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Legislative Update November 2, 2021

Community Impact, Nonprofit Leadership

November 2, 2021

Below is a summary of what will be heading to the Governor’s desk for a signature after last week’s special legislative session in the Tennessee General Assembly. Updates are provided by CNM’s colleagues in Memphis, Momentum Nonprofit Partners. 
  • Mask mandates: Private businesses and nonprofits can continue to require masks.  Government entities — including public schools — would largely be prohibited from implementing mask mandates. Those entities would only be allowed to require masks if they lived in a county with a rolling average 14-day COVID-19 infection rate of at least 1,000 per 100,000 residents — a mark that Tennessee has yet to hit despite its multiple virus surges over the past two years. Under the legislation, private schools could implement mask mandates. Exemptions include state and local jails and airports.
  • Vaccine mandates: Private companies and public entities cannot mandate vaccines, with exceptions for hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities that receive funding through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Additional exceptions include entertainment venues as long as they require either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Businesses reliant on federal money could also apply to the state to be exempt from the vaccine mandate ban.  Businesses and nonprofits can still require negative COVID-19 tests.  A vaccine card can still be used to exclude employees from a testing requirement. You can expect this piece of the law to be contested in court, especially when the federal government issues guidance on the federal mandates.  
  • States of Emergency: A state of emergency could stay in place under a governor’s executive order for only 45 days as opposed to 60 days.
  • Health Departments: The state’s six independent county health boards — which oversee public health actions in the most populous counties — won’t be able to issue their own preventative health orders during a pandemic. Instead, the state health department would be in charge of handing down those decisions.
  • School Board Elections: School board elections could become partisan under a bill allowing local political parties to choose to nominate school board candidates — thus allowing the candidates to campaign as that party’s nominee. The races are currently nonpartisan.
  • Attorney General’s Office: A bill that would allow the Attorney General’s office to petition a court to replace district attorneys who “peremptorily and categorically” refuse to prosecute certain laws. The governor still needs to sign off on the proposal, even though it’s unknown how much of a difference lawmakers might make. Tennessee’s Constitution already says that when a district attorney “fails or refuses to attend and prosecute according to law, the court shall have power to appoint an attorney pro tempore.”

A reminder that all of this has yet to be signed into law by Governor Lee, and even then, there is a high likelihood many of these laws will be contested in court, especially if they conflict with federal requirements.