Congress should encourage businesses, schools to reopen safely with liability protections

July 30, 2020
Burchett Opinions

Congress should encourage businesses, schools to reopen safely with liability protections

This article was originally featured in The Hill on July 30, 2020

Americans can adapt to difficult situations and thrive under tough circumstances. If we have any hope of saving our broken economy, we have figure out how to prevent the spread of coronavirus while also allowing businesses to re-open. That’s why I was the first member of the U.S. House of Representatives to introduce a comprehensive, common sense bill that provides employers with protection from frivolous lawsuits, if they are taking appropriate steps to protect their employees and customers.

America paid a steep price for the coronavirus pandemic, with the disease creating financial instability for working families, infecting millions and, sadly, claiming thousands of lives. The outbreak also painted a devastating economic picture: unemployment reached a record high 14.7 percent and GDP shrank by 32.9 percent in the second quarter. Congress spent $3 trillion in response to the current crisis, delivering direct stimulus payments to Americans, providing financial help for folks who lost their jobs, and keeping small businesses afloat through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Federal tax dollars softened the COVID-19 economic blow, but it is time to get a grip on reality: Congress cannot spend away this virus or the economic impact it caused. Spending trillions of dollars every few months to keep people at home is unsustainable.

Lawmakers and public health experts need to get creative to tackle the issue of reopening the country. The barriers preventing small businesses, schools, and non-profit organizations from reopening must be identified and overcome.

Americans deserve assurance that businesses are working to protect them from the coronavirus.  And if our small businesses are doing all the right things to protect their customers, employees and public health, they deserve to be shielded against frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits.

The leadership in the U.S. Senate gets it. The HEALS Act includes a needed liability shield to those employers following state and local public health guidelines. The White House, and even some Democrats, believes liability protections are necessary for jumpstarting our economy.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) partisan, $3 trillion HEROES Act that passed in May would do nothing to restart the economy. It contained no provisions to get Americans safely back to work or send students back to the classroom – and there wasn’t a single mention of liability protections for establishments doing their part to uphold public health.

As the next COVID-19 relief package is negotiated, House and Senate leaders must put Americans on a path to return to work. Liability shields must be part of the solution. Businesses of all sizes, hardworking American families, and our children's educations all depend on it.

No coronavirus relief measure gets to President Trump’s desk without including liability protections. The clock is ticking – some unemployment benefits are expiring, and school starts soon. The country cannot afford political grandstanding from Congress at this crucial moment. This next COVID-19 package is a tremendous opportunity to get the country back on track. Congress needs to focus on getting our nation back to work and deliver for the American people.

Tim Burchett represents Tennessee’s 2nd District.