Republicans Say Mask-Wearing Is a State Issue, But Overriding State Liability Laws Isn’t

CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY, NOT IMMUNITY

Welcome to the latest edition of “Corporate Accountability, Not Immunity,” a daily tipsheet highlighting key news and important facts on why Congress should not give corporations legal immunity from coronavirus-related harms to workers, consumers, patients and the public. Also refer to our tipsheet on misleading claims from industry groups and conservative lawmakers. Please send tips, feedback and questions to David Rosen at drosen@citizen.org.

MCCONNELL PROPOSES FIVE YEARS OF LEGAL IMMUNITY: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) outlined new details Monday for the next coronavirus relief package. Prominent on his wish list is five years of immunity from liability for businesses, health care providers, universities and schools. He specified that immunity for businesses whose negligence related to the coronavirus caused harm would be retroactive to December 2019 and last through the end of 2024. “Instead of talking about writing a partisan bill in his office to help big corporations, Sen. McConnell ought to be working across the aisle to prevent mass evictions, a new hunger crisis, and the layoff of more essential state and local government employees,” U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in response.

WHITE HOUSE SAYS MASKS ARE STATE ISSUE, BUT IMMUNITY FROM STATE LAW IS NOT: White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said that a national mandate requiring Americans to wear masks was “not in order” and that the decision to require masks is a “state-to-state issue.” The White House and congressional Republicans are showing no such deference to states when it comes to state tort law. They are proposing to exempt businesses, health care providers and schools from the laws of all 50 states. This sweeping federal overreach would prevent workers and consumers from holding businesses accountable for harm caused by businesses’ own negligence.

SOME TENNESSEE REPUBLICANS BALK AT RETROACTIVE IMMUNITY: In Tennessee, some state lawmakers are uncomfortable with proposals to grant businesses immunity from liability for the consequences of their own actions. In response to a proposal to give businesses immunity from state-law liability retroactive to early March, several lawmakers questioned whether the proposal would be blatantly illegal. Tennessee’s Constitution states that “no retrospective law, or law impairing the obligations of contracts, shall be made.” But that’s exactly what the state bill is proposing to do.