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Preparing to Adjourn Sine Die

Alyssa Hansen
12 Jun, 2020
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While we'll elaborate much more on this in the second part of our Legislative Wrap-Up (which will be sent by the end of the month), we want to share a couple thoughts about SJR 648 (aka The "Kelsey Amendment") and the current, overall legislative environment. Is it frustrating that Republicans chose to move SJR 648, especially after COVID-19 has already turned so many of our lives upside-down, let alone that they filed it to begin with? Absolutely. Is it even worse that they're playing games at the 11th hour just to get this passed? Of course. Are we fed up with constantly feeling like we have to play defense rather than being able to introduce proactive legislation, knowing that it'll get a fair hearing and have a good shot at passing? You have no idea. This is why our state elections this year are incredibly important. If we want to change labor's power and influence at the Capitol, we need to elect more legislators who will actually stand up for working families and reduce the chances of things like this being pushed. Keep in mind that Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers; there is not much that our allies are able to do, even when they fight as hard as they can for us. Complaining will not change things, but elections can. We look forward to working with all of you this summer and fall to ensure that we start making these changes a reality, but we'll save that conversation for another day. By this time next week, there's a good chance that legislators will be preparing to (if they have not done so already) adjourn sine die. Meaning "without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing," this is traditionally what happens at the end of each two-year General Assembly. Less than 24 hours ago, the Tennessee Senate passed Governor Bill Lee's revised budget, which, among other things, removed pay raises for teachers and state employees. Special thanks go out to Senator Raumesh Akbari for proposing an amendment that would have provided $150 million in emergency funds for Tennessee's schools. Unsurprisingly, the Republican supermajority quickly rejected it. The House has yet to take up the budget but should begin hearing it in committee on Monday. Keep in mind that scheduled meetings and floor sessions can change at a moment's notice, so the information below might have some slight tweaks after the weekend.    In other not surprising but nonetheless disappointing news, SJR 648 flew through two committees in less than two hours with no debate and is scheduled to be heard on the House floor next week. As we noted last Friday, because we are at the end of session and the rules are suspended, bills can move through multiple committees much quicker than they normally would and without any notice. These are the games that the Republican supermajority is able to play in the current legislative environment. Regardless, we can still make our voices heard this year on this important issue. If you are able to do so, please take a few minutes between now and Monday evening to contact your state representative (if you aren't sure who that person is, click here and type in your address) and ask them to vote NO on SJR 648, which would enshrine Tennessee's Right to Work law in the state constitution. It is dangerous to working families and does nothing but benefit its Senate sponsor and his employer. This resolution will be read on the House floor three times before there is any debate and a final vote, just like the process in the upper chamber. There's a good likelihood that will happen by Wednesday, but we will keep you posted daily as to its progress. Remember, passage in the House is not the end of the road for this bill. It will be heard again next year when lawmakers will need a 2/3 majority to pass it again and get it on the ballot in 2022. This will be more difficult for them to do, and it'll be after the November election when we could flip a handful of seats and no one will be up for re-election. The fight is far from over! 

Monday, June 15th House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee, 12:00 p.m., House Hearing Room I  House Bill 2620 (SB 2273): While this caption bill aims to increase the penalty for rioting, we are carefully watching it because of the legislation's sponsor. House Majority Leader William Lamberth is notoriously anti-union, so we are monitoring any filed amendments to make sure that he does not try to go after labor in any way. There is no indication that this bill will be taken up in the Senate.  House Floor Session, 6:00 p.m.

SJR 648: As we noted above, this is the dangerous "Kelsey Amendment," which seeks to enshrine Tennessee's Right to Work law in the state constitution. This will be the first of three readings on the House floor. 

House Bill 2623 (SB 2381): This is the caption bill that carries what's known as the "Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act," legislation championed by the NFIB and Tennessee Chamber of Commerce that has been filed in other states and protects businesses from COVID-19-related liabilities. A good summary of the legislation can be found here. This legislation is retroactive (which is almost unheard of) and will likely be challenged if it becomes law. Note: This bill has already passed in the Senate. 
House Bill 2708 (SB 2520): A good bill that we are supporting, this would enact the "Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act." Note: This bill passed the Senate yesterday. If the House follows suit, this would be a huge victory for working families!