Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday he plans to sign a sweeping legislative package curtailing the authority public schools, local health agencies and businesses have over COVID-19 restrictions.
The legislation, approved in the early morning hours of Oct. 30, came during a whirlwind special session, called by lawmakers themselves for only the third time in state history to push back against COVID-19 restrictions many Republicans felt infringed on personal freedom.
“There are some issues that we need to work through with the General Assembly, and I’ve spoken to both speakers about that,” Lee told reporters Wednesday. “In fact, we’re meeting about that today. But my plan is to sign that bill.”
Lee said he intends to sign the omnibus bill by its Friday deadline.
Once he formally received the legislation last week, Lee had 10 calendar days, not including Sundays, to decide whether to sign, veto or allow the legislation to take effect without his signature.
The legislation, popular with conservatives, has drawn the ire of businesses concerned over measures regulating how they deal with employees amid the pandemic. Democrats have urged the governor to veto the legislation.
Lee threaded the needle Wednesday, indicating he wanted to see some changes in the bill while also broadly supporting the legislation.
“We want to make sure the particulars of this legislation are the appropriate ones, but on balance I agree with what’s in the package,” Lee said.
When asked for specifics, Lee said he believes a “correction” is needed to legislation requiring that hospitals allow indefinite family visitation for COVID-19 patients. Tennessee hospitals last week expressed concern at the requirement, which could conflict with infection mitigation efforts.
Though the bill did not include specific language applying the requirement to dying patients, Lee said Wednesday it was intended for end-of-life situations.
“That’s the intent, that’s what we’ll be working toward to change as soon as the General Assembly is back in place,” Lee said.
What’s in the bill?
Lawmakers passed a series of legislation, the largest of which was an omnibus bill with a host of provisions that will:
Ban government entities and public schools from requiring masks, unless severe conditions arise
Ban government entities, public schools and many private businesses from vaccine requirements, but with exceptions
Require schools to provide N-95 masks or similar masks to those in demand
Allows for 14-day mask mandates for governments and public schools, subject for renewal, during severe conditions — at least 1,000 cases for every 100,000 residents in the past 14 days — which no county currently reaches
Requires licensing boards to develop a set of rules, subject to state Government Operations Committee’s approval, if they wish to discipline medical professionals for COVID-19 treatments
Allows those who quit their job because of COVID-19 vaccine requirements to collect unemployment benefits
Allow health care professionals to use independent judgement to prescribe monoclonal antibody treatments
Allow the health commissioner exclusive power to design quarantine guidelines
Ban use of public funds for COVID-19 mandates
Requires hospitals to allow visitation by at least one family member of a COVID-19 patient as long as the family member tests negative for the disease and remains asymptomatic
Allow those at risk of losing federal funds to issue mask and vaccine mandates, and use public funds for mandates, if they receive approval from the comptroller’s office
Allow the governor to suspend the entire bill if he desires
The bill does come with exceptions.
Private businesses, including private schools, and correctional facilities, can still issue mask mandates. Entertainment venues, such as the Ryman Auditorium, can no longer require proof of vaccination, but can require proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or proof of COVID-19 antibodies of attendees.
Public universities, most of which receive federal funds, would be able to require masks or vaccines if they convince the state comptroller’s office not doing so would cost them federal dollars.
Federal contractors, airport authorities, health care providers enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid, long-term care facilities, and private residences can continue to require masks and vaccines.
The COVID-19 related legislation expires in 2023.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee plans to sign sweeping COVID-19 legislation