Gov Lee

Gov. Bill Lee speaks during a news conference last month.

Tennessee’s top legal officials, including Attorney General Herbert Slatery, are reviewing President Joe Biden’s mandate requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to require staff to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

On Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee released a statement challenging the constitutionality of the mandate and pledging to “stand up for all Tennesseans.”

“I have my doubts that anyone knows the true ramifications of his actions at this point,” Slatery said of Biden in a statement Friday.

Slatery said the U.S. Department of Labor rule announced by the president “has not even been written,” and he called the accompanying executive orders “complex.”

“Our office is working with other state officials to review and evaluate the president’s new plan,” Slatery said. “It will take some time.”

Casey Black, a spokesperson for Lee, said Friday the governor’s office is in “close communication” with Slatery.

“The Biden administration is yet to release any details for how their attempt to impose sweeping mandates will actually work,” Black said.

This spring state lawmakers passed a law prohibiting state and local governments from making or enforcing rules that require the public to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The law, sponsored by Sen. Janice Bowling and Rep. Bud Hulsey, became effective June 1. The law does not impact issuance of federal mandates, but it may impact local enforcement of a federal mandate.

Meanwhile, leaders in Tennessee’s business community are saying mandatory COVID-19 vaccines could be counterproductive for Tennessee businesses already struggling with staffing shortages.

In a recent survey by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 76% of respondents said they opposed the federal government dictating vaccination protocols for businesses.

The chamber said in a statement released Friday that Biden’s vaccine and testing mandate “is not the right solution.”

“Our country is in a severe workforce shortage crisis and these actions only stand to exacerbate the difficult staffing conditions employers find themselves in,” the chamber statement reads. “This type of sweeping government mandate enforced through significant occupational safety requirements challenge our economic competitiveness and not the right thing to impose on private businesses at this time.”

The chamber reiterated that the COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective way to end the pandemic and keep Tennessee’s economy on track.

Kevin Kuhlman, vice president of federal government relations for the National Federation of Independent Business, said the new requirements could be “costly and burdensome,” particularly for the smaller businesses impacted.

“Small businesses face daily challenges from pandemic requirements, locating qualified workers, rampant inflation and supply chain disruptions,” Kuhlman said. “Small-business owners and their employees want to operate in a safe and healthy manner that allows them to stay open. Additional mandates, enforcement and penalties will further threaten the fragile small-business recovery.”

Recommended for you