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Business and Economy NewsTracker

Haslam Will Sign Ban on Local Wage-and-Benefits Mandates

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that he plans to put his signature on the “Tennessee Wage Protection Act,” a piece of legislation that would stop municipalities from setting their own minimum and prevailing wage requirements on businesses.

The issue posed a bit of an ideological conundrum for the Republican governor by forcing him to choose between preserving local control and pushing a business-friendly agenda. Haslam said trying to maintaining a consistent, hospitable business climate across Tennessee took precedence in this instance.

“I do intend to sign that,” Haslam said of the measure. “It’s a very fine line for me. I think the argument of the bill sponsor was that there’s implications beyond just that municipality that should be taken into consideration, like I said, and in this case I do intend to sign it.”

House Bill 501, carried by GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, is primarily aimed at Nashville and Shelby County, both of which have stricter rules than the state regarding wages, family leave and insurance benefits for companies that operate in those jurisdictions or pursue local government contracts.

During floor debate on the bill last month, Casada argued that making companies in certain municipalities pay their workers higher wages for things like road construction would drive up the cost of similar work statewide. While local control remains a popular theme amongst Republicans in the General Assembly, the Franklin lawmaker said that, in this case, “these are issues best left up to the state and federal governments, not local government.”

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Press Releases

House Dems Accuse GOP of Pushing ‘Anti-Local, Anti-Worker’ Legislation

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; March 14, 2013:

Republicans ram through anti-local, anti-worker legislation in race to the bottom for working families

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Republicans rammed through legislation this morning that is designed to help wealthy special interests by taking money out of the pockets of working families and eliminating the ability of local elected officials to negotiate local contracts.

“It is absolutely shameful the way Republicans are shutting down debate and shutting out the voice of working men and women in this state,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “These are important issues that will have a dramatic impact on local governments for years to come, and we shouldn’t rush it through just because the majority doesn’t like criticism.”

During the debate, Chairman Casada repeatedly complained about not wanting to debate the merits of setting a local prevailing wage, instead wanting to talk solely about how limiting local control of wage and benefit standards will promote his vision of ‘economic freedom’, and his contention that local government is the problem that Republicans are trying to address. Despite numerous representatives having requested the ability to speak on the bill, House Republicans called the question, cut off all debate, and took a vote early.

“Chairman Casada is acting like nothing more than a thief in the night, trying to steal food from the mouths of working people in order to give it back to wealthy special interests,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “The level of contempt that this Republican majority has for local governments and working people is simply disgusting.”

HB501 by Chairman Casada strips the authority of local governments to protect against wage theft, and ensure construction workers and contract employees have livable wages and benefits. This legislation is a prelude to HB850 by Rep. Marsh which will weaken state prevailing wage rates and lower standards in government contracts.

Shelby County is currently the only local government that sets a prevailing wage and benefits standard. Rep. Larry Miller sought to exempt Shelby County from this legislation in order to maintain the current standards, however Republicans tabled that amendment.

“We have a situation in Memphis where out-of-state businesses often bid on contracts worth millions of dollars in local taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers in our city have chosen to use that opportunity to ensure that local residents earn a decent living before these out-of-state contractors take profits out of the state,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis). “How can we say that it is a good thing for residents of Memphis and Shelby County to have a lower standard of living so that big contractors can take more of their tax dollars out of state?”