Tennessee lawmakers are keeping their options open when it comes to mandatory vaccinations during a current or imminent pandemic. Although community members and advocacy groups have been fighting for their right to choose when it comes to their medical decisions during government-declared emergencies, most lawmakers haven’t been responsive.
At the time of press, the amendment hasn’t been uploaded to the General Assembly website. However, The Tennessee Star obtained a copy of the amendment, included below:
As The Star reported earlier this week, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee passed the amendment overwhelmingly 8-1. At the time, constituents rejoiced at the news. The amendment text wasn’t made publicly available for review – constituents just assumed it did what they’d requested initially. The day after the bill was approved by committee, Tennessee Stands Executive Director and founder Gary Humble obtained a copy of the amendment.
In short, all the amendment did was prevent mandatory vaccinations only for SARS-CoV-2 or during a SARS-CoV-2 epidemic. In other words, the legislation only applied to COVID-19 – not other infectious diseases.
In an interview with The Star, Humble explained that the amendment is essentially moot. For one, COVID-19 vaccines aren’t FDA-approved and therefore aren’t enforceable because they’re under emergency use authorization. And, there wouldn’t likely be another pandemic-level outbreak of the COVID-19 strain specifically in the future.
“Our General Assembly didn’t have the backbone to stand up and secure our religious Constitutional protections,” said Humble.
Humble added that the most the amendment does is strike a law that would make it a Class C misdemeanor for refusing a vaccine. Even so, Humble wasn’t hopeful about how the legislation would fare in the House.
Previously, Humble was responsible for authoring a House bill similar to the amendment, which was killed in subcommittee. There was some hope when State Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) picked up the key legislative components of the rejected bill for an amendment to her bill.
“As little as this bill does, it’s still more than the House was willing to pass. So we have extremely low expectations from the House,” explained Humble. “At best, the bill remains unchanged and we pass a bill that does nothing. At worst, the House amends it and makes even more of a nothing bill than it already does, or it decides not to pass it.”
Humble warned that this would lead to applications of the law in which people who refuse the vaccines are exiled, in essence. Potentially, individuals could be barred from having their unvaccinated children attend public schools, face threats from Child Protective Services (CPS), and be barred from entering public buildings.
He added that anyone who believes that those things couldn’t happen because they haven’t happened should remember that nobody in 2019 would’ve guessed what transpired in 2020.
In a similar vein, Humble predicted that tools like vaccine passports would further inhibit citizens.
“These passports will be utilized by the state at some point for nefarious purposes,” said Humble. “Which is why we need lawmakers that further secure the rights guaranteed by our Constitution. That is a legislator’s job, and they’re unwilling to do it.”
In a post, Humble revealed that lawmakers had refused to run a bill barring vaccine passports – similar to action taken by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis earlier this week. Reportedly, State Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) and State Representative Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet) were the legislators who turned down the bill.
In an interview with The Star, Bowling asserted that this amendment achieves what they set out to do.
“I think we got exactly what we needed to get. It forbade any government entity or agency from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Bowling.
When The Star asked Bowling what the legislature could do for future pandemics, since this bill only addresses COVID-19 and its variants, she said that this amendment establishes a precedent.
“If the sun rises tomorrow, and there is another pandemic, we have set the precedent. The urgency right now for the people was not to be required to take a COVID-19 shot or variant of [it],” said Bowling.
The bill carrying the amendment now awaits consideration in the House.
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