Governor Bill Haslam signed into law the Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act on Monday, reversing an ordinance passed by the Nashville/Davidson County Metro Council on April 5 of this year requiring contractors with the city to agree to follow the government’s rules barring discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgendered people.
The Haslam administration recently completed their first legislative session in the governor’s first term. A former mayor of Knoxville, Tenn., and executive with Pilot Oil Corporation, his family’s business, Haslam initially expressed concerns about telling local governments what to do.
In a statement issued by Haslam’s spokesman, David Smith said, “Ultimately, the governor felt the Metro ordinance went farther than federal law in regulating business policies.”
The Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide coalition of groups and individuals who advocate for gay, lesbian and transgender issues, supported the Metro ordinance and lobbied against the state law.
“We are disappointed the majority of the legislature and Gov. Haslam have given their assent to this repressive law. It encourages discrimination, restricts the power of every city and county to determine how to use its own tax dollars in government contracting and nullifies a Metro non-discrimination ordinance that was backed by over 70 Nashville congregations, businesses and community organizations,” the group said.
On the other side of the issue were business groups led by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry. While initially supporting the bill, the business group reversed its position the day the governor signed the bill into law.
“The Tennessee Chamber supports a standard regulatory environment at the state level as opposed to potentially conflicting local regulations covering employment practices,” the executive committee said in a statement to its membership. “That principle was the only interest the Chamber had in this bill. Because [the bill] has turned into a debate on diversity and inclusiveness – principles which we support – we are now officially opposing this legislation in its present form.”
In an apparent attempt to pressure businesses in Tennessee, the TEP made a last minute plea to some of the state’s major employers to encourage the governor to veto the bill that passed both chambers with substantial majorities.
David Fowler, president of Family Action of Tennessee, expressed his frustration with some of the state’s largest employers.
“Ironically those who accuse supporters of this new law of being bullies began a national campaign in recent days to intimidate major businesses like Alcoa, Nissan, KPMG, FedEx and others by demanding they tell the governor to veto the bill. It is unfortunate that Alcoa and KPMG bowed to the pressure, forgetting that the ramifications of government mandated personal policies are far different from the voluntary adoption of personnel policies,” stated Fowler.
Fowler went on to say, “At a time when many families are struggling to find employment, the legislature and the governor have done their part to help them by creating a better climate for job growth by preventing employers from being subjected to more and possibly inconsistent government regulation.”
A legal challenge is expected in the near future.