NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — From making school boards partisan to eliminating proof of vaccination at a private business, lawmakers have started filing their bills ahead of the third special session this year.
Both the House and Senate will meet for an additional special session on Oct. 27 at 4 p.m. to discuss legislation related to vaccines, masks and other COVID-19-related restrictions.
Special sessions cost taxpayers $30,750 each day. Each round trip for all lawmakers costs $15,474 in mileage. There is no mandated days for how long a special session must last, according to Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration.
The bulk of the bills filed came from Republicans with Democrats only filing a handful.
Here's what they entail.
Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, piece of legislation would take aim at school masking mandates, which Gov. Bill Lee's opt-out measure has failed in federal court. That has allowed masking mandates for Williamson County and the Franklin Special School District to implement the mandate. Zachary would like to eliminate masking in schools, with his bill becoming effective immediately if passed. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rep. London Lamar (D-Memphis) has filed legislation that would allow school boards to add a face covering as part of their dress code.
Additionally, Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, filed a bill that said no school receiving K-12 funding can mandate the vaccine for students.
Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Maury County, filed a bill to eliminate contract tracing for COVID-19 within schools. He also filed a bill that would make school board race partisan and require candidates to affiliate with a political party starting with races starting July 2022. As of now, school board races are nonpartisan. That particular bill is already receiving some push back.
"The Tennessee School Board Association supports nonpartisan school board elections as this type of election ensures educational policy is made by those whose undivided attention and interests are devoted to education," said Ben Torres, TSBA Assistant Executive Director and General Counsel.
The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents also said they would like to see school boards remain nonpartisan.
Coepicky's bills would allow employees to file workers compensation and prohibit discrimination on vaccine status. That workers compensation bill would go into effect July 2022, while the discrimination legislation would into effect at the beginning of the year, if passed. Rep. Chris Todd, R-Murfreesboro, has a similar bill based on no discrimination based on vaccine status.
Zachary's bill would eliminate the ability of businesses to provide proof of vaccination. It also wouldn't allow for the state or local government to require businesses to ask for vaccine statuses of its patrons. Additionally, Todd introduced a bill that would allow those who refuse to undergo vaccination to receive unemployment benefits.
Rep. Bud Husley, R-Kingsport, would like to prohibit public employers to require the vaccine as a condition of employment, while private employers would have to document information regarding the vaccine mandate and incur strict liability for those who have a severe adverse reaction to the vaccine, according to his bill filing. If it became law, it would go into effect immediately. In the same vein, Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, would like no state tax incentives to go toward companies that enforce COVID-19 shots.
In a bill filed later Tuesday, Rep. Clay Doggett's, R-Pulaski, bill would require that no state funds go to anyone who has implemented a vaccination or mask wearing mandate.
Like her bill for schools, Lamar wrote in her bill that business could require masks as part of the dress code for work.
Health and religion
A bill filed by Zachary would also require county mayor's to now appoint the head of the county health department. To pair with this bill, Rep. Leatherwood and Sen. Rose would like for county mayors to direct public health crises in the future. That individual must be a graduate doctor of medicine or osteopathy, schooled and experienced in public health work and licensed to practice in this state. If passed, the bill would take effect in July 2022. Additionally, Rep. Todd wrote the "Tennessee COVID-19 Treatment Freedom Act," which would bar licensing boards from punishing doctors on how they decide to treat COVID-19. Rep. Debra Moody pushed forward with a similar but continued it further that pharmacists couldn't prohibit someone from purchasing drugs based on the fact that the United States Food and Drug Administration has not approved the medical treatment for use to treat COVID-19.
In a bill filed by Franklin Republican Brandon Ogles, it would allow individuals to file suit if they are discriminated against for not having the shot but have a religious objection to receiving the shot. He additionally wants to standard for religious exemption, arguing the state doesn't have one its Tennessee Code Annotated. Todd has a similar action item dubbed the "Tennessee Religious Objection to COVID-19." In it, he wrote that no other person should stop anyone from exercising a religious objection.
Additionally, a bill was filed by two different lawmakers that no minor can receive immunization for COVID-19 without parental consent. This topic is what Dr. Michelle Fiscus argued got her fired at the state level, because she mentioned a 1980s law that is a mature minor doctrine, which would allow minors of a certain age and older to get an immunization without parental consent. Fiscus was fired in July from the Tennessee Department of Health. She is currently suing the state to clear her name of any wrong-doing related to a dog muzzle sent to her state office.
In regard to how COVID-19 is handled in hospitals, Moody, R-Covington, has also filed legislation that would allow one family member or person can be present during time throughout the period of hospitalization of COVID-19 to prevent people from dying or suffering the illness alone.
Rudd also included his bills one that would require a pro tem district attorney for prosecuting a law if that DA publicly said he or she won't do so. Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk said in August he will not prosecute local school officials who violate Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order that requires school districts to allow parents to opt out of mask mandates.
This is a developing story. News Channel 5 will update this story throughout the day as bills are filed.