NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee House panel has revived a bill seeking to require public school students to use restrooms that match their sex at birth.
The House Education Administration and Planning Committee voted 8-4 on Wednesday to reverse an earlier decision to study the bill after the Legislature adjourns for the rest of the year. The bill was then approved by the same vote.
The committee vote came despite concerns raised by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam that Tennessee could lose federal education funding if the bill becomes law.
In several states, major businesses and sports organizations — including Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Walt Disney Co., the NFL and the NCAA — have joined lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists in raising concerns that similar measures could legalize discrimination.
A spokesperson for CMT, the cable station based in Nashville that features country music videos and other TV entertainment, and parent company Viacom issued a statement in opposition to the bills.
“Viacom and CMT have a deep commitment to tolerance, diversity and inclusion, and discriminatory laws like HB2414 and SB2387 are inconsistent with our values,” Viacom spokesman TJ Ducklo said. “As proud members of Tennessee’s welcoming and vibrant business community, we implore state lawmakers to reject these proposals.”
The fear that companies would shun the state became part of the debate before lawmakers passed the measure out of the committee. Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, noted how companies had threatened to move businesses away in states that passed laws viewed as discriminatory and said lawmakers needed to consider the ramifications of voting for the bill.
“Now we know that we might have some consequences in this great state that we have,” Ripley said.
The Human Rights Campaign, the national’s largest gay-rights organization, said companies would be taking notice.
“Tennessee lawmakers must not be paying attention to North Carolina and the national backlash caused by a similar legislative attack on transgender people,” HRC President Chad Griffin said.
A sponsor of the proposal said she hoped companies would not leave Tennessee as a result of the measure. Rep. Susan Lynn, a Republican from Mount Juliet, said any CEO who read the language of the bill would realize that it makes common sense.
“I just really can’t help but think that if we can just treat this with calm rationality and just read the bill, and I really think that they will see that we make a lot of provisions in the bill and it does protect the right to privacy of every single student,” Lynn said.