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Legislative Update from State Hensley

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   Legislation prevents “vaccine passports” in Tennessee

   Bill provides local boards of health act only in advisory role to elected county mayors regarding COVID-19 restrictions

   The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved legislation to help ensure COVID-19 vaccines remain voluntary and that medical information reflecting the status of a person’s vaccination cannot be required by any state entities in Tennessee. Senate Bill 858 prohibits a state or local governmental official, entity, department or agency from mandating a private business to require “vaccine passports” as a condition for entering their premises or utilizing their services.

   The legislation has received support from Governor Bill Lee. “The COVID-19 vaccine should be a personal health choice, not a government requirement,” said Lee. “I am supporting legislation to prohibit any government mandated vaccine passports to protect the privacy of Tennessean’s health information and to ensure that this vaccine remains a voluntary personal decision.”  

   The legislation also removes authority from county boards of health to enforce and adopt rules and regulations regarding COVID-19, preserving their role as an advisory body to the elected county mayor. Only Hamilton, Shelby, Knox, Madison, Sullivan and Davidson Counties have independent county health boards which have the power to make final decisions on health-related restrictions during an epidemic.  County mayors already have the authority to make these decisions in the state’s other 89 counties where health departments get their direction from the Tennessee Department of Health.

   In addition, the legislation defines quarantine in Tennessee law as the limitation of a person’s freedom of movement, isolation, or preventing or restricting access to premises upon which the person, cause or source of a disease may be found for a period of time as may be necessary to confirm or establish a diagnosis, determine the cause or source of a disease or prevent the spread of a disease. The proposal now moves to the Senate floor for final consideration.

  Strengthening Election Integrity — The Senate State and Local Government Committee passed legislation to strengthen election integrity and increase accountability for out-of-state donations made to state and local election officials. Senate Bill 1534 prohibits the State Election Commission, the Secretary of State or Coordinator of Elections from accepting any donation from a private person, political party, corporation or other organization unless both the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate approve of the donations. Additionally, it makes the same prohibition for any county election commissioner or election administrator, unless approved by the Secretary of State or designee. The problem occurs when an out-of-state organization pays money outside of the regulated structure directly to an election office which may lack accountability and fairness. The bill continues to allow out-of-state donations to be made to these entities’ Political Action Committees (PACs) because there is accountability through the current system with a database, record of the donations and parameters around the use of the money.

   Tennessee Lawsuit / Biden Administration Tax Policy — Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III joined Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron in filing a lawsuit challenging a mandate from the Biden Administration in the American Rescue Plan Act. The lawsuit argues that the tax mandate unconstitutionally usurps the authority of each state’s legislature to enact beneficial tax policies. Of the nearly $2 trillion included in the Act, approximately $200 billion will assist state governments with COVID relief. But, as a condition of receiving the COVID aid, the Act requires states to comply with a tax mandate that prevents it from lowering taxes for its citizens for four years. The Attorneys General allege in the lawsuit that requiring states to acquiesce to a sweeping tax mandate “is an unprecedented power grab by the federal government at a time when elected officials should be singularly focused on helping their constituents overcome the devastating effects of the pandemic.

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