The Tennessee legislature has approved an omnibus bill that, in part, bans COVID-19 vaccine passports at large, and also restricts mask mandates by most entities, with some exceptions.
The measures were passed in the state’s third special session this year, which began on Oct. 27 and was adjourned in the early hours on Oct. 30.
In particular, the legislature voted to ban government entities, public schools, and many private businesses from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccines or mandating vaccines among their staff. These same entities also can’t take adverse action against anyone who declines to comply with such requirements for any reason.
However, businesses that contract with the federal government and thereby receive federal funds, including public universities, may be able to mandate vaccines and masks after they apply for and obtain approval from the state’s comptroller’s office, if they are able to make the case that not doing so could result in them losing out on federal funding.
The legislation also allows for any people who would normally qualify for unemployment benefits—but left their job because they refused the COVID-19 vaccine amid workplace mandates—to qualify for such benefits.
If approved by the governor, the measures would further restrict vaccine mandates in the state. In Tennessee, the state or local governments are currently prohibited from requiring people to provide proof of vaccination to enter government properties or access government services, due to a measure signed into law in May.
The legislation was approved by the Senate in a 22–4 vote and passed in the House in a 64–14 vote, the Tennessean reported. There are also multiple non-COVID-19 measures in the omnibus bill.
Lawmakers in Tennessee also voted to restrict mask mandates by government entities, such that masks wouldn’t be mandated for accessing government facilities or services, and that residents could be granted exemptions on medical or religious grounds.
If signed, government employers, including public schools, would not be able to mandate masks for employees, unless the COVID-19 infection rate is high—a rolling 14-day average COVID-19 infection rate of at least 1,000 cases per 100,000 people—in a certain locale. No county in Tennessee has reached that figure since the start of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic. If a mask mandate is implemented in any county, it would expire after 14 days, according to the new measures.
Masks can still be mandated by other entities, including hospitals, private schools, correctional facilities, long-term care facilities, airports, and certain other businesses.
Other COVID-19 Items
The Tennessee legislature also approved several separate COVID-19 related items.
Lawmakers voted to ban the use of any public money or resources to implement or enforce any COVID-19 related mandate.
The bill seeks to remove the authority from any health entity, mayor, local government entity, or school in the state to quarantine a person or private business over the CCP virus. Instead, it gives the health commissioner the sole authority to outline the criteria for COVID-19 quarantines.
One item in the bill stipulates that places of entertainment can require proof of COVID-19 antibodies or a negative COVID-19 test result to grant patrons admission.
Another item requires that, to vaccinate a child, a health care provider must obtain written consent from the child’s parent or legal guardian.
The bill would block the government from interfering with a health care provider’s decision whether to recommend, prescribe, or administer monoclonal antibodies as a COVID-19 treatment.
It also seeks to require licensing boards to develop a set of transparent rules if they wish to discipline health care providers for COVID-19 treatments, although the rules would be subject to the state’s Government Operations Committee for approval, the Tennessean reported.
The proposed legislation also would require hospitals to allow COVID-19 patients to have someone with them during care, as long as the visitor tests negative and has no COVID-19 symptoms.
Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, said in a statement on Oct. 30 that his office is “evaluating each piece of legislation to ensure we push back on harmful federal policies & do right by Tennesseans.”
“I commend members of the General Assembly for working to address the Biden Administration’s overreach into our state, our workforce, & our schools,” he said.