Well, well, well. It seems Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee does listen to some people. The guy who didn't ever issue a statewide mask mandate and who for a time fought cities and counties that did, capitulated to the extremists of his GOP this week to walk back his health department's encouragement to teens and tweens to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Facing threats by some fellow Republicans in the legislature to abolish or "reconstitute" Tennessee's Department of Health after it conducted outreach to minors with posters — posters, mind you — the governor said his administration will work through parents going forward.
"The state will continue to encourage folks to seek access, adults for their children and adults for themselves to make the choice, the personal choice, for a vaccine," Lee told reporters.
Oh the horrors! Let's not have posters or billboards to tell teens to drive safely and buckle their seat belts, either.
Every parent knows their children bring home ideas, and decades ago one of the ways health and safety officials brought the message of seat belts and driving safety home to parents was to broadcast that life-saving idea to youngsters.
But last month during a joint House and Senate Government Operations Committee hearing, several Republican lawmakers railed at state Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey over the vaccination flyers, posters and other advertising aimed at school-age teens.
Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, charged health officials were "peer pressuring" teens and young adults to get vaccinations with or without their parents' say-so. "Personally, I think it's reprehensible that you would do that, that you would do that to our youth."
Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, chimed in, charging state health officials were promoting the "mature minor doctrine," which arose out of a 1987 state court ruling. Among other things, it says that teens between 14 and 18 have the ability to decide on health treatments, allowing a physician to treat them without parental consent unless it becomes clear the child isn't capable of making a medical decision.
Gov. Lee ducked. Asked Wednesday if he thought the department's outreach was appropriate, he said, "From my perspective, what's appropriate from the Department of Health is to provide information on access of vaccines, for adults, for their personal choice and for decisions about their children. That's what is appropriate and that's what we will continue to do."