Lawmakers Derail Sexual Harassment Law for Artists in Tennessee

Tennessee Sexual Harassment Law for Artists Derailed
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Tennessee Sexual Harassment Law for Artists Derailed
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Nashville singer/songwriter Bri Murphy.

Bowing to pressure from lobbyists, lawmakers in Tennessee have scuttled – for now – a new law that would have protected musicians.

In order to protect artists, songwriters, and other participants in the local music scene, lawmakers in Tennessee introduced HB 1984/SB 2130 last year.

The bill sought to address sexual misconduct in the music industry.  HB 1984/SB 2130 would have offered full-time employee rights to all musicians in the state.  In many cases, working musicians fear filing complaints after experiencing any kind of sexual harassment.

Speaking about the bill’s introduction last year, Senator Jeff Yarbo explained,

There’s been significant reporting recently that shows that in some cases, female artists face a lot of predatory behavior just for trying to have their music heard.

From what we’ve learned, if you’re a female artist, harassment is something you learn to expect as you try to promote your work.  That’s unacceptable, and it’s a problem we should try to solve.

The bill, introduced by state Democrats, quickly received support from local artists.  These included Lilly Hiatt, Rodney Cowell, Andrew Combs, Katie Armiger, and Lorrie Morgan.

In general, artists signed to labels aren’t specifically considered record label employees.  They’re essentially considered freelancers.  Thus, they aren’t afforded the same rights as employees.  This makes reporting sexual harassment much, much harder.

Now, local lawmakers have essentially ‘postponed’ the bill for a later date.

Derailing a sexual harassment bill.

During a Tennessee House Subcommittee meeting on Tuesday, lawmakers heard the testimony of Bri Murphy.

I don’t have just one story, I have countless stories and I have literally lost track of the number of times I’ve been sexually harassed in the music industry.

“I find myself to this day in situations where I expect to have to fend off unwanted advances, [and] doubt these stories [would] surprise anybody in this room, thanks to the countless brave women and men who have spoken up about the harassment they have encountered.

“I’m one of many.  And, it doesn’t have to be this way.

She works as a singer and songwriter in Nashville.  Before the committee, Murphy vividly described the times she was grabbed, chased, blackmailed, drugged, stalked, catcalled, threatened, and raped while on the job.

Unfortunately, her testimony failed to convince lawmakers.  They denied the bill’s approval, choosing instead to reconsider the bill in a “summer study” after adjourning in the spring.

Prior to the subcommittee meeting, Jim Brown, Head of the National Federation of Independent Business in Tennessee, had pressured lawmakers to vote No on the bill.

In an e-mail, he explained,

This very well-intended legislation could have a significant negative impact on our employer-employee relationship laws.

This legislation would create a slippery slope and unintended consequences that would undermine established federal and state employer-employee relationship laws.

Other lawmakers have now urged local artists and representatives to speak to the committee about the bill’s importance.


Featured image by Bri Walker (YouTube screengrab).