Third special session of the year expected to take up COVID-19 in Tennessee

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 5:00 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - For the third time this year, and second time this month, the Tennessee General Assembly will meet for a special session next week.

This session is dealing with how the state is handling the pandemic. Lawmakers are likely to take aim at vaccine and mask mandates.

The special session will begin on Wednesday, but no bills have been filed for the session yet.

Governor Bill Lee said he’s been clear about what he wants which is not mandates.

“My strategy has been a limited government approach,” Lee said. “I trust Tennesseans to make their own choices for their families whether it’s a mask or vaccine.”

A special session on the pandemic is a task the Republican-led legislative body tried doing in August, but Governor Lee instead issued an executive order allowing parents to opt then children out of school mask mandates.

It has since been blocked in court.

It’s likely masks in schools will be taken up during the session according to Action News 5′s Political Analyst Michael Nelson.

“[Republicans] wanted to have a special session back in August for the same reason, to basically lift mandates on masks in schools and in businesses,” Nelson said.

Lee is also taking aim at President Joe Biden’s plan to issue a rule mandating businesses with 100 or more employees either require the vaccine or regular testing.

“The most important thing I’m focused on is opposing this mandate,” Lee said. “That’ the most important thing we could do and that’s what we’ll be doing.”

A COVID-19 related bill was introduced during this week’s legislative session dealing with Ford Motor Company’s investment in West Tennessee.

The bill would allow people who quit their jobs because of a vaccine mandate to be able to collect unemployment. Lawmakers expect it to be reintroduced next week.

Democrats have said they oppose this special session. They believe these bills can be taken up during the regular session in January.

“Quite frankly this other special session is unnecessary,” Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) said. “They’re going to do somethings with health boards, I think requiring state permission for our local health boards to act, some things about COVID vaccines and employers.”

Senator Akbari said outcomes of the special session could impact the school mask mandate ordered by the Shelby County Health Department.

“I wonder though because a lot of school boards no matter if they are in red area or blue area or rural or in a city they have mask mandates in place,” Akbari said. “So, I think if the county is not able to take those actions some of these school boards would try and do that.”

Governor Lee said Republicans in the General Assembly are on the same page as him, opposing mandates.

“What’s happened with the federal government in regards to COVID-19 and mandates and what’s happened with mask mandates as well, we’re in agreement on that, and that is it’s overreach and it shouldn’t be happening in our state,” said Lee.

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