NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Remnants of the COVID-19 pandemic are now potentially becoming permanent. In a special session that began in 2021 and ended in 2022, the Tennessee legislature passed a number of laws and ordinances related to the pandemic.

“SB0002 that I filed for this upcoming legislative session will do away with that sunset clause and make that legislation, those laws that we passed, permanent,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) said.

Johnson filed a new piece of legislation that would essentially codify three things into law:

  • Very strict parameters on when schools or local governments can enact a mask mandate
  • Protection to people or businesses against COVID-19-related lawsuits 
  • Prohibit businesses from requiring a vaccine for its employees

“This is a pro-freedom bill, this is a pro-medical freedom bill, and Tennesseans have spoken loudly and clearly,” Johnson said. “We, as their elected representatives have heard that, and that is whether or not you get vaccinated is your choice.”

Whether or not to allow businesses to mandate vaccines for COVID-19 has been a debate pretty much since the vaccine’s rollout in late 2020 to early 2021.

Most Democrats have criticized Republicans, saying the choice for mandates is important not only from a health perspective but also from a freedom of choice perspective. “This is just more of the same of the Tennessee Republican Party trying to tell private businesses and individuals what they can and cannot do,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said.

Clemmons categorized the move as hypocritical, saying Republicans want Tennesseans to have freedom of choice on whether to wear a mask or get a vaccine but not freedom for each privately-owned business to set those parameters themselves.

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“That’s always a dangerous precedent to set. We don’t like to see that type of government overreach into the lives of individuals,” Clemmons said. “You’re threatening peoples’ individual freedom and liberty by introducing legislation like this.”

The next step is for the bill to head to the General Assembly once the session starts in January.