Apr 25 2011

Home Rule, Schmome Rule

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

This bill prohibits any local government from imposing on any person an anti-discrimination practice, standard, definition or provision that varies in any manner from the definition of “discriminatory practices” under present law or other types of discrimination recognized by state law but only to the extent recognized by the state. Under present law, “discriminatory practices” means any direct or indirect act or practice of exclusion, distinction, restriction, segregation, limitation, refusal, denial, or any other act or practice of differentiation or preference in the treatment of a person or persons because of race, creed, color, religion, sex, age or national origin. (Summary for HB0600)

This afternoon, it is highly likely that the Tennessee House of Representatives will take away a County or Municipality’s right to include anti-discrimination protections in their contracts with third parties.

Dubbed the “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act”, the bill actually prohibits a local government from including additional protection for groups who may experience some kind of discrimination that are not currently included in the protected classes stated above.

In short, it’s the Equal Access to Discriminate Act”, and nothing else.

Why is this something the Tennessee General Assembly is spending their time on? That’s a good question considering all the challenges facing the state, but in reality, this is a knee jerk reaction to the passage of Nashville Metro’s CAN DO ordinance.

What’s this really all about? In reality is about a couple of homophobic legislators that just can’t stand the idea of having one more class of people they can’t discriminate against, and that’s it.

See, Rep. Casada, the sponsor of the bill, also introduced HB0598 a bill that would end living wage provisions that several local government have enacted, as well as any discrimination provisions. That bill has been sent to summer study. Apparently the General Assembly isn’t sure they can beat up the working poor and members of the LGBT community in one fell swoop.

What’s more, according to an opinion by State Attorney General Robert Cooper this is all above board and there’s nothing local governments can do about it. So while communities all across Tennessee sought Home Rule Charters after the 1953 adoption of Article XI Sec. 9 of the Tennessee Constitution, this bill, which is a “general law” in the most liberal interpretation of the word, can overrule Nashville, Shelby County, or any other government that exists at the pleasure of the state government.

But the reality is, while this bill is posing as a general bill, it is targeted squarely at Nashville’s CAN DO ordinance. While the ordinance passed on April 5th, both HB0598 and HB 600 were introduced in reaction to the proposed ordinance in January. So while the language of the bill may be general in nature, the intent is clearly targeted.

This isn’t the first time this group of legislators has sought to override local governments. In fact, it’s become quite a habit for these folks. As Tom Humphrey notes, counting as many as five measures that would effectively override local government (h/t Silence).

While I’m in no position to question the legislature’s ability to pursue these measures, one has to wonder, to what end? Where does it stop, and how much longer will people stand by while a state legislature runs amok tossing local community standards aside for their own personal political preferences?

I would say they should be ashamed, but I’ve become painfully aware that they have no shame. As a quick cross-reference of their donor lists and their bill sponsor list clearly shows.

Good thing that State Ethics Commission still doesn’t have a quorum.