Legislature Adjourns Without Passing COVID-19 Lawsuit Protections

Date: June 22, 2020

The General Assembly adjourned on Friday, June 19, without adopting a critical measure, the Tennessee Business Recovery and Safe Harbor Act, that would have protected Tennessee businesses from frivolous pandemic-related lawsuits.  

The Senate and House measures were similar. The Senate version was retroactive to March 5, which some House members strongly opposed, claiming it was unconstitutional. The bill that emerged from a conference committee with retroactivity passed the Senate 26-5 but failed to pass the House 46-36-6 (50 votes needed for a constitutional majority). Gov. Bill Lee is considering calling the legislature into a special session soon to get back to work on this very important effort. 

“Small businesses in Tennessee must have protection from unscrupulous lawsuits, so the failure to pass Senate Bill 2381/House Bill 2623 was a big disappointment,” said Jim Brown, Tennessee state director. “NFIB members have emphasized it’s critical they have that protection if they’re to reopen with confidence and help fully reboot our economy. After the dust settles, we are strongly encouraging leaders to return to Nashville to address unfinished business for small business. 

Other important business was addressed in recent weeks, including several NFIB priorities: 

  • Governor Bill Lee and an economic task force shifted more than $266 million of available federal monies to the state’s unemployment trust fund to ensure tax rates remain low, pledging to do more if needed. This was a top NFIB priority, saving small businesses hundreds of millions of dollars in aggregate. 
  • Legislation passed at the end of session to ensure employer’s unemployment accounts will not be charged for layoffs that resulted from the pandemic. This was a top NFIB priority, also saving small businesses hundreds of millions of dollars in aggregate. 
  • $200 million was placed into the Tennessee Business Relief Program, which will help 28,000 small businesses offset losses stemming from the COVID-19 closures. These grants are expected to be sent to businesses next month. 

Key legislation passed or defeated:

  • SJR 648, a resolution to initiate a statewide ballot effort to put Tennessee’s right to work law into our constitution. It passed the House 67-23 and the Senate 24-5. It must pass again by a two-thirds majority in the next General Assembly before it can be put on the 2022 ballot for voters to consider. 
  • HB 2764, which sought to define “creed” as a well-grounded and firmly held set of moral beliefs and guiding principles, stalled in a House committee with strong opposition from NFIB and the business community. The bill would have led to more discrimination claims of this nature where virtually none exist today. 
  • An amendment to eliminate Tennessee’s cap on noneconomic damages failed on the House floor. 
  • An amendment that would have established a state-run paid leave program failed on the House floor. 

 Thank you for allowing NFIB to represent you in Nashville and Washington, D.C. Please contact your lawmakers and ask them to return to Nashville to pass a pandemic safe harbor bill. 


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