After a 2019 in which the state House drew the lion’s share of the attention, the Senate got some revenge Tuesday when both chambers returned to Nashville for the 2020 session.
The Senate passed the first bill of the new year, a measure that would codify protections for taxpayer-funded adoption agencies that discriminate against same-sex couples. The body did so against the wishes of its Republican leader, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.
McNally took the rare measure of stepping down from the dais in order to urge his fellow senators to vote against the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Paul Rose (R-Tipton). (The bill passed the House last year.)
“I would argue that it’s best to leave alone what we have,” McNally said, adding that he spoke against his fellow Republican “with great hesitation.”
But just one Republican — Sen. Steven Dickerson of Nashville — joined Senate Democrats in voting against the measure, and four other Republicans joined McNally in abstaining. Nineteen other Republicans broke with their speaker and backed Rose, sending the bill to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk.
In stating his opposition to the bill, Dickerson repeatedly sought to force its sponsor to state plainly that the bill would have the effect of limiting adoption opportunities for same-sex couples, rather than allow Rose to continue to describe its effects with vague nods to religious liberty.
“We all know what this bill’s about,” Dickerson said. “My colleague will not articulate that.”
Dickerson warned of economic ramifications if the “bad public policy” were to pass; he said conferences, sporting events and other tourism drivers could avoid Tennessee if the legislation passed. The vote came the same day that Wall Street firm AllianceBernstein announced it would expand its new Nashville headquarters. Last year, AllianceBernstein similarly warned the legislature to avoid anti-LGBT legislation lest businesses be scared off.
Hours after the vote, the governor’s office still had not said whether Lee plans to sign the legislation into law, although his legislative team did not offer resistance to the bill in a note to lawmakers ahead of the vote.
The Tennessee General Assembly’s return to Nashville was heralded by the return of protestors to the state Capitol. Activists on the hill Tuesday were seeking the removal of both a bust honoring Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest and current state Rep. David Byrd, who told The Tennessean on Tuesday that, despite rumors to the contrary, he did not plan to seek re-election this year.
Though the House took up no controversial legislation Tuesday, it won’t hibernate for long.
At the House Republican Caucus meeting, freshman Rep. Bruce Griffey of Paris passed out copies of his bill that would claw back the governor’s recent decision to participate in federal refugee resettlement programs.
New Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison made it clear that politics would not take a back seat during the session. With every member up for re-election later this year, Faison is in part responsible for helping the Republicans win their races. He suggested they deploy the ostensibly nonpolitical state comptroller, treasurer and secretary of state in their races.
“If you have an opponent, go see them this week,” Faison said. “They will come to your district. They will give a speech to whoever you want them to give a speech to and you’re going to be with them on the front page of the paper. Utilize them.”
And the cherry on top of the legislature’s first day back: Ousted Speaker Glen Casada is considering a return from the wilderness, telling the Tennessee Journal he might seek the vacant House Republican whip post up for election in two weeks.
This story first ran in our sister publication the Nashville Post.