Rep. Dennis Powers

“Government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers,” said Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, above.

The Tennessee legislature has discussed many policy changes in reaction to the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including how restrictions affected small businesses.

To that end, the General Assembly has unanimously passed legislation to level the playing field for small businesses.

Senate Bill 474, dubbed the Business Fairness Act, was approved by the House on Monday, 90-0. It allows a business, regardless of size, to remain open during health emergencies as long as it follows government-issued safety precautions and guidelines.

“Government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers,” Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, said during brief discussion about the bill on the House floor. “We’ve seen big-box retailers stay open while smaller businesses were operating at a 50% capacity or closed altogether.

“They can follow any guidelines, state or local, that works best for them.”

The Senate approved the bill, 28-0, last week, and it now will head to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee.

The National Federation of Independent Business, the largest small business association in the U.S., was a leader in creating the legislation, which was supported by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and HospitalityTN, which represents the interests of Tennessee’s lodging, dining and tourism businesses.

“Hopefully, we’ll never have another situation like the one we’ve had with the coronavirus, but if we do, we need to make sure small businesses can survive,” NFIB State Director Jim Brown said in a statement.

Many lawmakers themselves, including Powers, are business owners who had to close during the pandemic.

While discussing the bill last month in front of the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee, Rep. Eddie Mannis, R-Knoxville, noted the effect restrictions had on his business during the pandemic.

“This is great legislation,” Mannis said. “As a business owner who actually was impacted during that time, I lost 100% of my business during that time. You could go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and see these big-box stores, and I often stood there and wondered, ‘Is this really fair?’ and it’s not fair.”

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