Saturday, October 1, 2022

Tennessee targets virus control measures, stop mask bans

NASHVILL, Tennessee (AP) – The Tennessee General Assembly, controlled by the Republican Party, has signed a series of measures to undermine COVID-19 defenses and is also reluctant to ditch threats to deprive businesses of the ability to enforce mask mandates.

Lawmakers approved the list of bills early Saturday morning when most Tennessee residents were asleep, marking the second time the Legislature has recently passed important laws in the middle of the night.

Democratic lawmakers quickly criticized them for being willing to acknowledge concerns raised by influential business lobbyists, but not those pointed out by school and health officials, alarmed by other measures taken during the three-day special legislative session.

Gov. Bill Lee’s office confirmed Friday that Ford Motor Co. and other manufacturers expressed concerns about some of the proposals discussed at the special session.

Ultimately, lawmakers agreed to rid various industries of the COVID-19 vaccine bans they want to apply to many others. Exceptions are many healthcare facilities and businesses, such as entertainment venues, if they require either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Businesses relying on federal money can also apply to the state for an exemption from the vaccine ban.

“I hope COVID goes away, but it probably won’t be for long,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. “This is our attempt as the state and state governments to do whatever it takes to leave this terrible chapter behind.”

However, government agencies, including public schools, will be largely prohibited from complying with mask requirements. These organizations will only be allowed to require masks if they live in a county with a rolling 14-day average COVID-19 infection rate of at least 1,000 per 100,000 inhabitants – a benchmark that Tennessee has yet to reach despite numerous virus outbreaks in the country. last two years. By law, private schools can comply with mask requirements. Exceptions include state and local prisons and airports.

“I’m glad a lot of companies talk about both small and large … but I’d like to see this go further to protect children,” said Rep. Jason Powell, a Nashville Democrat.

Ford has been particularly in the spotlight in the legislature after the company announced last month that it plans to build a $ 5.6 billion campus to build its F-Series electric pickup trucks about 80 kilometers east of Memphis in rural Haywood County.

The blockbuster announcement was quickly described by Lee and other state leaders as one of the largest investments in Tennessee history. Days after the announcement, the Republican governor called a special legislative session to allow the General Assembly to approve a nearly $ 900 million stimulus package to secure the deal.

Nearly a week after the economic stimulus was signed, Republican lawmakers have set their sights on banning a wide range of COVID-19 restrictions, raising concerns in many business groups that such hasty action could lead business owners to face costly mitigation measures. the process of overcoming conflict situations. state and federal mandates.

Notably, GOP members have moved on to blocking President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination demands for private employers, although those regulations have yet to be issued.

In taking these steps, Tennessee has joined a handful of Republican states that have convened special legislative sessions aimed at countering vaccine prescriptions, camouflage demands, and more in the aftermath of the virus outbreak.

However, in doing so, the Tennessee Republicans have put them at odds with business groups, which argued that business owners would now be open to “huge legal costs” as they control conflicting state and federal mandates.

Union officials also warned that the federal government could strip Tennessee of its workplace safety oversight authority if the state refuses to comply with U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s COVID-19 regulations. Earlier this month, the Biden administration issued such threats to three Republican-led states.

Here’s a look at what also happened during the special session:

– The state’s six independent district health boards, which oversee public health action in the most populous counties, were unable to issue their own preventive medical orders during the pandemic. Instead, the State Department of Health will be responsible for making these decisions.

– Elections to school councils can become guerrilla under a bill that allows local political parties to select candidates for school councils – thus allowing candidates to campaign as that party’s candidate. The races are currently non-partisan.

– Republicans have slightly reduced the duration of the state of emergency according to the governor’s decree from 60 to 45 days.

– A bill that would allow the attorney general’s office to petition the court to replace district attorneys who “categorically and categorically” refuse to prosecute certain laws. The governor still needs to sign the proposal, although it is not known how much lawmakers can make a difference. The Tennessee Constitution already states that when a district attorney “is not present or refuses to appear and prosecute in accordance with the law, the court should have the power to appoint an attorney.” Tennessee Republicans increasingly pointed to Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk as the reason the bill was needed. Funk has publicly stated that he will not prosecute several hot politicians against abortion rights, transgender people, school mask requirements and petty marijuana possession cases.

Nation World News Desk
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