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#MeToo Movement Inspires New Bill in Tennessee

Tennessee policymakers are taking new steps to address sexual harassment in the state. They recently introduced a new bill that will help contracted workers who have been sexually harassed. This includes many of those employed in the state’s music industry.

The bill, which was proposed by Tennessee General Assembly legislators Rep. Brenda Gilmore and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, will provide independent contractors in the state with the ability to file sexual harassment claims against their employers, regardless of how many hours on average they work.

As of right now, independently contracted workers do not have the same protection under the law as full-time employees. This has created a sense of fear for contractors, especially country music professionals, who have become too nervous to speak out about sexual harassment for fear of losing their job.

“There’s been significant reporting showing real problems with harassment in parts of the music industry, and it doesn’t fit neatly into the way the law treats harassment in a traditional workplace,” Yarbro told Nashville Scene. “Everyone has a right to be safe in the workplace, regardless of whether their job fits the formalities of the current law.”

The new bill aims to ensure everyone feels safe in their workplace by changing the legal definition of the words “employee” and “employer.” If the bill is passed, the law will stretch to include those who work on a contracted basis.

“The law should reach, protect them, even if it’s not structured like in a typical employee, employer sense,” Yarbro told News Channel 5.

The bill also states that “harassment because of a person’s sex” is considered a discriminatory practice. Though the phrase may seem generic, the bill outlines that this can include sexual harassment, gender harassment and harassment based on pregnancy or childbirth. It also clarifies that sexual harassment does not necessarily have to be fueled by “sexual desire.”

The legislators’ actions come in the wake of both the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. They also follow a time when many current and former country musicians have revealed their personal experiences with sexual abuse. This includes Taylor Swift, who sued a DJ for groping her, and former country musician Austin Rick, who accused his publicist Kirt Webster of sexual misconduct.

The president of the Nashville Musicians Association Dave Pomeroy has publicly supported the bill after seeing how little legal protection many music professionals receive when it comes to sexual harassment.

“For far too long, the entertainment industry, including the music community, has had a ‘under the surface’ double standard of behavior towards women that has finally been exposed to the general public,” Pomeroy said. “Regardless of anyone’s chosen profession, sexual intimidation and harassment is simply wrong, and something that absolutely must be addressed in a legal fashion, as well as from a cultural and behavioral standpoint.”

For now, the bill is still being reviewed by committees in the Tennessee General Assembly. If the bill is signed into law, it is set to take action on July 1st, 2018. Until then, the legislators and supporters behind the movement are encouraging citizens to reach out to their local legislators and express their opinions about the new bill. 

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