New legislation is moving forward in the Tennessee legislature to implement a ban on government-mandated COVID-vaccine passports, but not a ban on passports required by private companies.
On Wednesday, the Tennessee Senate Commerce Committee approved an amendment to a bill governing county health boards to bar any “state or local official, entity, department, or agency” from requiring individuals to present proof of vaccination from the novel Wuhan coronavirus. The committee passed the bill with the attached amendment by 5-1 vote and two senators absent with the governor’s blessing.
At Wednesday’s hearing, a representative from Lee’s Department of Health testified the proposed amendment “is coming directly from the governor’s office” and clarified in questioning that the law would still permit private corporations to implement mandates for COVID vaccination for service or entry, just as they may require masks.
“It still allows private business to make those determinations for private business,” said the Health Department representative.
At the hearing, Republican Sen. Janice Bowling read a statement from the governor in support of the amendment she proposed on Lee’s behalf.
“Passports for the COVID-19 vaccine should be a personal health choice, not a government requirement,” she read aloud from the governor. “I’m supporting legislation to prohibit any government-mandated vaccine passports to protect the privacy of Tennessean’s health information.”
Lee made clear ahead of the hearing his opposition to vaccine passports used by private businesses, but also didn’t want to ban them from doing so.
“I don’t think it’s in the best interest of our state for businesses to impose restrictions and mandates for vaccines, but I also don’t think government should impose itself in the private affairs of business practices,” Lee told reporters, according to the Tennessean. “We’re encouraging businesses in that way, but we’re not going to restrict them.”
Lee’s office did not immediately respond to The Federalist’s request for comment.
The legislation now heads to the full Tennessee Senate chamber for consideration.
Similar vaccine passport bans have been passed in several other states as vaccine availability ramps up with supply and the capacity to distribute. Thirty-eight states including Tennessee, according to a tracker by the New York Times have opened up vaccine eligibility to individuals aged 16 and older.
Texas and Florida, both run by Republican governors became the first to ban government-mandated vaccine passports, though private entities operating in Texas may still implement their own.