It’s a push and pull over pandemic protocols that will likely end up in court. Meanwhile, public safety and the economy are at stake.
Lawmakers met for days at a recent special session, eventually passing a series of bills that were immediately met with both backlash and approval.
It’s an ongoing battle between local and state leaders over the best ways to tackle COVID-19 — with no ceasefire in sight.
This week, Governor Bill Lee said he will sign the huge controversial bill. He says it is unfair to force companies to require masks or vaccines and the new law will prevent that.
But in Nashville, most employers would just like the decision to be left to them.
State lawmakers said they took steps during the special session to protect the rights of individuals to choose whether to wear a mask or receive a vaccine.
The Speaker of the House said this earlier this week when he defended the ban on mandates across the state.
“We were trying to protect people’s constitutional rights and create a unified standard across the state,” said Chairman Cameron Sexton.
Davidson County was one of the few counties statewide where the local health department could ask for mask mandates, contrary to several state guidelines.
But among other things, the omnibus law takes that away, which is a concern for subway vice mayor Jim Shulman.
“The people we represent here in Davidson County may have a very different philosophy about something like COVID than the rest of the state. We should be able to deal with that locally,” Shulman said.
When the bill officially goes into effect, it will limit mask mandates. It will allow private companies to demand vaccines, but employers will forbid employees to ask for proof of that vaccine.
Ralph Schulz, president and CEO of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, says employers prefer to make their own decisions.
“If you look at mandates, whether it’s vaccination mandates or mask mandates, they want to be able to manage the situation the way it suits their business,” Schulz said.
Schulz said every company is different and smaller companies may have different needs than much larger ones. He hopes lawmakers, with guidance from the governor, will continue to look for ways to empower employers to make better calls when it comes to COVID-19.
“They just want the independence of running their business the way they see fit. Keeping employees and customers safe and doing business,” Schulz said.
That’s the trick to getting ahead.
It’s entirely possible that lawmakers will change things when they return to session early next year.
The governor is expected to sign the bill before the end of the week.
Lawmakers return to session on Jan. 11.