Tennessee Speaker, House Republicans issue letter asking for special session over COVID mandates

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – On Wednesday, Tennessee Speaker Cameron Sexton and House Republicans issued a letter requesting for Governor Bill Lee to call a special session of the General Assembly to convene and address what the state representatives call, “misdirected and mandated responses to COVID-19 by local entities and officials.”

More than 70 signatures of legislative leaders appear on the request for a special session. You can read the full letter here.

Sexton could face resistance from the state senate to reject a special session.

“First it’s a lot of money that our taxpayers will have to bore, and the second we’re not equipped to make those decisions for our school boards,” Sen. Brenda Gilmore, a Davidson County Democrat said.

A change to existing law which gives authority to school boards to maintain the health and safety of kids could put Tennessee in a courtroom again.

“[Ron] DeSantis, I know in Florida talks about the right of parents over their children, well that’s an important right,” Vile said. “But what about the parents who would like the opportunity to send their child to a school where they don’t think covid is going to be rampant?”

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While a statewide mask or vaccine mandate is unlikely in the Volunteer State it’s not unheard of. A Supreme Court decision in Jacobson vs. Massachusetts set a precedent.

“In that decision written by [Justice] Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. – the court upheld a fine against people who refused to get vaccinated and it largely did so on the basis that this was for the common good,” Vile said.

Lt. Governor Randy McNally’s office says he is not pursuing a special session to ban mask mandates in schools.

The East Tennessee Republican’s spokesperson released the following statement:

“There are two paths to a special session. The governor may call one and the legislature can call themselves into special session with the signature of two-thirds of the members of both chambers. Lt. Governor McNally has not pursued either option. If a special session is called, he will work with Speaker Sexton and Governor Lee to address any issues contained in the call.”

Speaker Sexton’s office did not return a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier this month, Sexton threatened school districts with potential legislative force if they chose to issue a mask mandate or close schools due to the pandemic.

A number of school districts have enacted mask mandates to start the new year in the wake of growing COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday night, the Williamson County School Board passed a temporary mask mandate for elementary schools. Last week, the Metro Nashville Board of Education adopted a universal mask policy for the start of the year.

On Monday, Lee was asked if he would recommend schools instituting a mask mandate, “I would recommend that school districts listen to their parents,” he responded. “The way our state laws are set up, school districts have the authority to make those decisions. Those school board members are elected locally in those communities and should listen to their parents.”

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During an August 6 virtual briefing, the state’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey, discussed a rise in pediatric cases in data from last month, nearly doubling over the last few weeks of July.

Children younger than 12 are currently not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

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