Business leaders, Christian conservatives and Republican lawmakers are actively working to defeat a Metro Council bill that would require companies that contract with the city to adopt nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The filing of the bill, first reported by The City Paper, followed the controversial dismissal of Belmont University’s dismissal women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe in December.
About 40 business leaders and other conservatives attended a Wednesday morning meeting organized at the downtown LifeWay building to discuss a bill sponsored by council members Jamie Hollin and Mike Jameson that would apply Metro’s current nondiscrimination policy to third-party vendors that do business with the city.
The Christian group Family Action Council of Tennessee organized the meeting. A reporter from The City Paper was not granted access to attend the gathering, and was asked to wait in the lobby.
David Fowler, who heads the Family Action Council of Tennessee, voiced concern when contacted.
"When local government start creating additional regulations for business, you can wind up with a hodgepodge of laws that begin to impede the free flow of intra state commerce," said Fowler, a former state senator from Hamilton County.
Among those in attendance were Republicans lawmakers state Rep. Glen Casada and Jim Gotto, who currently serves a dual role as Metro councilman and state representative.
“I have concerns how this [bill] will affect the business community and the ability to attract new businesses and increase the opportunities in Davidson County,” Gotto told The City Paper as he left the meeting, adding that it could have a “chilling effect.”
The ordinance is up for the first of three votes on Jan. 18. It appears the strategy to defeat the bill will be to have it pulled for a rare vote on first reading next week. Normally, all bills are passed on the first of three votes under council procedures.
“I feel certain that someone would pull the bill on first reading,” Gotto said. “If somebody doesn’t, then I more than likely will. I think this [bill] is a serious, serious problem for us from a business community standpoint in Davidson County.”
Business leaders in attendance on Wednesday included Stan Hardaway of Hardaway Construction and Lee Beaman of Beaman Automotive.
Attendees declined to respond to questions from The City Paper as they left.
Mayor Karl Dean has not revealed his stance on the bill, but in a recent interview with The City Paper he indicated reluctance to regulate the private sector.
Contacted for his response, Jameson said he would “ask Councilman Gotto to remember the impassioned speeches he himself has given on the floor about the perils of voting on legislation on first reading before there’s been any analysis.
“I would also ask him if he would have the courtesy to call just one of the sponsors to discuss any concerns he may have with the legislation,” Jameson continued. “But to date, he has not seen fit to do so.”
Hollin, who like Jameson represents parts of East Nashville, said it was “not unexpected” to learn the bill could be pulled separately on first reading. He also suggested Wednesday’s meeting was premature.
“The meeting they had this morning was a little bit in advance of the legislation,” Hollin said. “They haven’t even read it. They’ve only read press accounts.
“It’s current policy for our contractors to sign an affidavit stating that they did not discriminate on the basis of race, age and disability,” he said. “What harm would it be in adding four other terms — sexual orientation and gender identity?"