Gov. Bill Lee to sign bills extending coronavirus liability protection to schools, businesses; punishments relating to riots, illegal protests to increase

Law enforcement officers and the National Guard blocked the steps leading up to the state capitol June 13. (Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)
Law enforcement officers and the National Guard blocked the steps leading up to the state capitol June 13. (Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)

Law enforcement officers and the National Guard blocked the steps leading up to the state capitol June 13. (Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)

Tennessee’s special legislative session has come to an end after three days, but not before legislators drafted multiple bills to send to the governor’s desk.

During an Aug. 13 press conference, Gov. Bill Lee said he will sign a bill to extend legal protections to more entities to prevent them from being sued should an individual become infected with coronavirus while in certain facilities.

Covered entities would include governmental entities, businesses, churches and schools from being sued over coronavirus cases, except in cases of gross negligence. The bill is mean to discourage any "frivolous" lawsuits that may arise as they state continues to reopen, Lee said.

“I’ll be signing that bill. It’s an important protection for businesses, and it protects individuals at the same time,” Lee said.

Another notable bill from the special session enacts harsher punishments for individuals who participate in riots, cause damage to government property, block roadways and illegally camp on government property.

  • Damage to government property: The punishment for painting or applying graffiti to state or local government property will now be a Class A misdemeanor, up from a Class B misdemeanor.

  • Participating in riots: Under the new bill, any person cited for participating in a riot will receive a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail, up from a Class A misdemeanor. Stricter penalties apply to aggravated rioting.

  • Blocking roadways: The bill would increase the offense of obstructing a public way or highway from a Class B or C misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor in all circumstances.

  • Illegally camping on government property: Under the bill, the punishment for camping on government property increase from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony and carries a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail, according to the bill. The bill provides that a person must receive and official warning before being cited.


Persons arrested for the above offenses will be require to remain in custody for at least 12 hours following the arrest, unless excused by a judge.


The bill is a response to demonstrations at the Tennessee State Capitol, which has seen numerous protests in recent months.

“We can’t tolerate lawlessness and destruction of property in this state, and I think the intent of the law around the use of state property is to make that evident and to also be certain that we protect First Amendment rights in the process,” Lee said.

See a summary of the bill here.

A bill that prohibits a governmental entity from preventing law enforcement to access areas during public demonstrations was also passed by the Legislature. Legislators also sent a bill to the governor to fund any bills that were passed in the special session for at least the first year they are enacted.

The Legislature also drafted bills requiring law enforcement officers to identify themselves when arresting a person during demonstrations and prohibiting state and local governments from infringing upon the constitutional right to peacefully assemble on government property. However, both of those bills failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


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