Opinion: Can Republican Patsy Hazlewood's common sense bring our Tennessee legislators back from the brink?

Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / Tennessee Rep. Patsy Hazlewood makes a comment in November 2019 as members of the Hamilton County Legislative Delegation spoke to the Times Free Press in Chattanooga.

Statehouse observers report that some of our lawmakers are having second thoughts now about their barely month-old COVID-19 omnibus bill - the one they cobbled together largely outside of public view, and some of it apparently outside their own view.

That's what often happens when partisan dog whistles whip the wolf pack into an attack frenzy and the GOP supermajority all but chews out its own throat to bluster against President Joe Biden's vaccine and mask mandates.

Most notably, according to a Tennessee Lookout story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Sunday, the salivating lawmakers wanted to fight Biden's federal vaccine mandate for employers with 100 or more workers and play to the extreme right.

With that aim in mind, the swollen egos of our little "r" politicians went about howling as loudly as they could at all but the newest big employers - like Ford and Volkswagen - as they crafted a new state law that essentially outlaws worker vaccine requirements. For the smaller of the biggest employers with federal contracts, Tennessee carved out a sort-of save by requiring Comptroller Jason Mumpower to establish guidelines by which employers and universities with federal contractors could seek waivers from Tennessee's new mandates against mandates.

Then as soon as two federal court rulings put Biden's vaccine mandate on hold, Mumpower last week promptly suspended all of the nearly 70 exemptions he had granted - ending protections for businesses, universities and hospitals that wanted to require vaccinations and masks for employees.

Now, these businesses, contractors and trade groups are fretting again and putting pressure on our lawmakers as the delta virus begins another climb and omicron circles like a buzzard around our borders. Thus, some of our lawmakers are having second thoughts on the special session they ginned up on their own and spent $136,643 of our money to pay themselves while they were at it.

These folks were so rabid at the time that they even wrote in a provision that prohibits the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners from disciplining doctors who give out bad information about COVID-19 or use unapproved treatments on patients who contract the disease. You know, treatments like dewormer and sheep dip.

State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, threatened to call the board before the Government Operations Committee if it didn't remove a message from its website notifying physicians they could face disciplinary action.

On Tuesday, the state's Board of Medical Examiners planned to meet in a special called session to discuss its standing policy relating to medical misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19. Ahead of that meeting, physicians across the state who've banded together in a group called "Protect My Care" called on the board to hold to the high ethical standards expected in the medical profession and reject the lawmakers' "reckless and dangerous" push.

"It seems that our Tennessee elected leaders just want to invite more misinformation to flood into Tennessee," said Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, an internal medicine/primary care physician who also has a master's degree in public health. "Some legislators, specifically those on the Joint Government Operations Committee, want Tennessee to be a stage for more deadly and scientifically false information to flourish, and now they want to protect doctors who spread this deadly misinformation."

Our own Patsy Hazlewood, chairwoman of the House Finance, Ways & Means Committee, hasn't needed to have second thoughts. She was the only one in our delegation to keep her head and vote against the travesty that became the final version of the COVID-19 omnibus bill.

"I have concerns about several parts of that bill," Hazlewood told the Lookout last week. "And I think we'll be revisiting a number of things in the regular session."

Another holdout, Rep. Michael Curcio, a Dickson Republican, balked because he didn't believe the state could solve mandates with more mandates that served only to put businesses between a rock and a hard place - between state and federal government regulations.

"Private business owners need to be able to make their hiring and firing decisions. In a right-to-work state where we're about to enshrine the right-to-work concept in our [state] Constitution, I just felt like it was an interesting step backward from that core belief of the General Assembly," Curcio said.

Most Democrats, too, already were against the foolish moves.

What remains to be seen now is if Hazlewood, Curcio and some other level-headed Republicans can help their off-the-leash colleagues find a way back to common sense.

Stay tuned and be hopeful - but don't hold your breath.