Through amendment, another legislator is seeking to revive a bill affording religious or conscientious exemptions for vaccines during a public health emergency. As The Tennessee Star reported, the original bill seeking to provide those protections was killed by the House Health Subcommittee earlier this month.
The bill carrying this amendment originally only sought to prohibit state or local governments from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations. State Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) announced the amendment during the Senate Health and Welfare Committee hearing on Wednesday.
It appeared that healthcare lobbyists were unaware of the amendment. Joe Burchfield, Tennessee Hospital Association (THA) senior vice president of government affairs, expressed surprise.
“Let me first apologize to the sponsor for not being able to speak with her directly on this particular amendment, although our team has communication, I believe, in the last few days,” stated Burchfield.
Burchfield urged the necessity for hospitals to require employee vaccinations for patient safety. Burchfield acknowledged that they do follow federal regulations allowing for religious exemptions currently. He also noted that they supply additional personal protective equipment (PPE) for those who don’t get vaccinated.
“Hospitals’ concerns here are pretty specific,” stated Burchfield. “We want to make sure our patients are safe.”
State Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) inquired if THA require all employees to have vaccines prior to working, and if THA abides by religious exemptions protected by federal law.
Burchfield acknowledged that they don’t strictly require vaccinations prior to work, and that they do honor religious exemptions for the vaccine under federal law. He clarified that their concerns would be that the bill wouldn’t allow them to require or even encourage employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixon) requested that a final decision on the amendment be rolled to next week, citing lack of preparation by the committee to make a decision.
Per online campaign finance records, Watson most recently reported contributions include $2,500 from THA’s political action committee, Friends of THA, and $500 from Pfizer. Also listed on the report are a variety of medical and healthcare PACs.
The committee approved Watson’s motion.
The House has stalled action on the companion bill in committee.
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