Senate GOP relief bill to include liability protections for schools, businesses that reopen

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it his "red line" condition.

July 17, 2020, 5:10 PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it his red line: liability protection for schools, businesses and other entities hat reopen amid the pandemic must be part of any new coronavirus relief package.

No new relief will pass the Senate without it, he's said repeatedly.

And with President Donald Trump pushing hard for schools to reopen, the issue is at the forefront.

A draft summary of legislation McConnell helped craft with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is now circulating and was obtained by ABC Friday. It will be included in a more comprehensive COVID-19 relief package McConnell and his conference are set to unveil next week.

The Senate GOP leader has, for months, said he wants to provide protections for schools, universities, churches, government agencies, and businesses, and some of the nation's most influential interest groups, particularly among Republicans, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are already standing squarely behind the bill.

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell listens to questions during a news conference following a GOP policy meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 30, 2020.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell listens to questions during a news conference following a GOP policy meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 30, 2020.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP, File

On Thursday, McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters at an event in his home state that the bill will be retroactive to December 2019 and run through 2024 or the end of the Department of Health and Human Services emergency coronavirus declaration, whichever is later.

"Nobody should have to face an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic that we already have related to the coronavirus," McConnell said.

In the draft -- currently under review at the White House, according to a GOP leadership aide - Republicans say, "Defendants are liable only if they failed to make reasonable efforts to follow applicable public-health guidelines and committed an act of gross negligence or intentional misconduct."

PHOTO: Amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, Alma Odong wears a mask as she cleans a classroom at Wylie High School in Wylie, Texas, July 14, 2020.
Amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, Alma Odong wears a mask as she cleans a classroom at Wylie High School in Wylie, Texas, July 14, 2020. The cost of bringing students back to classrooms is proving a major stumbling block to safely reopening schools across the U.S.
Lm Otero/AP

The legislation would have federal courts handle lawsuits related to "personal injuries arising from coronavirus exposure allegedly caused at a school, college, charity, church, government agency, or business" and "for medical liability claims arising out of the provision of care for coronavirus, or services provided as a result of coronavirus, by licensed healthcare facilities and healthcare workers."

For frontline healthcare workers, the bill "limits liability only to gross negligence and intentional misconduct," according to the summary.

Democrats and labor unions have said such a proposal could shield businesses that don't protect their workers amid a myriad of state virus mitigation guidelines.

On Friday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the bill a "liability shield for CEOs."

Though Schumer said he had not seen the proposed legislation and did not rule out liability protections, he said, "We want to put workers first. That will be our watch word as we go through negotiating this bill."

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