NASHVILLE — A Tennessee lawmaker who earlier this week passed a controversial measure that lets faith-based agencies reject LGBT couples wishing to adopt or provide foster care to children has yet a second bill roiling advocacy groups.
They charge Republican Sen. Paul Rose's "Business Protection Act" would create a government-created "license to discriminate" against the LGBT community.
Rose's bill seeks to bar cities and counties from tying local government contracts or taxpayer-funded incentives to companies' employee pay, health and "anti-discrimination policies."
House members passed the bill in 2019 amid an uproar from Democrats in the GOP-controlled chamber.
But it stalled in the upper chamber after sponsor Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said he wouldn't press it, saying he introduced it as a last-minute favor to House Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, and was looking to hand the measure off to someone else.
That evidently turned out to be Rose, R-Covington, who represents part of Shelby County and Tipton County.
Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project said the LGBT-advocacy group considers Rose's bill one of a "Slate of Hate" measures pushed in the General Assembly in recent years.
"We've been opposed to it in every iteration of it," Sanders said. "It's a pre-emption bill, it takes more powers away from local governments essentially around workplace policy, things like nondiscrimination issues."
Sanders said "we think the primary motivator of this is anti-LGBT bias. I think one of the things that Family Action Council of Tennessee is looking at is the issue of LGBT-owned companies being included in Nashville's minority contract program."
Efforts on Friday to reach Rose through his legislative office were unsuccessful, with a staffer saying he was traveling on business.
The Daily Memphian quoted Rose saying that although he agrees with federal laws prohibiting discrimination against certain groups of people, LGBT people are not a protected class under federal law.
"But there are some municipalities that have gone above and beyond, and really what they've said is if you've got a LGBTQ-friendly policy we'll give you preference over another," Rose told the Memphis newsite. "And to me, that goes above what the statute says. And it's just wrong. The next time it could be we're going to discriminate for another reason and put greater restrictions on you."
On Thursday, the FACT group, which is headed by attorney David Fowler, a former Republican senator from Signal Mountain, issued an "action alert" urging supporters for prayers to help get Rose's Senate Bill 364 moving.
"Senators are having a closed-door meeting about the Business Protection Act (SB 364) sponsored by Sen. Paul Rose and opposition to the bill is strong," the group warned in an email missive. "This is a bill we are actively lobbying. Pray that the senators view this bill favorably so that it can move forward in the General Assembly."
In a follow-up Friday, FACT thanked supporters for their prayers, noting that the group's policy director, Will Burns, was at the closed-door Senate GOP meeting. Various lobbyists for "significant business interests" were also present.
"[W]e were able to provide answers, and while the answers did not totally address their concerns, we believe the lines of communication with the lobbyists will remain open," FACT says in the email.
Rose created a stir Tuesday on the 111th General Assembly's first day of its 2020 session by pressing the controversial adoption bill. It says no licensed adoption agency would be required to participate in a child placement if doing so would "violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies."
It also bars Tennessee officials from denying an agency's license or grant application for public funds if a group refusing to place a child with a family based on religious objections. It protects them from lawsuits as well.
"This bill is solely about freedom," said Rose, who said while President Donald Trump's administration is proposing a rule to impose the same protections, his own bill was necessary because there's no guarantee Trump will be re-elected.
The state Senate passed the bill 20-6, with five Republican members declining to vote on the measure, including Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Gardenhire. In a rare move, McNally left the speaker podium to state his concerns from his regular chamber desk.
According to Rose's biographical entry in the 2019 edition of the state's official Blue Book, Rose is a former president of the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home Board of Trustees. In a brief Times Free Press interview Thursday, Rose said he remains a member of the board.
"We don't take any state funding," Rose said.
The Tennessee Equality Project's Sanders said "it may not affect them at this moment, but they'll have the option" to seek funds in the future.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee's office says he will sign the adoption bill into law.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.