War of words erupts over failure to pass bill to ban COVID-19 lawsuits

Everyone thought the deal was done. But then it wasn’t. The General Assembly adjourned in the predawn hours of Friday without passing either a bill to provide businesses immunity from most COVID-19 lawsuits or another measure to set insurance reimbursement standards for telemedicine appointments.

That’s when a war of words began to erupt between the Republican leaders of both chambers. Senate Speaker Randy McNally blamed House Majority Leader William Lamberth and House Judiciary Chairman Michael Curcio for torpedoing the lawsuit bill.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, normally a McNally ally, shot back that “finger pointing on social media … is not a productive way to arrive at an effective solution.”

Talk immediately turned to whether Gov. Bill Lee might call a special session to try to fix the damage. But first, the two chambers would have to come together on an agreement — something that has proven elusive so far.

The sticking point over the lawsuit liability has been over whether it be backdated to the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate has argued it should, while the House has pointed out that retroactive legislation is banned by the state constitution. Business interests appeared to have been willing to back off the retroactive language in the interest of getting at least something passed this session, but those discussions evaporated after the word was put out the two chambers had agreed to pass the original forms of both the liability and telemedicine bills.

It turned out rank-and-file members of the House weren’t on board with such an arrangement. The vote to adopt the Senate version including the retroactive language was 46-36. It takes 50 votes for bills to be approved in the House.

Here’s the vote (Democrats in italics, Republicans in bold):

Representatives voting aye: Baum, Boyd, Bricken, Calfee, Carr, Casada, Cepicky, Cochran, Crawford, Daniel, Doggett, Dunn, Eldridge, Faison, Farmer, Gant, Halford, Hall, Haston, Hawk, Helton, Hicks, Hill M, Hill T, Howell, Hurt, Keisling, Leatherwood, Lynn, Marsh, Moon, Powers, Ramsey, Russell, Sexton J, Smith, Tillis, Todd, Vaughan, White, Whitson, Williams, Windle, Zachary, Mr. Speaker Sexton C.

Representatives voting no: Beck, Byrd, Carter, Chism, Clemmons, Coley, Curcio, Dixie, Garrett, Griffey, Hakeem, Hardaway, Hazlewood, Hodges, Holt, Johnson C, Johnson G, Lamar, Lamberth, Love, Miller, Mitchell, Moody, Ogles, Powell, Ragan, Reedy, Sherrell, Sparks, Staples, Stewart, Thompson, Towns, Van Huss, Weaver, Wright.

Representatives present and not voting: DeBerry, Freeman, Hulsey, Littleton, Rudd, Rudder.

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