NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – The governor of Tennessee upheld his decision to promulgate sprawling limits on COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, even though his own office warned the bill would violate federal disability law and put the State in danger of losing federal funds.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee, in his first public comments since The Associated Press revealed his legislative adviser’s email warning to lawmakers, said he believed “the bill as a whole is good “. He also reiterated his promise of a broad review of the new law, which he previously acknowledged includes “some issues we need to work on.” But when asked directly, he did not say whether he thought the accommodations in the disability law – which his office reported last month as violating federal law – needed to be changed.
Instead, he said, “we first need to determine what really needs to be changed” before the next legislative session in January. He also did not clarify when a staff lawyer told him the bill violated federal law.
The bill signed by Lee on November 12 largely bans governments and businesses from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination and allows schools and other public entities to require masks only in health-related situations rare and disastrous public – and only if Tennessee is in a state of emergency. It also gives exclusive authority over the quarantine of COVID-19 to the state health commissioner, depriving schools, among other entities, of decision-making capacity.
In the early hours of October 30, the night the bill was passed, Lee’s legislative counsel privately warned staff members of the Republican Senate leadership that they were in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. The email, sent at 12:44 am, noted an earlier effort by the governor’s office to report the same issue. The Associated Press obtained the email in response to a request for public registration.
“The accommodation proposed by the ADA in the bill is a violation of the ADA and will put us at risk of losing federal funding,” Lee’s legislative adviser Liz Alvey wrote in the email. , weighing in as a wave of last minute changes were underway. debated and added.
Lee noted Monday that on some provisions, “we’ve had a debate within the governor’s office and the legislature,” saying, “This is how the process works.” His signature made the law effective immediately as it was written.
“We will go through the process by then, of every element of this bill, making sure that we have an agreement between the legislature and our office, as to whether or not these provisions are as they should be,” Lee said, referring to the 2022 legislative session. “We will look at them all and clean up what needs to be cleaned.”
Federal protections are at the heart of a lawsuit by families of children with disabilities, who have so far succeeded in getting a federal judge to block the strict limits of the new law on COVID-19 requirements in schools – including on mask mandates.
Carol Westlake, executive director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition, said after the email was made public that “a blatant disregard for the Americans with Disabilities Act – a law that protects the lives of nearly 1.6 million Tennessees – is a real punch in the stomach “.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that state law restrictions put Tennessee school districts at risk of losing federal funding for the US bailout by interfering with the districts’ ability to develop their own COVID-safety rules. 19.
In a hearing on Friday, the plaintiffs’ attorney requested to seize the email from the governor’s office as evidence and read it aloud in court. The state objected, citing the source of the legal analysis, to which Judge Waverly Crenshaw replied: “From a source who probably knows what she’s talking about. “
In a motion on Monday asking to submit the email as evidence, plaintiffs’ attorneys cited the AP report and wrote that the email “cuts all double talk about the bill’s impact on future funding “.
“Her email also conflicts with the defendants’ official position on the issues before the court and impeaches her,” they wrote.
Republican legislative leaders, who called the three-day session to take action against COVID-19 warrants after the governor refused to do so, welcomed the final bill despite objections from prominent business interests , school leaders and others.
Senate Speaker Randy McNally, for his part, “does not agree with this particular objection and supports the law signed by the governor,” said spokesman Adam Kleinheider.
By law, families can request accommodations so that children with disabilities have an “in-person educational setting” in which those within six feet and for more than fifteen minutes wear a face covering provided by the school. .
The law was passed after three federal judges ruled to block the governor’s parental mask removal option for students applying in three counties. Lee let the take down order expire when he signed the new law.
Exemptions are also allowed if the groups can show that they would lose federal funding by complying with state law, which conflicts with the policies of the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden.