NASHVILLE — A new California law that took effect Jan. 1 bars state-funded travel to Tennessee and three other states for enacting statutes that critics charge discriminate against members of the LGBT community.
Golden State lawmakers last year passed the law in response to actions taken by Republican lawmakers in Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas on issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, according to The Advocate, a national publication covering LGBT issues.
Tennessee lawmakers passed and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law last year a statute that supercedes the American Counseling Association's professional code of ethics, which required state-licensed counselors and therapists to treat members of the LGBT community regardless of the provider's personal beliefs.
The Volunteer State's law now allows counselors and therapists to reject clients whose goals are at odds with the professionals' "sincerely held beliefs."
Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, was astonished when informed about California's ban on state-sponsored travel to Tennessee.
"That's state law? Really?" asked Bell, who is chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee. "If states want to get in a shooting match over what they find 'morally reprehensible' about another state, maybe we should find something we don't like about California and pass a similar [travel ban] law here. Maybe there's something out there. Maybe I need to look for something."
North Carolina Republicans enacted a law preventing transgender people from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity, triggering a boycott and prompting at least two national companies to cancel expansion plans.
Similar legislation was progressing in Tennessee but was pulled at the last minute in last year's legislative session by the House sponsor, at least in part due to concerns voiced by Haslam, who said it was best resolved by local school systems.
Bell, the Senate sponsor of the "bathroom bill," said he doesn't anticipate reintroducing it in the legislative session that begins today in Nashville.
"I'm hoping that with changes at the federal level, with President-elect Trump taking office, that a lot of these issues are going to kind of fade away," Bell said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, who sponsored Tennessee's controversial counselor law, has introduced a new bill that follows up on it.
It would bar the state Board for Professional Counselors, Marital and Family Therapists, and Clinical Pastoral Therapists from adopting "any rule that incorporates by reference a national association's code of ethics, including, but not limited to, the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics."
Such codes should be developed at the state level, he argues. But his proposal is already getting pushback.
"This would negatively impact counselors in our state," Lisa Henderson, president-elect of the Tennessee Counseling Association, told the Nashville Scene. "I feel that it's a slippery slope — I feel that once you start picking and choosing which regulations you follow, it starts to get troublesome."
For his part, Bell — whose committee is responsible for examining, agreeing to or making recommendations about many state regulations, including professional organizations' codes incorporated into Tennessee — said the counselor code of ethics is one of several that had never been reviewed.
He said he plans to find out what additional professional codes incorporated into state law now are excluded from his committee's oversight and have legislation to bring them under the state's Uniform Administrative Procedures Act.
"It's going to be a global bill," Bell said, noting most, including the Tennessee Medical Association for physicians, are already under the act. "It's going to say no association will adopt a code of ethics [incorporated in state law] unless it comes through the [act's] review process."
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.