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Tennessee House Defers Music Industry Sexual Harassment Legislation

HB 387 aims to offer full-time employee rights to artists and freelancers who experience sexual harassment

Nashville, Tennesee, statehouse

The Tennessee house weighed legislation regarding sexual misconduct in the music industry.

Mark Humphrey/AP/REX/Shutterstoc

Last year, after Rolling Stone Country published an in-depth report on the culture of sexual harassment and misconduct in the world of country radio, Tennessee legislators introduced HB 1984/SB 2130, a bill that would offer full-time employee rights to artists and freelancers concerning sexual harassment. Led by Democrats Rep. Brenda Gilmore and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, it eventually died in the House without ample Republican support — but found new life this week when reintroduced by Rep. Bob Freeman as HB 387.

During Tuesday’s hearing by the House Employee Affairs Subcommittee, local Americana musician Bri Murphy testified about the experiences she has endured trying to get her music heard after relocating to Nashville in 2011. This time, the bill was denied approval and deferred to “summer study” for further consideration after the legislature officially adjourns in the spring.

“I don’t have just one story. I have countless stories,” Murphy said in her testimony. “I have literally lost track of how many times I’ve experienced sexual harassment in the music industry. I find myself to this day in situations where I expect to have to fend off unwanted advances. I doubt these stories 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.”

Murphy spoke directly to the bill’s detractors: namely, House Republicans and Jim Brown, who leads the Tennessee chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. Earlier Tuesday, Brown sent an email to members of House Employee Affairs Subcommittee urging them to vote “No” on HB 387. “This very well-intended legislation could have a significant negative impact on our employer-employee relationship laws,” he wrote. “This legislation would create a slippery slope and unintended consequences that would undermine established federal and state employer-employee relationship laws.”

Some of HB 1984/SB 2130’s supporters included Rodney Crowell, Lilly Hiatt, Andrew Combs and Lorrie Morgan, as well as Katie Armiger, who advocated publicly for the bill last March. “I was a teenager dealing with radio programmers touching me under tables at industry events and making inappropriate sexual remarks,” she said. “I was instructed not only to tolerate it, but to encourage it.”

HB 387 will now be considered in summer study, and Tennessee Democrats tell Rolling Stone Country that a crucial next step would be for artists and representatives from major labels and publishers to come and speak to the committee on the importance of such legislation.

“Bri’s testimony really moved the committee to a place where everyone is ready to have a real conversation on this issue,” Democratic State Rep. Bob Freeman of Nashville says. “Now, we need business leaders from the industry who want to do the right thing and work to end harassment to step up and take part in this process.”

For Murphy, it’s simply about creating a fair and safe workplace. “Passing this bill could lead to an industry where the girl who is moving here today at 20 years old to pursue her dreams can speak to you all eight years from now,” she said, “without the same memories and stories I have of being grabbed, chased, held down, blackmailed, drugged, stalked, catcalled, solicited for sex, followed, threatened and raped. I believe in Tennessee as a state that can lead the way for the music industry to become a safe and diverse working environment for anybody who dares to dream.”

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