The Tennessee House of Representatives voted to pass legislation prohibiting affirmative action in state government hiring Monday by a tally of 70-23, largely along partisan lines.
House Bill 1198 would prevent preference from being “granted to any applicant for a position in state government based solely on the applicant’s race, sex, or ethnicity.” The Senate version, SB114, passed on the upper-chamber floor last week, 25-4-1.
While the language of the bill appears intended to expressly weed out any efforts to give special consideration to particular groups or classes, both supporters and opponents of the legislation managed to avoid mentioning the term “affirmative action,” only indirectly touching on the politically sensitive topic.
In introducing the bill, sponsor John Regan argued that the intent behind it was to make state law more closely mirror a 50-year-old federal ban on racial discrimination.
“This bill, as amended, makes it clear that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is to be observed in Tennessee code so that there is to be no preference shown on the base of a candidate’s race, sex, or ethnicity,” said the Oak Ridge Republican.
But Joe Armstrong, a Knoxville Democrat who opposed the measure, questioned Regan’s logic regarding the need to double up federal statute.
“If it didn’t mean anything, why are we doing it?,” Armstrong asked.
Speaking to TNReport later, Armstrong worried that such legislation might tarnish the state’s image and have unintended economic consequences. “We’re trying to draw businesses to Tennessee to create jobs, and when they look at propaganda such as that, they’ll say ‘wait a minute, that state is backwards, why do we want to go there?’ We’re trying to get jobs and opportunity for people, but when we keep consistently sending out messages like that, we become the laughing stock of the country.”
But not all democrats agreed. Barbara Cooper of Memphis, Charles Curtiss of Sparta, Johnny Shaw of Bolivar, John Tidwell of New Johnsonville, and John Mark Windle of Livingston joined Republicans in voting for the bill.
Having passed the Senate floor last week, the legislation now heads to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk for approval.