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Tennessee Governor’s Aide Warned New COVID Law Was Illegal | Political News

By JONATHAN MATTISE and KIMBERLEE KRUESI, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s workplace warned lawmakers that their sprawling invoice limiting COVID-19 restrictions would violate federal legislation that protects individuals with disabilities and put the state prone to shedding federal funds, in line with information obtained by The Associated Press.

The Republican-controlled Legislature ignored the recommendation and handed the invoice anyway. Less than two weeks later, the Republican governor signed it into legislation.

Lee, who’s up for reelection subsequent yr, has since mentioned there are nonetheless “some issues we need to work through.” He has his issues about how the legislation modifications hospital visitation guidelines and what it could imply for the state’s means to regulate its personal office regulation going ahead. But the governor has expressed no concern publicly about compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Privately, his legislative counsel warned lawmakers explicitly on the night time the invoice was handed that they have been working afoul of federal legislation. The warning got here in an e mail from Legislative Counsel Liz Alvey at 12:44 a.m. on Oct. 30 to Senate Speaker Randy McNally’s chief of employees, Rick Nicholson, and Luke Gustafson in Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson’s workplace. The e mail referenced an earlier effort by the governor’s workplace to flag the identical difficulty.

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“Proposed ADA accommodation in the bill is a violation of the ADA and will put us at risk of losing federal funding,” Alvey warned as a flurry of last-minute modifications have been being debated and added.

The last invoice was permitted about an hour later that morning.

It’s unclear when or if she gave that authorized recommendation to the governor, who receives extra authorized steering from his crew earlier than deciding whether or not he’ll signal laws. Lee’s workplace didn’t straight handle that query in its feedback.

“The governor noted there were items that need to be fixed in the upcoming session, and we will be working with lawmakers,” Lee’s spokesman Casey Black responded in an e mail when the AP requested why Lee enacted the laws, citing the e-mail wherein his counsel had warned that it will violate federal legislation. “On balance, the bill is a response to the federal government’s vast overreach.”

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The legislation was nearly instantly challenged in federal court docket, the place households of younger college students with disabilities argued their kids danger severe hurt when colleges aren’t allowed to require masks indoors, the place possibilities of an infection are a lot higher.

U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw has since halted the prohibition in opposition to faculty masks mandates from being applied and has particularly instructed the state’s attorneys to elucidate how the brand new legislation complies with the ADA.

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s workplace, representing Lee and his training commissioner, is now tasked with defending the legislation’s lodging for college kids with disabilities. At Friday’s listening to, the plaintiffs’ counsel made a movement to enter the governor’s workplace e mail as proof and browse it out loud in court docket. The state objected, citing the supply of the authorized evaluation, to which Crenshaw responded: ““From a source who likely knows what she’s talking about.”

The decide gave the plaintiffs till Tuesday to file a movement to submit the e-mail into proof.

Raising the stakes, simply earlier than the court docket listening to Friday, Lee introduced he would let Tennessee’s COVID-19 state of emergency expire. As of midnight Friday, if not for the decide’s injunction, colleges can be unable to mandate masks indoors, even when they hit the extreme rolling instances numbers below the brand new legislation.

Republican legislative leaders, who referred to as the three-day dash session in opposition to COVID-19 mandates after the governor declined to take action, have lauded the ultimate invoice regardless of objections from distinguished enterprise pursuits, faculty leaders and others.

The Senate speaker’s workplace downplayed the authorized issues raised by the governor’s workplace.

McNally “doesn’t agree with this explicit objection and helps the legislation the governor signed,” mentioned his spokesperson, Adam Kleinheider.

Under the legislation, households can request lodging for kids with disabilities to have “an in-person educational setting in which other persons who may place or otherwise locate themselves within six feet (6′) of the person receiving the reasonable accommodation for longer than fifteen (15) minutes are wearing a face covering provided by the school.”

“The legislature obviously was simply ignoring whether or not the law they passed would actually pass legal muster,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro advised the AP. “And it’s shocking to me that the governor would sign this bill into law knowing full well that significant portions of it are illegal.”

Carol Westlake, the Tennessee Disability Coalition’s govt director, mentioned “a flagrant disregard of the Americans with Disabilities Act — a law that protects the lives of close to 1.6 million Tennesseans — is a real punch in the gut.”

When the state enacted the brand new legislation, it was already below court docket orders about Lee’s masks coverage in colleges. His govt order was upended when three federal judges dominated to dam the parental masks opt-out choice for college kids in three counties, siding with disabled kids who sued below the Americans with Disabilities Act. Lee let the opt-out order expire when he signed the brand new legislation.

Crenshaw’s ruling in opposition to the brand new legislation’s faculty masks limits sparked reward from public well being advocates however drew robust condemnation from some Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson referred to as it “judicial overreach.”

Tennessee’s new legislation largely bars governments and companies from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccinations, and lets colleges and different public entities require masks solely in uncommon, dire public well being conditions, and provided that Tennessee is below a state of emergency. Exemptions are also allowed if teams can present they might lose federal funding by complying with the state legislation, which conflicts with insurance policies from President Joe Biden’s administration.

Masks are a key virus-prevention instrument which might be simplest when worn by numerous individuals, public well being specialists say. The CDC has once more beneficial them for enclosed public areas together with colleges, saying they don’t pose well being dangers for kids older than toddlers.

Before Alvey joined Lee’s workplace, she labored since 1999 with the Tennessee Senate, together with because the earlier majority chief’s senior coverage advisor. She held management positions within the Southern Legislative Conference and the Council of State Governments.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This materials will not be revealed, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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