letter

16 of 27 Senate Republicans agree: Get vaccinated

The Tennessee Senate meets on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Majority Leader Jack Johnson, and Caucus Chair Ken Yager are among a group of 16 Republicans in the state Senate signing onto letter urging Tennesseans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“This should not be political,” the senators say in the letter.

Others signing the missive are Sens. Richard Briggs, Todd Gardenhire, Ferrell Haile, Ed Jackson, Jon Lundberg, Becky Massey, Bill Powers, Shane Reeves, Paul Rose, Art Swann, Page Walley, Dawn White, and Bo Watson.

Eleven Republicans declined to sign on. They are Sens. Paul Bailey. Mike Bell, Janice Bowling, Rusty Crowe, Joey Hensley, Brian Kelsey, Frank Niceley, Mark Pody, Kerry Roberts, Steve Southerland, and John Stevens.

The Senate’s six Democrats were not asked to participate.

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Tennesseans,

Although we have made progress, COVID-19 is not over. There has been a recent spike in the number of cases, which includes the virus’s more contagious delta variant. A strong majority of these cases are among those who are not vaccinated. And virtually all of those currently hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated.

As people across our state are exposed to the spread of this deadly virus, we strongly urge Tennesseans who do not have a religious objection or a legitimate medical issue to get vaccinated.

The vaccines have been found to be safe and effective against COVID-19. If they had been available from the start and widely used, over 600,000 American families that are mourning the loss of a loved one, along with tens of thousands of people who are awaiting lung transplants, or trying to learn to walk again, would have avoided that heartache.

Vaccines have been saving lives for over a century. As a result, polio and smallpox have been eradicated and measles, mumps and rubella are rare. Building on these 20th century medical breakthroughs, the COVID-19 vaccines were developed utilizing high standards and the best medical technology available.

Even the new mRNA technology, which has caused some people to be vaccine hesitant, has been around for decades. The mRNA vaccines teach your body how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response, without using a live virus. This technology is found in essentially every pharmacy, medical office and laboratory. Recombinant DNA technology has almost completely replaced insulin obtained from animal sources for the treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes with great success for over 30 years.

We are well beyond the COVID-19 vaccine trial stage. Nearly 338 million doses of the vaccines have been administered in the U.S. with few adverse effects. Please compare the very rare instances of side effects with the more than 600,000 deaths in the U.S. which have occurred due to COVID-19. The facts are clear — the benefits of the vaccines far outweigh the risks.

Under no circumstances will the state of Tennessee require mandatory vaccines or vaccine passports for adults or children. We recognize this is a personal choice. However, we urge every Tennessean to consider the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine and talk to your doctor about their recommendations on the best way to protect yourself and your family against COVID-19.

Unfortunately, efforts to get more people vaccinated have been hampered by politicization of COVID-19. This should not be political. Tennesseans need factual information to make educated decisions regarding their health. Please consider looking at the facts which are presented by Vanderbilt University Medical Center or the New England Journal of Medicine, both which are among the most respected health resources worldwide.

Every life lost to this virus is tragic. The COVID-19 vaccines save lives. Again, we strongly urge all Tennesseans to study the facts, talk to your doctor and get vaccinated.

Signed,

Randy McNally, Jack Johnson, Ken Yager, Ferrell Haile, Richard Briggs, Todd Gardenhire, Ed Jackson, Jon Lundberg, Becky Massey, Bill Powers, Shane Reeves, Paul Rose, Art Swann, Page Walley, Dawn White, Bo Watson

Rep. Griffey has a message for school districts

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) speaks to a supporter at House Republican Caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 14, 2020 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Bruce Griffey has taken it upon himself to tell elected local school boards, special school districts, and education leaders around the state what their COVID-19 policies should be. The Paris Republican has sent a letter across the state (and copied it to all House and Senate members) declaring it “potentially” unlawful for districts to require face coverings or “create alternate learning environments for unvaccinated students, segregate such students, or treat them any differently.”

UPDATE: Griffey made some changes to the letter and got 11 GOP colleagues to sign on, including former Speaker Glen Casada of Franklin and Reps. Todd Warner of Chapel Hill, Jerry Sexton of Bean Station, and Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster).

Shelby County Schools is the only district in the state that has said it will require students to wear face coverings in the upcoming semester. Gov. Bill Lee said at a press conference last week that he oppose the move.

Read the whole (updated) Griffey letter here:

Dear Tennessee School Boards, Special School Districts and Directors:

As the 2021-2022 academic year is fast approaching, Tennessee families are anticipating whether or not masks will be required in our Tennessee public schools. For many, this is a contentious issue and one that crosses a wide spectrum of policy areas such as public health, parental rights, the role of government, and the constitutional rights of every citizen.

While we do acknowledge that there is a legitimate state interest in the safety of all Tennesseans, as legislators and elected officials, we must ensure that we continue to maintain the public trust in our government by above all else upholding the laws of our state. Citizens should rightfully expect that our state government will not exceed its authority by making rules that have no basis in state law or in our Tennessee Constitution.

On April 30, 2021, a Williamson County Chancery Court issued an order in Citizens v Golden (Case No. 20CV-49753) which carried an alternative ruling on the merits of the case indicating that requirements for face-coverings in schools have no basis in state law. The ruling stated, “The Court cannot find, as a matter of law, Defendants have acted within the authority given to them by the legislature when enacting face­ covering requirements,” and, ” … continued enforcement of face-covering requirements is not viable.”

