LGBTQ Public Policy: Preemption or preventing equal rights in cities and counties

One important public policy issue affecting LGBTQ people in Tennessee is preemption.  Preemption is this context means the State of Tennessee preventing cities and counties in Tennessee from going beyond state standards.

A Nashville example that affects the whole state: In 2011 the Metro Nashville Council passed an ordinance that said its contractors and vendors could not discriminate against their employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That same year the Tennessee General Assembly passed a law (HB600) that prevented local governments in Tennessee (cities, counties, public school districts) from applying non-discrimination standards to the private sector that exceed state non-discrimination standards. 

In other words, if the state non-discrimination standards don't include sexual orientation and gender identity, then neither can the local rules.  Note:  Local governments CAN forbid discrimination against their own employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  But they can't require their contractors--private entities getting public money--from the doing the same.

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County contracts with dozens of companies that employ thousands of people every year.  If the state law didn't exist, many LGBTQ employees of those firms would have inclusive non-discrimination protections.  And that's important in a state that generally lacks them.

But remember that even though Metro Nashville is the only city or county that has passed a contractor ordinance, the state law prevents ALL cities and counties from having a contractor ordinance.  So the the 2011 state law affects LGBTQ people in East, West, and Middle Tennessee.

Metro Nashville Council Member Anthony Davis explained why this is a bad idea a few years ago in testimony before a State Senate Committee in this video:

The 2011 state law has been challenged unsuccessfully in court, but new challenges may arise.  Overturning the state law with legislative action would require substantial organization throughout Tennessee.

One thing we can do immediately as the new legislative session begins in January is continue to work against the Business License to Discriminate bill.  That bill prevents state agencies and local governments from looking at the internal policies of private entities when awarding contracts.  It could affect everything from health insurance for married same-sex couples to birth control.

TEP will keep you posted if this bill moves in the new year.

Are you registered to vote? You can register online at this link.

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