The first day of the Tennessee General Assembly’s special session Monday called by Governor Bill Lee, revealed the legislation related to COVID-19 liability, telemedicine expansion and protesting that will be considered.
Only legislation related to the topics specifically contained in the governor’s proclamation can be considered during the special session, which began at 4 p.m. on Monday with both the House and Senate going into a floor session.
The floor sessions, which lasted less than 30 minutes each, dispensed quickly with the formality of the respective speakers assigning two committees each to notify the governor and the other chamber that it has “perfected its organization and is ready to conduct business.”
The Senate then introduced and passed on the first of three considerations SB 8001 through SB 8011.
Meanwhile, reflective of how the 2020 legislative year has gone with not being on the same page, the House only passed on first consideration HB 8001 through HB 8006.
Below is summary of all of the bills that have been filed and currently available on the Tennessee General Assembly website for consideration during the special session.
SB 8001 / HB 8006 Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) and Rep. Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin) proposes that a governmental entity, defined as a governing body, board, commission, committee or department of a municipality, county or other political subdivision of the state, shall not intentionally prohibit or prevent law enforcement or fire and rescue services from accessing a specifically bounded area within the entity’s jurisdiction during a public demonstration, unless the services are replaced by like services of another governmental entity.
A governmental entity violating the provision may be held liable for the resulting damages, injury or death.
Three bills are sponsored by Republican leaders Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland) on behalf of the administration.
SB 8002 / HB 8001 is a six-page bill called the “Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act,” a measure widely considered essential to supporting the state’s economic recovery and employment opportunities.
The legislation would not allow any claim to be made for any loss, damage, injury or death arising from COVID-19, unless the claimant proves by clear and convincing evidence that it was caused by an act or omission constituting gross negligence or willful misconduct.
SB 8003 / HB 8002 is a 15-page bill that addresses changes to telehealth services.
SB 8004 / HB 8003 is a placeholder to address appropriations for the first year of funding for any act passed during the special session that has a cost associated with it.
SB 8005 / HB8005 is an 11-page bill that significantly revises criminal law to address protesting activities that go beyond being peaceful to damaging public property, assaulting a first responder, or camping in undesignated areas.
A new section would be added to the code that deals with assault offenses to deal with actions committed against first responders, defined as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency services personnel or other persons who respond to 911 calls including Capitol police officers, Tennessee Highway Patrol officers, TBI agents, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency officers and Park Rangers.
Penalties would range from a Class A misdemeanor with a fine of $5,000 and mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days incarceration to a Class C felony with a $15,000 fine and mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days incarceration.
The section regarding camping increases the penalty for violation from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony.
Two bills were filed by Nashville Democrat legislators, Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Rep. Bill Beck, both of whom also happen to be attorneys.
SB 8006 / HB 8007 creates a rebuttal presumption in a civil action that a defendant acted with gross negligence in certain circumstances related to the exposure or contraction of COVID-19 and SB 8007 / HB 8008 deals with how workers’ compensation addresses COVID-19 for essential and non-essential workers.
Two bills were also filed by two other Nashville Democrat legislators, Sen. Brenda Gilmore and Rep. Vincent Dixie.
SB 8008 / HB 8009 says that no state or local government, agency or department can infringe on the constitutional rights of a personal to peacefully assemble, demonstrate or both on government property.
The proposed legislation essentially repeats what is already enshrined in The Constitution of the State of Tennessee in Article I, Section 23, “That the citizens have a right, in a peaceable manner, to assemble together for their common good, to instruct their representatives, and to apply to those invested with the powers of government for redress of grievances, or other proper purposes, by address of remonstrance.”
SB 8012 / HB 8010, which was not passed on first consideration in the Senate, requires law enforcement officers to clearly identify themselves when arresting a person during a protest or demonstration.
Two bills, SB 8009 and SB 8010, sponsored by Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) currently with no house sponsor appear to be the “Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act” and the telemedicine services bill.
SB 8011 by Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) also without a House sponsor, is a one-paragraph new subsection to the code says that if a healthcare liability claim is based on a claim of exposure to or contraction of coronavirus, the person must provide the date and location which it allegedly occurred.
Lamberth’s HB 8004, currently without a Senate sponsor, authorizes the attorney general to initiate a criminal prosecution whenever information is received that constitutes probable cause relative to the violation of any state criminal law if the rights of citizens to peacefully demonstrated was adversely impacted.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) assigned members to several committees specific to the special session, including COVID-Related Liability Committee, Electronic Delivery of Healthcare Committee, Public Safety Committee, Finance, Ways & Means Committee and Calendar & Rules Committee.
Both chambers recessed until floor sessions Tuesday morning, with the House scheduled for 9 a.m. and the Senate at 10 a.m.
Both the Senate and House have committee meetings scheduled for later in the day Tuesday.
Watch the full video:
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.