Tennessee enacts law limiting disclosure of nonprofit donor information

On May 25, Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed into law HB0159, legislation prohibiting public agencies from disclosing identifying information about a nonprofit’s donors. We last discussed this bill in our May 11 edition.

What the bill does

HB0159 bars any public agency (including state and municipal government units and courts) from:

  • Requiring a tax-exempt nonprofit to provide a public agency with personal information about its donors, members, supporters, or volunteers. 
  • Requiring individuals to provide personal identifying information about their involvement with nonprofits.
  • Publicly disclosing any personal information a public agency might possess. 
  • Requiring a current or prospective contractor to provide a public agency with a list of the nonprofits “to which it has provided financial or nonfinancial support.” 

The legislation does not bar public agencies from furnishing personal information about a nonprofit’s donors, supporters, etc. pursuant to:

  • An active law enforcement investigation.
  • A lawful warrant, subpoena, or other court order.
  • Any “lawful request for discovery of personal information in litigation,” if both of the following criteria are met: 
    • The person requesting the information demonstrates a “compelling need for such information by clear and convincing evidence.” 
    • The person requesting the information “obtains an order barring disclosure of such personal information to any person not named in the litigation.” 

Under HB0159, a person alleging a violation of its provisions can file a civil action for relief, damages, or both. Damages range from $2,500 to $7,500 for each violation. 

The law takes effect on Oct. 1, 2021. 

Historical context: In 2020, Tennessee lawmakers introduced five bills similar to HB0159: HB1719, HB2396, HB2665, SB2293, and SB2886. All five would have prohibited public agencies from requiring 501(c) nonprofits to furnish them with personal information about donors. All five bills died in committee.

Legislative history   

Nine Republican representatives introduced HB0159 on Jan. 13. On April 26, the House voted 65-24 in favor of the bill. The vote split largely along party lines — all but one Republican voted for it, and all Democrats voted against it. The Senate then approved the bill 27-5 on May 3. The Senate vote also split along party lines, with Republicans casting all ‘yea’ votes and Democrats casting all ‘nay’ votes. 

Political context: Tennessee is a Republican trifecta, meaning that Republicans control the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature. Republicans have had trifecta control in Tennessee since 2011.

What other states are doing

State lawmakers in Nebraska, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming have considered similar legislation this year. Three of these states are Republican trifectas. The fourth, North Carolina, has a divided government, with a Democratic governor and Republican majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. 

Arkansas, Iowa, and South Dakota, all Republican trifectas, have enacted similar legislation this year, making Tennessee the fourth state this year to enact this type of legislation.

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 38 pieces of legislation dealing with donor disclosure. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

Recent legislative actions

For complete information on all of the bills we are tracking, click here

  • Tennessee HB0159: This bill would prohibit a public agency from disclosing identifying information about a nonprofit’s donors.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • Signed into law on May 25.

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