Tennessee lawmakers convene special session on COVID-19

Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 6:41 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - For the third time this year, Tennessee lawmakers have convened a special session.

This one is focused on COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates in schools.

They’ve introduced bills to ban mask mandates.

“This special session came with the initiative of the legislature itself, which is not what usually happens. It’s usually the governor who calls the special session,” said Action News 5 political analyst Michael Nelson. “The legislature wants to get on record they don’t like mask mandates. They think that’s the politically popular thing to do.”

But Republicans in the legislature aren’t just opposed to mask mandates.

They also oppose vaccine mandates.

One bill from House Speaker Cameron Sexton bans employers from requiring their employees to provide proof of vaccination.

The bill also bans employers from firing or refusing to hire someone based solely on their refusal to provide proof of vaccination.

Other bills would remove the power of county health departments to close businesses because of COVID-19, giving that power instead to the state health commissioner.

One bill would make school board races partisan.

Another allows a court-appointed prosecutor to prosecute crimes if the local district attorney refuses.

Another bill fines public officials $1,000 per day if they refuse to enforce state laws.

Democrats like State Rep. Joe Towns say the special session appears to be focused on Shelby and Davidson counties.

“Every time we do something they want to change the law,” said Towns. “Every time we do something in Shelby County, they want to change the law.”

Nelson says it certainly appears to be one of the motivations, even though Republicans say they’re fighting to protect individual liberties.

“The rest of the state does not like the fact that Nashville and Memphis have gone their own way in requiring masks wearing in public schools and they want to shut that down,” said Nelson.

More than 80 bills have been filed for the special session.

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