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.

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

  • Avatar
    Cannoneer2 says:

    I think a large majority of citizens of this state would be against this legislation.

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      Michelle Price says:

      Can you tell me why it would be bad for insurance to cover telemedicine visits?

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      Karen Bracken says:

      So you think it is ok to sue a business if an employee gets the FLU? This is the dumbest most dangerous bill ever brought before the Assembly and it deserves to be flushed down the toilet. COVID was the flu and a pretty weak flu at that. Now you want to let businesses that were almost bankrupt and some were bankrupt to be sued if an employee gets sick? Geez does anyone have any common sense anymore.

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    David Collins says:

    Since when has that ever made any difference to the general assembly?

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    LeeAnn C. says:

    Not sure when a special session would or could be held. Surely, all would want a very limited agenda and be very brief. I have heard U.S. congressman express this protection for business owners/employers to achieve full economic recovery. Further, the congressman I spoke with said there was NO hope of passing the needed legislation on the federal level. Hope the state works it out. The business owners have suffered enough.

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    Perry Aubric says:

    “…the House has pointed out that retroactive legislation is banned by the state constitution.”

    But the Senate wants it anyway? Does anyone see an obvious flaw in such a strategy? I mean, from a practical, legal and constitutional standpoint? Regardless of the merits of granting immunity from COVID19 lawsuits–and there are substantive points to be made on both ends of this issue and several points in between (it’s not necessary for immunity to be all or nothing)–if something is plainly unconstitutional, a competent legislature would not pass it lest the entire statute fail.

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    STEVE CATES says:

    I am so happy this did NOT happen – and very surprised!!

  • I see where Curcio voted with the Dems…again. His constituents should watch how often he sides with them

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    Benton Temple says:

    Sexton handled this pretty well. His statement was measured and collected.

  • Avatar
    Eddie White says:

    It sounds like a special session would be in order to fix both of these issues.

  • Avatar
    James White says:

    How would anyone prove they got the virus as a specific place?

    • Avatar
      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      How does anyone “prove” they contracted cancer from Roundup which I just saw advertised on TV an hour ago or from the infinitesimal amount of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder but that doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable obstacle to the morons who serve on juries awarding a $zillions in damages because they feel sorry for the plaintiffs and, “hey the companies can afford it.” Indeed the companies can afford it, they just roll the cost into their products so we all end up paying for the moron’s generosity.

    • Avatar
      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Indeed just imagine you’re the defendant and the entire jury pool made up of Beatrice Shaws — that will give you the picture of what corporations are up against.

    • Avatar
      Cannoneer2 says:

      By sequencing the genetic material of the virus and comparing the results with other employees or customers. That might not prove that someone got the virus at a specific place, but could disprove it.

  • The Honeymoon is Over

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    Karen Bracken says:

    Now we want employees that get the flu to sue their employers. This is the dumbest most dangerous thing I ever heard of. People get the flu. People get sick. People die. Now you want to hold employers liable? This has a dangerous agenda behind it. WAKE UP.

    • Avatar
      Perry Aubric says:

      Actually, the dumbest thing I have heard lately is an ignoramus who thinks COVID-19 is the same as the flu. But there is no fixing stupid.

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