NASHVILLE — Three state Republican lawmakers from Hamilton County on Tuesday lambasted Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce officials for jumping into the Legislature's controversy over a student transgender bathroom bill while remaining silent on what they called the city's failure to get a grip on a "full-fledged gang war."
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, took to the floor and denounced Chamber officials for getting involved in the transgender bill, which sought to restrict use of public school and college communal restrooms to persons whose biological sex at birth matched the facilities.polls here 3564
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"This weekend we had four people shot in Chattanooga," McCormick said. "One guy got shot while he was cutting his grass in his yard. Cutting his yard. They had to lock down Erlanger hospital because a gang member had been shot or alleged gang member. And they had to shut down the emergency room."
"But," the majority leader charged, "our Chamber of Commerce is writing us letters about the bathroom bill. Now the reason they're not all fired up about the city of Chattanooga's handling of the gang problem is because the city of Chattanooga sends them money and funds their budget. And we don't. Guess what? We ain't gonna."
McCormick, however, also warned the Tennessee business community that "all these companies who tried to blackmail us over this thing, when they come for their corporate welfare checks [economic incentives] next year, we need to have a list out and keep an eye on it."
The transgender student bill was shelved by its sponsor Monday afternoon in the midst of opposition from Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, major corporations outside Tennessee that warned of dire consequences, and the state and national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Chattanooga Chamber officials appear to have jumped onto the issue on Monday with emails to some local lawmakers. McCormick said they also posted their position on their website. But officials never called delegation members to discuss the issue, McCormick said.
Over a four-day period, gang-related shooting sprees in Chattanooga have resulted in one death, the wounding of two pregnant women and the Monday lockdown of Erlanger hospital's emergency room after angry crowds congregated there.
Later Tuesday, Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, also criticized the Chattanooga Chamber's involvement while neglecting to say anything about what he called the failure of Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative to address gang violence.
"And yet in the last week we have probably had seven to 10 individuals shot within the city of Chattanooga," Watson said. "Let that sink in a minute. They often talk in the press about how we waste time in the General Assembly on issues that may not be important to everyone.
"Our Chamber has certainly taken that position on this piece of legislation," Watson said of the transgender bathroom bill. "And yet — they are silent on the violence occurring in Chattanooga. They speak out against a piece of legislation here.
"But," Watson charged, "they say nothing about a failed local program, the Violence Reduction Initiative, that has done nothing to stem the violence in Chattanooga."
Neither Chattanooga Chamber officials nor Berke's office would comment Tuesday on the lawmakers' charges.
Watson said if the Chamber is "so concerned this piece of legislation [bathroom bill] would have a detrimental effect on business, what do they think that violence in our community does? What do they think about lack of safety to our citizens does?"
While noting Chamber officials are within their rights to criticize legislation at the state Capitol "on any issue. I think they ought to keep their eye on the ball and focus on those things that actually have and make a real difference in our community," Watson said. "And one of those would be public safety."
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, spoke as well, telling Senate colleagues the Chamber Chamber officials haven't said "anything about the violence."
The LGBT community, which has opposed the bill all along, was joined last week by a national group of major businesses ranging from Alcoa, which has operations in Tennessee, to Hilton, warning passage would affect state business recruitment efforts and conventions.
Chattanooga Chamber officials appear to have gotten involved only on Monday even as the bill, unbeknownst to them, was about to be withdrawn at the state Capitol in Nashville.
In his Monday email to McCormick, David Steele, the Chamber's vice president of policy and education, said the group "formally opposes" the transgender bathroom bill.
"The reasons for our position, ratified by our Board of Directors upon the recommendation of our Public Policy Committee, include the adverse impact that passage of the legislation would have on the economies of our state and region" both from a "business attraction and retention perspective and from a hospitality and tourism standpoint," Steele wrote.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com, 615-255-0550 or follow via twitter at AndySher1.
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