch?

This could mean that lawmakers come after working families with a vengeance in 2025.

Embarrassed after their scare tactics failed and workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga overwhelmingly voted to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) in the closing days of session last month and facing mounting criticism from Tennesseans for the increasingly authoritarian, bizarre behavior of some legislators, the supermajority will probably be keen to prove how "tough" and pro-business it is when lawmakers reconvene in January.

We're also likely to see the reintroduction of the statewide school voucher scheme and potentially numerous other bills that target working families.

There's one major factor that could upend the supermajority's potential plans: the upcoming General Election this November.

This is the perfect opportunity to begin chipping away at the extreme imbalance of power and start leveling the playing field once again by electing labor-friendly lawmakers to office.

As we've said over and over, the only way reasonable Tennesseans are going to be able to get ANYTHING done is to change who we send to Nashville to represent our interests. Otherwise, this bullying behavior that we're seeing will simply be allowed to continue with virtually zero accountability.

Tennessee's political climate can be incredibly frustrating, and we know that many of you are as hungry for new representation as we are.

The power to make that idea a reality lies with all of us, and we're ready to elect more advocates who will serve as strong voices for our 60,000+ members.

By joining together in solidarity, we have the potential to make the Tennessee General Assembly a place where labor-friendly legislation is actually passed and signed into law while increasing the number of elected officials who are willing to stand up and say that they are proudly pro-worker.

Let's get started today.

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

-HB 1183/SB 503: This is the caption bill that carried the proposal to expand Tennessee's school voucher scheme statewide. 
Status: Never Heard Beyond the House Government Operations Committee/Never Heard Beyond the Senate Education Committee

-HB 1893/SB 2103: One of the most-discussed bills this session, this proposal sought to give businesses a $2 billion tax cut. After several disagreements between the two chambers, including the fact that the House wanted the businesses that receive the tax breaks to be named and sending the legislation to a Conference Committee where it almost met its demise, this was one of the last bills that lawmakers passed this session.
Status: Passed the House 68-20-8 (Conference Committee report adopted by a vote of 69-23)/Passed the Senate 25-6 (Conference Committee report adopted be a vote of 25-6)

-HB 2110/SB 2027: This suspicious bill sought to define the term "work" as having the same meaning as interpreted by the Supreme Court for the purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act. As we learned in committee, it also codifies what is a "de minimis exemption" as outlined in the FLSA and is very business-friendly.
Status: Passed the House 73-23/Passed the Senate 26-4; signed by Governor Lee on March 27th

-HB 2031/SB 2570: Potentially having major implications for strikes or rallies, this piece of legislation would increase the penalty for blocking a highway, street, etc. from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony.
Status: Passed the House 73-22-2/Passed the Senate 24-5; signed by Governor Lee on May 9th

-HB 2080/SB 1968: A bill that has generated lots of headlines, this would block an individual who currently holds elected office from holding another elected office in Tennessee at the same time. At least one Republican representative already does what the legislation is trying to prevent, but Democrats have said that they believe this is specifically-targeted at Representative Gloria Johnson, who is currently running for both the U.S. Senate and her Tennessee House seat.
Status: Held on the desk in the House (would need to be re-filed next year)/Passed the Senate 17-15-1

-HB 1889/SB 2102: A bill with powerful sponsors (House Majority Leader William Lamberth and Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson), this would enact the "State of Tennessee Real Estate Asset Management (STREAM) Act" and consolidate power under the commissioner of General Services for decision-making related to all executive branch leases. More details about this seemingly innocent (but potentially dangerous) administration bill can be found here.There were also concerns that this could be another outsourcing/privatization push.
Status: Taken off notice in the House/Sent to General Subcommittee in the Senate

-HB 2113/SB 2017: This proposal shortens the amount of time that someone has to begin a cause of action for unpaid wages for hours worked, overtime, etc. to three years.
Status: Passed the House 69-23/Passed the Senate 25-4-1; signed by Governor Lee on April 22nd

-HB 1892/SB 2100: This piece of legislation authorizes the use of third-party examiners or inspectors instead of local ones for certain processes.
Status: Passed the House 83-2-6/Passed the Senate 27-4; signed by Governor Lee on April 23rd

-HB 2043/SB 1934: Among other things, this good piece of legislation would have eliminated the sales tax on groceries.
Status: Taken off notice in the House/Calendared but never heard in the Senate

-HB 2602/SB 2646: Seeking to address an important issue that hasn't been solved in 15 years (thanks in large part to the supermajority), this would increase Tennessee's minimum wage to $20. A similar bill (HB 2396/SB 2409) would have increased the minimum hourly wage for food delivery employees to $12.
Status: Failed in the House/Failed in the Senate

-HB 2070/SB 1807: A good bill, this creates the Office of Rail and Public Transportation and requires the entity to (among its other responsibilities) determine the specifics of what is needed to undertake passenger rail service in Tennessee.
Status: Passed the House 75-11-6/Passed the Senate 31-0; signed by Governor Lee on April 11th

-HB 1010/SB 707: A proposal from last year that was monitored by our UA affiliates, this bill deals with the use of private inspectors (rather than one employed by a local government) for building code inspections. 
Status: Taken off notice in the House/Sent to General Subcommittee in the Senate

-HB 2716/SB 2634: A result of last year's expulsion hearings, this would block a local legislative body (for example, Nashville's Metro Council) from sending someone who was expelled from the General Assembly for disorderly behavior to fill the opening that was created from their expulsion. However, legislative attorneys noted that the bill could be unconstitutional. Two very similar pieces of legislation (HJR 706 & HJR 797) were also filed.
Status: Passed the House 69-22-3/Sent to Summer Study in the Senate