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On Monday, August 10, 2020, the General Assembly of Tennessee began an emergency session. Currently, Tennessee is indeed in a state of emergency as declared by Governor Lee, through August 29, 2020 due to an ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic is still spreading with almost 1,300 Tennesseans dead. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment is at almost 10%. Federal unemployment has halted (executive order outstanding) and statewide employment unemployment aid is about $200 per week after taxes. More hospitals per capita have closed than any other state in the nation resulting in “a quarter of Tennesseans without emergency room access” as reported on Nashville’s WKRN. Many rural hospitals are full and patients are being admitted and then provided beds in emergency rooms. More than 700,000 people do not have health insurance. Schools are already reopening and then shutting down. Teachers are quitting their jobs due to fear of health consequences. People are afraid that they are going to be evicted from their homes and our economy is entering a recession. An emergency session would be appropriate for our state leaders to hold the Governor accountable for the lack of a real plan to contain Covid-19. To make right the fact that they have left schools, teachers and students without the financial resources to adequately move forward with the school year in a safe way. To reverse their partisan stand on accepting Medicaid Expansion to keep hospitals open and allow Tennesseans access to doctors. And to pass legislation to halt evictions. That is not what happened.
At the call of the Governor, the Senate and the House came to Nashville at a cost to the taxpayer of at least $199,000 not including the cost of increased security. Dozens of House Republicans walked around without masks on. The House Republican Caucus met 3 times over the course of the session keeping their doors closed to the press. The agenda, established by Governor Lee, included a bill targeting protesters to squelch first amendment rights after 10:00 pm and allows for a felony charge for violations. This anti-protest law will cost taxpayers an estimated 1.3 million dollars annually. The protestors remain at the state capitol asking for an opportunity to speak with the Governor. Instead, they are threatened with arrest. There are already laws in place for vandalism and violence. Democrats were the only “no” votes.
Legislation was passed by the support of the supermajority to protect people and businesses from a lawsuit who are provably negligent in Covid-19 protection. When some nursing homes failed to protect their patients and employees, Governor Lee protected the business owners as Tennesseans died with no legal recourse for their families. There are virtually no circumstances under which a victim nor their family could bring a lawsuit. If a business negligently infects one of their employees or customers, that person will be responsible for their own medical care. The courthouse doors have been chained. Big businesses have been protected over lives. The Republican majority voted in support of this law. Lastly, a telehealth bill passed with bipartisan support that should have been in place this last March as we were facing the beginning of the pandemic locally. As one can easily see, there was no attention paid to the current actual emergencies we are facing. The stranglehold that the current majority holds in even considering legislation that serves the public, has gotten tighter with each session since the pandemic began. This partisan stance does not serve the average citizen. We need a legislature that can hear the cries of Tennesseans not the rattle of the change in the hands of big corporations. With the upcoming election, we have the opportunity to create very real and critical change in our leadership. We can become the state where the people are valued. We need to rebuild Tennessee so that regardless of your political party affiliation, you know that basic protections are in place. Protections to help you in these times to remain in your home, have the ability to get a bed in a hospital if your health is compromised, know that your child is safe in their school environment, and have confidence that your legislators are fighting for you.