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Legislative leaders want COVID addressed at special session

October 1, 2021 GMT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The top two leaders of Tennessee’s General Assembly announced Friday that they are working to address legislation regarding COVID-19 topics during the upcoming legislative session that will be held later this month.

However, despite the declarations from House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally, it’s unknown if their attempt will be successful.

Gov. Bill Lee announced this week that a special legislative session will be held on Oct. 18 with the sole purpose of the Republican-controlled Legislature passing a $500 million incentive package that was created to secure a large Ford Motor Co. project in Memphis.

Ford and South Korean battery maker SK Innovation will build an assembly plant — known as the Blue Oval City project — by 2025 at the megasite about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Memphis, near the small town of Stanton in rural Haywood County.

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Lee, a Republican, declined to expand the purpose of the special session to include COVID-19 measures that have been pushed by some GOP lawmakers upset at local mandates that have been implemented across the state. Instead, he extended an executive order that allowed families to opt their children out of school mask mandates to prevent the spread of COVID-19 despite the order being blocked by federal judges in three counties.

On Friday, Sexton and McNally called the Memphis megasite deal “transformational for Tennessee” but said COVID-19 mandates have been “burdensome” for many Tennesseans.

“We are working together per our state constitution to call an additional special session upon the completion of the megasite session to address issues surrounding COVID-19,” the two speakers said in a statement without specifying what legislation they wanted to pass.

In Tennessee, if lawmakers want to take up topics outside of what the governor outlined during a special session, it would take two-thirds support in both the House and Senate chambers. That means it would require 22 ayes from the 33-member Senate and 66 ayes from the 99-member House.

McNally initially resisted calls for a COVID-19 related special session, but his spokesperson said the Republican believes it’s now appropriate since the General Assembly will already be back in Nashville.