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Many employers say they would prefer state leave COVID-19 mandate decisions to them

Tennessee Capitol building at night.jpeg
Posted at 3:16 PM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 19:39:44-05

It's a push and pull over pandemic protocols that will likely end up in court. Meanwhile — public safety and the economy hang in the balance.

Lawmakers met for days during a recent special session, ultimately passing a series of bills that were immediately met with both backlash and approval.

It's an ongoing battle between local and state leaders over the best ways to handle COVID-19 — with no ceasefire in sight.

This week, Gov. Bill Lee said he will sign the massive controversial bill. He says it's unfair to force businesses to mandate masks or vaccines and the new law will prevent that.

But in Nashville, most employers just wish the decision was left to them.

State lawmakers said they took steps during the special session to protect individuals' rights to choose whether to wear a mask or get a vaccine.

The House speaker said as much earlier this week when defending the statewide prohibition on mandates.

"We were trying to protect people's constitutional rights as well as creating a uniform standard across the state," said Speaker Cameron Sexton.

Davidson County was one of a handful of counties statewide where the local health department could call for mask mandates, contrary to different guidelines from the state.

But, among other things, the omnibus bill takes that away which is a concern for Metro Vice Mayor Jim Shulman.

"The people we represent here in Davidson County may have an overall different philosophy on something like COVID than the rest of the state. We should be able to deal with that locally," Shulman said.

When the bill officially becomes law it will limit mask mandates. It will allow private businesses to require vaccines, but prohibit employers from asking workers for proof of that vaccine.

Ralph Schulz, president and CEO of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, says employers would prefer to make their own decisions.

"When you look at mandates, whether vaccinations mandates or mask mandates, they'd like to be able to manage the situation as it fits their business," Schulz said.

Schulz said every business is different and smaller ones may have different needs than much larger ones. He's hopeful lawmakers, with guidance from the governor, will continue looking at ways to allow employers to better make the call when it comes to COVID-19.

"They really just want the independence of operating their business as they see fit. Keeping employees and customers safe and doing business," Schulz said.

That's the trick moving forward.

It's very possible lawmakers will modify things when they return to session early next year.

The governor is expected to sign the bill before the end of the week.

Lawmakers return to session on January 11.