Republican Tennessee lawmakers hope to fight local mask warrants and federal vaccine requirements in special session


NASHVILLE – When Tennessee lawmakers return to Nashville this week for another special session, the Republican supermajority is hoping to fight a federal mandate that big employers must demand employee vaccinations against COVID-19.

Other issues for debate include proposals for intervention against school mask warrants, an issue already debated before three federal judges in Tennessee.

Also on the table: the authority of the state’s six independent county health boards and whether the COVID-19 vaccine should be given to more mature minors without parental or guardian consent.

Another area in the special session appeal is the governor’s emergency powers. Some Republicans have been upset for more than a year with executive orders issued by Republican Gov. Bill Lee to deal with COVID-19, such as allowing county mayors to impose mask warrants.

Last week’s special session was called by Lee to get lawmakers to approve the state’s nearly $ 900 million infrastructure and incentive package for a Ford Motor Co. electric truck and battery complex. forecast of $ 5.6 billion in western Tennessee. But Lee obviously didn’t want any part of the COVID-19 special session and refused to recall in-session lawmakers.

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Republican lawmakers have therefore gathered the necessary majority of two-thirds of the registrations to convene an extraordinary session, from Wednesday afternoon.

This has only been done twice in the state’s 225-year history. The first time was in 1971, when lawmakers approved the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting the right to vote to young people between the ages of 18 and 20. The second was held in 1982 for a ceremony to convene the General Assembly at the Knoxville World’s Fair, according to research by Legislative Librarian Eddie Weeks.

While Republicans have many ideas about coronavirus legislation, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, told The Times Free Press last week that he intends to table a bill during the extraordinary session based on Montana law. He claims to ban employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment, which appears to be a direct challenge to the pending order from the Biden administration of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Another lawmaker, Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleocka, has already tabled two bills.

One seeks to designate all side effects of COVID-19 vaccines as injuries eligible for workers compensation. It targets private sector employers and higher education colleges and universities. It was part of Lee’s package of bills in a 2020 special session he called on COVID-19, meant to protect employers.

Cepicky’s second bill would allow school board candidates to run with party affiliation, instead of the current setup with all non-partisan candidates. A number of Republicans are angry with school mask mandates and believe more partisan school boards would be more responsive to the party base.

Republican legislative leaders have said members are urged to table bills and see what they can pass, especially on blocking vaccination and mask requirements.

“I think one of the things we have discussed is that the call is broad enough that we can discuss what all the states have done and determine if there is a direction in which we want to go,” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton of R-Crossville said at the State Capitol. reporters last week at a press conference with Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, Senate Speaker and House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland and others.

“We’ll see which direction we want to go out in to protect individuals from those who want to have their personal decision on what happens to them,” Sexton added, alluding to federal vaccination requirements for employees working in companies employing 100 workers or more. .

McNally agreed.

“There are a lot of different things going on with different companies. Some say you have to get the vaccine, you have to be able to show that you got the vaccine. And there are some people who can’t take the vaccine. vaccines for medical reasons, reasons and some people immunized because they have already had the disease and can show that they have had immunity. “

Lamberth said data now shows fully vaccinated people can spread the virus.

“What really bothers me the most is not a sole proprietorship requiring a vaccine. People could quit this job and move on to another. It’s that entire sectors of our economy have decided to set up a vaccine mandate arbitrary and that leaves people and their choice of field of work with no options, ”Lamberth said, noting that many have advanced training and degrees.

“The vaccine doesn’t stop the spread of that, it just reduces the symptoms and can potentially reduce the spread. But it’s not a perfect solution to that,” Lamberth said.

Not all fans

Not everyone is a fan of the General Assembly entering special session on pandemic issues. Democrats oppose it, and some Republicans are unwilling to address many of the issues that conflict with business interests.

“I would like to see my colleagues deal with the facts and truth regarding vaccines and not allow political rhetoric to be the norm,” Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, said in an interview. telephone Sunday. “I have to wonder if part of the effort is to instill fear in the minds of people who can be swayed by political rhetoric.

“We have people dying in rural and urban areas from COVID, and the mindset of a number of lawmakers is that the rights of the minority in this case trump health and security of the majority, ”Hakeem added. “And I hope they will accept the judges’ rulings that the state as I understand it cannot overrule federal guidelines put forward by the president or school boards.”

Representative Robin Smith, R-Hixson, a registered nurse by training, said in a telephone interview over the weekend that she plans to do a lot of listening during the debate.

“I am interested in finding an answer to a fundamental question: I respect the fact that private employers have the right to apply conditions of employment because it is part of their property rights.

“But,” she added, “I also think that employees don’t give up their right to informed consent about medical conditions and treatments once they’re in this job. So it’s really a conflict. interesting.”

Smith said that while she sees the need to get the COVID shot and gives it enough thought to persuade family members to do so as well, it should remain a personal decision.

Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @ AndySher1.

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