NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – Republican lawmakers in Tennessee are preparing to strike a sweeping blow against officials who have played a role in maintaining protection against the COVID-19 pandemic, from school boards who passed mask mandates to an attorney who pledged not to. enforce an order from the governor allowing parents to exempt their students from wearing class masks.
The start of the special session on Wednesday marks the third time in Tennessee history that lawmakers step into action without a governor. Democrats called the COVID-19 session politically motivated and dangerous to public health.
The meeting will take a very different tone from last week, when GOP Gov. Bill Lee returned lawmakers with an overwhelming bipartisan vote for economic stimulus and oversight plans associated with Ford’s massive electric truck and battery project arriving in West Tennessee.
Republican legislature leaders discuss these topics extensively and do not promise that it will pass.
They indicated that they may even try to bypass elected district attorneys if they publicly refuse to enforce certain laws – a national trend of progressive prosecutors. that Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk implemented several hot policies against abortion rights, transgender people, school mask requirements, and small marijuana possession cases.
President Joe Biden’s administration is likely the top target during the session, even as his workplace vaccine order trumps the credibility of the state government. The six large independent county health departments could see the additional autonomy they have over pandemic precautions change, and the governor could transfer some of his emergency powers to legislators’ oversight.
School board members who have occasionally angered conservatives by enforcing mask bans in classrooms may be required to declare party affiliation in order to run for office, or mask bans in schools may be banned.
And businesses that need vaccines for employees or customers can be held liable for “harm or injury” from employees taking the vaccine, workers fired for refusal can be confident they could get unemployed, and lawmakers could potentially ban vaccinations. as a condition for hiring.
It is unclear to district attorneys how far legislators may be willing to go in limiting their discretion.
Republican Lieutenant Gov. Randy McNally, leader of the Senate, said one option would be to allow State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, a Republican, to go to court to ask another attorney to pursue a case in lieu of one who will not enforce certain rules. law.
“I think it’s something that deserves discussion that we had a district attorney who refused to prosecute on a number of occasions, and that just deprives people of the opportunity to seek justice,” McNally said.
Earlier this month, before lawmakers announced that discretionary powers of the prosecutor’s office could be the focus of the meeting, Funk told The Associated Press that the state constitution includes “a means by which people of differing opinions can stay in their alleys and do your job. were chosen for this. “
However, it is unclear how much influence legislators can have. The state constitution already states that when a district attorney “fails to appear or refuses to appear and prosecute in accordance with the law, the court should have the power to appoint an interim attorney.” David Reibin, a prominent Nashville criminal defense attorney and former assistant district attorney, said the constitutional option is used sparingly and more often after the attorney decides there is not enough evidence to try a separate case.
Rybin said the police are not going to make arrests in connection with an offense that the district attorney will not pursue. Reibin said that if more cases were referred because the prosecutor did not enforce a certain law, it would likely require an additional, undefined source of investigators and would be expensive.
“Can the General Assembly pass a law that says that when certain categories of laws are not prosecuted, the court should appoint a special prosecutor to deal with them? It would definitely be in line with the Constitution, ”said Rybin. “But that would create all sorts of procedural problems as to how exactly this would work.”
Funk said this summer that he would not prosecute teachers and school officials for enforcing bans on the use of masks in violation of the governor’s decree that allows parents to relinquish their students’ powers. He also refused to enforce a 2020 law requiring healthcare providers to inform women who have undergone medical abortion that the procedure could be canceled, which medical experts say is not supported by science.
Funk also said he would not enforce a new Tennessee law, the first of its kind that requires notice outside public toilets with multiple kiosks in businesses, which effectively says transgender people can be inside.
He also previously stated that he would not prosecute low-level marijuana cases after lawmakers blocked Nashville’s previous efforts to mitigate the cases.
Judges have suspended toilet signage and abortion abortion policies across the state and blocked the rejection of school masks in three major districts, one in each federal judicial district in Tennessee.
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