The Tennessee General Assembly determined that local governments can’t classify workers as “nonessential” – but the governor and state still can. The House passed an amended version of a bill, the “The Essential Workers Act,” on Tuesday that struck original language prohibiting the governor and state entities from classifying workers as “nonessential.”
Under the modified act, the governor and state may impose an executive order, ordinance, or resolution that identifies essential and nonessential businesses, trades, professions, or industries for the purpose of closing them. The Tennessee Star inquired with the sponsor, State Representative Brendan Ogles (R-Franklin) as to why they decided the governor and state entities should retain that authority. They didn’t respond by press time. The amendment also struck language that prohibited calling certain workers “essential.”
The amending language was introduced and adopted by the Senate. No explanation was given in the Senate for those changes made to The Essential Workers Act, either.
During the final House floor hearing of the bill, Ogles explained that The Essential Workers Act was brought to him by his constituents that live just south of Nashville. He read aloud the preamble to the bill in full prior to explaining it.
“[The Essential Workers Act] prohibits local governments – local boards and authorities – from generating lists of trades, jobs, and modifying those jobs in many ways, and listing them as ‘nonessential,'” said Ogles. “I believe if you got a license to work, or if you’re doing what you should be doing and it’s lawful in this state, you should have the ability to work in this state.”
Ogles clarified that the act doesn’t preclude the governor or state authorities from issuing orders determining essential or nonessential businesses.
Citing Governor Bill Lee’s announcement on Tuesday that he wouldn’t renew any public health orders, State Representative William Lamberth (R-Portland) said that the timing of the Essential Workers Act was impeccable.
A widely available vaccine changes everything and it’s a new season in Tennessee. I am not renewing any public health orders because COVID-19 is no longer a health emergency in our state.
— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) April 27, 2021
Additionally, Lee required that all counties rescind their mask mandates and any business restrictions by Memorial Day weekend.
Ogles thanked the governor for this announcement.
State Representative Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) spoke up to say that The Essential Workers Act reminded him of President Ronald Reagan.
“Representative Ogles – will you tear down this wall?” asked Curcio, prompting laughter.
Although no Democratic representatives spoke out against the bill on the final House floor hearing, most Democrats voted against it. Only three Democrats voted in favor of the bill: State Representatives Johnny Shaw (D-Bolivar), Joe Towns (D-Memphis), and John Mark Windle (D-Livingston).
The bill now heads to Lee’s desk for approval.
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