As the Tennessee General Assembly concluded its legislative business for the year early on the morning of June 19, members' attention turned not to their re-election campaigns or summer holidays but to how quickly they could return to the Capitol.
The House and Senate failed to reach a compromise on a bill that would protect businesses and other organizations from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits, and Senate Speaker Randy McNally quickly demanded a special session to address the issue. The bill was backed — and in part written by — pro-business groups including the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
The two chambers disagreed over whether the protections should be retroactive to the start of the pandemic, as the Senate argued, or only go into effect once the bill was signed into law, as the House argued. A version including the retroactivity failed on the House floor after bill sponsor Michael Curcio, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and others argued it was unconstitutional.
McNally said Curcio and House Majority Leader William Lamberth, who also said he believed the Senate version to be unconstitutional, “cobbled together a cabal of Democrats and attorneys to defeat the legislation and place our entire economy in danger.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Bill Lee, who has backed liability protections, said conversations about a possible special session are ongoing with an announcement expected this week.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, whose first job in politics was working for McNally, criticized the Senate for refusing to negotiate on the retroactivity provision in the bill.
“Finger pointing at members on social media because they expressed their opinions is not a productive way to arrive at an effective solution,” Sexton said.
Though McNally said a special session should be called specifically for the liability bill, some members would like to see a telemedicine bill that also failed during the last day of session taken up. McNally said he and Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson discussed the possibility of a special session late on the final day of session.
If Lee calls the legislature back to Nashville, it would be the second special session of the current two-year term, after a one-day meeting last year was called to replace ousted House Speaker Glen Casada.