Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton to the newsmaker line to discuss the recent Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) vaccine mandate ruling in relation to the Omnibus Bill and Ford Motor Company.
Leahy: Welcome to our newsmaker line the Tennessee Speaker of the House of Representatives Cam Sexton. Good morning, Speaker Sexton.
Sexton: Good morning. How are you today?
Leahy: Well, we’re delighted that as always, you take time to talk to us and explain what’s going on in the Tennessee General Assembly. We really appreciate that. Put this in context.
Yesterday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the federal government put out a rule that requires employers with more than 100 employees to make sure that every employee complies with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate by January 4th or there will be huge fines.
Now, the Tennessee General Assembly passed an Omnibus Bill in the early hours of Saturday. What in that bill, if signed by the governor, would influence this and what I think is an unconstitutional and illegal rule from OSHA?
Sexton: Yes. So thank you for the opportunity. What I will say is we wanted to have our law going to effect first. We think that gives us a little bit better standing in court to go into. We did a couple of things.
There’s a host of bills, but the big COVID bill, what we want to do, is create a new title and code for COVID so it’s very clear what this pertains to. And its Title 14. What we try to do is protect Tennessee families against employees from businesses who wanted to mandate vaccines by not having them have to compel or compel to show proof of that vaccine.
So ultimately, we ban the usage of vaccine passports. We also allow the individual to have unemployment if they decide that they don’t want to take the shot or if they get fired potentially. And another thing is for those individuals also in Florida they are now going down this road for some reason.
I don’t understand why Governor DeSantis won’t do this. But if you do take the shop because you feel like you want to keep your job and have your livelihood, and so you’re forced into doing it.
And then at some point in the future, you have some kind of adverse reaction or hopefully you don’t die. But if that was the case, then we gave you standing in court and gave you a right to cause of action.
And so we try to set the landscape to help us in court. We also passed a House joint resolution that laid out the case on why the AG will be suing, which he did yesterday, which we were very thankful for.
We were one of the first states to jump on the sue the federal government for these unconstitutional mandates that he’s trying to push down through OSHA and also trying to do some taxation on individuals and requiring them to do a negative test on their own and provide masks for themselves. We think this is definitely an overreach, and we think we came out of the session in a pretty good spot.
Leahy: This was passed early Saturday morning. The governor, I guess, has about 10 business days to decide whether he’ll sign it, not, sign it or veto it. Do you have any indication whether the governor will sign this bill or not?
Sexton: I have not had conversations with him. I would expect him not to veto it. I fully expect this to become law. One way, either by signing or not signing. I think what we saw in Virginia the other night is the Virginians rising up against the Biden administration and against what’s going on in the nation and in Virginia and really came out and turned that state red.
And I’ve talked to leaders in Utah and Mississippi and Florida and other states, and they’re all asking, what did Tennessee pass? And so I’m sending them copies of what we passed for them to take a look at because they’re going to be going in the special session.
And I will say that Texas tried to go in special session, and when they got done, they could get anything passed. So in Tennessee, it might not have been a perfect bill, but it does set the stage on the national level where Tennessee through down the first mark.
Leahy: Yeah, that’s interesting. The way the law works is this will become law if either within ten business days, Governor Bill Lee signs it or doesn’t sign it. If he vetoes it, what happens then?
If he vetoes it, then it’s done. And then we’ll have to come back in January and try again. I don’t foresee that happening. I can’t see that. And so I’m confident that it will become law here in the next little bit.
Leahy: Let’s talk about what the bill that you passed if it becomes law will mean for people who work for companies that have more than 100 employees here in Tennessee and where the company decides to comply with, in my view, this illegal, unconstitutional rule promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requiring every single employee to be vaccined.
If an employer in Tennessee decides to enforce that federal rule and an employee chooses not to be vaccinated by January 5th, what happens to them? And does your law have anything to do to help them to keep their job?
Sexton: Usually federal law and federal regulations trump state law. And so we passed this for all Tennesseeans with what we did and set the stage. With OSHA’s requirement when they come out and they start making that effective, in essence, that trumps and what I have been told from our legal department, anything that any state has done.
That’s where we laid out the case and where you’ve seen the AGR a filed lawsuit. And I would assume they’re going to ask for an injunction or nullify it or do some adverse reaction to the OSHA requirement.
And I think other States feel comfortable in that endeavor too. And the OSHA thing, you’re going to have to fight that in the court system. And hopefully, we can defend our position and what we think.
And also it’s very good to see Senator Blackburn and Hagerty stand up in Washington yesterday and talk about how they’re going to work to nullify the OSHA requirements as well.
And I think what you’ve seen with Virginia is a rallying cry across the country for Republicans and conservatives and Independents and conservative Democrats to push back over the Biden administration, who was the first President ever in the US history that mandated mass vaccinations on the public.
Leahy: Does the bill passed by the state legislature, the COVID Omnibus Bill on Saturday prohibit employers with more than 100 employees to fire Tennesseans who choose not to take the vaccine mandate in defiance of the OSHA regulation?
Sexton: Our piece of legislation applies to all businesses regardless of size. But in Tennessee, we’re an at-will state a right-to-work state. And so here you can fire people for any reason whatsoever and without cause.
And so if they did try to fire them for not doing a mandate, then the person would be able to get unemployment immediately. And unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess, depends on how you look at it we are right to work state.
And so that’s what we’ve always hung our hat on. Nothing has changed in that aspect. Apparently, there was a report that after the second special session when the Tennessee General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to provide a package of $884 million of financial incentives to Ford Motor Company to come to that Megasite in Western Tennessee to build electric pickup trucks, there are reports that Ford Motor Company talked to legislators and said, we don’t like the direction you’re going on your COVID bill.
Did they talk to you or other legislators and did you respond to their requirements or their statements and modify the bill?
Sexton: I never talked to anyone from Ford. I’m not sure that anybody in the House actually talked to Ford. I know what the reports have is they were contacting the senators. I don’t know who they were, but that’s what’s been in the paper.
What Ford said or didn’t say, I don’t think had any effect. I think you already had members who were trying to tell private businesses what and what not to do. I think that was already an issue before anything. I think our members first found out about Ford is when the Tennessee article came out where they had talked to the Ford leadership.
And I remember walking on the House floor after a short recess and members were reading the article, and that was the first that I heard about it. And that was the first I think a lot of members have heard about Ford even talking to anybody.
Leahy: In that article as I recall it, Governor Lee apparently advised Ford Motor Company to talk to state legislators about their concerns. Did you see that part of it?
Sexton: I didn’t see that part. That very well could be true. Somebody asked Ford to make some calls. I know there were other businesses. I met with business owners throughout the day, but I didn’t have any conversations with Ford or any company of that size.
Leahy: If we go 10 years into the future, what are the odds that the Ford Motor Company will have to pay a clawback provision? I don’t think they will. I think they’re going to fulfill every part of their obligation for the contract that they signed. But if they don’t, then we’ll get clawback.
We’re hopeful that we don’t have to claw back. West Tennessee really needs this to kickstart their communities. And I was in Haywood County the other night talking to a Republican group, and they just got the Republican Party started there a year or two ago and brought it back to life.
And so we’re really trying to build in a blue county, and they really need this over that way. And hopefully, this will allow them to have more opportunities and more avenues for success for future generations and future families.
Leahy: Well, it’s November 5th, 2021. If you and I are both around November 25th, 2031 10 years from today will have you been back on the radio and we’ll see how that plays out. (Laughter) Hey, Speaker Cam Sexton thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
Sexton: Thank you very much.
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