In a long-shot effort, Mayor Karl Dean and Metro Council members are pressing the Republican-dominated state legislature to overturn last year’s nullification of Metro’s nondiscrimination law that protected gay, lesbian and transgender workers.
Council members Anthony Davis, Buddy Baker and Fabian Bedne attended a Tuesday morning Senate State and Local Government Subcommittee meeting to support a Sen. Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) sponsored bill that would overhaul the so-called “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act.”
Kyle’s proposal, which the subcommittee agreed Tuesday to roll one week, would effectively restore a Metro law that required companies that contract with Metro to include sexual orientation and gender identity in its nondiscrimination policies. If approved, other local governments could adopt similar policies.
Metro passed its ordinance last April, but state Republican lawmakers quickly approved legislation that nullified the local law, an effort supported by Gov. Bill Haslam.
“Just as we expect the United States government to respect our judgment, we should respect theirs,” Kyle said.
“We don’t need to be getting into procurement,” Kyle said of the state’s role. “There’s not a good reason to do it. If there’s not a good reason to do it, we shouldn’t be taking it away from local governments.”
Davis, an east Nashville councilman who wasn’t on the council when Metro adopted the nondiscrimination law, handed subcommittee members a March 9 letter signed by Dean, which outlines Metro’s support for Kyle’s bill. In the letter, Dean said Metro’s nondiscrimination ordinance “was an important expression of the fact that Nashville is an open, welcoming place that does not tolerate discrimination.”
Dean said he was “proud to sign it into law.”
“A number of cities throughout our country have passed local ordinances similar to Nashville’s,” Dean wrote. “Such ordinances represent the decisions of local elected government bodies, and I believe they deserve the respect of the state legislature. Now is not the time to abandon our belief in local government.”
Kyle’s bill will face a tough road to passage when it goes back before the subcommittee next week. During 25 minutes of discussion Tuesday, Republicans expressed several concerns.
Sen. Mike Faulk (R-Church Hill) echoed last year’s purported justification for overriding Metro’s nondiscrimination in the first place: to avoid having different procurement regulations in different municipalities across Tennessee.
“I ended up voting for it,” Faulk said of last year’s bill, “based on my understanding of a need for a uniform policy across the state.”
Metro’s nondiscrimination bill, which applied only to third-party vendors, included an exemption for religious institutions.
Nonetheless, conservative Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) suggested approving Kyle’s proposal could force religious institutions into adopting nondiscrimination polices that run counter to their beliefs.
“Possibly, there may be other, let’s just say religious organizations, that do not fall by those standards,” Campfield said.
Davis, the councilman, testified before the subcommittee and explained the city’s support for Metro’s now-nullified nondiscrimination law.
“While some people suggested that our local ordinance would drive business away, the Metro government saw the ordinance as a way of opening the doors wider to the best possible workforce,” Davis said.
“Discrimination is a constraint on labor markets, and that is an important consideration to today’s highly mobile workers who view discrimination as a barrier, not to mention a great injustice,” he said.