Tennessee lawmakers kick off special session amid pandemic
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers launched a special session Monday to work on legislation that would provide health care providers, schools and businesses broad protections against coronavirus lawsuits.
However, the GOP-dominant Statehouse is already raising eyebrows by also crafting legislation that would both significantly increase penalties against protesters and those who illegally camp on state property.
The proposal comes after weeks of protests at all hours of the day by demonstrators decrying police brutality and racial injustice in the U.S. State troopers have consistently seized equipment and made multiple rounds of misdemeanor arrests, but that has yet to deter the protesters from dispersing.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee convened the special legislative session after lawmakers failed to advance a handful of key bills in the final moments before adjourning in mid-June. Along with protest and COVID liability legislation, Lee is also seeking to pass a bill that would expand telemedicine access as the state battles its COVID-19 outbreak.
The main dividing line over the liability bill was whether to make its protections retroactive to early March, which the Senate supported and the House opposed. The telemedicine bill was spiked as a response to the failure to pass the liability bill.
Tennessee has reported more than 123,900 cases and 1,233 deaths statewide as of Monday. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Tennessee declined over the past two weeks, going from about 2,260 new cases per day on July 26 to about 1,870 new cases per day as of Sunday.
However, the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths has risen in that same time frame, from nearly 17 deaths per day on July 26 to about 21 deaths per day.
Meanwhile, as in other states across the country, demonstrators have gathered on state grounds outside the Capitol to protest the death of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
The demonstrators have unsuccessfully sought meetings with Lee, but Republicans leaders oppose their support of certain police reforms and other social justice measures.
While lawmakers met briefly to outline details of the special legislative session on Monday, outside the Capitol building cars honked to show their support of the protesters while people held signs and pushed to get inside.
GOP lawmakers are still finalizing details of the protester bill.