On February 26, the Tennessee House Business subcommittee voted to advance HB 563, known locally as the “Business License to Discriminate” bill. If passed, this dangerous bill would enshrine taxpayer-funded discrimination into law by prohibiting cities and state agencies from implementing policies that stop taxpayer funds from being used by businesses, organizations and contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ people in employment policies.
HB 563 and its companion bill, SB 364, were pushed last year by Rep. Jason Zachary and former Sen. Mark Green. This year, Zachary is joined by Sen.Todd Gardenhire in the efforts to pass this far-reaching legislation.
Tennessee law does not provide protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. These bills seek to ensure that state and local agencies including universities, counties, and cities can not enforce nondiscrimination policies and requirements that are not explicitly covered under Tennessee law. Further, this legislation would mean that organizations and businesses would face no penalties for discriminating against LGBTQ people in their employment policies.
Under this measure, discriminatory actions like these would be permissible under state law:
- The State of Tennessee would be required to give a grant to an organization operating an emergency shelter even if the shelter refuses to serve LGBTQ people;
- A city would be forced to secure a bond to finance a hospital that does not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples for visitation or medical decision-making.
- The State of Tennessee could choose to contract with a nursing home corporation that lacks a nondiscrimination policy for sexual orientation and gender identity based solely on a preference for non-inclusive care.
- A city would be forced to enter into a cooperative agreement with a homeless shelter even if they refuse to provide services for the elderly.
- The State of Tennessee would be required to enter into a contract with a counseling center that refuses to treat veterans or youth in crisis.
HRC will continue to monitor this bill and other proposed anti-equality legislation and support the local work of our partners at Tennessee Equality Project. These attacks on equality in Tennessee are part of a repeated effort to target LGBTQ Tennesseans year after year.