Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has called for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene on Monday, August 10, for a special session to address COVID-19 liability protections, telehealth services and laws governing the Capitol grounds.
“As COVID-19 continues to present unique challenges, we feel it is in the best interest of the state to convene a special session to address liability protections and telehealth,” said Gov. Lee. “I thank Lt. Gov. McNally and Speaker Sexton for their continued partnership as we work towards an efficient, productive assembly.”
The special session will address extending COVID-19 liability protections in order to provide legal clarity and certainty for health care providers, businesses, schools, non-profits and others.
“With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to present challenges for our people and our economy, it is now more important than ever that Tennessee businesses, hospitals, churches and schools have COVID-19 liability protection,” said Lt. Gov. McNally. “The last thing small business owners, pastors, doctors and school superintendents need to worry about are frivolous lawsuits which would further impede their ability to do their jobs in this difficult time. I am grateful Gov. Lee called this session to address COVID-19 liability and other issues critical to our state. I am committed to working deliberately and efficiently with Gov. Lee, Speaker Sexton and all members of the House and Senate to pass legislation on these issues and get our members back home quickly and safely.”
Lawmakers will address the expansion of telehealth services to Tennesseans and encourage insurers to cover clinically appropriate, medically necessary services provided via telehealth.
“I agree with Gov. Lee’s decision to call a special session,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton. “We are looking forward to coming back and finishing the people’s business to increase access to telehealth services, and to protect businesses, churches, academic and health facilities from baseless lawsuits during the ongoing pandemic. I am very appreciative of the call to strengthen existing laws against those who deface property, who escalate peaceful protests into acts of aggression and those who seek violence towards law enforcement and judicial members. The House is committed to working with Gov. Lee and his administration, as well as Lt. Gov. McNally and the Senate to safely, efficiently, and effectively address these timely issues for the benefit of Tennessee and Tennesseans.”
Lawmakers will also address laws governing Capitol grounds and surrounding areas that have recently been subject to vandalism, defacement and unlawful overnight camping.
Senate Democratic leader, Sen. Jeff Yarbro says that the special session priorities ignore the “unprecedented challenges” Tennessee families are facing due to the pandemic.
Sen. Yarbro issued a statement saying Lee’s policy scope for the special session was “irresponsible” and “tone deaf” as the pandemic infiltrates every county in the state:
“It’s irresponsible and more than a little tone deaf of Gov. Bill Lee to call the legislature back for a special session without addressing the full scope of unprecedented challenges folks are facing across our state.
“We have a broken unemployment system; more than 110,000 have lost health insurance; 58% of renters face eviction risk; and it is unclear if we have resources to open schools or conduct elections safely.
“But we’re having a special session to limit liability?
“Tennessee just suffered our worst month of the pandemic. We’ve had 110,000 confirmed cases, almost 1100 deaths, and there’s no clear strategy to reverse the community spread happening across the state. But that’s off limits in the narrow special session called by the governor.
“The governor’s call of a special session also doesn’t permit legislation on policing reform or other criminal justice issues. But the call does seek new laws to add new criminal penalties for protesters. We need more problem solving and less stoking of culture wars.
“People are anxious about their families and their finances, their lives and their livelihoods, and they need Gov. Bill Lee to show some leadership across the board. This isn’t it.”