NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Tennessee Senate and House passed Governor Lee's Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act during the special session Wednesday afternoon. It will now head to the governor's desk for final approval.
The bill aims to provide COVID-19 liability protection to health care providers, businesses, schools and non-profits.
It was slightly controversial during the regular session with groups like the AARP of Tennessee and the Tennessee Citizen Action questioning its legality. The original Senate version of the bill was written to be retroactive, meaning businesses could not be sued for anything as early as March - the beginning of the pandemic.
However, the final version of the bill does not take retroactive measures. It will take immediately take effect once it becomes law, meaning COVID-19-related lawsuits filed after the bill's signing will be blocked unless there's clear and convincing evidence of wrongdoing.
“This is a tremendous win for Tennessee’s economy as businesses strive to put people back to work and save families from greater economic hardship,” said Bradley Jackson, President & CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry in a press release...So many businesses have been devastated by this pandemic. Research shows that two-thirds (67%) of small businesses are worried about coronavirus-related lawsuits. Liability protections are one of the most crucial things that can be done for businesses right now,” according to Jackson. “Swift economic recovery cannot occur unless unfair legal exposure is mitigated and businesses have certainty that their efforts to safeguard their employees and customers is acknowledged by the General Assembly and the courts."
Governor Lee took to social media to celebrate not only the success of the bill's passing but the entire special session.
This special session was called to craft timely solutions to pressing problems as we extended liability protection and expanded access to telehealth services.— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) August 13, 2020
However, some Democratic lawmakers did not see it as a win for Tennesseans.
"We have over 200,000 people in our state who are out of work and this legislature came together this week to extend liability protections to the worst actors in our society that aren't taking any precautions," said Senator Jeff Yarbro.
"We passed another bill to protect bad actors because they took out any CDC guidelines for standard of care for what people should do to protect customers employees the citizens of this state," said Representative Bo Mitchell.
Last month Gov. Lee granted those protections in an executive order, but the order ended July 31. It was one of the few reasons the governor called for a special session, hoping to get it passed.
*Editor's note: a previous version of this story said the bill had retroactive powers. It has since been corrected.