Even if the state adopts a bill prohibiting mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for K-12 students, it would only last two years. That is, according to the latest amendment to HB 1421. The amendment rendered the current status of the bill into a proposed sunset law during Tuesday’s House Health Committee hearing.
The committee member behind the amendment, State Representative Robin Smith (R-Hixon), asserted that it would give the FDA enough time to approve the vaccine for regular use – not just emergency use.
“After two calendar school years, this bill will cease to have enforcement activity on the COVID-19 vaccine. This will give the FDA time to study and gain an approval of COVID vaccines in the population that’s being discussed, which would be school-aged [children],” said Smith.
If FDA approval happened before the two years were up, Smith clarified that the legislature could revisit the law to terminate it early.
State Representative Rusty Grills (R-Newbern) is the sponsor of the bill.
The amendment and bill sparked contentious debates for nearly an hour. Both Democratic and Republican committee members alike voice opposition to the bill, with reasons varying from government overreach to the due diligence citizens should bear on one another.
State Representative Sam Whitson (R-Franklin) said he opposed the bill entirely. He asserted that it constituted government overreach, since it would prohibit private groups from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine.
“This bill applies to private schools[,] church schools[, and] homeschools. We are now mandating private homes who they have to let into their home. We’re telling churches who you have to let into your church,” stated Whitson. “There could be reasons why I would not want somebody who’s not been immunized in my home if I’m running a preschool. I might have someone who has health issues. And what this does is it sets up lawsuits, it sets up intrusion on people’s private property, and it’s just clearly government overreach.”
Grills reiterated that an individual’s choice when it comes to their health is preeminent
State Representative John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) compared the impact of COVID-19 to smallpox, whooping cough, and polio. He called the bill a threat.
As a follow-up to Clemmons point, State Representative Sabi Kumar (R-Springfield) noted that officials shouldn’t be referring to the current COVID-19 vaccines as unapproved based on its emergency use status through the FDA because it creates vaccine hesitancy.
Kumar also said that he believes the ideals of liberty and freedom conflict with the nation’s founding principles related to Christianity, in this case. He added that those who choose not to get the vaccine aren’t following Christian values.
“[I] admire your commitment to liberty and freedom, and I think that is true. The country was founded on those values, and it is the greatest country in the world, and as an immigrant that’s why I’m here. Yet, the same religion that we’re aligned [the] religious exemption for, I think that same religion also tells us to love thy neighbor and protect others,” said Kumar.
Kumar also admitted that he hadn’t been to church in a while.
Grills responded that he’d last been to church on Sunday, and offered to pray to change his heart on the matter.
Other legislators wanted to amend the bill further. State Representative Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) asked if it would be possible to make a motion to do so.
Ramsey’s request for motion prompted the committee to push back a decision on the bill until Wednesday.
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