Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law Monday that prevents local governments from exceeding state level anti-discrimination protections. The Legislature passed the bill earlier this month in what appeared to be a direct response to a Nashville-Davidson County metropolitan government ordinance passed earlier this year that stipulated companies wanting to do business with the city must not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.
According to The Tennessean, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce had supported the bill as a means to ensure uniformity within local government laws but has since rethought its position when it became clear that, with this move, the Legislature was responding to a local LGBT rights measure, released a statement against the bill, saying:
“The Tennessee Chamber supports a standard regulatory environment at the state level as opposed to potentially conflicting local regulations covering employment practices. 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.”
The Chamber received some criticism when it appeared to support the bill despite these concerns, with FedEx explicitly saying that while it is a member of the Chamber, it does not support all of the Chamber’s positions. Read more statements against the bill from high profiled businesses here.
Categorizing the governor’s actions as “an apparent attempt to score cheap political points” LGBT rights group the Human Rights Campaign released the following statement against the bill on its website:
“Discrimination should have no place in the Volunteer State and the Chamber’s opposition to this law sent a strong signal that corporations are on the leading edge of positive change,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “In contrast Governor Haslam has put discrimination ahead of the state’s values and even business interests by signing this horrible legislation.”
Earlier today, the governor’s spokesman stated no decision had been made regarding the veto. It wasn’t until support for the bill apparently began to dwindle that he hastily signed the bill into law.
Major corporations spoke out against the bill and in favor of workplaces that respect and welcome all individuals. Since the bill passed late last week, Aloca, FedEx, AT&T, KPMG, UnitedHealth Group, Whirlpool, Comcast and other companies publicly disavowed the bill.
For LGBT rights groups this is a rather troubling development, not just for the loss of Nashville’s gay-rights inclusive ordinance but what it may mean for another bill — Sen. Stacey Campbell’s now infamous “Don’t Say Gay” in schools bill — that currently awaits action in the House.
While the bill may not receive any play until 2012, LGBT rights groups will no doubt feel concern that, despite the Tennessee Board of Education saying the bill is not needed given the current “traditional” family-orientated curriculum, and fears that the bill could hamper anti-bullying efforts, Governor Bill Haslam will pass the legislation regardless. You can read more on the bill here.