Republican bill undercuts companies paying higher wages, more benefits and fostering inclusive workplaces

Republican members of the General Assembly struggled vocally to comprehend legislation that legally undermines companies paying higher wages, offering better benefits and fostering more inclusive workplaces than business peers.

House Bill 0563, sponsored by Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, District 14, eliminates “internal business policies” as factors that can be considered by local governments seeking to work with a private company on public projects.

Under the legislation, so long as a company is compliant with state and federal law, business owners—who pay less, offer fewer benefits and openly discriminate—will have legal standing to challenge local government contracts and dealings with companies that employ internal policies that go beyond what law requires.

Elizabeth Gedmark, an attorney and director for A Better Balance, testified to members of the House Commerce Committee that HB0563 was another intrusion on decision making typically done by local governments; this time to benefit companies that do the bare minimum for their employees.

Local governments have long scored companies seeking government contracts and incentives based on a variety of factors, including internal business practices.

For example, a local government in Tennessee might have an interest in encouraging fairness, equality and economic inclusion through its procurement practices. To achieve those goals, that government could adopt policies to give preference to companies with internal business practices aligned with those values.

But this bill appears to block government preference for companies based on “internal business policies.” The internal business policies specifically outlined in the bill are:

  • Health insurance policies and the coverage
  • Family leave policies
  • Minimum wage policies
  • Anti-discrimination policies.

As Gedmark said in her testimony, there’s a significant difference between internal policies following state and federal law and businesses going beyond the law. For instance:

  • Health insurance; companies are not required by federal law to provide health insurance to employees — though larger companies may face a fine for not doing so.
  • Family leave policies; the U.S. Family Leave & Medical Act provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. Some pro-family companies choose to pay their employees during qualified FMLA leave.
  • Minimum wage; the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. The companies most local governments are trying to attract would pay significantly higher salaries.
  • Anti-discrimination policies; federal laws provide protection from discrimination for many people. One notable exclusion from federal protection is “sexual preference.” Internally, many companies have included non-discrimination policies based on sexual preference and gender identity.

How they voted:
House Commerce Committee, March 5; voting aye were: 13
Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon, District 46
Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, District 32
Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, District 70
Rep. Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, District 72
Rep. Patsy Hazelwood, R-Signal Mountain, District 27
Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, District 3
Rep. John Holsclaw, Jr., R-Elizabethton, District 4
Rep. Chris Hurt, R-Halls, District 82
Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, District 68
Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, District 62
Rep. Jerome Moon, R-Maryville, District 8
Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, District 36
Rep. Dave Wright, R-Corryton, District 19

Representatives voting no were:
Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, District 87
Rep. Jesse Chism, D-Memphis, District 85
Rep. Yusef Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, District 28
Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, District 53
Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville, District 15