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Georgia Senate passes bill to protect businesses from lawsuits over COVID-19

The bill was in a House committee on Wednesday and is expected to be debated in the full House of Representatives this week.

MACON, Ga. — The Georgia General Assembly is looking into legislation to better protect businesses during COVID-19.

The Senate passed HB 167 on Tuesday that would give more protection to businesses. Essentially, it shields businesses and healthcare providers from being sued if someone blames them for contracting COVID-19.

"We're going to get COVID-19 behind us," said Senator John Kennedy, who introduced the bill in the Senate," But in a way that doesn't allow folks to be dragged down and businesses being scared to death for having opened their doors and then have the fear that someone is going to file a lawsuit."

The bill would block lawsuits, unless businesses or healthcare providers intentionally exposed someone to COVID-19 or showed reckless disregard. Kennedy says with the CDC's changing guidance on rules and treatments, the state needed to give legal protection to establishments.

"What you have is a lot of businesses just choosing not to reopen and folks cannot go back to work," Kennedy said. 

Julie Windom, Vice President of Government Affairs for Navicent Health, says Navicent and other hospitals in Georgia have been advocating for permanent protections relating to COVID-19 since March. 

"We want to be protected from changes and the new data and science coming out on this unique pandemic," Windom said. 

Brad Evans, owner of The Society Garden in Macon, says his business has taken several precautions including limiting the amount of people. He says, if this passes, it would take some stress off business owners. 

"I feel like you can do all you can and still get sued," Evans said. "So that's something we've been very concerned about."

Evans says his only concern with the bill is that it could allow establishments to throw caution to the wind. This is one reason Senator David Lucas was opposed to the bill. 

"I worry about people being harmed, and you use COVID-19 as an out for them not to be responsible," Lucas said. 

Lucas says he is particularly concerned about less liability for doctors. 

The bill protects them in instances where they delayed healthcare services because of COVID-19, and it resulted in an individual having health problems.

Kennedy says there needs to be protection for doctors who had to make tough decisions like delaying medical care to protect patients from being exposed to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the Senate had over an hour-long debate, mostly concerning whether or not the bill was too broad. It ended up passing 31-19. 

The bill was discussed in a House Committee on Wednesday. It's likely to be debated in the House this week. Kennedy noted time is ticking to get the bill through this session. Legislative Day 40, known as "sine die," is this Friday. 

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