On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved a bill to make county health boards as advisory bodies only, and to prohibit mandatory vaccine passports. The bill was introduced by State Representative John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge), and also sponsored by State Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma).
Currently, the components limiting county health boards’ powers and prohibiting vaccine passport mandates aren’t listed as part of the bill. They were introduced as an amendment in the House on Tuesday. Additionally, the bill would relegate local health authority to the state and limit county health officers’ quarantine-mandating powers – individuals and places that aren’t known to have contributed to the spread of a disease may not be quarantined.
Bowling explained that county health boards have gone beyond their designated powers.
“These health boards are in counties that are appointed boards and currently they’re making decisions about a lot of things that kinda are beyond their realm, and the ideas of many people[,]” said Bowling.
“I oppose vaccine passports. The COVID-19 vaccine should be a personal health choice, not a government requirement,” wrote Lee. “I am supporting legislation to prohibit any government-mandated vaccine passports to protect the privacy of Tennesseans’ health information and ensure this vaccine remains a voluntary, personal decision.”
I oppose vaccine passports. The COVID-19 vaccine should be a personal health choice, not a government requirement.
— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) April 6, 2021
A Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) spokesperson testified during the hearing to acknowledge that this amendment came directly from the governor’s office and had their office’s full cooperation.
According to the TDH spokesperson, the amendment would only limit governments from requiring businesses to require vaccine passports. It wouldn’t limit businesses from requiring them voluntarily.
The TDH spokesperson clarified that they didn’t know of any local governments currently requiring or planning to require vaccine passports.
The House Health Subcommittee recommended the bill as amended for passage on Monday – it is now awaiting consideration by the whole committee.
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