(The Center Square) – The Tennessee Joint Government Operations Committee asked that the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) withdraw a request for a temporary rule involving COVID-19 safety measures at health care facilities.
The rule, required by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), puts in health and safety standards in health care environments, including notifications for close contacts with those who contract or are suspected to have COVID-19.
Each state was required by the OSHA to pass its rule or create a new rule that would have the same effect.
After discussion of the rule Monday, the joint committee voted to ask the head of TOSHA to withdraw the rule, with a deadline of Tuesday to respond. The vote, in effect, was a negative recommendation from the committee.
The rule requires health care businesses of 10 or more employees to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment and create a written COVID-19 mitigation plan, which includes cleaning and training measures.
“The elephant in the room is the coming OSHA rule that I’m going to have some issues with, and I’m going to believe other people on the committee are going to have issues with as well,” Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said. “And I hope that your department, and I hope that the administration, is already thinking about the consequences of that and, possibly, what legal steps we can take.”
Many of the questions on the rule involved details within the rule, which was passed by the OSHA in early June. One question, from Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, regarded what constituted “completing” vaccination for COVID-19. At the time, TOSHA representatives said, that meant two weeks after two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or one of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. With boosters now recommended, it would require more clarification, Lamberth said.
Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, called this rule a “camel’s nose under the tent” before speaking against vaccine requirements, including discussing that former Secretary of State Colin Powell died after being vaccinated.
Powell, 84, died Monday from COVID-19 complications. He also had multiple myeloma, a cancer that negatively can affect a person's immune system.
“We are not at all pleased about the proposed OSHA rule to mandate a vaccine,” Bowling said. “Mandating that people even start talking about giving anything to someone who has the antibodies is absurd.”
Bowling said “there is no FDA certified shot in America.” The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, however, was the first vaccine fully approved by the FDA in August.
“There might be personal reasons that people have for not wanting to get vaccinated, but one reason that is not consistent with science is the idea that the vaccine is not effective,” Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said. “It is effective, it is really scientifically established and it is not controversial. And the FDA has approved the vaccine.
“Tennessee is always in the top three in the country, or has been in recent months, for having the most cases per capita in the nation. Having a lot of COVID cases is directly related to having people vaccinated,” Stewart said.
Tennessee is one of 28 states with its own OSHA department. Representatives from the department said Monday if Tennessee did not pass the rule, the federal OSHA would send a letter of notification to Gov. Bill Lee a week after the rule failed. After that, the group has said it can take over operations of OSHA in Tennessee.
Three of the 28 states with their own department have received the federal warning letter.
“Ninety-five percent of (the rule), I think our medical clinics are doing,” Bell said. “The 5% that gives me pause is the requirement that they pay employees 14 days. That’s going to be a huge burden … especially on our small employers.”