Photo: Representative Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) ; Photo Credit: tn.gov
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
While Governor Bill Lee ignored lawmakers’ requests for a special session regarding recent COVID-19 related mandates, he called his own to ask legislators to consider the state’s role in a multi-billion dollar Ford investment. House members took the opportunity to attempt to move forward with their own proposal.
According to House Speaker Cameron Sexton, the House Clerk’s office approved the bill as a part of the agenda for this week’s session. However, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally’s office did not agree, citing a lack of Senate support.
“Lt. Governor McNally believes the call for the current special session clearly limits the session to issues surrounding the Megasite,” said Adam Kleinheider, spokesperson for McNally’s office. “No companion bill to HB8003 – or any other bill outside the call – has been filed in the Senate during this session.”
The Ford project was hardly discussed during a session in which it was supposed to be the primary focus. Instead, talk turned to the medical freedom proposal.
Representative Rusty Grills of Newbern proposed the bill which was initially slated to provide unemployment benefits to individuals who were forced to quit their jobs because of COVID-19 vaccine mandates by employers.
During Tuesday’s hearing of the House Health and Safety Committee, amendments were made that would prevent governments and private entities from requiring that employees provide proof of vaccination, ban schools from setting forth mask mandates, and provide benefits for employees who were forced to take an unpaid leave of absence for refusing the vaccine.
House Republicans touted the benefits of the bill, saying that it would provide freedom for Tennesseans to make their own health decisions and would keep them from being punished for those personal choices.
Representative Jason Zachary of Knoxville said that the bill would “protect all Tennesseans’ ability to maintain their freedom and pursue their unalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”
Zachary sponsored two of the three amendments to the bill.
Democrats opposed the measure, arguing that Republicans were trying to eliminate those life-saving measures.
“Man, I thought I was coming up here to split $1 billion,” said Representative G.A. Hardaway of Memphis. “We talk about life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Life comes first.”
The bill passed the committee with a vote of 12-5, split by the two parties.
Zachary noted the harsh realities brought about by President Joe Biden’s executive order that all employers with 100 or more employees must mandate the COVID-19 vaccine or require weekly testing.
“The threat from the Biden administration now is costing people their livelihood,” Zachary said.
Lee’s office remains focused on economic incentives, rather than on the health and wellbeing of Tennessee residents.
“We are certainly monitoring the bill but are focused on what we have proposed regarding appropriations, oversight, and management for the Megasite,” said Lee spokesperson Laine Arnold.
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Hardaway argued that continuing to address the bill could wreak havoc on the Ford project.
“We may put the whole reason why we are here at risk in order to pursue it,” he said.
It still remains to be seen if they will be able to proceed with the bill during Governor Lee’s special session, but the headway made during this week may lead to better success in next week’s medical freedom session.
Zachary defended his decision to go ahead and try to push the legislation through instead of waiting for next week’s session.
“I can’t come up here for any special session and not take steps to protect the people I represent,” he said. “Bills fail here all the time. Whether it fails or not, that’s up to the will of the body.”
Yesterday, October 19, 2021, Lt. Governor Randy McNally and Speaker Cameron Sexton formally issued the call for the third extraordinary session of the 112th General Assembly. As outlined in Article 2, Section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution, this call was at the request of both chambers of the General Assembly. The session will cover a number of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including overreaching health care mandates.
“The members of the Senate and their constituents have been clear about the need for this session,” said Lt. Governor McNally. “The Covid-19 crisis — and how various institutions have adapted and reacted to it — has created new and unique legislative challenges. This is an opportunity to make the General Assembly’s voice heard on issues regarding masks, vaccines, executive power, and federal mandates.”
“For several weeks, we have heard from Tennesseans that have significant concerns over the unconstitutional and burdensome mandates being imposed upon them,” said Speaker Sexton. “As an elected body, it is our responsibility to let the distinctive voices of our communities be heard on these issues. I look forward to working together with Lt. Gov. McNally, the House, and Senate to create solutions that preserve the individual choices, freedoms, and liberties of all Tennesseans.”
Signed by over two-thirds of the members of both chambers, the call will bring both the House and the Senate back into session on October 27, 2021, at 4:00 p.m. The call would allow legislation related to vaccines, masks, and other restrictions relative to COVID-19. Legislation to address the various unconstitutional federal mandates issued by the Biden administration would also meet the call guidelines. Additionally, legislation regarding the independent health departments and restrictions on monoclonal antibodies would also be appropriate under the call.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com