NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Legislators have gone through the amending and wording process Thursday before their bills land on the House and Senate floors for the COVID-19 special session.
Lawmakers filed a total of 84 bills for the third session of the year, but only a handful garnered a nod from Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.
Questions passed back and forth all day, with a surprise 17-page amendment in the Senate to one bill late in the day.
Here's what happened during the second day of meetings in both chambers.
Words in the House ignited when it came it to talking about proof of vaccination or not presented in private businesses or government entities.
Filed by Sexton, HB 9078 stated a private business or governmental entity can't compel anyone to provide proof of vaccination for COVID-19.
"It simply says no one can be asked about their vaccination status for COVID-19," Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, said. You don't ever ask anyone for their flu vaccine (or) their polio vaccine. That's never a condition of employment. Then all of the sudden for a virus with a 99.95% survivability rate, we're asking everyone to show their vaccination status."
House Democrats, who didn't speak during the meeting, felt at a loss entirely when it came to the bill.
"Guys, we were outnumbered 20 to two for Republicans to Democrats," Rep. Jason Hodges, D-Clarksville, said. "There's nothing we can do. We don't control the narrative in here at this point. We have no ability to fight back with two Democrats on the committee. So, at the end of the day, they're going to do what they want to do."
The bill has traveled onto the calendar, and House members will convene Friday together for a House session at 9 a.m.
Throughout the Senate's multiple committee meetings, Sen. Majority Leader Jack Johnson brought forth a 17-page amendment to SB 9014, an unemployment bill. The amendment would change the outset of how COVID-19 is dealt with in the state.
As the Franklin Republican explained, the amendment covered vaccine cards, which no one could ask for at the door to enter a venue or business without the option of a negative COVID-19 test. It also dictated that schools must require their principals to determine whether masks would be worn in schools versus the school boards themselves. Mask mandates could only happen during a state of emergency called by the governor and during a time period where COVID-19 infections reached 1,000 new infections per 100,000 residents during a 14-day period.
"We have worked hard to create an environment that promotes prosperity," Johnson said. "We've done a good job. This is a unique circumstance. We understand this bill is contrary that we have held sacred in this community. I view this as a road map for getting us into the future. Everything I just described is only relative to COVID-19. This is a title simply for COVID-19. It's been a terrible time but it's time for us to move on. People are still contracting the virus, and we need to cognizant of that. But we need to be cognizant of what we have done right and wrong. This will create a responsible framework.
The lengthy amendment, afforded from McNally, caused the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee to start late, which was proof enough for Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, that the process should slow down. She also noted whole amendment would make it more difficult for private businesses and for Tennesseans as a whole.
"I think it puts an undue burden on the vaccinated population," Akbari said. "I am concerned when we take these sweeping actions with what is a significant bill. I am deeply troubled by this bill."
Earlier in the day, Sen. Mike Bell brought the partisan school board bill to the forefront and wanted it passed without much tinkering to the language. The bill in question is sponsored in the House by Sexton. As designed, the legislation would have made all school boards across the state, including special school district boards, partisan.
"It takes a brief look at the news over the last several months to see the controversy that has been coming from school board meetings," Bell said. "I don't care if it's the teaching of CRT or mandating of masks or vaccines. I think it's important to the citizens of the state know that being a member of one party or another gives them an idea of the philosophy of that person running for that office. Our voters back home have no clue what that political philosophy is."
But the bill — from an amendment from Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hoenwald — iterated that elections for school board members may be conducted on a partisan or nonpartisan basis. If a political party timely called a primary, that party would have a primary, said Mark Goins, coordinator of elections. If the other party did not call a primary then that party would not have a primary, but could caucus and designate nominees. Otherwise, the candidates could be listed as independents, Goins said.
The bill with the amendment made its way to the calendar.
On Friday, the Senate will meet for a floor session at 12:30 p.m.