Tennessee Legislature Democrats Call For Governor Lee To “Step Up And Lead” And Issue A Statewide Mask Mandate.
Photo – Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville
Photo Credit – Mark Humphrey / AP
The Center Square [By Vivian Jones]-
Democrats in the Tennessee Legislature spoke in a unified voice Monday, renewing calls for a statewide mask mandate in response to a highly anticipated address by Gov. Bill Lee.
Lee announced an executive order Sunday evening that limits public indoor gatherings to 10 or fewer people, effective through Jan. 19. The order does not apply to gatherings in private homes, at places of worship or for weddings or funerals. He also urged Tennesseans to wear masks and work from home when possible.
House and Senate Democrats held a news conference Monday, urging the governor to have “political courage” to enact a mask mandate.
“We need the governor to step up and lead,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville. “No more suggestions. No more urging. No more giving in to the crazies who deny the virus. And no more giving up on containing the spread of this virus that’s killing this many Tennesseans.”
Tennessee has the second-highest average of daily cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state surpassed more than 6,000 COVID-19 deaths over the weekend.
Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, called for a special legislative session to provide more state unemployment and small business relief, remove the governor’s emergency powers to strike no-bid contracts, enact a statewide mask mandate and expand TennCare, among other things.
“By working together across the aisle and focusing squarely on families and our economy, our state legislature can accomplish more in one week than Governor Bill Lee and Congress have done in the past ten months,” Clemmons said.
Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, asked Lee to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are distributed to “everyone who wants them,” and pointed out the state’s rainy day fund totaling over $1 billion could be used to help struggling families.
“I’m sick of going to funerals over the Christmas holiday because of COVID-19,” Lamar said. “If we want to continue to ensure that we value life in this state, let’s implement commonsense policies such as a mask mandate.”
Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, said that while the governor has asked Tennesseans to stay at home and practice social distancing, not everyone “has the privilege to abide by those guidelines.”
“Black people, poor people, working class people and Hispanics, don’t have that luxury to work from home,” Gilmore said. “And then when they go to grocery stores, they have to take public transportation. Most of the time, because they are the essential workers, they are on the front line.”
Tennessee Department of Health officials said Sunday afternoon a Christmas surge of COVID-19 cases could “break” the state’s hospital system.
“I think the approach that Governor Lee seems to be taking is the survival of the fittest,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville. “Let’s listen to doctors. Doctors are coming out and saying, ‘Hey, we need a mask mandate.’ ”