Skip to main content

Wrapping Up the Second Special Session

Alyssa Hansen
Social share icons
In the midst of dealing with a pandemic, an economic crisis, and the continued fight for racial justice, we didn't think that it was possible for Tennessee lawmakers to pass any bills that could do more damage than the ones that have already become law this year. We were wrong. In the span of just over 48 hours, the Republican supermajority made it a felony to camp on state property, gave businesses broad liability protections from COVID-related lawsuits, and put their absolute disregard and borderline hatred for Tennessee's working families on full display for the entire country to see. As President Billy Dycus noted in our announcement of endorsed candidates for the November 3rd General Election yesterday, it has become abundantly clear over the last several years that Tennesseans are in desperate need of new leadership at the Capitol. We need to elect legislators who will advocate for policies that help working families, not ones who seek to silence our voices. While the bad bills grabbed headlines this week, we would be remiss if we did not highlight the good pieces of legislation that were introduced by labor-friendly lawmakers who understand how much countless Tennesseans are struggling right now. Among them were measures that would have prohibited officials from blocking citizens' First Amendment right to peacefully protest on state property and a bill that would have classified COVID-19 as an "occupational disease," giving essential workers an avenue for obtaining at least some coverage if they contract the virus on the job. Unsurprisingly, both bills failed and a few others were not even heard, but we appreciate the efforts of the sponsors (Representatives Beck, Dixie, and Parkinson and Senators Gilmore and Yarbro) to speak up for working families in Tennessee and thank all legislators who voted against the harmful bills that were pushed.   With a seemingly endless number of bad bills being filed during each legislative session and the good ones rarely even having a shot at being heard in committee, the only way to change what happens in the General Assembly is to change who we send there. By slowing chipping away at the Republican supermajority, we will start to slowly change the kind of legislation that is introduced and passed each year. A good place to start? Electing labor-friendly candidates! Just yesterday, our Executive Board and COPE Committee met to endorse an impressive list of candidates who we believe will best represent the interests of working families, both in Nashville and Washington.  If you're ready for change, there's no time like the present! Our Central Labor Councils have been laying the groundwork to ensure that union members get involved during this election cycle so that we have the best possible chance at electing labor champions to office. Don't delay-reach out to your local CLC or our office today to learn more about how you can get involved and play an important role in increasing the power and influence of working families!

What Happened to the Headline-Grabbing Bills? 
-House Bill 8001 (Passed the House 80-10-1, Passed the Senate 27-4): Without the guise of a caption bill to hide its true intentions, this piece of legislation is known as the "Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act." Despite the name change from earlier this summer, the goal of bill remains the same: to extend broad COVID-19 liability protections to businesses and other groups. 

According to the legislation, a plaintiff would have to prove beyond a doubt where the virus was contracted and that it was due to negligence on the part of an employer or business, which is next to impossible. While this legislation is still retroactive, it does not go back to March. Instead, this bill applies to lawsuits filed before August 3rd. What the original legislation filed in June didn't do at all (and neither does this bill) was protect front line workers or those in industries with a higher likelihood of contracting COVID (restaurant workers, etc.) from employers who might be forcing them to return to work, even if they did not feel it was safe to do so. 

-House Bill 8005 (Passed the House 71-20, Passed the Senate 26-5): Arguably one of the most hateful, mean-spirited pieces of legislation ever filed, this bill targeted the peaceful protesters who have been camping out in front of the Capitol. Under this piece of legislation, it is now a felony to camp on state property and carries a minimum penalty of 30 days in jail.  

Just like earlier this year, House Majority Leader William Lamberth led the charge on this legislation.  While this bill is specifically targeted at the Black Lives Matter protesters, it will likely impact all Tennesseans' right to peacefully assemble, which is protected by the First Amendment.