NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Senate voted 25-3 Monday night for a resolution chastising the state of California over imposing a ban on state-funded travel to Tennessee and three other states over enactment of various laws criticized by some as being anti-LGBT.
While the amended version of Sen. Mike Bell's resolution dropped language calling for Tennessee leaders to implement a reciprocal ban, the Riceville Republican's measure continued to draw fire from several Democratic senators.
Bell, who originally contemplated introducing a bill retaliating against California's "liberal" policies with Tennessee's own travel ban, changed directions, opting for the resolution. It calls to other states' attention California's moves against Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas over enacting laws Golden State lawmakers saw as discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
Tennessee's law, passed in 2016, allows therapists and counselors to reject clients based on the professionals' "sincerely held beliefs." A national counselors group charged it would allow discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Bell's resolution still takes swipes at California, accusing officials of trying to "blackmail" Tennessee and the other states, warning it could lead to an "economic civil war." It also lashes out at California over what it calls its "exorbitant taxes, spiraling budget deficits, runaway social welfare programs, and rampant illegal immigration."
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville characterized it as a "nastygram" and "not exactly the most healthy way to proceed."
Bell defended the language, saying it was intended to discourage states from taking shots at one another.
In other Senate action on Monday:
* The Senate voted unanimously Monday to approve Sen. Bo Watson's Provider Stability Act, which puts into place new restrictions on Tennessee insurers in contracts with doctors and other providers.
Watson, R-Hixson, has worked on the legislation for four years now. He saw it fail last year on the House floor after a House/Senate conference committee generated a report to resolve differences.
This year, Watson had insurers including Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee agreeing to a modified version of the bill. Among other provisions, the bill requires insurers to provide advance notices on rules and changes to reimbursements.
It limits fee schedule changes to no more than one every 12 months.
"You've heard about it for four years now," Watson said as he began discussing the legislation prior to the vote.
* Senators voted 23-3 for a bill, sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, authorizing the Chattanooga Theatre Center to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on its premises. Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, has the companion bill before the House State Government Committee on Tuesday.
* Senators proposed an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would require the popular election of the state attorney general. The state's top attorney is now appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Republican Sen. Mae Beavers' Senate Joint Resolution 57 now shortens the term of the position to four years and limits popularly elected state attorneys general to no more than two four-year terms in office.
The amendment itself was only read on the floor. It will later be read a second time with a vote coming only on the third reading. It must also pass the House. It will have to repeat the process in 2019 or 2020 during the 111th General Assembly before it can go before voters on the 2022 ballot, where there is a governor's election.
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