Saturday, June 5, 2021

2021 Tennessee Legislative Session: A Ranking

by Ron Shultis, The Beacon Center, May 18, 2021- If you spent any time binge-watching YouTube as I did during quarantine in 2020, you know that a common trend amongst YouTubers is to make tier lists grading different elements within a particular subject. From the top cereals to the U.S. Presidents, you can find tier videos on virtually any topic. If you weren’t aware of this phenomenon, I’ll just say you didn’t quarantine correctly. 

But after the craziness of last year, Tennesseans were looking forward to a return to normalcy in 2021. Thankfully, with declining COVID case numbers and the rollout of vaccines we’ve seen events like concerts, fans at sporting events, and shows start to return just in time for the summer. But there’s something else that returned to normal this year: the annual session of the Tennessee General Assembly. But that does not mean it wasn’t without drama. Now that the dust has settled, it is clear what the big takeaways of the 2021 legislative session are. And in my dream of making millions on YouTube, here is a tier list for the 2021 legislative session: 

S (Superior): Right to Work 
The General Assembly took the final step necessary to give voters the opportunity to put Right to Work in the state constitution. Right to Work simply means that workers cannot be fired for joining or refusing to join a union and pay dues. Right to Work states like Tennessee have higher wage growth, employment growth, and population growth. It is also a key tool for attracting companies to relocate here and create jobs. Voters will now have the choice to enshrine this important right in our state’s constitution during the 2022 election cycle.

A: COVID Deregulation Made Permanent
Throughout the pandemic, Gov. Bill Lee used executive orders to temporarily waive regulations, increasing our healthcare system’s capacity to better fight Coronavirus. Beacon has consistently argued that if a healthcare regulation had to be waived in order to better fight a pandemic, what purpose then did it ultimately serve? Luckily, lawmakers agreed, making many of Gov. Lee’s actions permanent: eliminating and reforming certificate of need laws, expanding providers eligible to utilize telemedicine, and eliminating onerous duplicate licenses on laboratory testing facilities. These reforms will lower costs and increase access to quality healthcare services for all Tennesseans. 

B: Emerging Technologies
Tennessee became the first state to ensure new online marketplaces like Uber, Instacart, and Airbnb do not face a patchwork of different regulations at the local level by saying only the state government can regulate the operation of such marketplaces. In a year when people relied on delivery services and online shopping more than ever, providers looking to introduce new services now know that they can start and launch here in Tennessee without the fear of overly burdensome regulations, benefitting both Tennessee consumers and “gig economy” workers. However, Tennessee failed to join the growing number of states creating “regulatory sandboxes.” These programs are designed to allow innovators and entrepreneurs to pilot test a new innovation with fewer regulations while maintaining public safety. 

C: Emergency Power Reform
 The pandemic brought an increased focus on state and local emergency powers like never before. While most agree that there are relatively few issues in Tennessee, state lawmakers learned and made some much-needed tweaks. For example, now local governments cannot label a business or worker as “non-essential” and force them to close simply because of their industry. Now, if a business can follow health guidelines they can remain open, no matter their industry. However, lawmakers failed to add checks and balances at the state level, meaning the Governor still has the ability to issue emergency orders with wide authority indefinitely without legislative oversight. 

F: First Amendment Protections for Teachers
In dramatic and shocking fashion, Tennessee lawmakers failed to pass a bill reforming Tennessee laws to be in compliance with the landmark Supreme Court case Janus vs. AFSCME. That case outlined specific rights for government employees to ensure their money was not forced to support causes that they disagreed with, violating the First Amendment. Our teachers work too hard to ignore their constitutional rights and now the state is vulnerable to litigation.

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