Ahead of next week’s special legislative session on COVID-19 restrictions, a Tennessee lawmaker has introduced bills holding employers liable for COVID-19 vaccine side effects and making school board elections partisan.
Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, is the first to file legislation after House and Senate leadership officially announced this week the session could cover a wide range of issues, from limiting the governor’s emergency power to regulating private businesses for requiring vaccines.
In the state legislature, Cepicky has been among the most vocal skeptics of the vaccine’s effectiveness. At a July legislative hearing, Cepicky insisted the vaccinated population “don’t know what they are putting in their bodies” and pressured the state’s health department to stop advertising COVID-19 vaccines about teens.
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The lawmaker was one of three House representatives to vote against the $884 million legislative package this week for Ford’s $5.6 billion investment in West Tennessee. On the House floor, he said being unable to curtail COVID-19 restrictions during that session — specifically tailored to address the Ford project — as the reason why he protested the deal.
HB9001, one of two bills Cepicky filed Thursday, would categorize side effects from COVID-19 vaccines as injuries eligible for workers’ compensation. The bill would apply to private employers, including higher education institutions.
A law from last year had shielded employers from liability when employees suffer “loss, damage, injury, or death” due to COVID-19 at their workplace. Cepicky’s bill would still protect employers from most of those events, except when employees report side effects from COVID-19 vaccination.
Under the bill, workers must report their side effects to employers within 30 days from the symptoms to qualify for compensation.
Cepicky’s other bill, HB9002, would simply allow school board elections to be partisan.
Seemingly unfitting for the COVID-19 session, the topic is covered under the broad scope both legislative chambers agreed on, according to a document laying out details of the agreement. Lawmakers are allowed to tackle four major areas: local and federal mask and vaccination restrictions; authority of local health officials; liability of businesses with vaccination requirements; and the governor’s emergency power.
Cepicky’s bill comes as debates around school mask mandates — now highly partisan — intensified over the past few months. But in Tennessee, school districts that have adopted mask mandates are not limited to liberal-leaning ones, but also include those in conservative strongholds, such as Williamson County Schools.
All 73 House Republicans in August signed a letter urging Gov. Bill Lee to hold a special session on COVID-19 restrictions, but the governor resisted the idea, instead issuing an executive order allowing parents to opt children out of the mandates. The order is blocked in at least three counties, including Williamson, an epicenter for heated debates over masks.
This week, House Republicans unsuccessfully pushed for a COVID-19 package that would have, among many things, banned school districts from requiring mask mandates. Bill sponsor Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, hinted he would bring the bill back for the COVID-19 session next week.
COVID-19 package:Tennessee House GOP takes aim at COVID-19 mandates during special session on Ford deal
Reach Yue Stella Yu at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @bystellayu_tnsn.
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