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Covid 19 Bill Passes in Special Session

This information is provided by 28th District State Sen. Dr. Joey Hensley, who represents Giles and five other area counties.

The General Assembly passed significant legislation during the recent Special Legislative Session protecting the constitutional rights of Tennesseans regarding COVID-19 mandates and federal overreach.

The most comprehensive bill approved during the session addresses COVID-19 vaccine, mask and quarantine mandates. Senate Bill 9014, which I co-sponsored, aims to provide clarity regarding actions that can be taken by state and local governments, businesses and schools.

Vaccines – The bill makes clear that no person, private business, governmental entity or school can take an adverse action against a person or otherwise compel a person to show proof of their COVID-19 vaccine for any reason. This includes adverse employment action due to a vaccine requirement.

Generally, health care facilities and health care providers enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid are exempt from the legislation.

Also, there is a mechanism that allows any entity contracting with the federal government or receiving federal funds to request an exemption through the State Comptroller’s office.

The legislation provides that an employee who is separated from employment because their employer required them to be vaccinated is eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.

This provision is retroactive for employees who have had an unemployment claim previously denied as a result of a vaccine mandate by their employer, provided they were otherwise eligible.

In addition, the bill provides that health care providers must receive written consent from a minor’s parent or legal guardian before administering the COVID -19 vaccine.

There was confusion and consternation about this among parents at the prospects that a vaccine might be administered to their minor child without their consent. This legislation makes it clear that parents or guardians must consent.

Mask Mandates / General Public – Relative to masks, the bill sets statewide standards for how and when a local or state government can put a mask mandate in place for the general public. The legislation creates a new term regarding severe COVID-19 conditions with two triggers. The governor must declare a state of emergency specific to COVID-19 and then a county where the mandate is being contemplated must have a case rate of at least 1,000 per 100,000 population.

If those conditions are met, and the government decides to implement a mask mandate, it can last for 14 days.

After that period, the mandate will expire unless the severe conditions are still occurring at which point it can be renewed for another 14-days.

Under the legislation, private businesses can require a mask for their employees and customers, as long as it is a consistent policy, but they cannot mandate a vaccine.

Mask mandates for public K-12 and post-secondary schools mirror the requirements in the bill for the general public, but adds a process which must be followed before implementation.

The principal or president of a school must evaluate all written requests for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations.

Upon approval, the school must place that person in an in-person educational setting where anyone who cannot socially distance must be masked with an N95 or equivalent mask. Private schools are not affected by the legislation.

Health Care Standards / Quarantine Mandates – The legislation clarifies confusing and conflicting quarantine requirements by giving only the Commissioner of Health power to quarantine, close or restrict operation of a business as a result of COVID-19. Quarantines would only apply to cases where a person tests positive for COVID-19.

The bill also allows health care providers to exercise independent professional judgement to determine whether to prescribe, offer or administer monoclonal antibodies to a patient as a treatment or prophylaxis against COVID-19.

The government cannot prioritize these antibodies to any group of people. In addition, any disciplinary process that is implemented by a health-related board regarding the dispensing or prescribing of medication for COVID-19 must be promulgated as a rule.

This process involves approval of that rule by the General Assembly’s Government Operations Committee.

Finally, the bill would allow a loved one to be present during the hospitalization of a COVID-19 patient to prevent people from dying alone.

Next week: More on actions during the Special Session, including county health officers, district attorneys general, school boards, the governor’s emergency powers and federal mandates.

Hensley may be contacted at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville Tenn., 37243; 615-741-3100; toll free 1-800-449-8366 ext. 13100, fax 615-253-0231. His district address is 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald Tenn., 38462, telephone 931-796-2018; cell telephone 931-212-8823 or e-mail: sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov

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Information in this column comes from the office of 28th District State Sen. Joey Hensley M.D., who represents Giles and five other counties. From school bus drivers to trucking, the lack of Commercia