Local business leaders left confused after TN Chamber seminar on possible COVID legislation

Tennessee

TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – After an hour-long seminar hosted by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, area business leaders are still scratching their heads about what to advise employers to do when it comes to the clashing state and federal vaccine guidelines.

The seminar participants heard from legal experts about the requirements for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine and testing mandate.

Ryan King with the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry said House Bill 9077 would go into effect immediately after being signed into law by the governor, making it that much more important for businesses to understand how to comply with both state and federal regulations.

“It’s really created just an unprecedented amount of confusion. So I think specifically what makes things more urgent about this specific issue is the fact that House Bill 9077 is signed into law or otherwise it goes into law. It’s effective immediately,” King said. “So really the compliance curve is so steep on this specific bill.”

Members of the media were not permitted to participate in Tuesday’s seminar but area business leaders on the call said they talked about pending Tennessee State law that could prohibit employers from requiring the vaccine.

“[They] talked about the requirements for OSHA, talked a little bit about the Tennessee State law that’s pending,” recalled Alicia Summers of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership. “There’s been legal challenges that may delay, even the rollout, so it really is a wait and see game.”

Business leaders like Johnson City Chamber of Commerce’s Bob Cantler told News Channel 11 that the business community will continue to face confusion.

“Part of the challenge is some of it is the state contradicts what the federal government says. So, we’re trying to figure out if you follow the federal government, you still have to do an exemption through the state to say you’re doing that,” Cantler said.

“We are appreciative of the TN Chamber of Commerce for hosting a webinar series to try and shed some light on the legislation that was passed by our legislature,” said Kingsport Chamber of Commerce’s Lora Barnett. “We are also waiting to see what happens with the legal challenges.”

Frustration seeped through the statements to News Channel 11.

“We’ve been talking to our manufacturers and just trying to keep them informed as to, you know, as this plays out and comes down the pipeline and how they can be prepared,” Summers said.

Barnett echoed that frustration.

“Honestly, we are all trying to navigate through details that are sometimes changing daily and be the best resource we can for our businesses and industries,” she said.

Some leaders did, however, have some advice for businesses.

“Companies with 100 or more employees should be proactive, and they can do that by maybe drafting a written policy,” Summers said.

Companies with any amount of employees would be impacted if the Tennessee legislation passes.

“The private employers is, let’s watch what the governor does and then see what guidelines the state puts out because traditionally, they will put a law out, and then there will be some follow-up guidelines to help with compliance,” Cantler advised.

Several questions remain, including how state requirements could be enforced. The next seminar hosted by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry is slated for Nov. 17.

A date for the third and final compliance seminar has not been set yet, but the chamber indicated it will take a closer look at OSHA’s emergency rules.

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