Tennessee passes legislation limiting COVID-related rules restrictions
After convening for a special legislative session to address COVID-19 countermeasures, the Tennessee General Assembly passed sweeping legislation in the early hours of Saturday morning that limits the authority of public schools, local health departments, government entities, and private businesses to implement COVID-19 related restrictions.
Despite fierce opposition from the Tennessee business community, local school boards, health care providers, and other stakeholders, the legislature enacted House Bill No. 9077 / Senate Bill No. 9014 following lengthy negotiations in a joint conference committee appointed by legislative leadership to resolve the differences between companion bills proposed by each chamber. The wide-ranging legislative package includes the following regulations:
COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates
- Prohibits a governmental entity, school, or local education agency from mandating that a person receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
- “Governmental entity” does not include a healthcare provider enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid that is subject to fines or penalties for non-adherence to federal rules and regulations, an airport authority, or long-term care facility for purposes of the Act.
- Prohibits a private business or school from requiring proof of vaccination as a condition to access the private business's or school's premises or facilities or to receive the benefits of the private business's or school's products or services.
- Prohibits a private business, governmental entity, school, or local education agency from compelling, or otherwise taking adverse action against, a person to provide proof of vaccination if the person objects to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine for any reason.
- Places of entertainment may allow a person to voluntarily provide proof of vaccination or proof of COVID-19 antibodies instead of a negative COVID-19 test in order to gain admission to the premises.
- A person is not prohibited from requiring another person to provide proof of vaccination as a condition to entering that person's personal residence for purposes of providing products or services (e.g. nanny, home health care aid)
Face Coverings in General
- Prohibits governmental entities from requiring a person to wear a face covering as a condition to access the governmental entity's premises or facilities, or to receive the benefits of the governmental entity's products or services, unless “severe conditions” exist and the requirement is in effect for no more than fourteen (14) days.
- “Severe conditions” are defined as: (1) The governor has declared a state of emergency for COVID-19 pursuant to § 58-2-107; and (2) A county has an average rolling 14 day COVID-19 infection rate of at least one thousand (1,000) new known infections for every one hundred thousand (100,000) residents of the county based on the most recent data published by the Department of Health.”
- Prohibits an employer that is a governmental entity from requiring that an employee wear a face covering as a term or condition of employment, or take adverse action against an employee for failing to wear a face covering, unless severe conditions exist at the time the requirement is adopted and the requirement is in effect for not more than 14 days.
- Prohibits a governmental entity from requiring a person to wear a face covering if the person provides documentation from their healthcare provider that wearing a face covering is contraindicated for their health, or if the person objects to wearing a face covering because of a sincerely held religious belief.
- Exception: Private businesses are exempt from this requirement, and may set their own mask policies for employees and customers.