Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 5, 2021

What’s in Tennessee’s far-reaching COVID-19 bill

Sprawling legislation against COVID-19 prevention measures is awaiting Gov. Bill Lee’s decision on whether to sign on to efforts to undercut vaccine requirements, mask mandates and more.

GOP lawmakers passed the final bill during the dead of night over the weekend, capping a three-day session called by lawmakers.

Along with the centerpiece bill, lawmakers also voted to eliminate the ability of six independent health departments in large counties to issue their own preventative health orders during a pandemic; allow the attorney general to replace a district attorney in a case in which the prosecutor has refused to enforce certain laws; and offer an option for partisan elections for school boards.

Here is a look at some key provisions in the most wide-reaching bill to pass last week:

• A state or local government entity, including schools and school districts, and private businesses would be barred from making anyone show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, setting up a conflict with President Joe Biden’s upcoming rule on requiring vaccinations for many workplaces

• Entertainment venues could continue letting people show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry

• People receiving services in their home could require proof of vaccination for the provider

• Government entities, including public schools, could only require masks when a county has registered at least 1,000 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks; the metric must be met every two weeks to continue renewing a mask mandate; religious and medical exemptions must be offered

• Schools that institute a mask mandate must provide N95-equivalent masks for students and staff, and schools would be banned from using state money for any mask requirement

• Exemptions from mask and vaccine limitations would include entities such as airports, paramedics, hospitals and other health care providers, and industries that require masks regardless of COVID-19

• Exemptions to the limitations on mask requirements alone would include private businesses and correctional facilities

• People who are out of a job because they refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine would be assured they are eligible for unemployment benefits, including retroactively

• The state health commissioner would take over authority to create COVID-19 quarantine guidelines, such as when schools and private businesses might need to close temporarily or restrict operations, removing authority from local governments

• Certain minors as young as 14 years old could no longer get vaccinated for COVID-19 without parental consent, an infrequently used option that created outrage among state lawmakers and was in play during the firing of the state’s vaccine leader; an exception would exist when a provider thinks the minor is being abused by a parent or guardian or may be a dependent and neglected child

• The state would need to create rules before any health board punishes a provider for how they prescribe medications for COVID-19, including some that have been promoted by conservative figures as a treatment despite a lack of conclusive evidence that it helps people with the virus

• State or local government money could not be used on federal policies that include COVID-19 prevention requirements; state personnel or property also could not be used on those federal policies

• Entities could apply with the state comptroller for exemptions to the vaccination, mask and funding requirements if they would cause the government entity, including schools, or businesses to lose federal funding

• Individuals could sue businesses or government entities to stop a mask mandate or vaccine requirement, or sue a provider breaking new COVID-19 vaccination permission for minors rules; plaintiffs could also seek compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees

• Hospitals would be required during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow at least one family member to stay with a patient who doesn’t have and is not showing symptoms of COVID-19 or another virus or communicable disease