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NASHVILLE — An often-provocative Tennessee House Republican lawmaker is lashing out at those he called "medical Nazis" in the General Assembly whom he said appear supportive of a "financial elite" comprised of businesses and other entities that favor mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees.

Rep. Bruce Griffey, a Paris, Tennessee, attorney, said in an email he sent to House colleagues, nine state senators and Republican Gov. Bill Lee that although he doesn't oppose vaccinations, "I am vehemently opposed to vaccine mandates by government, employers or business owners in Tennessee."

Griffey's email comes as Republican House and Senate leaders seek to iron out an agreement to call the General Assembly into special session to confront COVID-19 mandates.

In his letter, Griffey said, "I am also frustrated that we, today, apparently have a number of 'medical Nazis' in the TN House and Senate that think it's OK for some Tennesseans, (those with financial power via their business ownership or employment of other Tennesseans), to discriminate against fellow (powerless) Tennesseans by requiring vaccines by threatening them with the loss of their job and/or ability to conduct business.

"This is a threat by the financial elite against the poor's ability to support their families," added Griffey.

The lawmaker also lauded Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order on Monday seeking to bar any entity in Texas from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for workers or customers. Abbott also wants lawmakers to address the issue in their current special legislative session.

"I hope a vast majority of you will join me and others in the special session and show leadership like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and stand up for the freedoms of Tennesseans we swore an oath to protect," Griffey wrote.

Lee is calling lawmakers back into special session on Monday to approve the $500 million in taxpayer-funded incentives he promised in his successful effort to convince Ford Motor Co. and South Korea-based battery manufacturer SK to build a $5.6 billion vehicle assembly plant at the Memphis Regional Megasite in Haywood County.

But the governor has refused to lend a hand to help GOP lawmakers who are calling for a separate session to end COVID-19 mask mandates and related measures roiling their base, such as some companies moving to require their workers to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing or face getting fired. Republican lawmakers plan to call themselves into a special session with an Oct. 27 target date.

Griffey warned that history and Tennessee voters "will not be kind" to those favoring vaccine mandates. "I am sure Adolf Hitler, Stalin, Mao and CCP President Xi Jinping and other notable oppressors in history are smiling with glee!" he wrote.

Tennessee House Democratic Caucus Chair Vincent Dixie of Nashville said Griffey is talking "nonsense."

"I'm tired of Republicans playing with people's lives when it comes to a health issue," Dixie said in an interview. "I think the stuff where he compares it to Hitler and all these communist figures, the reason that we don't have the issue or the illnesses that were prevalent in the late 1800s and 1900s are because of vaccines. Vaccines work. That's why we have them.

"Then for them all of a sudden to blindly follow someone who does not have any health care experience or any health care knowledge and go against science, I find that extremely idiotic."

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker, asked Lee to call members into a special session on COVID-19. Lee refused. Asked last week what he thought about some of his fellow Republicans seeking to prevent employers with 100 or more workers from requiring employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19, Lee said, "Well, I haven't seen that proposal. I know there's a lot of conversations about what needs to be done.

"But," he added, "I'm not involved in the legislature's conversation about where they're headed with a proposed special session."

President Joe Biden's administration is mandating employers with 100 or more workers require their employees be vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19. Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee last week fired 19 front-line employees who dealt with the public or with fellow workers for refusing to get vaccinated.

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

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