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The Associated Press May 25, 2011, 5:22PM ET

Haslam: Leave discrimination policies to companies

Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he encourages businesses to adopt policies banning discrimination against gay and lesbian employees, but that he doesn't believe local governments should be able to require those guidelines before companies can contract with them.

"We're not in favor of discrimination in any form at all," Haslam said. "We just think that businesses should get to decide for themselves what they have in their policies."

The Republican governor told reporters that he hasn't had second thoughts about signing into law a bill overturning Nashville's anti-discrimination ordinance, despite several large companies and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce publicly announcing their opposition to the measure.

Companies speaking out against the law to overrule the city include Fedex, AT&T, Whirlpool and Comcast. Franklin-based Nissan Americas issued a statement that the automaker shares "public concerns about this bill's impact on diversity and inclusiveness."

Haslam noted that the state Chamber of Commerce didn't turn against the measure until after he signed it into law, and said businesses should have voiced their concerns earlier.

"You know, you had a chance to engage in this during the legislative process, and it passed with over 70 percent majorities in both houses," he said. "And to kind of change tracks on Monday felt a little late to me."

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said he's unhappy with the Legislature's decision to interfere with a local government decision.

"It would have been a good thing for Nashville, because it would have set Nashville off as an open inclusive city, which actually I think helps you bring business to the city," he said.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said she remains in favor of the measure overruling the local ordinance, noting that during the legislative session both the Chamber and the National Federation of Independent Business were "firmly opposed" to Nashville's new rules.

"When the same policy is not in place across the state it makes it very hard for these offices to conduct and have business with government," she said.

Vanderbilt political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said Haslam is still feeling his way out with the Legislature.

"The real question is if the Legislature going to produce bills that are more extreme than Haslam wants to be," Oppenheimer said. "Haslam's willingness to sign the contract discrimination bill sort of says that he was really not going to confront them on that stuff."


Associated Press Writer Lucas L. Johnson II contributed to this report.



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