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Tenn. House Speaker talks COVID-19 changes, abortion restrictions, CRT ahead of 2022 session

Blaise Gainey
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, sits in his office at the Cordell Hull State Office Building in Nashville, TN.

Tennessee lawmakers are back in Nashville for the 2022 legislative session, which kicks off Tuesday. WPLN’s Political Reporter Blaise Gainey spoke with House Speaker Cameron Sexton about what to expect.

The Crossville Republican began by addressing potential changes to COVID-19 protocols. That includes fixing a law made during the special session in October that allows any hospitalized COVID patient to receive visitors — a policy that should only have applied to patients near the end of life.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. 

Blaise Gainey: Last time the General Assembly met was during the special session on COVID-19. The legislation that came out had some things that I think everybody realized were a little wonky — mostly the COVID-19 visitation in hospitals. Where’s that at right now? Are you all going to address that early on? 

Rep. Cameron Sexton: Yeah, I mean, we’re working with the Tennessee Hospital Association and hospitals and working with the administration on a couple of tweaks to the omnibus bill. That’s there. And then, you know, the other thing I think we need to talk about is the covered business liability protection that we passed a year before, set to sunset in July. So I think there’s some tweaks there as we go through the conversations. 

Blaise Gainey: Also, it seems like, in more recent years, vast changes have been made to the elections process. Do you have your eyes set on making any changes this year? I know it’s an election year. 

Rep. Cameron Sexton: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s some members who are looking at maybe trying to work with [the] secretary of state and put an audit process in without audits having to be requested. Just to do routine audits to make sure that, you know, all of our software and all the stuff is working properly and that there’s no chance that someone’s hacked into it. 

Blaise Gainey: And not my last question but a very important question — have you seen the congressional district maps and is Nashville going to be split?

Rep. Cameron Sexton: Yeah, we’ve been working with the Senate on that. We are going to release a congressional map on Wednesday on the House side, it may be a tad bit different than the Senate, not much. But it will have that Davidson County is split.

Blaise Gainey: And since last session, Texas passed a law banning abortions after a heartbeat is detected and also allows citizens to sue anyone who assisted a woman in getting an abortion. Is there any idea that you are going to pass similar legislation here? 

Rep. Cameron Sexton: I don’t know. Gov. Lee proposed legislation that we passed, I think, many times — these years go by — last year, I believe. And he said in a kind of a step ladder, phases, currently in courts, I think it’s similar to probably what Texas has done or trying to do. So we’ll probably have to wait and see how the courts determine on the governor’s legislation from a year ago. 

Blaise Gainey: There’s another one, the critical race theory bill, that passed like late last session. Do you think there’ll be any tweaks or any additions that need to be made this year? 

Rep. Cameron Sexton: I don’t know. I mean, we’ll have to sit back and wait and see, you know. It really addressed about how to teach and what to teach and make sure it’s based on fact, not opinion of the teacher — I think really is what [its] goal was in the end. I think what we have seen this year is there’s been parents all across the state who have seen different types of books in the library, maybe in an elementary school, that’s not appropriate. So I think that, you know, there’s going to be some conversations had with that and about what books are in the library and really taking a look at what those are. 

Blaise Gainey: Do you think that any of these changes make it easier or harder to attract businesses and people to the state? 

Rep. Cameron Sexton: Well, you know, I think first and foremost, businesses come here based on our economic activity and about our regulations and about the tax policies of the state. And we’ve had very good success. You know, they’re still coming in. They’re still asking ECD [Tennessee Economic & Community Development] … So we haven’t seen really much of a decrease in that. 

As far as people moving here — I don’t know. I mean, maybe if you’re a more progressive, you might not want to come to Tennessee, but we’re still attracting a whole lot of new people here. They’re moving in from all over the country. So I haven’t really seen the effect of anything that we’ve passed yet of people saying they’re not going to come to Tennessee. 

Blaise Gainey: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. 

Rep. Cameron Sexton: Thank you, man. I appreciate it.

Blaise Gainey is a Political Reporter for WPLN News. He is the youngest of three siblings, husband and father of two. He previously held the State Government Reporter position for WFSU News in Tallahassee. He is from Apopka, Fla., and graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He previously worked for The Florida Channel and WTXL-TV. He is excited to move to another capital and report on state government. In his spare time, he enjoys watching sports, outdoor activities and enjoying family time.
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