NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's top legislative leaders on Tuesday announced they have enough support to call a special legislative session to address COVID-19 measures after Republican Gov. Bill Lee declined to do so.
Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton say the special session — the third one lawmakers will have held this year — is scheduled for Oct. 27.
Lee, a Republican, has repeatedly resisted requests to hold a special session focused solely on COVID-19 even as GOP lawmakers have become steadily disgruntled at local mandates that have been implemented sporadically around the state.
Instead, the governor has pointed to an executive order he signed earlier this year allowing families to opt their children out of school mask mandates. The order has been blocked by federal judges in three counties.
At the same time, Lee did call a special session to sign off on a nearly $900 million economic and incentive package that was created to secure a large Ford Motor Co. project in West Tennessee.
That special session, which kicked off Monday, renewed arguments from Republicans that the General Assembly should address COVID-19-related proposals while gathered at the Capitol.
Lee's spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The COVID-19 crisis — and how various institutions have adapted and reacted to it — has created new and unique legislative challenges,” McNally said in a statement. “This is an opportunity to make the General Assembly’s voice heard on issues regarding masks, vaccines, executive power, and federal mandates.”
The COVID-19 special session will take up a wide range of bills, none of which have been made public yet. However, topics include addressing mask mandates, employee vaccination requirements and the federal government's ability to penalize those who violate COVID-19 rules.
The General Assembly will also consider legislation targeting the authority of local officials to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to a minor without parental consent and school board elections.
The topics all stem from increased tension local officials have faced trying to implement protective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as ongoing conflicts the Republican-led Legislature has had with more Democratic-leaning strongholds in the state.