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GOP-Backed ‘Wage Protection Act’ Heads to Haslam’s Desk

Unlike the testy exchanges on the House floor, the Tennessee Wage Protection Act’s passage in the upper chamber, 25-6-1, was met with only an explanation and a lone voice of opposition.

Brian KelseyBrian Kelsey

Sen. Brian Kelsey, sponsor of SB35, moved Thursday to conform and substitute his bill with HB501, which passed the House 66-27-1 earlier this month.

“House Bill 501 will ensure that commerce can work cleanly and efficiently in Tennessee by making sure that our wage and benefit restrictions are made at the state level,” the Republican from Germantown said.

Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, rose in opposition: “This is another one of our preemption bills. I would just point out to the Senate that if you think a community is smart enough to decide whether they should have wine in grocery stores, then I think you ought to be able to think that they’re smart enough on how to set their wage and contracts.”

Every Democrat in the Senate voted against the bill while every Republican, except one, voted in favor of it. Republican Rep. Steven Dickerson of Nashville cast his vote as present, not voting.

Passage by the Senate moves the legislation one step closer to ending a four-year battle to prohibit local governments from setting wages, family leave and insurance benefits that private businesses must offer employees. It also blocks local regulations that address wage theft.

Having passed both chambers, the legislation now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk, where there is no certainty that he will sign it.

“I’m not a fan of the living wage,” Haslam has said. But local “governments should be able to decide for themselves if they want to do that.”

The House sponsor of the legislation, GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin, told TNReport earlier this month he’s confident the governor will sign the bill.

If the bill becomes law it’ll nullify bills passed in Nashville and Shelby County that require businesses that contract with those governments to offer a certain level of wages and benefits to employees.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667. 

House Limits Local Authority on Wage-Setting Mandates

Despite a rather testy exchange between the two parties’ caucus chairs about the “Tennessee Wage Protection Act” on the House floor Thursday, the bill passed 66-27-1 and heads for the Senate committee process beginning next week.

The chamber’s approval moves House Bill 501 one stop closer to ending a four-year battle to prohibit cities and counties from setting wages, family leave and insurance benefits that private businesses must offer employees as a condition of obtaining local-government contracts or operating in the jurisdiction.

“These are issues best left up to the state and federal governments, not local government,” Republican Caucus Chair Glen Casada said.

If the bill becomes law, it would nullify regulations passed in Nashville and Shelby County requiring businesses contracting with those governments to offer a certain level of wages and benefits to employees.

“Once again we have a piece of legislation that will tie the hands of the local government. You are preventing them from being able to negotiate good contracts,” said Democratic Rep. Larry Miller, whose amendment to exempt his home of Memphis and Shelby County was tabled.

The issue of prevailing wages brought Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner to the floor. He grilled Casada on whether he knew what a prevailing wage was, and a touchy back and forth ensued.

According to the bill, when awarding contracts local governments cannot “require a prevailing wage be paid in excess of the wages established by the prevailing wage commission for state highway construction projects in accordance with title (state law) or the Tennessee occupational wages prepared annually by the department of labor and workforce development, employment security division, labor market information for state building projects.”

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, of Memphis, questioned the differences in the costs of living in Shelby County and Crockett County, population 14,500, and suggested the local officials there know what’s best for their workers.

Casada fired back: “If a local government, and I’m not going to use any names, mandates 30 bucks an hour for a construction job, that drives up the cost of that construction, and it causes that entity go further in debt. In turn, that causes taxes to go up on the taxpayers of that community. This bill is an attempt to stop that.”

Parkinson complained of the hypocrisy he perceives in the Republican-run Legislature dictating mandates on local governments when often GOP lawmakers criticize federal intervention in state affairs.

“When the federal government puts things on us that take away personal freedom or economic freedom, that’s wrong,” Casada replied. “When local government does the same invasion on local folks, it’s up to us to protect the citizens of the state.”

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick got in the last word before the vote. Decisions made by local governments reach beyond their jurisdictional boundaries, he said.

“Big cities affect the whole state. They don’t just affect their city limits,” the fifth-term Republican from Hixson said. “They are economic generators for the surrounding counties. That alone is reason enough not to let them set up some little people’s republic in some city in the state of Tennessee.”

The vote went mostly along partisan lines. Republicans siding with Democrats against the bill included Mark Pody of Lebanon and David Alexander of Winchester. Joining them was Kent Williams, an independent. Charles Curtiss of Sparta was the only Democrat to vote in favor of HB501.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667. 

Ban on Local ‘Living Wage’ Regs Bound for House Floor

Towns and cities would be barred from dictating the wages or benefits paid by private businesses under a bill set for a House vote next Thursday.

The move is the latest in a four-year battle to block so-called living wage bills at the local level. If passed, the bill would nullify bills passed in Nashville and Shelby County that require businesses that contract with those governments to offer a certain level of wages and benefits to employees.

Sponsored by Rep. Glen Casada, House Bill 501 would prohibit local governments from setting wages, family leave and insurance benefits that private businesses must offer employees. It also blocks local regulations that address wage theft.

On Tuesday the bill passed the House Local Government Committee 11-5 along party lines, with Republicans joining Casada while Democrats voted against.

“The most important person here is the taxpayer,” the Franklin representative said. “When a project costs more than it should, the taxpayer pays that. So this is a pro-taxpayer bill.”

Even if the legislation passes, there is no certainty that Gov. Bill Haslam will sign it.

“I’m not a fan of the living wage,” Haslam told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press in 2011. But local “governments should be able to decide for themselves if they want to do that.”

During the committee meeting, Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, questioned why local governments should be prohibited from requiring private companies to pay people “a living wage” if the company wants to do business with that government.

“You know in Davidson County, it’s harder to live. It’s more expensive,” Stewart said. “If the Davidson County legislators or council wants to say, for our contracts, we’re going to require that people be paid a living wage, why shouldn’t Davidson County people be able to control their own contracts?”

Casada replied that the problem is when a city dictates to a private business that operates statewide what that business must pay its employees.

“That’s not good public policy,” he said. “It drives up the cost of doing business, which is a burden to the taxpayers of Tennessee.”

This is not the first time this type of legislation has come before the General Assembly. Attempts by Casada and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, to prohibit local governments from establishing living wage laws date back to 2009.

The bill goes to Calendar & Rules to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. The companion bill in the Senate, SB35, by Kelsey, has been referred to the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter at @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.