NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – There’s a renewed push for a special session to ban mask and vaccine mandates in Tennessee after President Joe Biden announced he will require around 100 million Americans to be vaccinated to combat the surging COVID-19 cases.
“They have a right to make the choice and we need to have a special session to bring that back,” said Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald).
Those rallying at the Tennessee State Capitol say the new vaccine mandates are an overreach by the federal government and a special legislative session is needed to push back.
Previous calls for a special session fell silent following an Executive Order from Governor Bill Lee allowing parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates.
Lawmakers say it’s time to respond to the new federal COVID guidelines and examine Governor Lee’s emergency powers. “I understand the governor is trying to do the best he can with the situation that’s presented to him but emergencies don’t last 12 to 18 months,” said Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris).
Trey Morris from Memphis was among those in the crowd Thursday afternoon rallying against the federal mandates requiring all employers with more than 100 workers, some healthcare workers, and federal contractors to be vaccinated or tested weekly.
“We get to make the choice if we want to take the vaccine or not — I don’t feel like the government shouldn’t tell us or make us,” said Morris.
Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) says he welcomes a special session, but wants to focus on addressing learning loss. “The special session needs to be to discuss how do we give our children an opportunity if you don’t want them in masks in a school then give them an opportunity at a virtual education.”
It’s not clear at this time what authority the General Assembly has in responding to Biden’s mandates, but Democrats say the political rhetoric should stop.
“I am not for mandating vaccines in people, but the president has given those that don’t want a vaccine an out. Just get tested, and I’m okay with that because we got to find a way to stop the spread of COVID,” Parkinson said.
The governor can call a special session alone or two-thirds of lawmakers in each chamber agreeing in writing can call themselves into a special session.
Republican lawmakers say they are just a few senators short of the two-thirds threshold, but Lt. Governor Randy McNally is not on board with the new push.
“Lt. Governor McNally’s position has not changed. He does not see an urgent need for a special session. President Biden’s unconstitutional executive order does not change that. The General Assembly cannot pass any state law that would make what President Biden has done any more unconstitutional. It is already the height of federal overreach As soon as Biden’s actual rules and regulations have been adopted, our attorney general, in conjunction with other states attorneys general, can challenge this order in the courts, the arena where this issue will ultimately be decided.” said Adam Kleinheider, Spokesperson for Lt. Governor McNally.