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This story was updated Friday, March 13, 2020, at 7:54 p.m. with more information.

UPDATE: The Tennessee State Capitol is now closed to tours and visitors through March 31. Members of the media will continue to have access to the State Capitol building.

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NASHVILLE — In the wake of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's executive order on Thursday declaring a state of emergency due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Senate speaker, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton are encouraging groups with "non-essential events and activities" at the General Assembly's Cordell Hull State Office Building to "consider rescheduling or postponing" them.

But the two Republican speakers said there are no current plans to halt proceedings or bar the general public from attending committee hearings or House and Senate floor proceedings.

"Not at this point," McNally told reporters on Thursday, noting he is asking senators to cancel the special floor presentations to constituents and other groups that take place before legislators begin acting on legislation.

While Congress has closed the U.S. Capitol to visitors, McNally said, "I wouldn't want to shut off access" unless the situation "gets much worse" in which case, he added, "I'd certainly reconsider it."

In a later joint statement issued by McNally and Sexton, the speakers said, "we will continue with the business for which we have been elected and for which we are constitutionally bound. But we will do so with extreme caution and in the public health's best interest."

The speakers said they intend to "continue to monitor the spread of the virus and keep in consultation with Governor Lee and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)."

And they noted the legislative website will remain online with committee and House and Senate floor proceedings continuing to be live streamed and televised.

"The people of Tennessee will still have access to the work they have elected us to do. We will continue to take additional action as needed," the statement said.

Eighteen Tennesseans as of Thursday afternoon had been diagnosed with presumed or confirmed COVID-19, double the number from Wednesday afternoon. Half the cases are from Williamson County. None are from Hamilton County or other parts of Southeast Tennessee.

Two people have been hospitalized, state Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey told reporters earlier Thursday as Lee announced his executive order that suspends a number of state laws in order to further the state's response more quickly.

McNally said lawmakers don't intend to end their annual session abruptly — a must-do is adopting the state's annual spending plan before July 1. And Lee is expected to include funding additions in his proposed $40.9 billion budget to deal with the coronavirus.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said that and other issues, such as the impact on previously projected tax revenue from travel and tourism, also need to be taken into consideration.

"We're threading a needle here," Watson told reporters, noting that addressing the carnage caused last week by tornadoes that tore through Metro Nashville, Wilson County and Putnam County, killing 25 people and causing massive damage, also will require budget adjustments.

"I fully expect the administration to do something significant," the Finance Committee chairman said.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

 

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