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Faith-Based Adoption Agencies Get Support in the TN House

The House passed HB 836 by a vote of 67-22 on Monday.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), protects faith-based adoption and foster care agencies that, on the basis of their religious conviction, believe placing children in homes with same-sex couples is not in the child’s best interest.

Passage of the bill means these agencies cannot be sued if their decision not to place children with homosexual couples is based on such a religious conviction.

The Senate companion bill, SB 1304 by Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), is scheduled to be heard on the last calendar of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has not yet been set.

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Mandates Contraception Coverage for Insurance Policies (SB 1142 / HB 721)

BRequires that every group health insurance policy, to the extent not preempted by federal law, have coverage for ALL contraceptive drugs and devices approved by the FDA.

Bill Analysis

This is very similar to the Obamacare mandate on contraception, which resulted in a lawsuit from the Little Sisters of the Poor. The bill does offer a mild religious liberty exception but requires an organization to file for a religious exemption (subject to approval) and offer written notice to prospective enrollees.

Bill Sponsors

Kyle in the Senate
Powell in the House

Bill Status

No action taken in the House or Senate.

Full Text: Senate Bill / House Bill

Tennessee flag logo and words family bills

Natural Marriage Defense Act (SB 752 / HB 892)

BILL SUMMARY

This bill is also known as the Natural Marriage Defense Act. It declares that Tennessee will only recognize and give effect to marriages between one man and one woman and will not recognize any court decision that purports to strike down natural marriage.

BILL ANALYSIS

As with a similar bill filed last year, there are several potential legal issues with this bill as written, because of its requirement that the state ignore or “nullify” any court decision, including the U.S. Supreme Court, that issues a ruling contrary to Tennessee state policy on marriage. It could result in all local officials having to defend at local expense lawsuits by same-sex couples for civil rights violations and reimburse the litigants’ legal fees if they lose the lawsuits.

The bill is an improvement on last year’s bill in that would make the state liable to civil rights lawsuits for the non-issuance of same-sex marriage licenses instead of county clerks.

BILL SPONSORS

Beavers in the Senate, Pody in the House

TRACK THIS BILL

Full Text: Senate Bill / House Bill

BILL STATUS

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee adopted an amendment to indemnify officials who comply with existing license law and referred to 2018. No action taken in the House or Senate in 2018.

Tennessee flag logo and words family bills

Undefined Words Given Ordinary Meaning (SB 1085 / HB 1111)

BILL SUMMARY

This definitions bill requires that undefined words in the Tennessee Code be given their natural and ordinary meaning, except when a contrary intention is clearly manifest.

BILL ANALYSIS

A broad definitions bill that could have a similar effect as SB 30 but would apply to any number of words that private litigants might want courts to redefine.

WHY IT IS NEEDED

Increasingly, courts are being called on to decide how to interpret statutes and finding “reasons” to depart from the above rule of interpretation upon which legislators have been able to rely in wording and enacting statutes.

One clear example is the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the term “federal exchanges” under the Affordable Care Act, for which tax subsidies were permitted, to mean “stand or federal exchanges.”

Another example is marriage. States did not think it necessary to define marriage in terms of a man and a woman because the definition was assumed. States eventually realized that courts, set on making policy, would not give words, previously undefined, their normal and natural meaning and began to pass Defense of Marriage statutes.

More recently in Tennessee, a Knox County judge ruled that the word “husband” in a statute expressly related to a husband and wife no longer referred to a male but was a gender-neutral term and should be interpreted to mean “spouse.”

Because it is impractical, if not impossible, to go through the Code to define all the words in a statute that may not be expressly defined in order to make sure that courts do not define those words in ways the Legislature never intended, this bill tells courts that the words the Legislature uses mean what everyone thinks they mean, not something else.

OBJECTIONS ANSWERED

Objection: The bill violates the separation of powers doctrine by telling the judicial branch what to do.

Answer: The Legislature has the power to define the words it uses in its statutes. To say
otherwise, the objectors can only mean that they think courts should be able to give words meanings different from what the Legislature intended. This is not judging, this is legislating. If the normal meaning of a word makes a statute unconstitutional, then SB 1085 does nothing to interfere with a court’s power to hold the statute unconstitutional.

Objection: There is already a law that takes care of specific terms in the Tennessee Code.

Answer: There is a statute that defines a number of different words, but no statute
accomplishes this statute’s purpose.

BILL SPONSORS

Stevens in the Senate, Farmer in the House

TRACK THIS BILL

Full Text: Senate Bill / House Bill

BILL STATUS

Signed by the Governor 5/5/17. Public Chapter 302.