Senator Steve Southerland: Steve’s Senate in a Minute

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved legislation this week to help ensure COVID-19 vaccines remain voluntary and that medical information reflecting the status of a person’s vaccination cannot be required by any state entities in Tennessee.  Senate Bill 858 prohibits a state or local governmental official, entity, department or agency from mandating a private business to require “vaccine passports” as a condition for entering their premises or utilizing their services.

The legislation has received support from Governor Bill Lee. “The COVID-19 vaccine should be a personal health choice, not a government requirement,” said Lee.  “I am supporting legislation to prohibit any government mandated vaccine passports to protect the privacy of Tennessean’s health information and to ensure that this vaccine remains a voluntary personal decision.”  

The legislation also removes authority from county boards of health to enforce and adopt rules and regulations regarding COVID-19, preserving their role as an advisory body to the elected county mayor. Only Hamilton, Shelby, Knox, Madison, Sullivan and Davidson Counties have independent county health boards which have the power to make final decisions on health-related restrictions during an epidemic.  County mayors already have the authority to make these decisions in the state’s other 89 counties where health departments get their direction from the Tennessee Department of Health.

The proposal now moves to the Senate floor for final consideration.

Text Messages / Anti-Phishing Act – Legislation clarifying that text messages sent and received on smart phones or devices are subject to the state’s Anti-Phishing Act was approved by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week.  Phishing is a scam where fraudsters send spam or text messages or create deceptive websites to lure personal or financial information from unsuspecting victims. The messages or websites often appear to be from well-known or seemingly trustworthy entities but instead collect information for fraudulent purposes. 

Representing oneself as another person while online is a crime against the Anti-Phishing Act of Tennessee.  Senate Bill 1211 ensures these same offenses apply when a person uses text messages to defraud Tennesseans. 

Tennessee Lawsuit / Biden Administration Tax Policy — Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III joined Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron in filing a lawsuit challenging a mandate from the Biden Administration in the American Rescue Plan Act. The lawsuit argues that the tax mandate unconstitutionally usurps the authority of each state’s legislature to enact beneficial tax policies. Of the nearly $2 trillion included in the Act, approximately $200 billion will assist state governments with COVID relief. But, as a condition of receiving the COVID aid, the Act requires states to comply with a tax mandate that prevents it from lowering taxes for its citizens for four years.

“The states have a constitutional right to implement their own tax policy,” said General Slatery. “We should not have to choose between accepting COVID-19 relief funds or surrendering to Washington’s attempt to override what only our elected officials in Tennessee are authorized to do.”  The Attorneys General allege in the lawsuit that requiring states to acquiesce to a sweeping tax mandate “is an unprecedented power grab by the federal government at a time when elected officials should be singularly focused on helping their constituents overcome the devastating effects of the pandemic.

Your concerns as a constituent are very important to me and I encourage you to contact me with them. My office can be reached by phone at: (800) 449-8366, Ext: 13851 or by E-mail at: sen.steve.southerland@capitol.tn.gov. I look forward to hearing from you and thank you for the honor to serve as your State Senator. God bless!