masks

McNally to holdout school districts: So you *want* a special session?

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton await Gov. Bill Lee arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Nashville) was one of the leading opponents of House Republican calls to hold a special session to ban schools from imposing mask mandates. Under a compromise, Gov. Bill Lee on Monday issued an executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of mask requirements. But Shelby County and Nashville school districts have slow-walked the order so far, saying they want to look into the legal specifics. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk also announced he wouldn’t bring charges against teachers or district officials who violate the order.

McNally doesn’t appear pleased that the order isn’t being immediately complied with. Here’s his statement released on Tuesday afternoon:

“I am extremely appalled and alarmed at the response to Governor Lee’s executive order from Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools. This order was a compromise that still allows school boards to ensure the health and safety of their students while recognizing the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children. The Governor and the General Assembly cannot and will not allow lawful orders to be defied. If these systems persist in resisting the order, we will have no choice but to exercise other remedial options.”

In other words, if the opt-out provision isn’t implemented, McNally likely won’t stand in the way of renewed calls for a special session in which all bets could be off.

Counties surrounding Nashville restore mask mandates

Gov. Bill Lee, left, announces a $200 million relief program for businesses affected by the state’s stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses at Arnold’s restaurant in Nashville on June 2, 2020. To his right are House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Rep. Pat Marsh, and Rep. Harold Love. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The mayors of Williamson, Sumner, and Wilson counties are restoring mask requirements that had been dropped earlier. A spokesman for Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron said “it’s not inconceivable” for a mask requirement to be reinstated there, though no decision has been made.

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate despite the White House officially calling on Tennessee to do so. But the governor has extended an executive order granting the authority to require face coverings to local authorities.

Letting the mask slip: Lee defends lack of face covering for Trump boat rally

(Image credit: Bill Hagerty campaign)

While Gov. Bill Lee has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate, he has been a prominent proponent of using face coverings to help stem the spread of COVID-19. But the governor was put on the defensive by a photo posted to social media by Bill Hagerty showing the Republican U.S. Senate nominee living it up at a Trump boat rally with Lee, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and state Sen. Janice Bowling.

“There are circumstances where I don’t wear a mask because I don’t feel I’m at risk in that situation,” Lee said. “But, yeah, I felt safe. And when I don’t, I wear a mask.”

The Lee administration is spending more than $4 million through the end of the year on its “Face It” multimedia ad campaign to urge mask usage.

“I think Tennesseans need to know, and they hear me every day and they see me in masks every day,” the governor said at a press conference this week. “They watch what we say and what we do. I think it’s really important that I think it’s very serious.”

About 3,000 people attended the 400-boat rally, according to the The Herald Chronicle.

Lee signs order allowing county mayors to mandate mask wearing

Gov. Bill Lee, left, announces a $200 million relief program for businesses affected by the state’s stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses at Arnold’s restaurant in Nashville on June 2, 2020. To his right are House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Rep. Pat Marsh, and Rep. Harold Love. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has signed an executive order giving power to the mayors of 89 of 95 Tennessee counties to mandate wearing masks in public to help stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. In the remaining six counties, Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Sullivan, and Madison), the decision will be left up to the local health department.

“While our densely populated urban areas continue to have the highest COVID-19 case rates, our local governments expressed a need for greater flexibility in addressing a rise in cases and that includes setting stronger expectations around masks,” said Lee said in a statement. “This targeted approach ensures we protect both lives and livelihoods and safely keep our economy open in Tennessee. We encourage every Tennessean across the state to use a face covering or mask, make sure to socially distance and wash hands frequently.”

Here’s the full text of the order:

AN ORDER PROVIDING LOCAL GOVERNMENTS WITH AUTHORITY CONCERNING FACE COVERINGS

WHEREAS, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) remains a threat to our citizens, our healthcare systems, and our economy, and each Tennessean should continue to protect themselves and others by following applicable health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other leading medical experts to slow the spread of this virus, including practicing social distancing, effective personal hygiene practices, and “wear[ing] cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain”; and

WHEREAS, importantly, wearing a cloth face covering is a simple step that each Tennessean can take to slow the spread of the virus, which prevents having to take more drastic and disruptive measures for our economy and job market, like requiring the closure of businesses; and

WHEREAS, whether to require or recommend wearing a face covering may depend on the spread of COVID-19 or lack thereof in a particular community, which varies widely across the State, and local governments are therefore better positioned to make this decision based on the conditions in their communities; and

WHEREAS, in addition to the other powers granted by law, Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 58-2-107, provides, among other things, that during a state of emergency, the Governor is authorized to suspend laws and rules regarding the conduct of state business if necessary to cope with an emergency, utilize all available state and local resources needed to combat an emergency, and take measures concerning the conduct of civilians and the calling of public meetings and gatherings, among other things, as well as delegate such powers as the governor may deem prudent; and

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