Republicans take aim at rogue DAs as bills pile up in COVID-19 special session

By: - October 27, 2021 2:34 pm
Murfreesboro Republican Tim Rudd is targeting Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk, who has said he will not prosecute offenders with small amounts of marijuana or enforce the state's new "bathroom bill." (Photo: John Partipilo)

Murfreesboro Republican Tim Rudd is targeting Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk, who has said he will not prosecute offenders with small amounts of marijuana or enforce the state’s new “bathroom bill.” (Photo: John Partipilo)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Republican legislators are firing another salvo at Metro Nashville, this time targeting Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk for refusing to prosecute certain state laws.

Sexton, R-Crossville, and Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, both sponsored separate legislation for this week’s special session – designed mainly to deal with COVID-19 issues – that would lead to appointment of district attorney general pro tem in cases where the sitting district attorney declines to prosecute specific offenses “without regard to facts or circumstances.”

Funk isn’t named in the legislation, but he has taken a stance against prosecuting the possession of marijuana under a half ounce and violations of Rudd’s legislation requiring businesses to post signs letting the public know people of any sex could use their restrooms.

Rudd, who sponsored legislation targeting Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle early this year, said Tuesday he prepared the legislation in January and noted it isn’t necessarily designed to punish Funk.

“It’s any district attorney that publicly states they’re not going to enforce the state law, which is their duly bound responsibility,” Rudd said.

When the call for a special session by Sexton included district attorneys, Rudd said he decided to file the legislation and told the speakers of the House and Senate his bill is on file. House members have filed more than 70 bills for this special session, and Senate members were expected to complete their bill filing today. House bills would be dead without a Senate sponsor.

Rudd’s legislation, which did not have a sponsor Tuesday, would require the court to appoint a district attorney pro tem in those instances, while Sexton’s legislation would require the state attorney general to appoint a replacement district attorney.

Rudd would not say whether Funk’s refusal to enforce his LGBT bathroom bill or marijuana cases was the impetus for his legislation but acknowledged the DA is an example.

“A district attorney doesn’t have the option of saying I’m going to selectively enforce state laws …,” Rudd said. “And for him to have such a broad-based public statement or any district attorney to say they’re not going to enforce any state law on this particular category because I don’t believe in it, he can’t do that.”

Rudd contends Funk and other district attorneys general took an oath to enforce state law. 

The Murfreesboro Republican was one of three House members who voted last week against legislation to fund an incentive package for the $5.6 billion Ford-SK Innovation investment to build Ford electric trucks and batteries at the Memphis Regional Megasite in West Tennessee. 

Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, is sponsoring Cepicky's companion bills in the Senate. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, is sponsoring Cepicky’s companion bills in the Senate. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Another of those, Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, is sponsoring a handful of bills in this special session, one of which would make employers pay workers compensation for anyone fired for refusing a COVID-19 shot. The Senate version of the measure is sponsored by Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald.

Cepicky is sponsoring other bills that would permit partisan school board elections, which is being carried by Hensley in the Senate; prohibit discrimination against anyone based on their vaccination status; prohibit school districts from using contact tracing for COVID-19; and specify that private schools have sole authority to require people on their property to wear masks or show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations. Cepicky is still searching for Senate sponsors for three bills.

Rudd also is sponsoring legislation that would prohibit companies from receiving state incentives or state contracts if they require workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine. He said he has been inundated by constituents who’ve been threatened with job loss for refusing to be vaccinated.

Yet another piece of legislation by Rudd would prohibit businesses, venues and organizations from mandating a COVID-19 vaccine. Sexton’s 9078 prohibits a person, private business and state or local government from compelling proof of vaccination and prohibits an employer from taking adverse action against an employee or refusing to hire an applicant for refusing to provide proof of vaccination.

Sexton is sponsoring eight bills during this session, and his are most likely to be considered. Aside from the bill dealing with district attorneys, Sexton’s legislation would:

  • Require partisan election for all school board members.
  • Add cash as a form of collateral for public deposits.
  • Require the attorney general to seek a penalty of $10,000 for failure to enforce an emergency order.
  • Decrease the time for a state of emergency issued by the governor to 45 days from 60 days.
  • Grant the governor exclusive jurisdiction to issue orders on county health departments during a pandemic and give county mayors authority to issue orders related to the health and safety of county residents.
  • Allow a former employee to obtain unemployment benefits if fired for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Prohibit a person, private business or state and local government from compelling proof of a COVID-19 vaccine and prohibiting an employer from firing a worker or refusing to hire an applicant for refusing to take the vaccine.

The Tennessee Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce and Industry & Industry have raised concerns about President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for businesses, which would be handled through OSHA standards, but they’re also leery about the Legislature telling companies whether they can or can’t require vaccines.

“We do not believe government, at any level, should unnecessarily interfere with health, safety and operational decisions of private businesses,” the Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.

Likewise, the Business Roundtable adopted a position stating it “opposes federal or state laws interfering with an employer’s management decisions concerning COVID vaccinations or mask mandates,” the Tennessee Journal reported.

Rudd responded that he doesn’t like to tell businesses what to do, but when they force someone to take a medical treatment or “put a liquid in your body and try to blackmail you with the loss of your job,” he contends that is a violation of an employee’s rights.

“I don’t like the state interfering with local government or businesses, but when those entities are violating our citizens’ rights, we’re the last defense they have,” Rudd said.

Democrats argue against the legislation, saying it is more evidence of the Legislature’s efforts to control Metro Nashville, which elects mainly Democrats.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie pointed out the district attorney general was elected by Davidson County voters.

“They believe in him and give him authority to make these decisions based on their best interests,” said Dixie, a Nashville Democrat. “This is another opportunity where the state has overreached into local authority again.”

Dixie contends the entire special session is about the Legislature stepping on local authority instead of letting government work.

Democrats plan to counter the spate of GOP bills with a measure to expand Medicaid to some 300,000 uninsured and under-insured working Tennesseans, enabling the state to take advantage of about $1.7 billion in federal funding annually. It isn’t expected to pass, but Dixie said the caucus wants to make a point.

Meanwhile, Democratic state Rep. London Lamar of Memphis is sponsoring several bills, one of which would enable school boards to set dress codes to ensure that wearing a face covering is “an appropriate form of dress for students, teachers and staff.”

Lamar’s other bills would authorize private employers to set dress codes for workers requiring them to wear a mask to protect against COVID-19; prohibit hospitals from stopping the presence of a doula for a pregnant patient as long as the doula tests negative for COVID-19 and shows no symptoms; prohibit the state from withholding or reducing state funding for school districts that put COVID-19 health and safety rules in place; and affirm the ability of a local school system to establish COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

 

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

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