What We're Watching: Week of March 16

First of all, we'd like to apologize for the brief lapse in our weekly updates during one of the busiest times of the legislative session. Between the devastating and destructive tornadoes that hit Middle Tennessee last week and killed over two dozen people, to the cancellations of countless meetings, conferences, sporting events, concerts, etc. in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it goes without saying that life is anything but normal right now. These are scary and uncertain times for all of us, but we will navigate a path towards the future together. In the meantime, the national AFL-CIO has compiled a list of useful resources related to COVID-19. We know that many of you have likely seen this already, but we encourage you to look it over once again; there is no such thing as too much information. Be sure to wash your hands often, avoid close contact with others who are sick, and clean and disinfect surfaces that you touch frequently. All of us in the labor movement are well-aware of how important solidarity is in situations like this; putting the concept into action is now more critical than ever. 
 
We'll spare you an overly long introduction this week and get right to our latest legislative update. As you might have seen last night, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally have made the decision to only allow lawmakers, staff, and media inside the Cordell Hull Building until further notice. That means that, as lobbyists, we will not be allowed at the Capitol for the time being. However, video streaming of committee meetings and floor sessions will still be up and running, so we will continue to watch all of the proceedings remotely for now and keep you updated as best we can. 
 
There are a couple of quick notes on some of the major legislation that we've been watching this session. This past Wednesday, SJR 648 (aka The "Kelsey Amendment") was sent to a special Constitutional Amendment calendar and is not set to be heard on a particular date yet. Both HB 273/SB 461 (Save Tennessee Call Center Jobs Act of 2019) and HB 2719/SB 2462, which would encourage employers to give their employees who are veterans an unpaid day off on Veterans Day, passed out of the House Employee Affairs Subcommittee this past Tuesday and are scheduled to be heard by the House Consumer & Human Resources Committee this Monday (March 16th). While that is still currently the case, lobbyists have also received notice that legislators are being encouraged to only run bills that are directly related to the budget/funding. That means that mostly everything that we've been watching since January could be on hold for the foreseeable future, so we'll keep you posted as we find out any new information. Don't forget that what you see below is just a small snapshot of the dozens upon dozens of bills that we're watching each week; these are just the highlights (and there are a lot of them!) Things are subject to change very quickly, so buckle up and keep a close eye on these updates! 
Monday, March 16th
 
Senate Education Committee, 1:30 p.m., Senate Hearing Room I
Senate Bill 1787 (HB 1550):  Attempting to fix the mess created last year by Governor Bill Lee, this good piece of legislation would delete Tennessee's school voucher program. 
Note: This bill will also be heard in the House Curriculum, Testing & Innovation Subcommittee on Tuesday at 12:00 p.m.
Senate Bill 1593 (HB 1589):  This bill enacts the "Tennessee Anti-Lunch Shaming Act" and prohibits a school from taking action against a student who can't pay for a meal or who has an outstanding meal debt. 
Note: This bill will also be heard in the House Finance, Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. 
Senate Bill 2415 (HB 2790): Another good piece of legislation, this would enact the "Truth in Teacher Pay Act."
Note: This bill will also be heard in the House K-12 Subcommittee on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
House Government Operations Committee, 2:00 p.m., House Hearing Room I

House Bill 2725 (SB 2738): This is a bad bill that would eliminate the human rights commission with no wind-down period. 

House Bill 2708 (SB 2520):  A good bill that we are actively supporting, this would enact the "Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act." 
Note: This bill will be heard on the Senate floor on Monday at 4:30 p.m.
House Consumer & Human Resources Committee, 2:30 p.m., House Hearing Room II

House Bill 273 (SB 461):  As we have noted in previous updates since last session, this good bill would   enact the "Save Tennessee Call Center Jobs Act of 2019," the main goal of which is to stop companies from sending jobs overseas and keeping good-paying jobs in Tennessee.  
Note: This bill will also be heard in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.
 
House Bill 2719 (SB 2462): Another good piece of legislation, this bill would encourage employers to give their employees who are veterans an unpaid day off on Veterans Day. 
Note: This bill will also be heard in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.
 
House Bill 1862 (SB 1796): This piece of legislation allows marketplace contractors to keep their tips and prohibits marketplace platforms from taking them. 
 
House Bill 2545 (SB 2641): This good bill prohibits all public employers and private employers with 50 or more employees from making decisions concerning an applicant or current employee based on his or her wage or salary history. 
Note: This bill will also be heard in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.  
Tuesday, March 17th
Senate State & Local Government Committee, 10:30 a.m., Senate Hearing Room I
Senate Bill 2730 (HB 1929): This is a bad bill that prohibits the governor from making any decisions related to refugee resettlement without permission from the Tennessee General Assembly. 
Note: This bill will also be heard in the House Departments & Agencies Subcommittee at 12:00 p.m.
Senate Bill 2696 (HB 2778): An absurd piece of legislation that previously passed but was ultimately vetoed by former Governor Bill Haslam, this would name the Holy Bible as the official state book. 
Senate Bill 741 (HB 1207):  This legislation authorizes state agencies to provide child care services for state employees.
Note: This bill will also be heard in the House Public Service & Employees Subcommittee on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.
Senate Bill 2832 (HB 2435):  This good piece of legislation seeks to remove requirements that went into place last year that, among other things, encouraged  voter suppression and penalized voter registration groups if deficient forms were submitted. 
Senate Bill 2299 (HB 2364): This is a caption bill that seeks to penalize anyone who intends to deceive or distribute incorrect information regarding a person's voter registration status, qualifications to vote, etc. Because an actual intent to deceive can be difficult to prove, this is a bad piece of legislation.

House State Committee, 10:30 a.m., House Hearing Room I

House Bill 1707 (SB 2739):  This piece of legislation would allow the state to seek an injunction against someone who commits harassment against a state employee.
House Bill 1801 (SB 1752): This bill seeks to make state correctional officers (who are members of the state retirement system) eligible for service retirement after 25 years of creditable service. 
House Bill 2429 (SB 2514):  This good piece of legislation requires governmental bodies to give members of the Tennessee General Assembly two weeks' notice if their district includes all or part of a county in which a meeting is being held. 
House Bill 2523 (SB 2408): According to this bill, public money could not be used to pay a claim or action related to an incident of sexual harassment in which a public official is found guilty or responsible.  
House Departments & Agencies Subcommittee, 12:00 p.m., House Hearing Room II
House Bill 1578 (SB 1567): Another terrible piece of legislation, this would allow Tennessee to refuse to accept refugees for resettlement. 
Senate Commerce & Labor Committee, 1:00 p.m., Senate Hearing Room I
Senate Bill 1721 (HB 1588): A good bill that we see filed nearly every year, this would enact the "Tennessee Pay Equality Act."
Note: Several good bills are on this committee's calendar, including ones that would increase the minimum wage, encourage employers to pay their employees a living wage, and increase family and medical leave insurance benefits for state employees. Disappointingly (but unfortunately not surprisingly), their House counterparts all failed in committee so there is no way that they can become law.
Wednesday, March 18th
House Education Committee, 8:00 a.m., House Hearing Room I
House Bill 2460 (SB 1982):  According to this legislation, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development would be required to establish a three-year pilot program to help adults over the age of 19 earn their high school diploma.