October proved to be a busy month for the Tennessee General Assembly. The legislature convened for a special session on October 18th to address funding, buildout, and oversight of the Memphis Regional Megasite after Ford Motor Company and SK Innovation jointly committed to investing $5.6 billion at the site.
During the special session, legislators approved nearly $900 million in incentives to aid in building out hard infrastructure at the Megasite and surrounding areas, in addition to establishing a Megasite Authority to oversee the site. Shortly after Governor Lee signed the passed legislation, he announced the appointment of Clay Bright to serve as CEO of the Megasite Authority of West Tennessee. Bright comes to the Authority after serving 2 years as Commissioner of the Department of Transportation.
Immediately following the Megasite Special Session, Lt. Gov. McNally and Speaker Sexton announced that enough General Assembly members had signed onto a petition requesting members return to Nashville the following week to address vaccine and mask mandates, power of district attorneys general, partisan school board elections, and authority of local health departments. The COVID-19 Special Session convened on October 27th, before ultimately passing the following pieces of legislation:
– Provides the state attorney general the ability to appoint a district attorney general pro tem should a district attorney general “peremptorily and categorically” refuse to prosecute a criminal offense.
– Authorizes elections of school board members to be conducted on a partisan or nonpartisan basis.
– Decreases the time a state of emergency may continue under an executive order or proclamation issued by the governor from 60 days to 45 days.
– Grants the governor exclusive jurisdiction to issue orders and directives regarding county health departments during a pandemic.
– Vests county mayors with authority to issue orders relative to the health and safety of county residents.
– Vests commissioner of health with exclusive authority to quarantine persons and businesses for purposes of COVID-19.
– Places limits on vaccine and mask mandates.
– Permits a person to voluntarily provide proof of vaccination or proof of COVID-19 antibodies lieu of a negative COVID-19 test to gain entry into a place of entertainment.
– Permits a healthcare provider to use independent professional judgement regarding use of monoclonal antibody treatments for patients.
– Prohibits administering a vaccine to someone under the age of 18 without parental consent.
– Unemployment benefits shall be available for those who left their job due to refusing a COVID-19 vaccination.
– Requires that hospitals allow patients to have someone with them during treatment.
– Provides sole authority to set quarantine guidelines to the Commissioner of the Department of Health.
– Addresses the federal government’s penalizing, or taxation of, citizens of this State through enforcement of restrictions relative to COVID-19 by supporting the challenging, condemning, and nullifying of such action.
After working through the night Friday, the legislature adjourned around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, October 30th.