Additionally, House Bill 13 was passed this year adding a new section to our Tennessee Code Annotated in Title 68, Chapter 5, Part 1 stating the following:

The governor shall not issue an executive order, a state agency or department shall not promulgate a rule, and a political subdivision of this state shall not promulgate, adopt, or enforce an ordinance or resolution, that requires a person to receive an immunization, vaccination, or injection for the SARS-CoV-2 virus or any variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

As this has now been signed into law by Governor Bill Lee and mady effective as of May 25, 2021, a vaccine, immunization, or injection for COVID-19 may not be required by any public school in the state of Tennessee for students or staff. Regardless of any recommendations or guidelines set forth by the CDC, WHO, or any health official, it must be understood that state law now prohibits a vaccine for COVID-19 to be mandated by the state, a county, a municipality, or any state agency in Tennessee.

To be clear, the legislature has not granted any authority to local school boards or superintendents to require face-coverings or promulgate any rules related to healthcare or the prevention of communicable diseases. As such, any attempts to create alternate learning environments for unvaccinated students, segregate such students, or treat them any differently would be potentially unlawful in the state of Tennessee.

We value our educators, and we value our students. Last year was hard on everyone. But our students suffered most of all. This year, let us focus on our students and ensure that they are our priority by providing them with the kind of education they so richly deserve. In this year’s special legislative session, we passed legislation that focused on those goals and provided increased resources to educators with the tools they need for a successful school year. Let’s lead the nation this year in putting our students and families first. We are the Volunteer State.

/signed/

Representative Bruce Griffey

Representative Bud Hulsey

Representative Tim Rudd

Representative Jerry Sexton

Representative Jay Reedy

Representative Rick Eldridge

Representative Terri Lynn Weaver

Representative Lowell Russell

Representative Mike Sparks

Representative Todd Warner

Representative Glen Casada

Representative Kirk Haston

Big legislative fight remains over pharmacy benefits bill

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) presides over the chamber on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

As part of last week’s budget bill, House and Senate leaders set aside $3.8 million in recurring funding to pay for changes to state law regarding pharmacy benefits and pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs. But securing funding is only part of the challenge for sponsors. Now they have to get their colleagues to actually vote to pass the bill.

The Tennessee Business Roundtable is one of the interested parties hoping to persuade lawmakers not to enact the measure. Patrick Sheehy, the group’s president, in a letter urges senators to vote against the bill sponsored by Sen. Shane Reeves (R-Shelbyville) because it constitutes “unnecessary government regulations that could increase the already-rising costs of employer-provided health care plans.”

UPDATE: The House Finance Committee advanced the bill to a full floor vote after House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) attended committee meetings to speak forcefully on the bill’s behalf.

Here’s the full letter from the Tennessee Business Roundtable:

Dear Senators:

Over the last several weeks, you likely have heard and read much from pharmacy, pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) and insurer interests, and from bill sponsors, about SB1617, legislation which proposes numerous new regulations on PBMs operating in Tennessee. We write to provide a perspective from many of the Tennessee employers who play a pivotal role as the ultimate payors in our state’s health care system on this legislation, and to outline why our organization does not support this bill in its current form.

We share some of the concerns of the bill sponsors and proponents because in the American health care system, employers, directly or indirectly, pay 100% of the costs of health care — by paying for the health benefits they provide to employees, paying corporate taxes which fund government-provided care, and paying compensation to employees, who in turn use those earnings to pay part of their health care expenses, as well as taxes of their own. This matters a great deal because over 50% of Tennesseans — about 3.5 million people — receive their health coverage through employer-sponsored health benefit plans.

At the same time, the ultimate payors — employers — lack effective control over many of that system’s structures and cost drivers. As Tennessee business operators have undoubtedly told you, the costs of employer-sponsored coverage continue to rise at unmanageable and unsustainable rates, and a primary driver of these cost increases is spending on prescription drugs. Employers and their plan administrators in Tennessee continue to struggle to understand, administer, and effectively manage these unsustainable cost increases; despite these difficulties, thousands of our state’s employers continue to offer health benefits because they truly value their employees.

At its core, SB1617 is a government mandate which would impose major restrictions on the few critical tools Tennessee employers do have to manage their employer-sponsored health plan designs and costs.

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Slatery sits out GOP AGs’ letter questioning federal stimulus rules for states, cities

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is sitting out an initiative by Republican colleagues from other states raising concerns about rules attached to a key part of the $1.9 trillion federal economic aid package signed into law last week.

A letter signed by 21 Republican AGs questions Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration for announcing that $350 billion in COVID-19 relief for state, local, and tribal use cannot be used to offset tax cuts. That restriction would represent “the greatest attempted invasion of state sovereignty by Congress in the history of our Republic,” according to the letter sent to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

A White House official told The Washington Post the stimulus bill sets conditions about how states can use the money, but does not say they can’t cut any taxes. “It simply instructs them not to use that money to offset net revenues lost if the state chooses to cut taxes,” the official said.

Previous rounds of federal stimulus funding passed under former President Donald Trump included provisions barring states from using the money to “backfill” revenues lost during the economic downturn.

Slatery earlier this month was one of 19 attorneys general signing on to a letter urging defeat a bill by congressional Democrats they said would “federalize state elections and impose burdensome costs and regulations on state and local officials.” In December, Slatery joined an amicus brief supporting a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the result of the presidential election to sway it in President Donald Trump’s favor.