Tennessee lawmakers end special session with passage of controversial bills

Tennessee lawmakers end special session with passage of controversial bills

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee lawmakers wrapped up a three-day special session this week by passing controversial measures that include strengthening penalties against protesters and providing liability protections to businesses.

On the non-controversial side, lawmakers passed a proposal to expand telehealth coverage, which has become a trusted resource for people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It requires insurance companies to cover the same types of services that they would if someone received care in-person.

“This will allow for more Tennesseans to have access to the health services that they need, particularly in the time of the pandemic but far into the future,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.

The telehealth expansion received wide support from lawmakers in both parties.

But two other measures proved more controversial.

Lawmakers passed a bill supporters say cracks down on frivolous lawsuits arising from COVID-19 and protects businesses and other organizations.

“It’s an important protection for businesses and protects individuals at the same time,” said Lee.

Critics, like Herman Lewis with Memphis Teamsters Local 667, say it lets businesses that have acted recklessly with coronavirus off the hook.

“They’re just basically free to risk the life of workers and the health of the general public. They just have free range,” said Lewis.

Lawmakers also passed bills to increase penalties against protesters, including making it a felony to camp outside the state capitol.

“I think it’s a gross overreaction. It’s not what our state should be about,” said Memphis Sen. Raumesh Akbari.

Akbari wants the ACLU to challenge the law.

Lee says while he doesn’t agree with making camping at the capitol a felony, he agrees with other aspects and intends to sign the bill into law, along with the liability protections and telehealth expansion bills.

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